AFLW female coaches (L-R): Daisy Pearce, Lisa Webb, Tam Hyett, Natalie Wood, Lauren Arnell. Pictures: AFL Photos

SOME of the biggest names in AFLW history like Daisy Pearce and Lauren Arnell are among a record five female senior coaches in 2024 season, but even some of the most credentialled, well-equipped women experience self-doubt.

Pearce (West Coast) and Arnell (Port Adelaide) join Natalie Wood (Essendon), Lisa Webb (Fremantle) and Tamara Hyett (Western Bulldogs) at the helm of their club's respective AFLW programs.

But with a sense of impostor syndrome lurking in a male-dominated industry, what becomes crucial is not only each coach's ability to teach the technical aspects of the game, but also fight that internal detractor.

Each individual has their own strategies to work through those negative feelings to ensure they're at the top of their game.

"I think it's healthy, from an ego perspective, to have a little bit of self-doubt," Port Adelaide coach Arnell told

"There'd be some concerns if I didn't. I think how I address that is I've got some really great people around me … who continually support me to do what I do, and remind me why I'm in the role that I am."

Lauren Arnell speaks to her players during the AFLW R7 match between Port Adelaide and North Melbourne at Arden Street Oval on October 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Arnell's track record speaks for itself. Establishing her on-field ability in the pre-AFLW era with nine premierships with the Darebin Falcons, she was then recruited as Carlton's inaugural AFLW captain in 2017. A move to Brisbane a couple of years later bore a premiership in her final game in 2021, and she spent time coaching the Brisbane Lions Academy while up north.

By 2022 she had been appointed as the coach of Port Adelaide in the final expansion phase of the competition, becoming the first former AFLW player to take the reins as a head coach.

But that extensive, intimate knowledge of the women's game and the league itself, didn't mean Arnell felt totally ready when opportunity came knocking.

"When Port Adelaide reached out to me to apply for the role initially in 2022, it was instantly like 'I'm not sure'. The thought pattern for me was 'I'm not sure I'm ready for this'," Arnell admitted.

"Exploring the reasons why, it became apparent that when I was working in coach development for AFL Victoria and trying to help other women step forward … so once I realised that all the thinking and the wondering whether I was ready or whether I wasn't, was the same things I was trying to help other women move through year before.

"I did have the CV that would allow me to be reasonable at my job."


For Pearce, who was named West Coast coach in December, not even the reputation she built as a premiership captain and marquee player can quell that self-doubt.

After retiring as a player at the end of 2022, Pearce spent a year working in Geelong's men's program alongside Chris Scott before taking on the role at the Eagles.

"(You're) always aware of what you haven't done yet, or the experiences you haven't had yet," Pearce said.

"The thing that changed for me in going to Geelong was, one of Chris Scott's great strengths was his ability to delegate and not need to be everything to absolutely everyone in the organisation … that probably gave me the confidence to go 'yeah, I don't have everything but maybe you never will, just be really strategic in who you put around yourself'."

Daisy Pearce talks to Eagles players at quarter-time of the practice match between West Coast and Fremantle at Mineral Resources Park on May 4, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Being strategic about who you surround yourself with is a common theme around each coach's confidence, as is an understanding of the journey they are on.

Setting out a plan and list of goals ahead of a season is key to Webb's battle with self-doubt. Refusing to be swayed too heavily by the wins and losses, instead focusing on the process – both personally and for the program.

"It's about putting yourself on a really strong path toward continual growth, innovation, learning and surrounding yourself with people that can see you on this journey and see where you're going," Webb said.

Lisa Webb addresses her Fremantle players during round eight, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"During the week after a win or a loss, you have to stay balanced. Come Monday, you repeat the journey again … whenever there are times of doubt or uncertainty, you say 'we've got a plan'."

New to the Bulldogs this year, Hyett is a little more straightforward on the matter.

"A couple of slaps to the face," Hyett laughed.

"No, I don't think I have dealt with it yet, and potentially that's what keeps you on the edge like a player. You're constantly doubting yourself and you're learning different things about yourself. Every now and then the penny will drop, and you go 'oh, yeah, I can do this'."


That ability to manage one's own mental health while in a high-stress role, while also focusing on supporting and bettering a group of 30 players is, frankly, a massive challenge. One that requires the ability to look inwardly, and lean on those close.

"I do a lot of self-reflection," Essendon coach Natalie Wood said.

"I do a lot of work in the mental health space; I have a number of different mentors and professional counselling as well because I think one of my strengths is being quite aware of what's probably more going wrong than right. But then being able to put in some strategies to work through that.

"It's something we ask our player to do, it's something we ask our players to really get better at all the time … and I think as a coach it's really important that I do the same thing."

Wood admits that she doesn't always get it right, but that's where a support network is key, because she can often be her own worst enemy.

"One of the biggest challenges I've faced … is all the years I've been told 'No, you can't do that'," Wood said.

Natalie Wood addresses the team during the AFLW R4 match between Essendon and Fremantle at Windy Hill on September 24, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

"I find the person putting up the most barriers sometimes is my own innate beliefs and my own expectations on what should or shouldn't happen."

But with a fresh season ahead, with more women than ever leading teams from the box, the landscape shifts once more. These women have earned their place as coaches, and their visibility will continue to impact not only their charges on the field, but all the prospective coaches off it.