Posted in Front Page News , People of the SMJFL

By Ben Pollard

This week the AFL celebrates Women’s Round, acknowledging the contribution of women at all levels of football.

Indeed, the contribution of women to the SMJFL is invaluable, and one of the best examples is Bernadette Vaux.

Bernadette helps start kids on their football journeys as the Auskick district manager for the inner-southern region of Melbourne.

She coaches the girls of St Bedes/Mentone in the South Metro Girls Under 12 competition and was recently appointed as the SMJFL’s assistant umpiring director.

Bernadette is undoubtedly a crucial part of the SMJFL, but she plays down the notion she’s leading the way for women in community football.

“To be honest, I’m not going into this as somebody who’s trying to forge a new path,” she says.

“I do it because I love it and because I believe that I’m good at it; I just happen to be a woman.”

According to Bernadette, concepts such as Women’s Round demonstrate the progress towards equality between men and women in football.

“Women are becoming more and more active – certainly behind the scenes and increasingly on the field,” she says.

“We’re as important as the traditional men… of the league, but we’re empowered nowadays to be as active as we choose to be.”

Despite this, Bernadette says many women still aren’t aware of the opportunities available to them in football – particularly junior girls.

According to the AFL, over 5000 girls have joined 26 junior and youth girls’ competitions nationally, but Bernadette believes those numbers could still skyrocket.

“I think the only barriers to it (junior girls’ football) going off are girls not knowing that it is an option for them and the leagues being able to start girls’ competitions – the SMJFL has certainly been the leader in this,” she says.

“I think with the passage of time and with more opportunities, girls will really embrace football as an acceptable sport.”

Bernadette’s experience as the St Bedes/Mentone Under 12 girls’ coach has shown her how much value girls – and female coaches like herself – can get out of football.

“The girls are just blossoming in an environment which traditionally wasn’t available to them,” she says.

“I’ve found it amazingly rewarding and a lot of fun, because with the girls competition, it’s a bit outside of the traditional football games and training.

“That means I’m required to think outside the box and be more creative with the way I approach it, and that’s been tremendous.”

Bernadette would be equally encouraged by a 29 per cent increase in female Auskick participation in the last 12 months.

But in her role with Auskick, Bernadette sees past gender lines to the simple pleasures that football can bring to any child.

“It’s where it all starts and you get this pure unbridled enthusiasm (from the kids) while being active and out there with their parents and other kids,” she says.

“It’s almost the start of their development in the big wide world; there’s no greater gift, I think, than me being a part of this.”