Coach Jess makes VAFA history

Posted on - Latest News, Featured, Old Melburnians

By Nick Armistead

Old Melburnians Football Club recently created history by appointing the first-ever female head coach in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA).

Former Melbourne Grammar School (MGS) 1st XVIII assistant coach, Jessica Rottura, has taken the reins alongside David Elam as co-coach of the U19s side in a move embraced by all at the Club and VAFA.

Rottura’s appointment is no surprise to those who have witnessed her in action. Talented, driven and with an expansive knowledge of the game, Rottura possesses the qualities representative of successful coaches from decades past after spending seven years in her position as an assistant.

She commenced an English teaching career at the school in 2007 and says, while coaching was never an avenue she had seriously considered, there was always an interest as it augmented her Masters of Education research on the information processing of gifted adolescents.

“I always saw it as more of an extension of my teaching,” Rottura says.

“I looked at what a natural football brain was and wondered if I could test for it. Somehow, it developed into skills and observations I could apply to different game-sense situations and use to help out with modifying drills.”

MGS 1st XVIII Director of Coaching, Michael Ford, caught wind of Rottura’s research and suggested the idea of extending her an offer to join the coaching panel led by Ben Hanisch.

Ford’s decision has since proved inspired.

During a five-year tenure alongside Ford, Rottura witnessed more than 30 school players further their football careers at either the AFL, VFL or NEAFL.

Rottura’s decision to take up the role with the U19 section was met with elation from her former players who will have the opportunity to continue their alliance with their female mentor.

“It was actually lovely (when the players found out) and I think they were excited about being able to work with me again,” she says.

“Once you build a relationship or a rapport with a player over the years there is a sense of familiarity for both of us I think.”

She has built strong coaching ties with many young players and their families since her debut due to her ability to communicate ideas and create an enjoyable atmosphere.

A former MGS 1st XVIII captain told VAFA Media Rottura always had “the ability to communicate with players and exterior entities like an Alan Richardson, and the initiative and bold ideas of an Alistair Clarkson”.

With the change in gender-based personnel, there was a sense of caution from players during the initial introductory phase regarding the role Rottura would play in the team.

However, as with every fruitful leader, Rottura quickly established a level of respect which was showcased in its entirety during a speech at the last football awards night she attended as a coach of MGS.

“I think there was a little bit of tentativeness towards it,” she says.

“But one of the captains said every boy from about that year level going into Melbourne Grammar Senior School had always had a woman in that role and there was nothing unusual or weird about it. They just thought it was something different, but a bit special rather than negative.

“If you build a culture around it, or if you don’t make it something strange, tokenistic even, it’s part of the strength of the Club rather than something weird.”

Rottura has solidified her working relationship with her chargers through the caring and understanding nature of her coaching.

Since accepting her first role in 2007, getting to know the players has been her number one focus to earn their respect and extract optimal performance by understanding each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Footballers are like students,” Rottura says.

“I don’t think there’s such thing as carrot or the stick style of coaching. I think you need to have the carrot and the stick because boys really need both.

“So like good cop, bad cop I think you need both cops. Some boys simply don’t play better when you yell at them.”

With any co-coaching role, personal philosophies will often either improve or reduce productivity; with the latter having not occurred alongside Elam.

“David and I both agreed and shared the same philosophy that we’re not here to muck around,” Rottura says.

“He is a great administrator and is full of life and energy and has a real passion for the game and the Club which is really important.

“Especially at an Amateur Football Club, the sense of what OMs means is really important, and he’s been around and is really passionate about bringing life and success to it.”

Elam echoes similar sentiments of Rottura, saying both coaches combine well to benefit the team.

“Jess brings a lot of the modern thoughts of the game with me being a little bit ancient in my thinking about it,” he says.

“The boys are really enjoying it. They see it as an uplift in the coaching panel, the skills and strategies that will come down the line.”

Together, both Rottura and Elam will look to improve the overall performance of Old Melburnians’ junior squad in 2016 after they finished seventh with just five wins from their 18 games in U19 Premier last year.

Taking any football side to premiership glory is always a challenging task, but the thought of losing is not an idea Rottura often entertains.

“I’m pretty competitive and we’ve both had success in coaching,” she says.

“I’m not really used to losing and I don’t really like it.”

Numbers at training suggest an improved result in the upcoming season is on the cards for OMs, with 25 to 30 players at each training session to date.

“We’ve got some talent we’ve been able to keep from the year before and some great developing players from last year’s 1st XVIII,” Rottura says.

Looking beyond her time with OMs, and with the influx of female participation in men’s football as a guide to potential career paths, Rottura will not rule out progression in the coaching field.

“I think there’s a role for women and I think that maybe if the right job presented itself I certainly wouldn’t say no,” she says.

“I think at the moment there’s a tendency just to put women into women’s football and OM’s have been brave enough to put a woman in this job. A lot of other organisations just wouldn’t be brave enough to do that I wouldn’t think.”

The news of Rottura’s appointment comes after former St Kevin’s Old Boys senior assistant coach, Peta Searle, became the first female development coach in AFL history when she joined St Kilda Football Club in 2014.