How Erin Phillips redefined the WNBA and Women’s AFL

In Articles by Australian Sports Camps

Image credit Herald Sun.

For most mere mortals, the dream of reaching the elite level in their chosen sport is one of the greatest challenges you can set for yourself.

But doing that in two completely unrelated sports might seem near impossible.

Unless of course your name is Erin Phillips.

Erin Phillips is one of Australia’s most decorated female basketball players of the last 15 years with some of her finest achievements including:

  • Being named to the WNBL (Women’s National Basketball League) All-Star Five in 2005.
  • Being drafted to the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) in the United States in 2006.
  • 2 times WNBA Champion with the Indian Fever in 2012 and the Phoenix Mercury in 2014.
  • Representing Australia at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics, taking home a silver medal from China in 2008.


Making an Impact on the inaugural WAFL Season

But just last year in the inaugural season of the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW), Erin made the decision to return to Adelaide to play Aussie Rules Football after two decades out of the game and put her hand up to be drafted. She was quickly drafted to the Adelaide Crows and named as Co-Captain for the first season of the national women’s competition that would have 8 teams.

In her first year playing AFL since she was a 13-year-old girl (the only girl in the team at the time) dominating the junior’s competition in Adelaide, Erin returned with a bang.

Not only did she help the Adelaide Crows win the inaugural Australian Football League Women’s season, she also had some amazing personal highlights and completely dominated the competition.

  • Kicking Goal of The Year in round 3
  • Being named best player on ground in the Grand Final against Brisbane
  • Winning the AFLW best and fairest medal for 2017
  • Winning the AFLW Players’ Most Valuable Player Award.

Transitioning from WNBA to WAFL

But the decision to try her luck at AFLW did not come easy, after all it potentially meant that she could lose her lucrative $100,000+ WNBA contact if she got hurt and there was no certainty that she would be able to play at the highest level after twenty years out of the game (Erin did play in 2004, in the “Slowdown” charity match for the Little Hero’s foundation).

Luckily, she had the full support of the General Manager Greg Bibb and head coach Fred Williams from the Dallas Wings who were happy for her to try her hand at Professional AFL.

“It’s something we talked about even near the end of last season,” Williams said. “Our thoughts on it are, your players go overseas and play [basketball], and things can happen. [Australian rules] football can be a little rougher sport, but if you’re tough enough, you can handle it. And I think Erin is one of those people who knows how to push her limits without getting herself hurt.

“With her family ties to football over there in Australia, we felt comfortable that she was making a personal decision to do something she really, really wanted to do, and we supported her on that.”

Once she had the support of her WNBA coaches, Erin came back to Australia and has since redefined what is possible for female sports stars.

Since then the sheer scale of her success in the first AFLW season is helping to open the doors for future female players who want to play AFL at the highest level, which has not always been possible.

In fact, when Erin was 13 she was forced to quit aussie rules football because she was no longer allowed to play against the boys once they got older.


Credit (Adelaide Now / Tom Huntley)

Let’s Hear From Erin

But despite this gender bias when Erin was a young girl she has very fond memories of her time playing junior footy.

“Yeah, I was the only girl there, but my teammates really respected me,” she said. “My coaches did, too, so I just absolutely loved waking up early on a Sunday morning and getting dressed for the game five hours early. Waking Dad up to have warm-up kicks — those are the special memories I remember most.”

Now at 32 years old Erin has just recently announced her retirement from the WNBA and plans to focus her attention on her family, wife and former Adelaide Lightning teammate Tracy Gahan, and twins Brooklyn and Blake. Though Erin still has every intention to return the AFLW next year and keep playing as long as she can.

“I don’t want to just be a one-season player, but that will depend on how the body holds up,” Phillips said. “I’m 31, and 32 in May, and I just don’t have the luxury of saying I’ll definitely play next year and another five years but I’m going to keep playing both for as long as I can.”

Erin is not only an amazing sport person but also a great role model for all young women out there who want to carve out a career as a professional athlete. And with opportunities for female athletes growing each and every year there are lots of reasons to start practicing and see just how far the journey can take you.

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