Coaches, spectators, fathers. What does AFLW mean for men?

Chyloe Kurdas is former All Australian and Victorian representative, and VWFL Premiership captain with Melbourne University. She spent a decade with AFL Victoria building their community and high performance programs in anticipation of the AFLW competition. Chyloe credits being one the first women to play football on the MCG as one best days of her life.

Much has been made about the cultural significance of the AFLW competition that ensures women and girls no longer have to watch our much-loved indigenous game from the sidelines. What this new competition could mean for their male counterparts may be just as powerful.

Community clubs are reporting a spike in enquiries from women and girls to play, and the number of new female teams across the country will increase significantly. Leagues that have never dared to venture into women's football will run women's competitions for the first time ever.

New participants bring new families to clubs. For some fathers, football has never been considered a legitimate sporting option for their family.

Female football has invigorated fathers of daughters who had given up hope of being a 'footy dad' by offering not only their daughters a pathway but also a place for them in football.

Paul Groves, Western Bulldogs AFLW coach and a premiership player at community level, shares a story of a former teammate that has become commonplace with the rapid rise of female football.

"A guy I played football with has two daughters. He'd had no involvement in football at all. Now that one of his girls is playing, he is coaching the team," Groves said. "He's now completely immersed in the footy club environment - he is a friend of parents. He's an excellent footy person, and I reckon he might have felt by having girls that he was going to lose that out of his life. Now he's got that avenue.

"He couldn't have been happier in thinking 'all of a sudden I've got footy back'."

The presence of fathers in female football is beneficial for both them and their daughters. Deakin University's 2004 evaluation of the Australia's first Youth Girls football competition found an unexpected benefit - that the relationship between fathers and football-playing daughters improved across the football season.

Teenage girls and their fathers found some commonality in football, allowing them to speak a similar language in a space they could share. For those with sons, female football provides fathers with an opportunity to role model gender inclusion to their sons by investing in their daughter's footballing pathways, or by proactively supporting the AFLW competition.

Female football has provided more coaching opportunities at all levels, with many roles being taken up by good male coaches keen to learn and grow. Groves, and the coaches of Collingwood and Carlton, Wayne Siekman and Damien Keeping respectively, all coached in Victoria's male under-18 state league. Transitioning into female football introduced them and other male coaches to an emerging component of the sport, helping them to find their way into AFL clubs.

Having such coaches in the system has benefited everyone in female football. AFLW wouldn't have been possible without their many years of investment in Victoria's most promising young women.

Pioneers in their own right as advocates for the game's women and girls, Groves, Siekman and Keeping have not only invested in AFLW's future playing talent, but have taken great pride in mentoring the first generation of high performance coaching women.

They have also shown other men the importance of investing in female football, enticing other quality male coaches to mentor girls over boys.

For these men, there is much to be learned in coaching female players. Greater Western Sydney coach Tim Schmidt highlights enhanced patience as the thing he's gained the most from coaching female footballers.

"With females you do actually have to have that patience because a lot of the time they haven't experienced it before," he said.

Groves has learned more about how to coach according to the individual needs of the players.

"It's taught me to just understand my players ... about how to handle people and understand what they're searching for," he said.

As someone who loves a challenge, female football suits Schmidt's interest in helping athletes to learn and develop.

"The girls are like sponges. They want to learn and they want to absorb everything," he said. "They like to ask questions...because they want to get better."

Groves enjoys women's passion for the game.

"They celebrate differently. They embrace the competition differently," he said. "There's a genuine excitement there [because] of the new competition, the prospect of them having a pathway to now go somewhere and be able to play AFL."

While the tackles have been ferocious and the intensity fierce, the AFLW fan experience is a softer one. Take a walk around the outer and you'll find a crowd diversity not yet enjoyed by the men's game. Young families, bearded hipsters, lesbian fans and nostalgic baby boomers cheer on their favourite players almost arm in arm. Fans of clubs without a women's team appear unfazed, turning up regardless, barracking just as loudly and finding joy in the mere presence of the new league.

There is a lack of machismo in AFLW that affords male attendees a unique space to explore what it means to be a gentler sports fan, to celebrate gleefully, and without need to make criticism of umpires and players' capacities. The AFLW boundary fence is teeming with young boys and girls alike learning the rules of spectating in this more temperate environment.

The cultural significance of the AFLW competition will spawn a new generation of empowered and aspirational girls. Perhaps for boys, AFLW's true power lies in giving them the freedom to proudly be a part of their support crew.