Farrago reporter Patrick Sexton sat down with Western Bulldogs player Ellyse Gamble to talk about how she managed the commitments of full-time study and footy, as well as what the future looks like for AFLW players studying at a tertiary level as the League looks to expand.
Ellyse Gamble is a key defender at the Western Bulldogs and has recently graduated from Victoria University with a Bachelor of Education, specialising in Physical Education and Mathematics. Since being picked up in the 2016 AFLW Draft, Ellyse has become a reliable asset in the Doggies’ backline and in 2021 was awarded the AFL Players Association’s Education and Training Excellence Award.
Farrago reporter Patrick Sexton sat down with Ellyse to talk about how she managed the commitments of full-time study and footy, as well as what the future looks like for AFLW players studying at a tertiary level as the League looks to expand.
Farrago: What made you want to pursue careers in both footy and education?
Ellyse: Ever since I started playing footy as a kid, I’ve loved the aspect of having a big team and the friendships you build, and the thought of being able to grow as a footballer whilst the game grew alongside me was a really enticing prospect which is why I decided to focus on my football.
I’ve also always loved school and have always looked up to my teachers, so I always knew I wanted to be that supportive influence for other people which is why I decided to study teaching.
Farrago: How did you go about balancing the commitments of full-time tertiary study with football?
Ellyse: I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It’s definitely been challenging at times and even though I’ve just graduated, I don’t think I ever mastered the balance between the two, but I did find ways to cope with the two workloads over the four years of my course.
I’ve been lucky to have great support networks around me and I think that’s something that was really important, having people both at the club and at uni who understood my workloads and were able to help me with extensions, if it was a busy week of training. I try my best to be a very organised person which has helped me be on top of everything in terms of training and deadlines for assignments, but like everyone over the last year I’ve struggled with learning from home to not get distracted, and would end up staying up late at night to try and get things done, and then would feel the consequences of that at training the next day. So it’s definitely not been easy, but making sure to take a break when needed, and knowing where to seek support when the work starts to pile up, has been crucial for me.
In my four years, I’ve been lucky to have the support of the elite athlete sport programs that VU offers. There was one week where I broke my wrist on a Sunday afternoon and had an assessment due, so I was lucky that someone within the program was able to contact my teachers and let them know I’d need an extension, so it was support like that which helped. At the Bulldogs, we also have a career coordinator who helps the girls starting uni with their journey, so I think just having those people like that to reach out to was what made it all manageable.
Ellyse Gamble debuted in the opening round of the 2017 AFLW Season in the thirty-two point win against Fremantle. Image supplied by Ellyse Gamble.
Farrago: Despite having to maintain the standards of a professional athlete year round, AFLW players are only being paid as part-time workers in comparison to the lucrative contracts seen in the men’s League. Do you think that as a result of the AFLW’s shorter season and lower pay seen for AFLW players compared to those in the men’s League that there is a greater need for AFLW players to have a job outside of football?
Ellyse: The reality is where AFLW is at the moment, I knew I wanted to study full-time to get my career up and running because you can’t solely rely on an AFLW income at the moment. Comparing myself to some of the boys at the Doggies who are also currently studying at VU, they’ll study their degrees over many years and just do a few subjects at a time, whereas I’ve chosen to study full-time not only because I want to become a teacher as soon as possible, but also because that aspect of job security is more important when footy is only part-time.
The part-time nature of AFLW contracts at the moment doesn’t really allow for that job security, which is why we need to have careers outside of football, and that’ll be my next challenge, trying to figure out what my teaching career will look like alongside my football career.
Obviously, footy is a part of your life, not your whole life: nobody’s body can hold up to the physical standards of footy forever, which is why the club places such a big focus on both the boys and us girls having careers and a life ready for post-footy, but obviously for us girls it’s a bit more important for us to focus on that aspect throughout our footy career, just due to where the competition is at.
Farrago: As the AFLW continues to grow and expand, do you think that the League should begin to move away from the shorter condensed half-year seasons towards a longer fixture, and if so do you think that will make it harder for AFLW players to study at a tertiary level?
Ellyse: Just graduating the other week, I sat back and thought, “Geez I’m glad I’ve got that done and out of the way”, because of the growth that is coming! It is really really exciting to see the expansion of the competition with four more teams coming in next year which hopefully will bring about a longer season and more games, and the league is in talks with the Players Association about the future of the AFLW and players becoming full-time professional athletes, so the discussion now also has to be about how we’re going to get there and adjust from that part-time nature. Hopefully I’m still playing when that happens, but it is a matter of “How do we get there?”, and it will become a lot more challenging for girls to study full-time like I have if the time commitment of football continues to grow.
I can’t really imagine having a bigger commitment for footy, as well as the same level of study which I was undertaking, which means hopefully when we become full-time athletes, study situations will be a bit more reflective of the men’s and footy can be a viable career on its own for girls coming into the League.
Ellyse at training. Image supplied by Ellyse Gamble.
Farrago: As a recent graduate what are some tips you have for tertiary students?
Ellyse: Uni can be quite busy and stressful, especially when you’ve got other commitments outside of study, but checking in with my friends and my family and making sure I made time for myself outside of those commitments was really important. It’s okay to say, “Yep, I need to take some time for myself here”. And even though I would feel guilty for doing it, I’m glad I would schedule in time for myself to go for a walk or watch a movie because otherwise, it can become very easy to burn out.
I’ve also found it important to go into uni and training with the mindset of trying to get something out of it, not just to get through it. That’s been a mindset that I’ve lived by on those nights when you’re not on your best game but you can still try to push yourself to take something out of it.
Farrago: Final question, how do you think the Doggies are gonna go next year and what does the next year have in store for you?
Ellyse: It’s an interesting question, because it’s really hard to tell with the way AFLW is at the moment with the four new teams coming in, and a lot of movement with players changing clubs over the recent trade period, but I think we’ve got a really good squad and a lot of young talent and we’re ready to take on our biggest rivals, the Dees, in Round 1.
Watching some of the young girls coming into the club now after having opportunities that I didn’t have when I was coming into the AFLW—like different academies and programs which have helped develop their skills—and they’re now coming in and helping us build a fast-moving brand of footy that should be really exciting to watch.
In terms of what the next year looks like for me, I’ve decided that I’m going to do Casual Relief Teaching next year, because it gives the flexibility with footy which I’m really excited to do, and there’s such a high demand for CRT staff at the moment, so I’m really looking forward to being able to get into the classroom and putting all the study into practice!
Ellyse injured her ankle at pre-season training but is aiming for a return to the action by Round 5 when the Doggies face the Tigers in a huge Saturday night clash on 5 February at the Whitten Oval. You can keep up with the action via Ellyse's Instagram and the Bulldogs Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Disclaimer: Patrick Sexton is a proud Doggies supporter through and through.