Women in Sport: Kate Starre, High Performance Manager, Fremantle Dockers AFLW

In the second instalment of our Women in Sport series, where we profile women at the top of their game in the sports tech industry, we talk to Kate Starre, a 2x Olympic gold medallist, Commonwealth Games gold medallist, and 2x World Cup gold medallist with the Australian hockey team, the Hockeyroos. Kate is currently the High Performance Manager for Fremantle Dockers in the AFL Women’s competition.

When Kate Starre’s glittering international playing career ended, like a lot of athletes, she didn’t have clear career aspirations and talks about how it was a difficult and confusing time. Kate moved to the US and opened a cafe in San Diego before hockey started calling once more, leading to a coaching position with Ohio State University.

In 2005, Kate returned to Australia to become a coach with the Hockeyroos, helping to take them to a further three Olympic games. It wasn’t until 2009 that she began a career in strength and conditioning, and has since completed a Masters in Strength and Conditioning, and worked her way up to join Fremantle Dockers as their High Performance Manager in 2018. 

Whilst it hasn’t been an easy ride, Kate is appreciative of the demands put on her; “I was lucky enough to be surrounded by colleagues who were extremely demanding in the quality of work required to succeed in high performance sport.” 

Kate’s joy at seeing teams and individuals succeed is evident, and she emphasises how fortunate she has been in her career to be part of that success. Kate names the Head Physio and Physiologist at the Hockeyroos at the time as being fantastic female role models, shaping Kate’s career and how she thought about athlete performance.

The importance of female role models was vital: “Elite sport is brutal for both genders but it can’t and shouldn’t be ignored that sports science and particularly strength and conditioning is still a man’s world. You definitely have to be assertive and prove that you are at least as good as your male counterparts.”

The biggest challenge for Kate, overlapping her career as an athlete and as a coach, is coming back after failure. “The Rio Olympics were a disappointment by all accounts for Australian hockey and it’s tough to pick yourself up after something like that.”

In her current role, as part of the new and evolving AFLW competition, there are many challenges. Primarily, there is not the financial support for the players to have the luxury of being full time athletes, and as a result of that, Kate is full of admiration for them.

“To commit to excellence amongst so many distractions is difficult and yet they do a fantastic job.” Furthermore, from a physical point of view, Kate finds it challenging to get the players as fit as possible in a limited time. But with each challenge, comes victories. A born and bred team player, Kate says, “I’m not convinced that as a coach you have victories, rather share the successes of the team you are with.” She wants every athlete she works with to have the successes that she herself experienced.

When asked what individual has made the biggest impression on her, Kate names Steph Kershaw. Steph is a current Hockeyroos athlete, who worked with Kate during Steph’s first ACL reconstruction. “Steph went through such a transformation, not just physically, but mentally to exemplify the resilience and strength that an elite athlete requires.” From training Steph through rehab and playing a part in her growth, Kate appreciates that they both became better at what they did.  This flows into Kate’s passion throughout her professional career, if she could be remembered for one thing, it would be “simply to have helped athletes be better athletes, which allows them to perform better.”

With the women’s AFL game in its infancy, Kate is of the opinion that there should be a lot more sharing of information and knowledge; “The most important thing from a physical development perspective is ensuring ALFW athletes are appropriately conditioning to play a high-speed contact sport. With such a short period of time (eight weeks for non-VFLW teams) it is imperative to not waste precious minutes.” Through monitoring and accurate load management, it assists in allowing the coaching staff to provide as much stimulus as possible, without putting too much pressure on the athletes.

Over the next ten years, Kate thinks that there will be more of a reliance on science, and less focus on the art of coaching. She reflects that “data is an essential part of preparation, monitoring and rehab, but more importantly it is helping athletes to become more complete, intelligent, well-rounded athletes in their chosen sport.” However, her attitude that the analysis of data needs to be streamlined to be useful to both athletes and coaches, stems from her playing background; as much as she enjoys monitoring and measuring, the ultimate goal is performance – and winning. With that, she leaves us with the final thought that sports science is just one small part in player success; “the impact of data shouldn’t be confused with the desire of the athlete to be the best.”

Read our previous Women in Sport profiles:

Hannah Jowitt, International Pathways Analyst, ECB

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