The Western Force have underlined their investment in the club’s women’s program with the full-time appointments of Emma Heywood and Christal Hewlett in new roles along with the introduction of the Game Changers program to take the squad into the professional era.
The Force have been trailblazers in Australian women’s rugby over the past 24 months, including October’s appointment of Super W’s first full-time head coach, Dylan Parsons, along with last month’s maiden Super W multi-year contracts for Trilleen Pomare and Michaela Leonard.
The Club previously became the first Super Rugby club to employ a Female High Performance Manager, to start player payments and to found a semi-professional Super W Academy.
The Force’s women’s program has now been bolstered with the appointment of Heywood as the Club’s Head of Physical Development Super W and Pathways. Hewlett has also come on board full-time as the team’s Physiotherapist, having previously been involved in a part-time capacity. The duo will offer invaluable resources for the playing group’s development and professionalism.
Force Female High Performance Manager Claudia Bell said: “We’re trying to lead the way in how we can push female rugby players and women’s rugby into the professional era. We’ve already seen by taking these steps it forces others to follow suit which is huge growth for women’s rugby in Australia.
“Getting full-time people in these lead roles also makes sure that we’re looking after these athletes and treating them like professional athletes, so they’re getting 24/7 access to the personnel that have the experience and qualifications to get them to the next level.
“What we’re trying to achieve in this program is turning our players and coaches into Wallaroos and earn higher honours. By doing all these things, we’re able to produce higher-end quality rugby players.”
Alongside that, the Force have employed the Game Changers program run by Monica Beazley, founder of Monarch Management, to deliver a leadership program for the Super W team across January to March ahead of the new season starting on Friday 15 March against the Melbourne Rebels.
“The ripple effect of Game Changers includes a boost in confidence and individual performance, fostering improved team dynamics and unity, along with building long-term loyalty and commitment from our players,” Beazley said.
“Additionally, the program is geared towards instilling essential leadership skills in players, offering valuable tools applicable to every aspect of their professional journeys.”
Heywood comes to Perth from New Zealand where she has a wealth of experience in women’s rugby and the strength and conditioning space.
She held roles at Northland Rugby Union as their Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, Canterbury Rugby Union’s Strength and Conditioning Coach with some Performance Analyst responsibility. She’s also previously worked at World Rugby on sports science research and completed her Masters’ degree in sports science.
“With my experience being predominantly in women’s rugby, I can take that and cater that to the Force and their individual needs,” Heywood said. “My coaching philosophy is all about what the individual needs, especially in women’s rugby, no female is the same. Some have amazing training backgrounds and some it’s their first year in a professional environment.”
Heywood’s appointment will also enable the Force women’s program to run 10 months of the year, as opposed to the short block around the Super W season, which runs from March to April with a pre-season.
“The most exciting part of this is the girls train 10 months of the year,” Heywood said. “That means we have our eyes on them for such a long time we can take them to the next level, on field and off field as humans. The physical fitness side I can make sure they’re continually progressing rather than having eyes on them for a few months, then disappearing. Essentially that’ll help them go further in their career and earn higher honours at rep level.”
Hewlett has a raft of experience in Perth sport, with roles including as WAIS Physiotherapist for the women’s basketball program, Perth Lynx Physiotherapist and UWA Rugby’s Head Physiotherapist. She also started as an intern with the Force in 2016, developing her experience with RugbyWA from 2018 to 2023 in a part-time capacity leading to her full-time Force appointment, split between the women’s team and Fortescue Academy.
“I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity – I have been lucky enough to be a part of a pathway that has taken me from being an intern in 2016 to now a full-time role in 2024,” Hewlett said. “Seeing the progress the club has made and the direction they are taking across all programs is really exciting.
“Moving into a full-time role means I am able to offer time and resources that our female players haven’t had access too previously. There is so much emerging literature on female athlete health and this is an exciting opportunity for us to build that side of the program from scratch and get it right.
“This increased investment means we can start to offer care and resources that align with our men’s and men’s Academy programs but in a way that supports our female athletes specifically.”
Bell added that the Game Changers program was about developing the wellbeing of the athletes, helping them become well-rounded individuals to the betterment of their playing careers.
Beazley will lead and deliver the Game Changers program that includes eight sessions focused on topics such as building confidence, the art of communication, leveraging gratitude and ambition, community engagement, building resilience and much more.
“The Game Changers program is all about guiding elite female athletes in adopting a high-performance mindset that goes beyond the field,” Beazley said.
“These exceptional athletes dedicate significant time and energy to excel in their on-field endeavours, and our program aims to re-define their approach by channeling that same commitment into personal development.
“At the heart of this program is to ensure players are geared up for success well beyond their playing days. Given the younger age of our playing group, the fundamental skills they pick up in this program are a game-changer. Picture it as their secret weapon, helping them not only thrive during their professional playing days but also paving the way for a fulfilling career post-sport. It's all about arming them with the tools they need for success, both on and off the field.”
Bell was optimistic that the new full-time resources and Game Changers program could help lead the Force’s women’s program into a new era on the field, having previously never made the Super W finals, narrowly missing out in 2023.
“Our hopes for the season ahead are to turn all these things that we’ve started to put in place into success,” she said. “Ultimately, we need to be successful on field to show that our program is working. We’d like to put more wins on the board and eventually come away with winning our first-ever Super W comp.
“Like anything, it’s growing so it’s going to take time. We’re investing in players that have been in our program where we were losing for numerous years in a row, so trying to change that mindset and physical capabilities of our players too, that’s going to take time. Ultimately, we’re here to win."