EVEN when she was a professional on the golf tour in Europe and the US, new Western Bulldogs coach Tam Hyett travelled with a footy.

She hadn't played the game outside of school, but passion for the sport ran through the family, with uncle Doug Wade the fifth-highest goalkicker in V/AFL history.

After her golf days were over, she made her football debut as the self-described "oldest-ever rookie" at 35 with VWFL side St Kilda Sharks, playing alongside the likes of Shannon McFerran, Penny Cula-Reid, Phoebe McWilliams and a very young Jas Garner and Jenna Bruton.

Hyett loved every minute, but coaching was calling.

First at the Sharks, then with Coates Talent League side Sandringham Dragons.

Then she graduated to the top level, starting as a development coach with Melbourne in 2021, before taking responsibility for the much-vaunted backline over the past three seasons.

"I always loved footy. [Our house] actually backed on to a primary school, so we used to jump the fence at quarter-time when the radio was on, and have a kick," Hyett told AFL.com.au.

"Then when I was on tour over in Europe I used to travel with the footy, so always, always loved my footy.

"I think [coaching] is the next best thing to playing, having an opportunity to assist in the development and shape young people."


The 2024 season will mark a record high number of women holding senior coaching roles, with Hyett joining Lauren Arnell (Port Adelaide), Natalie Wood (Essendon), Lisa Webb (Fremantle) and the newly appointed Daisy Pearce (West Coast) as leaders.

It's been a slow burn to this point, with Arnell, Webb and Pearce having all played in the AFLW – which only began in 2017 – before beginning their elite coaching journeys, while Wood played around the same time as Hyett in the VWFL, and still has a kick with Darebin's Masters' side.

"I read a piece where women will – there'll be 10 pieces on the selection criteria, you have nine of them, you don't have one. And you go, 'oh no, I won't apply'," Hyett said.

"I think it's potentially our own self awareness and expectation, probably doesn't allow us to initially go for positions. It just takes a little bit of prodding from others to assist with your (thinking), 'yeah, it's something that I could definitely do'.

"We have some fantastic programs as well that the AFL and AFL Coaches Association put together to assist women to have the platform to coach – the likes of Lauren Arnell, 'Dais'. 

"I spent a few years with 'Dais' at the Dees and she was a ready-made coach, she's amazing, as a player she was assisting us coaches. 


"I think it's a visual as well, people can see coaches and then they're curious – 'okay, so how do I become involved?' Now there is a really strong pathway there set up for not just women coaches, but anyone aspiring to be a coach."

Hyett highlighted the work of Arnell and Steve Teakel in instigating AFL Victoria's "She Can Coach" program, which has had 159 participants since its inception in 2018, including Hyett and Wood.

"I was one of the first to go through that program, it just gives you access to different opinions of mentors and people who are like-minded and wanting to pursue coaching as a career," Hyett said.

"Just 12 months ago, I won the scholarship with the AFL Coaches Association, and that gave me access to the 'Next Coach' program, which David Wheadon and Ron Watt look after.

"I was aligned with a mentor, and lucky enough being at the Dees, I had Adem Yze. I had some really good chats with him, and he was a great resource to lean on, and now he's gone on to head up a program (Richmond men's team) himself."

Hyett has a big task ahead, with the bottom-place Western Bulldogs virtually needing a rebuild after another wave of senior players opted to move elsewhere.

She's hoping her unique journey will come to the fore – having been an individual athlete as a golfer, she has a greater appreciation for the benefits of team sport.

"My strengths as a coach is understanding people and building relationships. I love people and I think I recognise that from my background as an athlete is that you're a person first before the athlete," Hyett said.

"We're lucky that these are talented people that play football. So the strength of mine is to build that rapport, and have an understanding of the balance that is required to [perform] in a high-performance environment. 

"Having been an athlete myself in an individual sport, (Dogs players can) leverage off the fact that they are very lucky to have teammates around them for support. 

"But first and foremost, it's building that connection with people. I love it. That's what I thrive on."