If you are a parent with a kid who is inclined to play sport, or at best, likes running around a field with their mates, then you know what’s involved in junior sports clubs: early morning starts in the cold looking for shin pads; calls for canteen duty; missing drink bottles; over-enthusiastic coaches who bellow, “I want to see the Ronaldo in you” from the sideline. It’s a weekend ritual, powered by families and in the past, Dads who committed their time and efforts for the benefit of the whole community.
It’s not as though women have been absent from kids’ sports clubs until now – far from it. What has happened, though, over the last decade is the rise of women on boards in local club sports that were traditionally seen as male-only, fuelled by the phenomenal rise of girls and women playing those sports.
The junior sports clubs’ community in Lane Cove is a microcosm of what’s been happening all over Australia, if not the world.
Local Female Volunteers
Among the ladies who commit hour after hour are Karen Clarkson – the secretary and registrar at Lane Cove Cricket Club (and was until recently undertaking the same role at the Lane Cove Tigers); Sally Tremlett – the president of LC Junior Rugby Union Club; Lisa Doumit who was president of Lane Cove Tigers until this year but continues to sit on the committee and on the District Junior League Board.
Meanwhile, there’s Megan Sweeney who is co-president and treasurer of LC Football Club and Fran Hahlos, who looks after communications for the Tigers, while also being employed as digital and commercial manager for the North Sydney Bears.
They’re busy people with careers, families and a swathe of other commitments that extend beyond the playing fields, but in conjunction with their fellow volunteers, have organised the clubs in such a way that they can grow female participation.
Running new programs and games that attract girls has been key to this.
Sally Tremlett, who grew up on a diet of rugby (her father was Ron Graham who played for Australia), explained that one of the Club’s calendar highlights is the end of year six-week Touch competition.
“We have between 600 and 800 players come along and 60 per cent of those are girls.
“It’s one of the biggest social events for us, bringing together kids from different schools and different backgrounds,” she explains.
Sally will tell you that participation in an open and inclusive club is the key to success.
“Our motto is: you’ve got to keep it social and you’ve got to keep it real,” she laughed.
Over at LC Football, female participation has rocketed, so much so the committee has put together a specific female football strategy within the overall strategy; not easy for a Club that boasts 80 teams with more than 1100 members.
Megan Sweeney, who joined LC Football as a player more than 10 years ago, explained how the Club has worked hard to develop pathways for girls who are really focused on playing soccer and how the rewards are paying off.
“We have been working on the girls’ teams for a long time; getting the mini roos through into juniors and it’s been great to form those teams.
“This is the first year we have been awarded a position in the Diamond League competition for girls under 12s and up. It has been a big thing for us, and something we’re really proud of.
“Diamond League is a quality level girls-only competition that enables the girls to develop their technical football skills and confidence far more quickly in a girls-only environment,” she explained.
Lisa Doumit remembers accompanying her Dad to North Sydney Bears games and the footy bug has been passed down to the next generation. Lisa has four boys – 14, 12, 10 and nine and they have all played junior league from a young age and continue to do so.
As you would expect with a career and four boys, time is precious.
“You just get stuff done and get more and more efficient at it,” she said. She notes that it’s a group effort and with the assistance of other women at the Club she helped steer the growth of female players at the Tigers.
One of the big drivers of female participation at the Tigers was the introduction of Blues Tag – an inclusive-style of rugby league open to players from all backgrounds and abilities, with a focus on improving the players’ fundamental skills – catching, passing and in-game communication.
Unlike Touch, the kids grab and pull a tag from their rivals’ uniform. It’s fast and kids can make more line-breaks which helps keep focus levels up.
“Three years ago, we introduced our first Blues Tag team. Before that we had a smattering of girls under sixes, or under nines, but then the District Board got behind Blues Tag and we’ve seen girls involvement increase each year. Now we almost have three girls’ teams,” she said.
A great source of inspiration for the Tigers and indeed other junior clubs in the area has been the North Sydney Bears which introduced its first women’s team in 2018.
Fran Hahlos explains that the District has seen a 300 per cent year-on-year growth in female participation.
“One of the things we talk about often is aiming for equality in the game.
“Just before Covid hit, we did an event for the North Sydney District Junior Rugby League at The Alcott where women in league who have senior roles told their stories.
“Then we had our Women in League round in late May with 70 girls from clubs across the district join us at the Bears game.
“They bring a gorgeous, smiling energy into the club and a whole new set of volunteers.
“Mums aren’t just team managers anymore or running the canteen. They’re coaching and they’re loving it,” Fran enthuses.
One thing in particular transpires from these conversations: female participation is definitely bolstered by an inclusive club that can develop new games within the codes, but what has been special for Lane Cove is that the prevalence of women working for the Clubs shows girls there are no barriers to entry for what might have previously been male-dominated sports.
Player, coach, treasurer, president, board member: all of these positions exist in professional clubs and there is no reason why a Lane Cove girl couldn’t take up any of those roles.
“I think there are different positives women can bring to the boards, and I think it improves the dynamics,” said Lisa Doumit.
Karen explained how, at LC Cricket and the Tigers, she has witnessed the strengths of a mixed male, female board.
“It’s not a girl vs boy, or a women vs men thing, it’s whether women have been welcomed into the Clubs and in my experience here at LC Cricket and at the Tigers, we have been.
“It’s about having pathways available for girls; for younger girls to see older girls play, and women playing a bigger part in the operations. It’s important for them to see there is a progression for them, and that they can continue to play as they grow up.”
Megan said that it’s of particular focus at LC Football Club too.
“It’s a huge priority for us – providing a visible pathway for the girls.
“We have at least half a dozen women from the ladies team coaching the juniors,” she explained.
Displaying a commitment to equality is very much part of the day-to-day at North Sydney Bears.
When sharing content on social media, on their website or in the media, the Bears alternate between male and female focused news, and lead with the most newsworthy story, regardless of gender – something that would have been unheard of until at least five years ago.
“I’m hoping that if the Clubs below see what we’re doing, they will follow suit and more girls will be inclined to join their local clubs, whatever sport they choose,” she said.
LC has a history of kids who leave local clubs to play for their private school teams, but that is changing and the clubs are growing.
With that comes the challenge of managing increased numbers and teams and quite often, it is the same families putting up their hands to help each week.
Each of the Clubs will tell you that they need more volunteers. All of these ladies will also tell you that they can’t be effective in their roles without the help of others, and that they are backed by an army of superstar parents.
So, if you’re girl wants to run out onto the field on a cold, wintry Saturday morning, perhaps reach out to these teams, and better still, perhaps put your hand up to help. Lane Cove is lucky to have such a warm, friendly bunch. You won’t regret it.