On Sunday afternoon we were given incredible access into the timeout, team chat between Rob Wright and his Collingwood players during the Magpies clash with the Giants in Super Netball. The Magpies were seven points behind and had called a quick timeout, Wright pulled his wing-attack Kelsey Browne aside to give her feedback and instructions for the remainder of the quarter - it was brutal, but not unlike anything you would see from an AFL, rugby or soccer coach.
With just one minute to talk to his players, Wright had only a few seconds to instruct Browne on what she was getting wrong and what she needed to rectify. In response Browne asked for positive feedback, it's Wright's savage reply that has divided the netball world.
"How about doing some [positives], to me at the moment you're not. I can't give you a positive when you're not doing it, alright... A little less attitude, because I don't need it. How about you just do your role."
He promptly subbed Browne off for the remaining four minutes of the quarter. As play returned cameras continued to follow Wright and Browne as they resumed their discussion on the bench. It was riveting TV and as former Diamond Sharni Layton stated on Twitter "how great is our sport that our coaches allow conversations to be heard."
Twitter lit up with criticism of Wright, many people called the rebuke unnecessary, brutal and childish. But would the outcry be the same If we were to witness an AFL coach tearing shreds off his male players? We've regularly seen NRL coaches kick chairs, break doors and go red-faced when berating their players, but instead of receiving backlash from fans or commentators, their responses are simply put down to passion.
It's certainly not the first time tough love conversations like this have happened between coaches and athletes, and it certainly won't be the last, but if our Australian female professional athletes are to be looked upon as equals to their male counterparts, it's time females were unwrapped from cotton wool, treated like professionals and received criticism where warranted.
For too long media and fans have allowed sub-standard performances to be brushed off as 'unlucky' or as 'courageous in defeat', and as expectations of our female athletes rise, they need to receive the same critical analysis that male athletes are subjected to.
In an interview with Sydney Morning Herald, Ellyse Perry, one of Australia's top athletes, noted female sports stars are yet to face the same public and media scrutiny of their male counterparts, with responses almost always positive, and it'll be a sign of progress when they finally receive the same criticism men face.
"I would argue that by and large the coverage of women's sport is incredibly positive. In a lot of ways it's flattering. It's good news and I love reading positive stories, but what happens in male sport - and it comes with the territory - is that they get heavily criticised. For everything. In so many ways. In media, online, from people in the street. They deal with things that female athletes just don't have to worry about yet."
While it's near impossible to come up with criticism of Perry or her Australian cricket side as they continue to demolish any team they come across, including an unbeaten run against England in the current Ashes series, a Round of 16 defeat for the Matildas at the FIFA World Cup, and a Grand Final loss for the Diamonds at the Netball World Cup are two results that should be viewed more critically.
The Matildas entered the World Cup as a top contenders. Despite a controversial lead up to the tournament with coach Alen Stajcic unceremoniously dumped from the role six months ahead of the World Cup, expectations for the side were still high. Sam Kerr, considered one of the best footballers in the world, was to lead her side to glory and take them further than ever before. Instead, they never truly hit their straps, and the promise of something more was never met.
Headlines declared the Matildas as 'brave' for their efforts, that their World Cup exit was 'no disgrace', but as Ante Jukic wrote for ESPN, Australia should no longer accept 'honourable defeats'. The Matildas promised so much but underachieved against, not just expectations, but previous performances, and while we can remain proud of their efforts, we must also be realistic. Pride for our athletes and criticism of their performances are not mutually exclusive.
Last week the Diamonds fell to their second major gold medal loss within 12 months after they succumbed to longtime rivals the Silver Ferns by one-goal. No.1 in the world, the odds were on Australia to claim a three-peat and their 12th World Cup crown, but poor selections and lack of on court leadership was costly. As Liz Ellis put it, it was a wake-up call for Australian netball.
As Perry told SMH, critical analysis is great "because it'll show people care".
Browne, alongside her teammates, are professional athletes, their livelihood revolves around their performances and attitudes on court and in training. Receiving honest and robust feedback from coaching staff is an expectation and shouldn't be frowned upon. Instead of criticising Wright, we should be praising the access and the insight we receive into what it takes to succeed in a professional environment.