North Melbourne Football Club captain Emma Kearney finds the perfect balance between a sporting life and a calling to education, writes LOUISE SWINN.
Like most players in the AFLW, North Melbourne Football Club captain Emma Kearney balances her footy career with other work commitments. A qualified teacher, Emma currently leads the education side of The Huddle, North Melbourne Football Club’s community arm. Emma considers herself lucky in this role. “I’m still getting that teaching feeling without the report writing. A win-win for me!”
Prior to this, Emma taught PE at high schools in Melbourne: the John Monash Science School in Clayton, Brentwood Secondary College in Glen Waverley, and Mount Alexander College in Flemington. Now she takes these same skills out into the community, visiting students in secondary and upper primary schools, imparting her knowledge and enthusiasm.
It undoubtedly helps that she is still very much in touch with her younger self, recalling clearly how it feels to be a child. “The biggest thing I would have loved to have known is that it’s OK to make mistakes and it’s nothing to be embarrassed by. If anything, it’s the perfect opportunity to learn.”
This is sound advice, coming from a winner of the Most Valuable Player Award, winner of the AFLW Best and Fairest, and the co-winner of the Susan Alberti award. As well as playing football, Emma has been a professional cricketer with the Melbourne Stars in the Women’s Big Bash League. For Emma, balancing so many elements in life is a natural skillset.
“I think most teachers are highly organised. They have to be to survive. My organisational skills have helped to juggle both a professional career and a sporting career. It’s had its challenges but working full time allows me time away from footy, which keeps me balanced.”
Emma sees the two jobs feeding into each other. “As educators, you’re always dealing with different people and situations, so you have to be adaptable and understanding.
“My key message for students and teachers is to celebrate differences in people.”
“It’s no different with the people you’re dealing with at footy. Everyone has their own unique situation, so it’s about showing empathy and understanding to those around you so you’re able to create good relationships.”
This emphasis on developing relationships has been key to the midfielder’s success on and off the field.
She is a role model for young people and adults alike, not least as one of the AFLW’s proud LGBTIQA+ community. “I don’t always see myself as a role model, but then am often reminded of the impact that I and other women athletes have on the younger generation.”
Currently in a relationship with St Kilda Football Club co-captain Kate Shierlaw, Emma has found the AFLW community to be very supportive of the LGBTIQA+ community. “It’s always been a place where I’ve been comfortable to be who I am. My key message for students and teachers is to celebrate differences in people.
“Also, be mindful of the language we use and the impact that can have on young people,” she says, offering some advice for fellow teachers: “Saying ‘boys’ and girls’ or ‘guys’ isn’t overly inclusive of everyone in your classroom.”
Emma grew up in the western Victorian town of Cavendish, where her parents are sheep farmers. Although teaching was central to Emma’s life prior to playing AFL, her love for the game started to develop from the age of four.
“My parents are footy mad, and I guess they had a huge influence on me getting involved in the game. I was always on my parents’ farm, playing outside straight after school.”
She talks enthusiastically about being part of a team, both in the workplace and in sport. “Footy is similar to teaching, where you’re all working together to achieve greater outcomes – for the win, or for your students.”
Emma points out several traits needed in her roles as both professional sportswoman and teacher. “You need teamwork, cooperation, leadership, understanding of others, a positive mindset, and grit to be the best we can.”
All of this she brings in spades as an athlete and to her passion for education.