Jennifer Douglas, Chair of the AFLW Board Committee and Board Member of St Kilda Football Club, speaks about the AFLW Mentor Program – the first of its kind in the league.

Established in 2019 ahead of the launch of St Kilda’s inaugural women's season, Jennifer recognised that given the part-time nature of the competition, AFLW players have the challenge of juggling their life as an an elite athlete, while also working or studying. With this thought in mind, she helped establish this industry-leading program, specifically designed to assist female athletes while they balance these two worlds. sat down with Jennifer Douglas to find out all the details on the program.

What is the St Kilda AFLW mentor program?

The program matches each of our players with a mentor who can support them in leading successful and happy lives both on and off the field. Players are matched with someone with broad life experience, but also specific knowledge in a field relevant to the career or interests of the player. 

The support is tailored to each player and may include mentoring on juggling AFL and other work and responsibilities, broader career advice, assistance with work experience and other related matters. 

What kind of industries are represented through the program? 

We have a diverse range of mentors to match the diverse interests of our players. 

Our mentors include experienced CEOs and executives, professors and academics, entrepreneurs, media and news commentators, board directors and professional athletes (including four St Kilda AFL players).

We have over 40 present and past mentors who have been involved in the program since its establishment.

Why is it important for our AFLW players to foster relationships like this? 

Mentors play an important role in helping our players believe in themselves; learning to grow and flourish as individuals on and off the field.

Having mentors in life, especially in one’s career is an important ingredient to feeling supported, empowered and opening ourselves up to personal growth and learning. 

How has the program promoted integration at the club?

Our female athletes feel supported and empowered, while the male AFL players involved have also developed a great appreciation for AFLW and our AFLW players.

It has helped build a stronger link between the programs. The program has also provided a new way for supporters of the club to engage and help at the club in a highly meaningful way. 

What have you personally gotten out of the program? 

It has been enormously fulfilling watching the program grow and flourish.

When we first started the program, we didn’t know whether we would have more than a handful of girls take up the opportunity, but the response to the program was overwhelming with 27 players seeking mentors at the outset!

The challenge was to find not only enough mentors, but the right mentors. We formed a working group to manage things with Bernadette Sierakowski, Jane Sadler and myself and it has been an absolute pleasure working with them to bring the program to life.  

I have also gained and learned a lot from being a mentor myself. I have been lucky to have Cat Phillips as a mentee and I have loved supporting her and learning from Cat - about the game and team, about how we can improve things at the club, about life as a younger person and how she reflects on things.

What feedback have you received from other mentors and from players?

Feedback on the program has been overwhelmingly positive. Nearly all of the mentors are mad Saints supporters, so they relish the opportunity to give back to the club also.

Most of the players are hungry for advice and support. Starting an AFLW career often coincides with other big life milestones, like leaving school, starting further education, commencing a new career or moving out of home, so it's a really key time to have an additional layer of support. 

What are your hopes for the future of the program? 

My hope is that the program will support the players (and their mentors) to be the best they can be as people and leaders in the world.

We have an opportunity with AFLW to inspire a generation of children, and let them know they can do or be anything - being a girl or boy should not limit what we can and cannot do in life and AFLW is a brilliant example of just that.