Players' perspectives: Is the onus on the AFL or its players to elevate the competition?

Isadora McLeay and Imogen Evans are AFLW players currently taking part in an internship at Disney and ESPN, where they are given the opportunity to gain real-life work experience while having the flexibility to pursue their footballing goals and aspirations.

This week, the girls look at where responsibility lies when it comes to improving the standard of the competition.

Imogen Evans, Collingwood

This is a difficult question to answer, as there are strong arguments to be made on both sides.

Do I think it's fair that we need to face this situation as female athletes? No. But with that said, it's the contemporary reality, and I don't think the AFL will meet us where we need them to anytime soon. In my opinion, our only opportunity to force the AFL's hand is if we make further sacrifices. This isn't how it should be, but it's the reality and what must be done if we want to create a future for ourselves and the competition.

Although the recent CBA is a definite step in the right direction, I don't want to wait another four years to become full-time. We are paid to be part-time athletes, but for the respect we yearn for we must shift our mindset to mirror that of a full-time athlete.

Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke addressed this idea in a recent press conference following his side's fifth consecutive loss. He spoke about how he believes his team needs to start taking their job as AFLW players far more seriously.

"Just understanding the level of professionalism required now - skipping an ice bath or not eating properly, that doesn't cut it anymore," he said last month. "I think looking forward, it's that added professionalism from some of the players."

In many ways it can be likened to receiving a promotion in the workforce. You can't just rock up every day and expect it to just happen. Instead, you need to show why you deserve it, and I believe this notion is emblematic of the attitude shift that must happen in AFLW.

It's tough, especially when you consider the amount of sacrifice already made by AFLW athletes. Us players are already forced to seek out secondary employment to supplement our income, undertake extra training on our own time, among so many other things.

As a young player, I only know the set standard from the environment I'm exposed to. I don't have the knowledge or understanding of what it means to be an elite athlete, because the competition doesn't currently reflect those qualities. But that doesn't mean I can't find out.

All players can take steps to improve their performance, relative to what's logistically possible within the limitation of being a female in sport. Now that such issues are being recognised, I think there's a real opportunity for us female athletes to step up and demonstrate how good we really are.

In an ideal world, the AFLW would be a full time competition and we wouldn't have to deal with this kind of conversation. But that is not the reality. So what do we do? Sit on our hands and wait four years to potentially become full time or be proactive and do whatever we can to improve ourselves and the competition right now? I think it has to be the latter.

Isadora McLeay, GWS

There is a constant chicken or the egg argument when it comes to AFLW. Does the AFL need to invest in the competition for it to improve, or does it need to improve so that the AFL can justify investing in its future?

In my experience, the overwhelming majority of AFLW players are certainly putting in significantly more hours than they are obligated to, as part time athletes. Unfortunately, in any sporting environment, you do have players that may take the opportunity for granted and fail to meet certain standards, but this is really such a small percentage.

Each week, my teammates and I put in extra club hours both before our first meetings and then again after everything has wrapped up. We work with coaches, study vision, and stay back later than required to hone skills on the training track. This is all after having worked our secondary jobs and before we have to wake up at the crack of dawn to head back to work!

For someone in their mid-twenties who plays AFLW and balances a successful career outside football, it's difficult to prioritise your AFLW commitments as the returns and job security outside football is likely to be significantly better.

The idea that AFLW players need to snap out of a 'part time' mindset is something a lot of us would find quite offensive, as we are not full time. It's a little hypocritical.

Only the AFL can change this. It's unfair for the AFL and its fans to expect so much from AFLW players when the league still isn't prepared to meet us even half way.

In many ways, the AFLW competition feels as though it's been set-up for failure. If the AFL was to show it is taking the women's league seriously -- not only by making it full time for the players, but also for coaches and medical staff -- I'd expect the attitude would filter down to the players.

It's also worth remembering we're still only in season eight. This year, scores are up and the skill level continues to improve. There's really only so much which can be expected from the athletes.