Podcast Episode Transcription: Season 1, Episode 1

Kara Henderson:

So I’m Kara Henderson. I graduated from Caulfield Grammar in 2015 and went to the Wheelers Hill campus.

Once I finished school, my plan was to go straight to uni, but I ended up being fortunate enough to get a traineeship at Yarra Junction. So I went out there for the year and had the best time. Met some awesome people, got to do some awesome things, and helped some kids have some good experiences. Since then, I went to uni, studied biomedicine, and about the same time that I headed off to uni, I started playing footy as well with the Hawthorn Hawks. And pretty much now where I’m at is I’m still with the Hawks and I’m now studying paramedicine.

That’s something that I really struggled with early on. So when I started both kind of at the same time, I was super excited about both and quickly realized that I couldn’t dedicate all the time I wanted to each of them. And I think my uni probably suffered a little bit to start with because footy was so exciting and I was training a lot for that. But as the years went on, I really learned how to set time aside for everything that I wanted to do and kind of make sure I stayed committed to all of the areas I was working in.

I started at the end of 2016. I started playing footy when I was 19. Before then, I played basketball and did athletics. I applied to go into the AFLW rookie combine testing and was lucky enough to get into that and did some testing. Through that, I got into the AFL Vic Academy for the next year, which was awesome.

It taught me how to play footy because I wasn’t real good before that. But, yeah, learned everything I needed to know. By the time that came to an end, I tried out for Hawthorn and got in there, and I’ve been there ever since. I didn’t get many games to start with the first couple of years, but then, hit 2019, got to play every game, which I was stoked about. Unfortunately, I injured my knee, so I haven’t played since then, but I am still with the Hawks doing all my rehab and will hopefully get back soon and hope to go on to AFLW when the Hawks get a license.

I think it really gives you a sense of holistic life where you’ve got your sport, which I’m super passionate about, but then also focusing on a career into the future, and studying and building social networks and everything. I feel like having multiple pathways really helps you build that holistic life, and I’ve loved doing that. I can’t imagine just picking one. I guess it means that each of them have not had as much time into them as most people would if they just picked one and stuck at it, but I don’t mind taking a bit of extra time and getting to enjoy all of them. To be honest, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done to go through that knee injury, and I’m still recovering from it now.

It was pretty devastating. I was just in training and got knocked on the outside of the knee and dislocated it and tore a bunch of ligaments. It was extremely painful and it’s a long process to come back from. The hardest thing is probably the mental side of it. The physical stuff comes if you’re consistent and you do all the work, but it’s mentally draining too knowing that you’ve got probably 12 months of rehab and staying motivated in that time is really difficult because of that.

But I was lucky to have a really supportive network at the Hawks, of the staff, the players, the medical staff, especially, and coaches. They’re still helping me through now and helping me stay committed and working towards that goal of AFLW. I think, since the AFLW started in 2017, there have already been massive changes. It’s growing every single year, and it’s so great for us to see that as players, but to also know that it’s getting exposure out in the wider community. Women have always played footy, but it has been kind of behind closed doors.

So it’s awesome that that’s getting out there now, and I hope that continues into the future. Also, seeing more female coaches come through. At Hawks this year, we had a full female panel of coaches, and seeing their development over the past 5 years that I’ve been there is awesome. And I know that that’s happening in lots of places too.

And also the impact it has on younger girls growing up and having that option to play footy. Having footy here at Caulfield Grammar is amazing, and I love coaching those girls. But also for the boys as well, and boys and girls growing up together and knowing that everyone can play footy, and it’s good for everyone. That’s a tricky one, and I think the main thing is exposure over time. Not stepping back when you’re confronted with difficulties or negative feedback from people in regards to playing footy because you’re female, but still doing it and doing hard things, stepping out there, playing, coaching.

I think a really good thing I did, for me personally, was coaching at the Oakleigh Chargers, and I did some work with the under 15 boys there, which was awesome. I hadn’t really coached boys before, but it was great to step into that field, for them and for me, to have some females present in their footy world. Just go for it. Don’t let fear hold you back. Obviously, trying out for big sports teams and getting knocked back is really scary, and it does happen.

You will come across things where you try out for something and you don’t get in, but it’s trying again and keeping the effort going over the years until you reach the goals that you want to set. It will take sacrifices along the way, but sacrifice probably isn’t a good word. Investments of your time and training to get to where you want to be. So don’t let fear hold you back. Lots of people.

To start, I grew up supporting Hawthorn, so my family, my mum and my dad and my granddad really, they would always have a kick of the footy with me, take me to matches, so that sparked the interest early on. But, obviously, I didn’t play until I was 19. When I was at school, doing the annual school competition against the campuses of the girls’ footy got me interested. And when AFLW started being talked about, I was looking up to people like Meg Hutchins, who I now play with, Sarah Perkins, who I play with as well. The chance to now be able to play with those girls that I’ve looked up to since the comp started is incredible.

I’m very grateful. My most short-term goal is to reach AFLW because I’m kind of in the window now where that can still happen. I’m 24, but not too much further down the track that won’t be an option anymore. That’s probably my immediate goal. With uni, I’ve just started a new bachelor degree, so I’ve got another two and a half years there to work on that, which in that time I’m hoping to work on my footy as well.

That’s a really good window to do that in, I think. I’m studying paramedicine. I hope to work for Ambulance Victoria for a few years, and then down the track, I’m hoping to study medicine. So go back to uni again, lots of years of studying. I’d say it’s really normal not to know what you want to do, especially straight out of school.

I didn’t know, and that’s why I’m doing another bachelor degree now. I wish I had made that decision back when I came out of school, but you don’t know straight away and that’s okay. It’s really good to try different things, not be pressured by anyone else’s timeline, and work towards what you want in your own time and don’t feel pressured to make decisions. Lots and lots of differences. Because the AFLW comp is so young, it only started in 2017, it’s very different being drafted there compared to the boys being drafted into the AFL who have been playing since they were in Auskick and they know that when they finish school, when they hit 17, 18, that’s when they’re going to get drafted.

The women’s is becoming more like that now, the girls have a really good pathway through the NAB League and can work up to getting drafted at the end of school. But until now, it’s largely been more mature-aged players getting drafted in their twenties, in their thirties even, which is a huge difference.

It’s necessary for almost all the AFLW players to have a career outside of footy. That’s another thing I hope changes in the future, moving towards a full-time professional career. At the moment, it’s part-time and that prevents the women from putting as much time into their footy as the men do. I do see that improving over time, but at the moment, it’s a big divide and a big pay difference too, which means they have to have another career. On the other hand, I think it’s good having a balance between the two, but I hope it moves in the direction of heading towards full-time.

Supporting sport of all genders, going to women’s matches, men’s matches, kids’ matches, just watching and supporting, online, on TV, physically being there, it all helps. It all helps with exposure. Talking about it with mates too. I have a lot of mates that are guys, and they’re really into the AFLW now. They love talking about it. They get around it. When their mates hear them talking about it, it clicks with them too. This is alright. That’s how things change.

When it first came in, it’s something big and different, and humans don’t cope well with different to start with. But after lots of exposure and talking about things, it will really improve. Young people have fresh eyes and they’re coming into things with brand new perspectives, unique perspectives. Older people who have been in a certain field for a long time get stuck in their ways, which there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re really good at what they do. But listening to young people means that you can look forward to positive change and new ideas that wouldn’t be brought up otherwise.

That’s a really big one in women’s footy. The most prevalent place you find it is online. You see a lot of comments that people can be anonymous giving, that are just unnecessary and not nice, especially when they’re targeted personally at people. It’s difficult in that situation because being as we’re representing Hawthorn, you want to say something back, but you can’t speak out too much. It’s better to ignore it and focus on the positive stuff and hope that with time that sexism dies down with the exposure of the sport and those conversations about women’s footy and all of that. But in women’s footy itself, it’s an extremely accepting place. I’ve never been part of something more accepting than that.