The Floreat resident has been paving the way for women in the sport for years and is now preparing for an eight-team national Women’s AFL competition next year.
The mother-of-two, whose role it is to increase female participation and talent pathways, including events such as the Youth Girls National Championships, started her career as an assistant head trainer for Swan Districts.
She has since worked with the WA Football Commission (WAFC) and WA Women’s Football League (WAWFL). Last year she was named AFL Woman of the Year and took part in the Grand Final motorcade – a first for women in the sport.
A trailblazer for women in the industry, Cooper described her original job description as hilarious but she was now happy to see people finally “getting” the role women played in AFL.
“It (my job description) was almost like ‘we don’t know what to do in the female space and you’re female so you can increase the number of women on boards and executives around the country’,” she said.
“They said you can also increase the number of umpiring numbers and coaches and after about three weeks I thought if this is going to work – this is not about me driving it – it has to be a whole organisation approach, it has to be integrated.
“Umpires were the first to get it – there was no difference in a woman umpiring a game to a man. They are just as athletic and great decision makers.”
Since starting 10 years ago, Cooper has seen the number of women and girls involved in the sport jump from 16,000 to 284,000 last year.
“You can see the wheel has changed over time,” she said.
“Initially it was quite daunting – because there was a traditional mindset that I didn’t play football, so what did I know?
“I’d been involved in a household that was immersed entirely in football and I’d followed my brothers and my dad (Swan Districts Football Club legend John Cooper) who were all involved in football.
“I had this rich football history but there wasn’t a pathway for me.
“When I started trying to get participation going, it was difficult because you didn’t have credibility as a player and I found very quickly that I had to find male voices to sell the message.
“While I had to be the passionate driver I had to convince some key men to be the voice piece.”
Today on International Women’s Day (IWD), a day she believes should be celebrated every day, Cooper looks to several role models, including men, to inspire her to make even more change.
“I have so many role models – they’re not all women either and I think we should be mindful of showcasing women role models on a daily basis, not just on IWD,” she said.
“When I went to Julie Bishop to talk about women on boards and going into a male-dominated industry she was just inspiring with the way she goes about her craft. Then there’s all these young girls playing the game including Alana Dickie, Chelsea Randall, Kirby Bentley, Daisy Pearce – they excite me on a daily basis.”
“But I’m really lucky to have the support of my husband and my kids who between the three of them keep the ball rolling at home and support me.
“Without their support I would not be able to do it.”