Thinking of trying a new sport? Grace Hilbourne tells us about her experiences joining the Wembley Stallions Women’s team

It’s daunting to join a new team. Regardless of how old you are, how much experience you have or how ‘fit’ you consider yourself to be, joining a new team will always have some measure of nerves and hesitation attached to it. That’s exactly how I felt a few months ago when I first approached Team Manager Jackie Houtris and asked whether the women’s team was taking on any new players. I had text her in the late afternoon and by that evening I had been added to the team group chat and already exchanged hellos with most of the coaches and players.

It was this inclusiveness and camaraderie that really drew me to the Wembley Stallions. Gone were awkward introductions and exchanges of names that you are bound to forget when meeting someone face to face for the first time. Instead, I got to speak to the other players and coaches for a few days before I finally did meet them. When I walked in to the changing rooms for the first time, it already felt like I was joining in with a group of people that I knew and had chatted with.

They couldn’t have been more helpful either. I was nervous about starting a new sport. I had never even picked up a football that wasn’t round and had no idea of the rules on field. I had no kit and no clue but was just ready to try something new. Before I’d even asked the question of what I needed to wear or bring for a game, one of the girls messaged me and gave me a full list of everything I’d need to have. Surprisingly it wasn’t that much either. I thought starting American Football was going to cost me a fortune, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was simply told to bring a gum shield, a pair of navy socks and some boots. The rest could be sorted out for me while I decided whether I wanted to play long term. Of course, you can buy your own pads and helmet but there are always plenty of both that you can borrow week in and week out which some of the girls on the team do.

The rules as well were something that came slightly easier than expected and that’s all down to the amazing support of the coaches and the ladies of the team. Head Coach Warren Smart is everything you’d want in a teacher and coach. He’s extremely knowledgeable and tremendously hard working. He coaches the men’s, women’s and youth team. Not only does he do this, but he does this equally. You can see it means just as much to him when we win as to when the men’s team or youths win. This is something that can be quite rare in a male dominated sport, so it’s really nice to see and really encouraging as a player. He will beast you at training and then have a laugh with you on the side line when it’s all done. It’s this balance that makes you work hard for him and in return you get taught by one of the best coaches in the league. The support of the assistant coaches and team management also help no end. Every coach can give you tips and techniques that you can actually feel develop you as a player. They’re all always there to answer questions or queries and you feel comfortable asking them which is a really lovely situation to be in when you’re new to the sport.

However, it’s the team mates and friends you’ll make within this group of people that make the Wembley Stallions a really special thing to be part of. We are all completely different. The women’s team is filled with women of different ages, different sizes and different sporting histories. Some girls have played for a while, whilst this season was the first for some others.  I joined nearing the end of the season and the women’s team finished second in the league having ended with 5 wins and 3 losses. Away in Norwich, we won our last game of the season 26 – 2. When the whistle blew I was hugging every member of the team like I’d known them years and singing along on the coach home like I’d been part of everything since day one. It was this experience that showed me how much I wanted to play for the team and what a great group of players and coaches that I had joined.

All in all I’ve had a really great time with the Wembley Stallions so far. The sport as a whole is expanding for women and it’s going to be a really exciting few years to see how it grows and develops. As a new team member and a new player to American Football, I’ve felt included and part of the group since day one and I’d encourage anyone who’s even thinking about joining just to turn up and give it a go. It’s a tough sport, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Now I’m just very excited now to see how far this team can go.

Grace Hilbourne

Running Back & Corner Back

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