They say that everyone experiences pivotal moments in life – memorable and challenging events that ultimately shape and define you. 

My life in footy has had its obvious defining moments: from humble beginnings, having a kick in the backyard and watching footy every weekend with Dad to being drafted to Carlton with my twin sister, Jess.

Then there was the moment we ran out onto the field at Ikon Park to a record-breaking crowd to play in the first ever AFL women’s match.

The media attention and the spectator’s warm reception was more than we could have ever hoped for.  

The memory is still so surreal, that to this day I get butterflies thinking about it. 

But one of my most treasured moments happened away from the crowds and the cameras, and away from the field. 

aflw Sarah Hosking exclusive insight

After the close of the inaugural season, I was in a surf shop in the Victorian beachside town of Mornington, when I met a young boy and his father. 

After pointing, staring and following me through the aisles of the store, which made me think I had something strange stuck on my face, they finally approached me. 

“I’m really sorry to bother you”, the father asked, “But are you Sarah Hosking?” 

“Yes”, I said, admittedly a tad confused. 

“Sorry!” he continued. “It’s just that my son recognised you and he says that out of all the players at Carlton that you’re his favourite”. 

I was chuffed. After chatting to them for a while before parting ways, I remembered I had deck of AFLW cards in my car, so I quickly went to grab them. 

“I’ve got something for you!” I said to the young boy, holding out the deck of cards. His face lit up as he eagerly tossed the AFL cards he was holding to his Dad, and accepted my offering. 

It was in that moment that I realised I was a part of something much bigger than myself, bigger than the game. 

exclusive insight Sarah Hosking aflw

When the women’s league was first formed and we were thrust into the spotlight, we became the female role models we never had.  

Because we had had no footy heroes who ‘looked like’ us, it was only natural that we would identify with some of the men who were excelling in the sport we loved. 

Growing up, I absolutely worshiped Lenny Hayes. 

I loved the way he went about footy – not just on the field but off it, as well, and I wanted to be just like him. 

My Dad has also played a massive role in shaping who I am.  

He always encouraged Jess and I to play sport, be ambitious and adventurous, and he never treated us differently because we were his ‘daughters’. 

I thought initially that because boys have always had a well-worn path to the highest levels in footy and had plenty of male stars to look up to, that our role model status might be confined to girls. 

It was truly humbling when that young boy was so excited just to have met me, because it showed that the creation of the AFLW had allowed boys the chance to identify with us as well.  

The women’s league is actively eradicating the idea that doing things ‘like a girl’ is inherently negative. 

Sarah Hosking exclusive insight aflw

It shows that when kids aren’t limited by gender stereotypes, boys are free to value a girl’s athleticism and girls can embrace a traditionally male dominated sport if they love it.

It is awesome knowing that the stronger the AFLW becomes, the better we’ll get at tearing down the unfair limitations we place on both genders, in a sporting context or otherwise.

The young boys’ enthusiasm that day in Mornington and his Dad’s willingness to encourage that in his son is proof of the positive impact the AFLW has already had.

They say that it can be hard to be the first to walk the path less travelled, but given the pivotal moments that have defined my life in footy so far; I know I’m not one to shy away from a challenge.

Sarah Hosking plays for Carlton in the AFLW and is a proud supporter of Our Watch’s youth campaign, The Line. theline.org.au is a national evidence-based campaign for 12 to 20 years that encourages young people to develop healthy and equal relationships with a view to preventing violence against women and their children.