Two years ago, American Katie Klatt had never heard of Aussie Rules. This week, she takes a major step towards playing professional footy.
By
Erin Riley

16 Feb 2016 - 2:23 PM  UPDATED 16 Feb 2016 - 5:16 PM

Katie Klatt keeps an introduction to AFL video stored on her phone. It saves her time when she’s explaining to her friends and family in Sacramento, California, how she spends her evenings and weekends.  

Now, two years after first kicking a footy, Klatt will fly over 12000 kilometres to participate in Sunday’s Womens’ AFL Talent Search in Sydney. It is one of six similar events across the country, where players are invited to show their skills in the hope of securing a spot in the new women’s state academies.  

Klatt, originally from Virginia, moved to Sacramento in 2013 to further her career as a Paediatric ICU Nurse. A lifelong athlete who played soccer and hockey, she looked for a way to keep fit and stumbled across a website with information about the local Australian Football team. Klatt watched a few videos on YouTube, and then showed up at training without having ever kicked a footy. 

“I started playing two years ago, I found it online when I moved to Sacramento. In the States, the USAFL is the league and there are teams in different cities around the country, and I just happened to move to a city where there was a team,” Klatt said. 

“I was looking for something to do, so I just sort of showed up. Watched a YouTube video before I went and showed up.” She said.

It was love at first sight. 

“I had never heard of it (AFL) before, ever. I didn’t even know that it existed. But as I started playing and learned the rules and stuff, I started to really love it,” Klatt said. 

“I played more and more. After my first year playing and learning the rules and the skills, I got more involved and went out for the USA Freedom, which is the women’s national team. I also started playing more locally for the Sacramento Suns, that’s my local club team. I just sort of kept going. Honestly, I just loved it.” Klatt said.

Klatt quickly took to the game. Her athleticism and strength were good matches for the code. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.  

“The hardest part was developing my skills in the air: my ability to take marks and stuff. I didn’t play any sports when you used your hands, so I had to get used to being able to use my hands. I feel good about it now, but at first, it was really challenging.” Klatt said.

As the AFL’s women’s league develops, organisers have expressed their desire to look further afield than local leagues to find talented players. While this mostly involves finding athletes from other sports, it can also mean searching beyond our shores. Klatt is one of two members of the US National Team to be participating in the AFL Women’s Combine, her teammate Kim Hemenway, who plays club football with the New York Magpies, will join her this weekend at the Sydney trials.

Klatt’s trip to Australia is being sponsored by USAFL, the national body for Australian Football in the United States. There are almost 1300 registered players in the US and almost 18% of them are women. Players and coaches from across the United States have helped Klatt as she has prepared for this trip, including both Men’s and women’s national coaches, Tom Ellis and Leigh Barnes.

“In the lead up in the last two months before this, people have been amazing. I live very close to San Francisco, which is where the US National Women’s coach lives.

“So Leigh and I have been meeting up once a week to train. And some friends locally who play have been meeting up with me. The US Men’s Revolution coach, (Tom Ellis) he actually flew in from Denver last week to train with me. He’s been working with me on my kick.

“I started with a two-handed drop- that’s how I was taught how to play, I didn’t know any better- but now I’m trying to transition to a one-handed drop. So he flew in and trained me on that, and we’ll have skype sessions all the time.” Klatt said.

Brian Barrish, Media Manager for USAFL, believes women’s footy is crucial to the growth of the game in the United States.  

“The USAFL women's program is one of the fastest growing in the world, and there are athletes here that are already experienced in the game that can contribute to what the AFL is looking to build both on and off the field. It would also show that footy is truly an international game, not just confined to the borders of Australia anymore. In order for any sport to grow, it needs to embrace a global audience or else it will get overrun and die.” Barrish said.

He believes Klatt’s success will help grow the game in the United States. 

“If a woman can play professionally in Australia, more women with that same dream will want to get involved in the US. I, personally, think that the growth of the women's game is as important -- if not more important -- to the growth of footy. Men will always want to play; that will never change.  But if more and more women can see this is a worthwhile outlet, both personally and athletically, that will drive the sport as a whole and everyone who plays and follows footy over here stands to benefit.” Barrish added.

While Klatt is hoping to take the next step and secure a spot in one of the state academies, she is most excited about being able to take advantage of local expertise. 

“What I really want is to get more experience. There's only so much high-level training I can get in the US, with less footy experts and resources. But I love the game and am willing to put my full effort, and a lot of time, into becoming a better player to be able to play at the highest level I could possibly get to.” Klatt said.

“It would be amazing to be able to be drafted onto a team in the national league that's starting next year - but to even be able to think about that, I need to get some solid experience and training that I can only get by moving over there and really committing to it. Which I am fully willing to do!