I’m about to say something that would get me into trouble if I shouted it too loud: I find AFLW disappointing.
AFLW is the women’s AFL league, which has been going for a few years now. I’m all for the concept of it. I love footy generally and fair enough that women have their own league. And, I quite enjoy a lot of women’s sport – cricket is top-notch, as is soccer, and women’s basketball has been great for years.
The caveat with all that is that there isn’t the ballistic, powerful element that can make it so electrifying in comparison to male sport. That’s why skills-based sports like soccer and cricket translate better than, say, footy. There are some mighty skilled exponents in women’s sport. Rarely is it as explosive as men’s sport.
AFL footy is a game of skill, but there’s also a great physical component to it. Relative to other players, that still plays a part in women’s footy, but it suffers compared to the male equivalent (with the possible exception of someone like Erin Phillips). The reality is that women aren’t as fast or as powerful as men are, and it makes for a different game.
The AFLW grand final was over the weekend, and I watched the last quarter of it. As with most times I’ve watched women’s footy, I thought the skills were pretty ordinary and a lot of decision-making poor. There are some great moments and feats of individual skill, but they’re rare. I get infuriated watching men’s footy, but it’s compounded when I watch AFLW. The standard has definitely improved since the league began, but I also think you can see better park footy.
I know that sounds harsh, but I think the women are disadvantaged by how the game is played. At best, the women playing are semi-professional, and they’re never going to reach the heights until it becomes a full-time, professional sport. Proper training, diet and nutrition, specialised coaching, and so on would make for a much greater spectacle – properly fit competitors with decent skills would make for a much more fluent and high-scoring game.
Scoring is one of the big issues with AFLW. The winning team Saturday scored 6 goals over the course of the game. That’s a decent quarter score for a men’s team, though there was also an 8 goal quarter over the weekend. Better skills and fitness would make some difference, but the rest of it is physical.
The reality is that because women aren’t as strong as men, they can’t kick the ball as far but are playing on the same sized grounds. End to end, it would probably take a male team 3.5 kicks to cover the distance. For women, I reckon it’s about double that. The average bloke can kick it 45-50 metres, and some can hoof it much further. For women, it’s probably 25-35 metres.
These are physical constraints that aren’t going to change. It seems obvious to me that women should play on fields a good 30-40 metres shorter than the men, which probably means you reduce the onfield team to 16, down from 18.
I reckon you’d see scoring improve by about 40% if you did that, which would make for a much better spectacle, and it makes sense.
Women’s footy will improve on its own as it matures more, but I think it can be helped out. I’ll be happy to watch then.