Ash Wilson is the Newcastle Jets' first female W-League coach. And she hopes she is not the last.
The 37-year-old says support is key to others being able to follow in her footsteps.
Wilson was handed the Jets head coaching gig this season after five years serving as assistant to Craig Deans, who is now Newcastle's A-League coach. She is one of only two female coaches in the nine-team national women's football league.
"I'm someone who done their time and time will tell whether I've done enough to be able to continue to build my craft here," Wilson said.
"But it is important to continue to support women to work their way through the process. That's any female coach that's aspiring to be a head coach, whether it's at this level or another."
Progressing through the ranks also means working your way through advanced coaching courses - a timely and costly process.
"I'm just lucky I have a supportive boss that has allowed me to take time to be able to do those courses," Wilson said. "Not every female that wants to go further is going to have that luxury. So I'm also fully aware that, while I say females have to take some initiative, I know that there also needs to be support for some of them to allow them to do that.
"It was a bit similar in the men's game 20-odd years ago. But it's important we're having these conversations and we're raising awareness then hopefully we can continue to inspire and get more females involved in coaching."
Unlike in the A-League, where players and coaches enjoy the luxury of being full-time professionals, the women's game is much more of a juggle.
Wilson is head teacher of Physical Education at Hunter Sports High School. She is also head coach of the Jets Academy 20s female squad, who play in National Premier League NSW Women's from April to August.
It means long days. An average work day starts at school around 7.45am. Set-up for Jets training begins by 4pm and Wilson is rarely home before 8pm. Then it is planning for school or football analysis.
Wilson will mark International Women's Day by coaching Newcastle against Perth in Perth in round 11 of the W-League on Monday night before boarding the "red-eye" flight home.
Depending on the trip back, she will likely front up for school on Tuesday.
"That's the story with any top job," Wilson said. "It takes time, it takes effort, it takes commitment and sacrifice. For me, I'm just lucky I work in a profession that gives me a bit of flexibility in terms of my hours.
"I do put a lot of work into it but it is something that I'm passionate about, so I never really worry too much about what I've had to give up to be here. I don't ever see things as a sacrifice and I've got some great people around me to enable the process to juggle teaching and coaching to make it manageable.
"I've got a supportive principal. The club is fully behind me and I've got great staff at the club with me working behind the scenes as well. All of that makes me be able to do both jobs hopefully well."
As a teenager Wilson was among the nation's most talented footballers for her age. She played for Northern NSW Pride in the now-defunct Women's National Soccer League.
She retired from playing in her early 20s before the W-League began due to a number of injury setbacks and a lack of financial support for elite female footballers in Australia.
The career prospect of becoming a teacher was, and still is, "a lot more stable".
Increased financial support for players is something Wilson wants to see. In her Jets team are engineers, lawyers, teachers and students, among other things. They train evenings and take days off work for game travel.
The W-League minimum wage is $16,344 for a five-month season. In the competition's formative years, players were lucky to earn enough money to cover petrol costs but a giant gap remains between the men's and women's game.
"You see a number of the [senior] players, like Hannah [Brewer], Tara [Andrews], Gema [Simon], and they've all given up a lot to continue to be footballers, or they're all juggling a lot," Wilson said.
"If you asked them the comparison to how it was when they started to how it is now, it's better, but that sacrifice is part of it ... While there are little things that have continued to get better, obviously there's still a long way to go.
"It's a nation thing and it's probably a few years off but the conversation is good to keep this issue in people's thoughts about how do we continue to make female sport in general better for the athletes to allow them to focus on what they do. At the moment, it can't go backwards."
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