Juggling the on-field and off-field in the AFLW space is challenging enough at the best of times. That’s where St Kilda’s AFLW Mentor Program comes in.
Kate Shierlaw and Jane Sadler were one of the first mentor/mentee relationships created as part of the Saints' industry-leading program; the first of its kind in the competition to help athletes balance and develop their professional and personal lives.
With Jane running her own leadership business and Kate having been a member of St Kilda’s leadership group for the past three seasons, it only made sense to bring the two together.
But what started as a pairing based on that common interest has evolved into so much more.
From Jane helping Kate develop and utilise her leadership skills to bring the team together, to Kate helping inspire Jane and her children, the two are the perfect example of how the AFLW Mentor Program can create powerful connections and nurture important skills to last a lifetime.
Tell us a little bit about your mentor-mentee relationship?
K: I was assigned to Jane and she’s been incredible. She’s heart and soul Saints, very caring and invested not only as a fan but in me personally.
J: Kate is super independent and she knows where she’s heading in life. She has a strong sense of purpose. There might be times where we chat once every three months or once a week every week.
What areas do you focus on?
K: At the start it was more about what I wanted to do with my career and my life outside of footy, but then Jane really helped me with my leadership. Anything I have questions or concerns about Jane helps and guides me on that.
J: We do talk about leadership a lot and how to navigate the challenges, that’s been a big focus. There’s a leadership component, but it’s also personal advocacy of our mentees and Kate’s met my kids who look up to her a lot.
How did you navigate your relationship throughout the challenges of COVID?
K: Jane helped us create the Leadership Edge Program which we used at the Saints during COVID. We were all separated at the time as a group, so once every fortnight we did an online session with Jane and she helped us understand who we are as leaders, what our strengths are and how we can be the best of each other as a group.
J: During COVID when the girls couldn’t train, Kate reached out and asked me to run through a workshop with the leadership group at the time. She’s resourceful in leveraging her mentor relationship to the benefit of the broader group - like a true leader. My younger son Harry is a huge fan of Kate’s and when she had COVID and couldn't play, he sent her a video of him playing the Saints song on the trumpet in his Saints pyjamas.
Kate, has the relationship helped your leadership?
K: Absolutely. Tapping into Jane's expertise and experience has been really helpful to navigate my leadership skills.
Jane, what impresses you most about Kate?
J: Her work ethic. In the off-season she trains so hard and she’s so dedicated. In the time I’ve known her I’ve seen big changes in her game year on year. That’s all been because Kate and her tenacity, focus and drive to be the best player she can be.
Can you describe your relationship in one or two words?
J: Mutual respect.
Kate, what have you learned from Jane?
Jane has taught me the importance of networking and leaning on people around you to help with self-confidence and self-growth in areas of interest.
Jane, what have you learned from Kate?
It’s hard to lead when you’re losing and when I look at Kate (and Hannah and Rhi) they’ve got to get up every week and inspire players who might be struggling with their game. I think they do that really well.
For me, watching that teaches me a lot. Mentors can open their eyes to new places and spaces to learn from others. It’s a two-way street.
My Dad was the president of the football club back in the day in Ballarat, that was no place for me – he was kicking the footy with my brother and my job was to be in the kitchen with mum frying dim sims, not standing on the sidelines working with players.
So I think for mentors like me, being able to re-write those chapters and being able to support the women pioneering is an honour and privilege. For a lot of us we’re doing things that we couldn’t do ourselves, which is so inspiring.