INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY IS A DAY WHERE WE CAN CELEBRATE THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF WOMEN. EMMA ZIELKE, CURRENT CAPTAIN OF THE BRISBANE LIONS AFLW TEAM, CHATS TO PLAYBOOK ABOUT HER JOURNEY AND WHAT AFL NEEDS TO DO TO KEEP IMPROVING AND SETTING A PATHWAY FOR YOUNGER GENERATIONS OF THE WOMEN’S GAME. TEAMWORK AND CULTURE ARE EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO EMMA AND CONSTANTLY BEING ABLE TO BETTER YOUR BEST AS AN ATHLETE WHETHER THAT IS MENTALLY OR PHYSICALLY.
How did you start playing AFL?
I grew up in Bundaberg, up North, where it is all NRL based. I started playing soccer at about 6. My older brother also played so I started from an early age and played all the way up to Grade 12. I moved to Brisbane when I was 17 and I wanted to mix things up, so I went down to my local footy club with a bunch of my friends. I absolutely fell in love with it from day one.
The theme for International Women’s Day is Press for Progress. What do you think Women’s Footy needs to do to progress?
Grass roots and the development programs need to continue on with all the youth girls and their programs, because obviously we need the new girls and the younger generations to come through as they are going to be the new stars of the competitions. We need every resource available to them and they will really drive the standard of our league for years to come.
What are your tips for players who are brand new to AFL?
The one thing I always tell beginners or new players is to try to kick the footy off both feet. It’s a talent not many people take seriously. If there is a girl who has the exact same skill set as you, but you can kick off the opposite foot, you will probably get chosen over her. Also, build a really good fitness base. The way the AFLW is going it’s for a highly fit player and if you can run all day you are going to get picked as well.
Do you have any coaching or leadership maxims?
When I have coached before I really drove the culture of the team and it is a big thing for me to have a great culture at a football club. When I went to a team where the culture was everyone loved everyone and we all played for each other we went on to win three flags in a row. I just really hone in on the culture of the team because it is a massive advantage that you can have over a team that might have all of the talented players but if you have a team that absolutely plays for each then you can win games just from that.
The Wide Bay Women’s League kicked off in February. When you bring a team together for the first time how do you foster that team cohesion for the right culture?
It was amazing to go back there and run a session. I didn’t think that many people would turn up, but we had about 30 girls down there, they were all pretty new to the game. They hadn’t experienced what it was like to be on a team and they all came from different sports. AFL is such a different sport, you really need to be on the same page as your team mates because you go out there and you have to protect each other.
The thing with AFL is after every drill we get around each other, like a tap on the back or high five. As a new team they didn’t really understand why I was doing that, but it was about showing them that if they are going to be good team they need to rely on each and get around each other. To share those simple things was really good to be a part of it. You go out there and you need to protect each other.
Mentoring and developing leadership is something that is really important to you. How do you foster confidence within your teammates?
You really need to build relationships with your teammates and you need to find out what makes them tick and what doesn’t. If you can kind of get the best out of each individual, you need to be able to see if someone isn’t enjoying their time or they are struggling somehow. You can help them back onto the path where they are playing their best footy. You don’t worry about yourself as much as you usually would in the younger years. You just make sure everyone is enjoying their time and trying to improve themselves. We play for each other, that is super important for me.
Who is a Coach that has inspired you in your career?
Damien Richards was my coach in 2013, he was quite a younger coach but the knowledge he had and the way he could pick a part what was happening right in the moment is a skill not many coaches have. Usually they wait until quarter time and change things, but he sees things and changes things as they are happening. I really learnt from that and now I do the same. If things aren’t going right and I change them. The way he could come up with a drill or a skill depending on who you were playing for that weekend was incredible. I have definitely taken a lot from him as a player, he taught me a lot and I could chat to him from a player’s perspective. I definitely learnt a lot from him and his coaching style.
Off-field you work in sports administration with the Lions and that gives you the opportunity to occasionally shadow other Coaches, what have you learned through that experience?
I’ve picked up different terminology that they use with the boys. What they talk about, different game plans and seeing the game through a different set of eyes. It even comes down to the way they explain things when they are talking about drills. I’ve learned so much from those days shadowing the coaches.
Women in sport more broadly, what do we need to positively impact participation levels?
The girls need to have the same access. The girls are the stars of the future so we need to have the foundations in place for young girls to have access to sports they want to play.
What is your favourite inspirational quote:
“Never be content with what you have achieved, because you can always achieve more”
Photo via Russ Canham (VIC Photographer)