The Football Coach

Episode One - The Football Coach
Michelle Cowan

Bonnie and Andrea begin their podcasting journey with none other than Michelle Cowan, longtime Australian football legend and inaugural coach of the very first AFL Women’s Dockers team. Michelle knew she wanted to be an AFL coach since she was a child, and began working in the field since finishing high school. She has since become the first woman to coach men in AFL on a state level, and in 2013 was named the AFL Football Woman of the Year. She is also a highly sought-after keynote speaker.

Michelle Cowan

Firstly, Michelle shares how her love of sport began: in the backyard with a cricket bat, ball, and endless supply of sibling rivalry. Her early memories of AFL include attending games at Subiaco Oval with her father, and watching as many WAFL (West Australian Football League) games as she could fit in. She shares how she had her mind set on becoming an AFL coach since she was 14 years old. The rulebook at that time specified that only men could play on the field, but it didn’t say anything about coaches, so a young Michelle decided then and there that she would be a footy coach.

Although female coaches weren’t specifically forbidden, it certainly wasn’t common when Michelle wrote to all 16 AFL clubs looking for work after leaving high school. One club gave her an opportunity and she never looked back. She shares how, working for the game at a state level, her presence raised the eyebrows of a number of traditionalist club members. Michelle recalls some very direct examples of members objecting to the presence of a female coach. She discusses, with our intrepid hosts, how the game is changing and perhaps slowly becoming less of a boys’ club.


Bonnie and Andrea investigate how Michelle cultivates the inner strength required to repeatedly put yourself out there in an industry that may frequently make you feel unwelcome. For Michelle, her passion and love for the game outweigh the opinions of naysayers, and she says that a thick skin and drive to stay true to herself keep her going. She also expresses gratitude for the key people that have supported her along the way.

After years of working in a very male-dominated environment, Michelle says she loves challenging male behaviours. And that includes her husband, who she says has become a proactive ally for the women in his workplace. When they first met, Michelle was reluctant to share that she was a footy coach, embarrassed by assumptions that people had made about her professional aspirations in the past. But now she’s very honest about what she does, both personally and professionally as a keynote speaker. Some of Michelle’s speaking engagements have gone more personally than intended, and she has won over audiences by frank about her experiences, sometimes unintentionally so.  

Michelle Cowan is an unstoppable force, humble in her achievements and unapologetically honest. She has openness about her experiences that shows a profound desire to empathise with and connect with others- whether it’s about sport, gender politics, or mental health. She’s also game for a laugh, and gets All Eyes on Me off to a winning start.

Download the full transcript here.