Naden ready to take off

On the eve of the Indigenous Youth Girls Leadership Program’s camp, taking take place from 12-14 April 2022, AFL NSW/ACT caught up with one of the program’s alumni, Erin Naden.

Thanks to Transport for NSW for its continual support of the Indigenous Youth Leadership Programs for young men and women in NSW and the ACT.


Google Erin Naden and you’ll see pages of news articles about a young woman with athletic gifts most can only dream of.

She’s a state Combined High Schools representative for touch football, a star at league tag and a state medalist in the 200m sprint who has also run a low-12-second 100m sprint.

The Wiradjuri woman’s impressive CV is topped off by her AFL prowess, which has been fostered through AFL NSW/ACT programs, including the Youth Girls Leadership Program, which she attended in 2015 and 2016, and the GIANTS Academy.

“The Indigenous Youth Girls Leadership Program in 2015 was my first game of AFL, so it was a complete change for me” the 20-year-old said. “Fast-forward to now, I’m still loving it, still part of it and AFL is my main sport now, with AFLW being the next step. That pathway wouldn’t have been possible without the Program.”

The Indigenous Youth Girls Leadership Program is for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls aged 13 – 16 years of age from across NSW/ACT and is supported by Transport for NSW.

Erin is in a unique opportunity to choose whatever sport she wants and play at representative level. Although, one would expect the Orange local would be at long odds to choose AFL. The Central West is a fast-growing AFL area, but rugby league remains the dominant sport in town.

The Indigenous Youth Leadership Program made such positive impression on Erin as a 14-year-old that she’s gone against her town’s traditions and is making a go at footy. “I was quite scared because I was only 14 years old, and travelling away by myself was a bit daunting,” she said. “But once I got away, the whole camp was filled with cultural activities and getting to meet new people from all across NSW. I made so many good friends.”

Erin also chose footy because of the physicality, opportunities that arise in large teams and its welcoming atmosphere. “In other sports, you’re competing against each other – even people in your own team,” she said. “When coming into AFL, you work together to try and get that end goal, and everyone supports you.”

In 2021, Erin made the bold step to play for the East Coast Eagles, managing one game before the COVID shutdown. This year she is returning to East Coast’s footy factory to play with some of the best players in the country – commuting from Orange to play in AFL Sydney’s Premier Division.

As for the Indigenous Girls Youth Leadership Camp, Erin said the experience was about more than just further improving footy skills, but about enhancing cultural knowledge and pride.

“I’m proud to be Aboriginal, and the Indigenous Girls Youth Leadership Camp gave me greater cultural awareness about other nations. Because there are so many nations, you learn a bit about everyone and different languages. I would definitely recommend anyone eligible to try out for it.”

Erin is currently working at AFL NSW/ACT as a Development Officer in the Central West, and she is an assistant coach with both the GWS Development Squad and the Western Region Academy of Sport Girls AFL Squad.