The United States Australian Football League has appointed former VFL/AFL footballer Dannie Seow as head coach of their national women’s team, the USA Freedom.
Seow, who played 17 senior matches for Collingwood in across the 1986/87 seasons, headed to the USA in 1988 to study and try out as a wide receiver in American football at the University of North Carolina.
He returned to Australia the following year, where he was taken by Melbourne in the 1989 pre-season draft, and would end up playing seven senior matches for the Demons over the next two seasons.
About three years ago, Seow found himself in Washington DC, and in a very short space of time found himself a member of the [then] Baltimore-Washington Eagles, and then as coach of the club’s women’s team.
It was one of the players from the Baltimore-Washington women’s team that spotted the ad where the USAFL was looking for a national women’s team coach, and urged Seow to apply.
“One of the girls that I coached, actually asked me last minute – Emily Riehl, she’s the vice-captain from Baltimore – she asked me to put my application in,” Seow explained.
“I spoke to her for a little while, [and] spoke to another girl named Jesse who does the administration, and I thought, why not?
“The day before applications closed I put my hat in the ring, just to see what would happen.
“I had an interview, and I guess they chose me.”
The national women’s team, the USA Freedom, began its existence 11 years ago, when they played the Canadian national women’s team (then known as the Canadian Eagles) in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Two years later, the USA Freedom toured Australia and played local teams all down the east coast, from as far north as Cairns all the way down south to Melbourne.
They’ve been part of the AFL International Cup women’s division since its inception seven years ago, and have finished third in 2011 and 2014, and fourth last year.
The women’s national team program even expanded in 2014 to include a ‘development team’, the USA Liberty; who finished seventh in that year’s International Cup, and finished with 3 wins and 2 losses in their tour of Melbourne last year where they played local sides of various divisional rankings.
Seow understands his role is much more than just a coach who runs training sessions and match day, and a greater program needs to be installed to improve the USA’s international ranking.
“I’m head coach, but I’m also the program director for the women’s national team program.
“II have to put together a whole real program for development, recruitment, sponsorship, the works.
“I need to actually build it from scratch, and build a foundation from which the program can go on; so, if I’m only here [in the role] for three years… then there’s a program in place that can continue without me.
“Prior to that it was just whatever the head coach wanted to do they did, there was no real system, and kudos to everyone that has come before me… they’ve done really well with the limited resources that they had, but I want to put in something a bit more permanent across the nation.”
The USA Freedom has always found itself at a disadvantage to other developed nations playing women’s Australian Rules football.
Ireland’s players have a Gaelic football background that’s more easily transferable to Aussie Rules, most of the GB Swans footballers play in the London league which has eight teams playing 18-a-side football regularly, and the Canadians split their national team up into East and West camps and have more regular club matches in places like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
With the USA’s clubs further spread out, players more often play in nine-a-side (or less) matches, only getting the chance to play 18-a-side at the annual regional or national tournaments.
Instead of bringing these players together for just one big national camp, Seow is looking to a more regional model, giving more players the chance to impress and earn a spot on the national team.
“I’m actually going to put them into [sides representing] regions.
“I’ll the bring them together for their own combine, and I’ll have all the regions play each other… so when then get a better idea of who are the better players.
“Because players might come from a ten-player team, and one player maybe outstanding in their team, but then they have to play against everyone else to see what level they really are at.
“It’s very hard here because it’s quite a big country with so many states, and it’s easier from London’s [GB Swans] perspective, from Ireland’s perspective, that they don’t have to travel very far to get to where they need to go [for national team training].”
The new USA Freedom coach is also looking beyond national team honours, and is reaching out to contacts in Australia, such as former teammate and now Lions coach Craig Starcevich, to find ways to get women’s footballers from the USA down to Australia to improve their skills and knowledge of the game.
He has already reached out to one former Sacramento footballer based in Melbourne, and will soon have another American in the world’s most livable city, when Portland’s Jessica Blecher arrives after her short stint in Darwin.
“I’ve spoke to a couple of clubs already, at various level,” Seow said.
“[Sacramento’s] Kate Klatt emailed me not long ago about what she can do, and I asked her to help me out with Melbourne University.
“I really want to put an exchange program in place so that girls can go over there, and if [Australian] girls want to come over here and help, that would be fantastic.
“I’d like to send over girls that are at different levels to Australia, especially once we start recruiting some really good athletes that want to come into the [national] team.”
The full interview with Dannie can be heard on the 99th overall episode of the Girls Play Footy Podcast via Apple Podcasts or Soundcloud. The podcast also features interviews with the GWS Giants’ Phoebe McWilliams and the Irish Banshees’ Olivia McCann.
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