AFLW #35 - Cat Phillips

Phillips has played 44 games across her past six AFLW seasons and was the Saints’ inaugural co-captain.

A dual-sport athlete, Phillips represented Australia at ultimate frisbee before being drafted by Melbourne as a category B rookie ahead of the Demons’ first AFLW season.

Moving to St Kilda ahead of the 2019 season, Phillips has become known for her leadership, unwavering determination and work-rate throughout the Saints’ midfield.

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Marshall and her can chat about their old ultimate frisbee days.

How do frisbee athletes compare to Boomerang athletes?

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We don’t talk about them

Except for the time a QLD boomerang thrower mistuned his “maximum time aloft” boomerang and threw it >400m before it hit a tree, and thereby stole the world record for unassisted thrown item from them :sunglasses:

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They put in more effort, but for fewer returns.

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Related article at:

(CNN)For someone who describes herself as a “pretty quiet person,” Cat Phillips has shown herself to be utterly unafraid of speaking out.

A rarity in the sporting world, Phillips is a multi-sport athlete, who competes in both ultimate frisbee and Australian football.

While the Australian Football League men’s competition was founded in 1896, the women’s inaugural season didn’t kick off until 2017.

For some AFL fans the idea of women showcasing their handling and kicking skills with the oval-shape ball has come as a bit of a culture shock, according to Phillips.

“A lot of the comments that you get in Australia around the AFLW [Australian Football League Women’s], are that the quality of the league isn’t good enough and women shouldn’t be being paid because they’re just not good enough,” Phillips told CNN Sport, as she reflected on what it’s been like playing in the fledgling league.

No wonder, perhaps, that Phillips feels so strongly about gender equality.

“That, to me, is just the lack of education,” adds the 29-year-old, who points out that perhaps if these men hadn’t grown up playing Aussie football and were working full-time and training in the evening, the same way the women are, the quality of the league would be different.

In 2020, the average AFL men’s player earned $215,890 USD while the highest-earning player in the league earned $924,289. In contrast, the highest paid women’s players earned only $23,002.

Phillips is also the co-founder of the Australian Ultimate League – the only mixed-gender, semi-professional field sport in the world.

And somehow, the two-sport star also finds the time to work as an engineer.

Ultimate frisbee is a self-officiated sport that is played mixed-gender at the highest level – the World Games.

However, many semi-professional leagues have opted for single-gender competition, making what Phillips has done in Australia special.

Phillips says her experience in ultimate frisbee has been more positive than it has been in the AFLW when it comes to issues of equality.

Cat Phillips of the Saints runs with the ball during the round 1 AFLW match between the St Kilda Saints and the Western Bulldogs at RSEA Park on January 29, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia.
Cat Phillips of the Saints runs with the ball during the round 1 AFLW match between the St Kilda Saints and the Western Bulldogs at RSEA Park on January 29, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia.

Role model

Born in London, Phillips grew up in Melbourne, where she discovered her love of ultimate frisbee in high school before she was selected for the ALFW’s inaugural season during a talent search.

“I think I took it for granted that a lot of parts of ultimate are very equal, relatively speaking, and that was something that I really loved about it at the beginning. But I probably didn’t recognize the importance of it until I moved into football.”

However, she appreciates the platform the ALFW has given her.

“Coming into the AFLW, I saw the impact that we had on young girls but also on young boys – people who all of a sudden were looking at the league and had female role models that they could look up to – and that has really impacted me,” said Phillips.

As captain of the Australian women’s ultimate frisbee team and the captain of St. Kilda FC in the AFLW, Phillips is determined to use her leadership positions to help create change.

"For me, it’s not even about the players that are playing in the league. Obviously, I want equality for them, but it’s more about the broader impact of it.

“Kids who, at eight or nine … [who see] it’s normal that you would have women playing at that level. And I think that’s really powerful and I feel very strongly that we need to keep moving forward in that area.”

Cat Phillips is a multi-sport athlete who is fighting for change in both the AFLW and in ultimate frisbee.
Cat Phillips is a multi-sport athlete who is fighting for change in both the AFLW and in ultimate frisbee.

Mixed-gender league

As ultimate frisbee has grown over the last decade, semi-professional leagues have begun to pop up around the globe.

The American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) was founded in 2010 and played its inaugural season in 2012.

But the league was created for men’s teams only, although it did allow women to try-out for teams.

Despite discussions and a push from the ultimate community to add women’s teams to the league, the AUDL has remained a men’s league.

In 2018, when Phillips started the Australian Ultimate League (AUL), she opted for a different approach, creating the world’s first mixed- gender league in the world to provide an equal opportunity for men and women to compete.

In the years that have followed the AUL’s creation, women’s leagues such as the Premier Ultimate League (PUL) have been set up in the US.

What Phillips has done by creating a mixed-gender league is not only in line with the sport’s highest level – it’s played as a mixed sport at the World Games – but also with the International Olympic Committee’s vision to create a more gender-equitable Games by including more mixed events.

And, as ultimate strives for inclusion in the Olympic Games, Phillips believes it is important for the sport to show that it’s unique – and that women can compete with men on the same field.

Cat Phillips in action for the Melbourne Demons against the Fremantle Dockers at Casey Fields on March 18, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.
Cat Phillips in action for the Melbourne Demons against the Fremantle Dockers at Casey Fields on March 18, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.

Leadership skills

Despite the fact she holds the position of captain on two sports teams, Phillips says the idea of leadership didn’t come easily.

“I like to keep to myself a little bit, but again the more involved I’ve got in footy and in ultimate, and in thinking about gender equity in particular, it’s definitely become more important to me,” she explains.

"I look at a lot of the young players that are coming through both in footy and in ultimate, and I just see so much potential in them.

“They’re all such incredible young women and I feel a lot of ownership and responsibility around helping them to grow and helping them to develop into really strong, powerful women.”

These days it isn’t easy being a female leader.

In early 2020, the online abuse of AFLW players became so bad that some organizations had to shut down their comments sections.

Notably a photo of Carlton Blues player Tayla Harris, which captured her athleticism, gained significant negative attention and Australian broadcaster Channel 7 removed the post after only 24 hours as the comments had become too difficult to monitor.

Phillips says social media doesn’t play a big part in her life, which has ensured she hasn’t been as affected as other athletes who have suffered abuse.

“Obviously, I know that it’s there and I think you only have to read the comments on one article posted online to get a broad view of the things that people think.”

She also believes there’s a groundswell of support for the AFLW and says that it’s just a matter of time before the league is given the recognition and respect it deserves.

“One, the quality will keep going up,” reflects Phillips. "And two, I think the more people get exposed to it and start to understand a bit more about the differences between what the men and the women are doing, the feel about it in the community will change.

"There are a whole lot of people that are very supportive and very much on board with the league.

“And I tend to engage with those people, because they love what we’re doing, and I think it’s much more positive to keep focused on that.”

Phillips of the Demons (R) and Rheanne Lugg of the Crows compete for the ball during the round two AFLW match between the Melbourne Demons and the Adelaide Crows at Casey Fields on February 10, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.
Phillips of the Demons (R) and Rheanne Lugg of the Crows compete for the ball during the round two AFLW match between the Melbourne Demons and the Adelaide Crows at Casey Fields on February 10, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.

Vision

According to Phillips, the number of women playing Australian Football at grassroots level has increased significantly.

“Even if you just walked down to the local park five years ago, you would only have seen men or boys playing the footy and now you’ll see girls everywhere kicking the footy.”

Phillips has a 10-year vision that AFLW players will mostly be full-time and don’t have to balance careers while competing, though she admits that such a prospect is unlikely for ultimate frisbee.

“I think the cool thing here in Australia with ultimate is looking at the development of our youth pathways,” said Phillips.

"Back when I started, there were a handful of people playing at my age. I think there were only about four in Victoria, where I come from.

"Now we have teams in every state in Australia and they have a youth national championship.

“That’s just bringing more people into the game younger and it’s the same with the AFL; the earlier you start playing, the better you’ll get.”

Phillips is currently competing in the AFLW season, with the goal of winning the Premiership trophy at the end of April, all while she continues to train for her other goal of competing in her third World Games for Australia in ultimate in 2022.

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https://aflwstats.com/player/Catherine_Phillips

PLAYING HISTORY & ACHIEVEMENTS

AFLW St Kilda FC 2020, 2021 and Team Captain
AFLW Melbourne FC 2017, 2018, 2019
6 x Australian Ultimate Frisbee Representative
2013 Ultimate Frisbee World Games Silver Medallist
2010 Ultimate Frisbee World U23 Gold Medallist
2008 Ultimate Frisbee World U20 Silver Medallist
2010 Ultimate Frisbee Australian U20 Captain
Ultimate Frisbee Australia’s top goal scorer

PLAYER PROFILE

NAME: CATHERINE PHILLIPS
NICKNAME: Cat
DOB: 13/10/91
BORN: London
HEIGHT: 175cm
CLUB: St Kilda Essendon FC and Australian Ultimate Frisbee
POSITION: Mid, Half Forward
RESIDENCE: Melbourne
OCCUPATION: Mechanical Engineer, Exxon Cleanaway
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science, Master of Engineering (Mechanical), Diploma of Mathematics and Statistics
PERSONAL MOTTO: “Most people have the will to win. It’s having the will to prepare to win that’s important.”

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Saints’ farewell article says:

Phillips played 24 out of a possible 25 matches for St Kilda after a previous 13 appearances for Melbourne, co-captaining the red, white and black in its first two seasons in tandem with Hannah Priest , Kate Shierlaw and Rhi Watt .

The 30-year-old placed third in St Kilda’s 2021 AFLW Best & Fairest – her highest standing in Saints colours – prior to this year’s fourth-placed finish.

Vogt, a product of St Kilda’s VFLW affiliate the Southern Saints, lined up for 17 matches after being selected with pick No. 40 at the 2020 National Draft.

“Cat and Jacqui have played important roles for the club over the past few seasons,” Head of AFLW Tessie McManus said.

“Cat’s leadership and tenacity have been instrumental during our formative years. The work she has done behind the scenes for women’s football is greatly appreciated by her teammates and those across the competition.”

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Phillips was one of the five AFLW players who negotiated the new agreement vs the AFL.

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I wish I was called Cat Phillips

Much better than Catherine or Katie :sunglasses:

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Must be serious, to use the full name.

For the first time, the AFLPA Board will be made up of four current AFL players and four current AFLW players, alongside three independent members and the Association’s Chief Executive Officer.

AFLW players Kerryn Harrington, Catherine Phillips and Isabel Huntington were elected to the Board at the AGM on Tuesday night.

I wish I was called Phillips cat

2018 piece by her

I’m a trained mechanical engineer, I play footy for the Melbourne Demons and I throw frisbees at an international level in the game of Ultimate Frisbee, or ‘Ultimate’ for short. This week, it’s all about the frisbee.

I got into Ultimate in Year 11, through my sister who played at uni. When I was about 16, I turned up one weeknight at an open training session run by the Melbourne Uni team, for anyone who wanted to come along.

Going through high school, I played netball and did a bunch of sports like athletics and swimming and water polo – kind of anything that I could. But I’d never played Ultimate before and had never ever thrown a frisbee for fun.

The first time I picked up a frisbee that night, I was pretty ordinary.

But I stuck with it and then a lot of the friends that I met through Ultimate were there when I got to uni. I continued to play all the way through and helped to develop the Melbourne Uni Ultimate Club, and then have kept going from there.

I’m 26 now and I love throwing a frisbee. Coming from a background where I’ve done a lot of maths and physics and engineering – things where you learn about how things work – I love the thinking that goes into throwing a frisbee. When you’re throwing, you have to take into account the wind and the weather and how fast you’re throwing and the angle that you throw it on.

There are a whole lot of aspects that you don’t see in many ball sports – although in footy, the random shape of the ball makes things interesting, too.

When you’re throwing the frisbee, you use a combination of forehand throws and backhand throws so you can throw around people who are defending you. You can also throw an overhead to go over or around people.

If you watch the top throwers in the world, it’s completely unbelievable the way they can throw it anywhere they want on the field at any time, making the most of the wind. They can even curve it one way, then back the other way – like a half figure-of-eight. It’s pretty cool to watch the really elite players.

And this week, I’ll be playing alongside many of the world’s elite players at the World Ultimate Club Championships in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

Couldn’t Throw, Couldn’t Kick

I’ve already told you that I couldn’t throw a frisbee when I first tried Ultimate. Well, I could barely kick a footy when I first tried AFL either.

I didn’t plan for this to happen. I grew up going to watch the footy with my uncle and my family, and we’d do a bit of kicking at halftime but that was pretty casual.

But when the AFL ran the talent combine days in 2016 ahead of the first AFLW season in 2017, a bunch of girls from my frisbee team thought we’d go along to the combine instead of Ultimate training one day.

Most of the girls just wanted to go for fun and I mostly wanted to go to test myself athletically against the other girls that would be there.

I didn’t know how I would compare with girls from netball or basketball, or wherever they came from, but I thought it would be fun to give it a go and compare myself. I’m quite competitive, so I wanted to have a benchmark.

After that day, I got invited to go to a try-out run by Melbourne Football Club. It was a similar draft combine type thing where they did a bit more kicking and a bit more footy-related work. I had a lot of fun at the first one and really enjoyed learning something new and trying to pick up new skills that I didn’t have.

Then Melbourne contacted me and said they’d offer me a spot on their team as a rookie if I wanted it. I thought it would be a great thing to give it a go.

A bunch of girls from my frisbee team thought we’d go along to the AFLW combine instead of Ultimate training one day.

The first season went really well. I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. I think Melbourne were fantastic with all of the players they had picked who were new to footy, as well as the up-and-coming girls. They were very good at developing people and helping everyone to get the best out of themselves for that year – and we were unlucky not to make the Grand Final, winning five of seven games and missing out on percentages.

Last season was also a season of improvement for me personally. I find it so exciting to take someone on out on the wing, then run past them, because I feel like that’s what my strength is and what I’m really working on turning into a weapon.

For me, what’s really exciting on the field is putting into practice the fundamentals that I’ve been working so hard on off the field. If I can kick goals, that’s obviously an added bonus but for me, the other parts of my game are more rewarding at the moment.

I supported Collingwood growing up. We went to nearly every game. They say you can’t change your team but I couldn’t believe how quickly I moved on once I got involved with Melbourne. It’s very hard to retain your old loyalties once you start to know the people and get involved with the program at the club you play for.

The first year when Melbourne and Collingwood played in the men’s AFL, I didn’t know who I’d be going for. But I was pretty keen for Melbourne to win, so I knew right then that I’d moved on.

The Ultimate Skill Base

One sport is all about throwing, the other all about kicking and handballing. But has my Ultimate skillset helped me become a footy player?

I think Ultimate has definitely helped me be able to read the play quite well in footy. Understanding where effective or dangerous space on the field is and where to run, and the timing of when to hold and when to go – these skills have all transferred across pretty well for me.

Playing on the wing in footy, I’m pretty quick to make up my mind about whether to come in and help, or to spread out and make space for people. The running patterns are pretty similar in Ultimate and of course, my running capacity is extremely valuable in footy.

Ultimate is very physical. There’s a lot of running required, which means I’ve come into footy with a good fitness background and a good balance between short, sharp intense running and then longer endurance stuff as well.

Ultimate has definitely helped me be able to read the play quite well in footy.

Personally, I just feel really lucky that I’ve got involved with AFLW at a time when I can do both footy and Ultimate as well as working full-time. If I were to predict what I think might happen, I’d say that five or 10 years down the track, I might not be able to work full-time and play footy at the elite level – as it is with netball now.

On the one hand, I think it would be incredible being able to play sport full-time and commit to doing every little thing right. But at the same time, I really love my work.

I put a lot of effort into my academic career over the last 10 years and I really don’t know what I’d do if I had to pick one over the other. Obviously, it would be hard to turn down a LeBron James-style contract but in terms of giving up my day job to do sport, that would definitely be hard for me.

But down the track, when the AFLW starts to pay people enough to not be working full-time, I’m sure that pathways will continue to develop like they’ve got for the men. There’s a lot of room for the competition to grow and I’m sure that will keep happening.

No Umps, No Grumps

Something you might not know about Ultimate is that the game is officiated by the players; there are no umpires or referees. Every time you talk to anyone who hasn’t played, they ask how that works, which is completely understandable. I can’t imagine netball or football working well without umpires.

But where Ultimate Frisbee works really beautifully is that the people who play all know that the game wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t be the way we want it to be, if people weren’t fair.

So that’s part of it – that people are all very fair-minded – and the other part of it is that if teams get a bad reputation, the community is very good at frowning upon that and encouraging individuals and teams to step up to the standard that we expect.

It’s about a whole community-level engagement, of having a standard of behaviour that we expect and not letting people get away with not living up to that.

Something you might not know about Ultimate is that the game is officiated by the players; there are no umpires or referees.

When we go away with the Australian team, one of the main things that we talk about is the way that we want to represent our country and our club. We want that to be within the rules of the game and we want other teams to think that we’re a fair-minded team. I think other countries want that as well, so it all works out very well.

Speaking of other countries, as I mentioned, I’m over in the USA now competing in the World Ultimate Club Championships. The way they run the world competitions is that they have a world championship every two years where national teams compete, then every other two years there are the club championships.

The top club team in Australia goes to the world club championships and that’s what I’m doing now with my club team. We’re called Melbourne Ellipsis, which is a pretty nerdy name – an ellipsis is a ‘dot dot dot’ in punctuation!

I think the name came up because people thought it would be funny for that to be on the team sheet, to have dot dot dot. We formed the club about five years ago, with the aim of getting to this tournament and competing internationally, and now we’re here.

An Inclusive Sport

At the beginning of this year, myself and three other guys who play Ultimate founded what we call the Australian Ultimate League. It’s the first-ever professional mixed league for Ultimate in the world.

Normally, you play Ultimate with seven in a team – so you’ll normally have four men and three women – but we’ve reduced that to six players; three men and three women, and we’ve made a major focus of the whole league to be gender equity, trying to promote and really highlight the female athletes that are plying their trade at the elite level.

The reason this came about is because the only other pro leagues in the world are in America and they’re only for men. There’s been a fair bit of communication in the Ultimate community over the last year about why we’re not showcasing what a lot of us think are the really good values of ultimate – like the fact there are no umpires, and the fact we play mixed gender sport at the elite level.

If teams get a bad reputation, the community is very good at frowning upon that and encouraging individuals and teams to step up to the standard that we expect.

So these are the values that we founded the Australian Ultimate league on. It’s quite a big project. At the beginning, I thought it would be a couple of hours here or there but it’s turned into basically another job on top of my full-time work!

But it’s been going really well and we’re doing lots of work to grow the league and get it out into the mainstream media a bit more.

Sometimes I get asked which is my favourite sport now – Ultimate or footy?

I’m nervous that Melbourne will kick me off the team if I say that I like frisbee more! On the one hand, it is hard to go past the feeling of being at the very top of your sport and with Ultimate, I’ve gone to the very top level and I’ve been playing at that level for a long time.

On the other hand, footy’s been a great challenge. There’s so much to learn and I love that part of it. It will continue to be hard as I keep trying to improve, which is a large part of why I am so invested in it and enjoying it so much.

She’s been great the last two weeks.

Another excellent bit of recruitment.

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No one went near her for 4 qtrs.
Runs all day. Loves to swing back on her right