Brooke Hards - a Young Leader
"To give it a shot, to not be scared to try something new and to put your head down and work hard and most of all just enjoy the new experience! Just remember that football isn’t for everyone, especially sport isn’t for everyone! But if you’re wanting to make it somewhere in football, the advice I have always gotten is ‘see the ball get the ball', but I highly recommend any youngster who wants to start footy, give it a crack, it’s fun."
What makes a good leader is one of those questions that are easier to ask than answer. Most attempts to answer this question follow a similar theme. The player must have dedication, passion, a willingness to learn, and are vocal on and off the ground. Yet, just like the pregame warm up or the game plan—the leader and the qualities that they possess are usually dependent on their team.
Because of this, we are not going to attempt to answer this question. Instead, we are just going to simply show you a great example of what a leader looks like—and in this case the example is a Bulldog recruit and former Pioneer product, Brooke Hards.
Beginning her football back in 2017 with the Bendigo Pioneers’ V-Line Cup side, Brooke has two full seasons of football experience under her belt, majority of which has been spent with the Pioneers NAB League Girls side as well as some games with Golden Square--before recently joining the Western Bulldogs VFLW side for the 2021 season.
But before she was making moves in football, she was busy on the court playing netball and basketball. Her accolades from these two sports are worth mentioning as she spent four years representing Sunraysia in netball while also winning several premierships with the Irymple Swallows.
She also won back-to-back U17s Best and Fairests with her side, and also made the Northern Zone representative side which, for those who are not familiar with netball, is the level just below state.
Showing her versatility as a dual athlete, she also found a considerable amount of success in basketball with the Irymple Tigers where she earnt the title as the Best and Fairest an impressive four years in a row. She also claimed some Coaches Awards and won some premierships with the Tigers’ U16s and U19s sides.
As impressive as all this is, the most intriguing part is the fact that she played both these sports during her early days of football.
“… I played basketball, netball and football in 2017, obviously only played the two footy games, same in 2018, then a lot happened within the netball side of things back in Mildura.”
“… I had no choice but to give up netball for a year, then in 2020 moved to a different club. Was keen to get back into it then Coronavirus hit so unfortunately could not get back on the court.”
But as she enters her latest chapter in her sporting journey, Brooke has left the other two sports behind to continue her pursuit in football.
“… Now in 2021 I have moved to Melbourne, playing for the Bulldogs VFLW team so I will just be focusing on that for this year.”
It was a string of events that eventually brought this talented netballer and basketballer from Mildura into the world of football.
“I actually played girls interschool football in year 9 and 10, it was three games just against your rural teams such as Merbein, St Joes, Red Cliffs, and my mum come and watch and thought I wasn’t too bad and spoke to my dad saying you need to watch her play.”
“… So, the next year dad come and watched me play and thought I wasn’t too bad, then a couple months later there was a piece in the Sunraysia Daily about how the Bendigo Pioneer coaches are coming down to Mildura to run like a small training for fun.
“So, myself and my whole netball team went for some fun because we loved playing interschool girls’ football, and then a month after that I got an email from Shawn McCormick saying I’ve made the team for the Bendigo Pioneers V-Line Cup.
“… Ever since then, Shawn coached me and helped me a lot along the way and he believed that I could become a good footballer even though he saw me when I couldn’t play football, he thought I had something special, so I trusted him and myself and have footy a real crack and now I’m here where I am today.”
Where she is today is in a very promising position since, following several strong performances in the NAB League Girls competition, she is now staring down her first season in the VFLW. But it took a lot of hard work to get here—and luckily, she has had some great family support during this time.
“Couldn’t do it without my dad who drove all of those kilometers, especially doing Northern Zone netball at the same time, there was a lot of kilometers and sacrifices my dad had to deal with and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him, so I owe a lot to dad.”
“Plus, my brother Jordan Hards, played football and I loved watching him play, so I guess in a way I have looked up to him and learnt a lot off him even though he may not know it in a way, but he’s helped me with my journey.
“And my mum, every game she could make she would be taking photos and videos and you can tell with the smile on her face on how proud she is. I guess the passion and love I have for the game is why I kept wanting to dig deeper into football.”
At the beginning of the article, we mentioned that dedication was a popular response to the age-old question of ‘what makes a good leader’. This dedication is very easily shown when you see just how much she, and also her family, had to do when she was juggling two sports.
“When I was playing Northern Zone netball and football, sometimes they both landed on the same weekend, we would travel from Mildura to Bendigo, Bendigo to Melbourne, back to Mildura all in one weekend, there has been a lot of kilometres on dad’s car for me and my sport.”
But this dedication has certainly paid off as Brooke found her footing in football pretty early on because during 2018, which was just her first full year of football, she made the Victoria Country U16s side.
She then backed this feat up again in 2019 as she made the Vic Country U18s team—and on both occasions she was an ‘under-ager’.
Also, during 2019 and despite being just 16 years of age, she claimed the Bendigo Pioneers’ Best and Fairest and finished with the highest tackle count of the competition.
When the NAB League Girls season was over, she played for a local Bendigo side called Golden Square where her impressive performances continued as she played in their premiership and was labelled as the Best on Ground.
“I think one of my favourite moments was when I was playing for Golden Square and we had to win this game to make the Grand Final.”
“Playing against Woorineen and they were very competitive, I kicked the winning goal, but it wasn’t just that, it was that for the whole game I took a lot of hard bumps, tackles, getting tagged very hard.
“But even after winning the game I was crying. One, because we won and two, because I was in so much pain from everything that happened.
“On the ground I saw my dad have a few tears because he knew how hard I was trying for my team and that I wouldn’t give up, and I won’t ever forget his face after the game, it was very emotional.”
Then in 2020, she took her footy to a new level as she gained the captaincy of the Bendigo Pioneers but unfortunately that season would be cut very short due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
But despite having a less than favourable final season with them, her feelings towards the Pioneers’ remain very positive.
“My time with the Bendigo Pioneers was really good, that is where I learnt how to kick a football, handball, the structure, majority of my football come from there.”
“But on a different note, I personally think I got everything I could out of the program, I am very thankful for the opportunities that I have gotten and had, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.”
"My favourite part I think is the friendships that I have made and that have come out of it and watching some get drafted and watching them play at the highest level is incredible.”
“I guess a lot of favourite moments was winning a game in Bendigo Pioneers because were known to not be as strong as other teams but getting a win feels so awesome, feels like hard preseason has really paid off.”
“Being named captain and representing Victoria has been an amazing experience and such a learning curve.”
What is the next chapter for this young leader's footballing journey?
The next obvious step for her is her debut VFL Women’s season, which she is excited to get into as it "is a level up from the NAB League".
“... So I’m looking forward to my development and how much I will learn playing with and against stronger bodies and how the speed of the game will change … especially the dynamic of the game, learning off really talented footballers who will definitely push me to do my best.”
“I’m excited to step it up and hopefully become stronger within myself.”
She is already shown that she has the passion ad dedication to travel far and wide for footy while also being prepared to put her own body on the line for her side.
We may not know for certain what makes a great leader, but we sure know that Brooke Hards is one—and will continue to be one as her footballing journey continues down this bright path.
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None of these photographs are owned by MWM; all images have been supplied by the player and have been personally shot.