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NSWRL celebrates Women in Sport Leadership graduates

The NSW Minister for Sport, the Hon. Stuart Ayres MP has celebrated the graduation of the first intake of women coaches – including Harvey Norman NSW Sky Blues head coach Kylie Hilder and assistant Ruan Sims – from the joint NSWRL-University of New England (UNE) Women In Sport Leadership program.

Ayres was joined at the graduation ceremony on Tuesday 19 April at Ignite HQ Centre of Excellence by Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler and Channel Nine sports reporter Emma Lawrence, who had both made presentations during the program.

The 20-week pilot program, involving online learning and four two-day face-face workshops, was held between November 2021 and March 2022 and brought together 13 women coaches representing Rugby League, Rugby Union, Athletics and Football.

The participants have now gained nationally recognised credit towards a Certificate IV or Diploma level qualification in leadership and management.

“This is an opportunity that not many people have to get this kind of experience,” NSWRL Chief Executive David Trodden said.

“The Australian sporting sector has the potential to become a leader in gender equity, but to achieve this we need to enhance the recruitment and retention of women leaders, coaches and match officials.

“We hope this program will help enable women to explore greater career opportunities. It not only supports the development of the women’s Rugby League competition; it promotes the advancement of women into senior coaching and leadership roles in other sports and workplaces, too.”

NSWRL Female Pathways Manager and NSW Sky Blues Women’s Origin coach Kylie Hilder said the program would have direct applications for her as one of only two women coaching elite Rugby League.

“I work in a very male-dominated environment in Rugby League and we need more women coaches at all levels,” she said.

“They need the opportunities, but also the tools to gain the confidence to take up those opportunities. Rugby League is evolving – it’s no longer just about the men – and women are highly capable of assuming leadership roles within women’s and men’s teams.

“As a female player, who has mostly had male coaches, I know that women are wired differently – emotionally and mentally.

“Understanding how the female mind ticks, and being able to communicate effectively with women, is critical to getting the very best out of them as athletes. What we have learnt during this program will be valuable in our professional but also our personal lives.”

While the program was designed by NSWRL in collaboration with UNE Partnerships, it was offered to aspiring elite coaches from all sports.

UNE Partnerships Academic Director for Leadership and Management Jenny Sewell said the university received a brief from NSWRL to help develop the new leaders of women in sport.

“The program is broken into emotional development, communication skills, leading change, working with media, and how to build good teamwork and the culture around the relationships in the team,” Sewell said.

UNE Partnerships Chief Executive Officer Benjamin Gilmore said the pilot program had been developed as part of a long-term partnership between NSWRL and the university and as a result of its success, a second course will be offered from September 2022 to January 2023.

“The program is designed to strengthen education and career pathways for women in sport leadership roles,” Gilmore said.

“Whether this is junior sport in our regions or semi-professional sport, we hope it helps to build the skills and confidence women need, thereby providing more career opportunities for them.”

Pauline Wagner, from Kyogle in northern NSW and the 2021 NSW Female Community Coach of the Year, said the program offered a chance to improve the way she thinks as an individual, coach and community leader.

She began coaching her son’s touch football team six years ago and now coaches a female league tag side.

“Being a part of this leadership program has shifted my thinking, about the kind of leader I want to be and how I handle situations,” Wagner said.

“People in regional areas rarely get the chance to have such professional development, and what I have learnt in the past about coaching has almost entirely been from men. It was amazing to learn from other women.

“My goal is to one day coach at the elite level, but for now I want to support my community and women in rural areas, so they get the same opportunities as sportspeople in the cities. If my daughter wants to play sport when she grows up, I want it to be easier than it has been for me for her to follow her dreams.”

Following the success of this pilot leadership program, the NSWRL will offer the program to female coaches from all interested sports across the state in September.

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.