5 truths of the female American football player  

Stallions shut out Dread-‘noughts’ to win 2017 Sapphire Series

American football is a fairly niche sport in this country. Despite that, it’s growing – especially in the female game. As a current player for the Wembley Stallions, it has quickly become my life. In my opinion, it’s the best sport you can play, but with it being relatively unknown the thought of joining a team can be intimidating. However, if you are considering it, here are some truths about the sport from a female perspective.

  1. No one looks good in spandex

There’s a phrase in football – Look good, play good. Whilst I appreciate the sentiment, I can’t help but question its truth. Sure, there’s the aesthetic pride you feel when an action shot makes its way on to Facebook, but in reality football is not an attractive sport. If helmets and shoulder pads weren’t bad enough, the creators of this wonderful activity decided to team it with stretchy, and often shiny, spandex leggings. In case you still feel a sense of body confidence after squeezing in to the dreaded pants, you’re then required to stuff blocks of polystyrene over your thighs and hips until you’re so bulky you feel worse than you do after powering through a whole tin of Quality Street on Christmas Day.

Despite that, this complete lack of importance for appearance is what’s refreshing about the sport. There’s never an expectation for you to look a certain way. No one cares if you wear a full face of make-up; no one cares if you don’t. You can walk around freely in sweats all day and there’s no Netflix in sight. The only thing you need to do is turn up and give your all.

  1. The first five minutes of training are the worst. The remaining hours are the best

After working all week, the idea of waking up early on a Saturday to run around a field isn’t very appealing. As a team, no one is happy when we’re kitting up and we often discuss why we’re so stupid to get up and do this.

However, after a few minutes those feelings begin to fade away. You look around and realise that you’re playing a sport that is truly awesome and that so few people in the U.K. get to experience. It takes a lot of effort to play and you have to be committed, but it rewards you like you wouldn’t believe. Be it fitness, friendship or competition, this is a sport that has it all. Whilst finding the effort to go to training may be difficult, it’s always worth it in the end.

  1. Losing is painful but the winning makes up for it 

No one likes to lose. It goes against our very nature of survival to come in second place. A loss is worse in American Football. When you have spent the last hour pushing your body to the limit and quite literally throwing yourself in the way of defeat, it hurts more than ever when the result doesn’t go your way.

While the hurt of a loss aches, it makes the winning that much better. This season, the Wembley Stallions women’s team won our first divisional title. It made up for all the early mornings spent practicing. It made up for the bruises and exhaustion. While you may have to harbour the pain of a loss from time to time, there is no reward greater than winning in this game. It’s one of the reasons you’ll keep coming back for more.

  1. You’ll have more WhatsApp groups than actual team mates 

Offence, defence, coaches, captains… these are a few of the WhatsApp groups I’ve had over my time playing football. As a footballer, you’ll need to brace yourself for the ongoing notifications for the foreseeable future. While that may not seem too much of a plus, it’s quite nice knowing there’s always someone on the end of the phone. There’s always an answer to your question should you have one. There’s always someone up at 1am when you can’t sleep to help go through the playbook with you. It’s a support system as much as it is a team.

It also reflects the diversity that comes with this sport. You are not limited to one position. You can choose to play offence or defence or both. If you feel like your size and strength are your main weapons there’s a position for that. If you feel that your speed and agility are your go-to skills, there’s a position for that. If you think you have nothing to offer, this sport guarantees that you do. It encompasses the best that everyone has to offer and while tens of WhatsApp groups might not sound appealing, at least you’ll know there is most definitely a place for you.

  1. A group of strangers will become your family 

Joining a new team can be nerve wracking, but after the nerves from the first few sessions have gone, you’ll start to realise just how much your team mates begin to mean to you. Sport brings people together. You understand what each other is going through, be it good or bad. You realise that despite the occasional tiredness or stresses that come with playing competitive sport, you get to spend a day of the week with some of your favourite people.

Being on a team means you always have each other’s back, even when things are their rockiest. In American football, that is something that you are guaranteed to have. People always say you find your best friends in school, but I’ve found more than that. I’ve found a group of women I consider to be my family. You can’t pick your family and you can’t pick your team mates, but somehow you always end up loving them just the same. This will always be the greatest reason to play this sport.

The Wembley Stallions Women’s team is holding an open taster session on Saturday 15th July from 10am – 12pm. If you are interested, please contact teammanager@wembleystallions.com.

www.wembleystallions.co.uk
www.facebook.com/wembleystallionsafc/
Twitter – @stallions_AFC
#thisgirlcan #Britball #respectallfearnone

 

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The Stallions – A Team Managers Perspective

My introduction to American football was about 20 years ago, yes I know you didn’t realise it had been around so long! Channel 4 started showing NFL at about the same time and Dan Marino was playing for the Dolphins, I loved the colours and the razzmatazz that came along with the game, and of course the Crunch of play. I starting to help out at a local team the Stanmore thunder, with sideline and stats, and have loved the game since.

It was about three years ago when my husband, head coach Warren Smart, and I had the conversation about starting the team in Northwest London, we had identified there was a gap for a senior team in the area as the Warriors and Olympians covered the south London area and the Blitz to the north east. We wanted to make it easy for people to take part and try out the sport for the first time, that’s why we provide a loan of equipment to reduce the monetary barriers into American Football.

We also wanted a team that stood for something in the community, which is why we chose the ‘Stallions’. Wembley has a long history with sport and in 1923 the first ever FA cup final was played, with nearly twice as many supporters turning up to the game as expected. A brave white horse, known as Billy, had to control the fans as crowds invaded the pitch, to this day it’s still referred to as the ‘white horse final’ and why he is our mascot and our motto, ‘Respect All, Fear None’ to commemorate Billy’s exemplary work.

Apart from game day management, dealing with the governing body BAFA and recruitment of players I also apply for grants to help support the club with equipment and start up of other teams within the club. We are extremely grateful to Wembley National Stadium Trust for our very first grant which really kickstarted the club and enabled us to buy 10 helmets and 10 shoulder pads. So far we have probably introduced over 200 people to the sport, including our under 17s, under 19s and Women’s Team.

The dream is for all areas of the club to be successful, our senior team currently at 7-0 have their eyes on the prize, while the under 17s are playing in their first year of tournaments. Our women’s team had a fantastic first season coming runner up in the Southern conference of the Sapphire Series in their debut year. To achieve this we need volunteers and helpers from all areas, parents, partners and football fans who want to be a bit closer to the sport. The hardest thing for me is actually watching a game as there is so much to do, but I love looking after the Team and really feel like I am part of a great family with focused goals, determined spirit, and inspirational passion.

So if you want to be a part of the team, try the pads on for size or be a super fan please get in contact with teammanager@wembleystallions.com or via our Facebook page

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

The Importance of Mindset in Sport: A female perspective

Many women (and men I’m sure) worry about joining a new sport or team for many reasons. They’re worried about not fitting in, ‘not being good’ at their sport, or about other members of their team being significantly better or more experienced than them. Perhaps they aren’t particularly confident as a person, or in their ability to play sport, and it has taken them months to pluck up the courage to go and join a new team. For women, any initial reservations about taking up a new sport are compounded by the fact that most sports are heavily male dominated, which raises a multitude of new concerns. The sport of american football, one of the sports most often perceived as being a ‘man’s world’, is therefore not the obvious choice for many women. The thought of being ignored is one thing, not to mention the fear of being harassed or made the butt of a sexist joke passed off as ‘banter’ or ‘just a bit of fun.’ These scenarios do happen in sport, and it is a shame, because teams are alienating some potentially talented athletes. But women (and men) interested in taking up the sport should take heart- it doesn’t have to play out that way.

I first became involved in american football during my final year at university. Though I was never in a situation in which I played competitively, I enjoyed joining in with kitted practices and drills alongside a small group of other like-minded women. It wasn’t until joining the Wembley Stallions that I was able to pursue contact football seriously. I can say with total honesty that I experienced none of the unfriendliness, cliques, or unfriendly behaviour I mentioned above. More importantly, the expectation from the beginning is that I would participate in all the same drills and activities as the senior men’s team. As more women joined the team, this attitude did not change. Our head coach reiterates to every new player who joins that they will be treated in exactly the same way as the male members of the organisation- discrimination, sexism, whatever you want to call it, just doesn’t figure at all. If you’re turning up to training, you’re getting stuck in with whatever everyone else is doing, regardless of gender.

Now I should preface the remainder of this article by saying that I wholly accept that there are physical, biological differences that separate men and women. Men are, typically, stronger and faster purely by virtue of being men. That’s the way it is. But in a sport like american football, there is a great deal to be said about the importance of mindset and mental state in relation to success.

In a conversation with my head coach recently, we spoke about this very issue, agreeing that there are plenty of players who join the sport without accepting just how physical it can be, which can cause all sorts of problems for them. We talk about making a ‘commitment’ to the tackle or block, or about taking ‘big hits’ during play, all of which involve considerable amounts of physical contact (we don’t wear helmets for nothing!) A player who doesn’t yet have the toughness and strong mindset will, unfortunately, struggle with this sport, both in terms of being successful and also staying healthy and injury free. I have had the chance to meet and speak with players from multiple football teams, some of which are good friends of mine. They can all tell me of situations when either they or one of their team mates has expressed a degree of uncertainty, fear, or apprehension about playing such a physical sport. In fact, I would say that anybody who says they have never felt that way, even if just for the first snap of their first ever game, is probably not being totally truthful. And there’s nothing at all wrong with feeling that way to begin with. It goes completely against the human survival instinct to put yourself in a position where you could get hurt. The key is to develop yourself mentally and physically in such a way that means fear is no longer a factor. Often, this happens naturally through experience of playing the game and getting used to the physicality of the sport- how long it takes depends on the person and the people around them.

But how does this relate to women? Am I suggesting that women lack this crucial mental skill that players need to succeed? Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite. Coach Smart has mentioned on multiple occasions how impressed he has been with the way female players (most of whom have joined the Stallions as total rookies) have immersed themselves in learning proper tackling technique, showing little to no ‘fear’ or nervousness. Indeed, both Coach Smart and other coaches of our team have commented that some of the women demonstrated a mental strength and toughness that some of the seniors could learn from.

The fact is, there a many factors that influence and contribute to success in sport, for both men and women. Diet, exercise, training are all key, of course. Some coaches talk about seeing ‘natural ability’ on the field, or having ‘born athletes’ on their team. This may also be true. But anyone who has played american football will always tell you how important your mentality and mindset are, both on and off the field. How well you deal with setbacks, how you process them, will be reflected in your on-field performance. In our first season in the league we dealt with losing games and players getting injured which, for a team whose players are not all experienced in dealing with those kinds of mental knocks, could have seriously impacted us going forward. But as a team, as a unit, we pulled together, we supported each other and, with the help of our coaches, we turned those knocks into success. We built up resilience with every knock- and we finished our season 5-3, coming second in our division. In our first season. If that doesn’t speak huge volumes to the importance of a positive mental attitude, I don’t know what does.  

 

Claire West

Centre

Captain

 

Wembley Stallions vs Essex Spartans in photos

A big thank you to Stallions fan Paul Borzone for his fantastic photos of Sunday’s win against the Essex Spartans. Thanks for supporting us and looking forward to having you join us at our next game! 5-0!

U.K. Gridiron 13

Wembley Stallions’ first ever U17’s home tournament

Our first ever home tournament for the U17’s.
Today we hosted the London Warriors, East Kent Mavericks and the London Blitz in a 5-a-side contact tournament.

The first ever games for the Youth team under Head Coach Kenny Blake. Unfortunately the Stallions could not must a win but they played really well and held experienced teams to close scores until experience and injury made their presence felt.

Round 1

  • Wembley Stallions 13 – London Warriors 16
  • London Blitz 22 – East Kent Mavericks 20

Round 2

  • Wembley Stallions 15 – London Blitz 21
  • London Warriors 26 – East Kent Mavericks 43

Round 3

  • Wembley Stallions 0 – East Kent Mavericks 34
  • London Blitz 42 – London Warriors 6

For the Stallions everyone played really well. Big shout out to Andre Neves playing at WR and filling in at QB in the final game. Cyrus Bourne and Pratik Ramesh. All others played out of their skins.

More details to follow but all the Stallions management wish to thank all the helpers, medics and others.

Wembley Stallions vs London Blitz B in photos

A big thank you to Stallions fan Paul Borzone for his fantastic photos of yesterday’s win against London Blitz B. Thanks for supporting us and looking forward to having you join us at our next game!

Stallions game day – Wembley Stallions vs London Blitz B

The Wembley Stallions brought home another win against London Blitz B yesterday. Final score 33-15. Well done Stallions and a big thank you to the side-line and fans who came to show support. 4 wins!

The Stallions will be playing their next game on the 12th of June at home when Essex Spartans will be coming to The Ranch. Kickoff will be 14:00. Come show your support.

Stallions game day – Wembley Stallions vs Essex Spartans

The Wembley Stallions took on and beat Essex Spartans last Saturday. Final score 32-13. Well done Stallions and a big thank you to the sideline and fans who came to show support. 3 wins!

The Stallions will be playing their next game on Sunday (15th of May) at home when London Blitz B will be coming to The Ranch. Kickoff will be 14:00. Come show your support.

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Many thanks to Mikey Cartwright for allowing us to use the photos. http://ponderosapics.photoshelter.com/index

 

Talent Strategy & the NFL

Please note, this article was written in 2015

As a fan of American Football (specifically the New York Giants), I make sure to follow the the sport all year round. Working in recruitment, I’m always fascinated by the approach that teams take to talent acquisition. However if you’re a passive viewer or follower of the NFL, you could be forgiven for thinking that not much happens between the lifting of the Lombardi trophy in February and the first game of the new season in September. But once the celebrations are over and confetti cleared from the pitch, the huge task begins of getting a team ready for the next season. Indeed, for the thirty teams not competing for the ultimate prize in American Football this process will have already started.

By the time the first game of a new season kicks off an NFL team will have an active roster of fifty-three players. These will be a mixture of athletes re-signed from the previous season, rookie players who come through the college ‘draft’ and unattached ‘free agents’ from other teams. However when the off-season training camp commences a team is allowed to have up to ninety players at their disposal. Midway through this pre-season agenda the number of players will be further reduced to seventy-five, before one final cut leaves the team with their final playing staff of fifty-three.

From team owner, to General Manager, to Head Coach, there are several key figures involved in this complex and high-pressure process. And for the players themselves, the chance to realise (or have snatched away) their childhood dream of playing professional sport can be a daunting and stressful process. But the glamour and complexity of this offseason spectacle belies an analogy that many businesses should consider; an effective talent strategy. Or in other words, a targeted plan for having the best people, at the right time, for the right price, within your organisation.

Much like an NFL franchise that needs to address an immediate need with an often over priced player deemed surplus to requirements by another team, a business that rushes in to hiring someone without considering the long term effects (both financial and otherwise) is likely to find that the decision they make is far from perfect. As hard as it may be, it is essential to stick to your principles of hiring and not let a seemingly urgent situation dictate who you bring in to your business. One of the most well run and iconic NFL teams of late are the Baltimore Ravens. Their General Manager Ozzie Newsome is revered as an expert in finding great players, and not rushing out to fill needs by making concessions and over paying for bad ones. His strategy is to avoid paying over the odds for short term gain and instead, putting faith in the system he created to build a sustainable team. His team’s Superbowl win in 2012 was the highest endorsement the game can give.

Hiring for the future is also one of the most important considerations for an NFL franchise. With highly touted young players coming in to the league each year, the NFL provides a great example of organisations that do this well, and those that don’t. Take for example, the much maligned Cleveland Browns. Ever since they came back in to the league in 1999, they have struggled with bringing young talent onto their team. A combination of poor assessment and a lack of a coherent hiring strategy has lead to their most recent first round pick (controversial Quarterback Jonny Manziel) struggling badly in his first few games and spending his off season in rehab. He was drafted to replace a similar failed rookie acquisition and his current situation means the team are linked with yet another move for a first year Quarterback. It’s clear to see that something isn’t working in Cleveland.

On the other hand the Dallas Cowboys now boast one of the strongest offensive lines in the league (one that allowed their running back DeMarco Murray to lead the league in rushing yards). This is a direct result of a targeted strategy that started four years ago by highlighting an area of need and taking a measured, long-term approach to resolving it. In this example, a measured tactic to bringing in junior talent has lead to recent, sustained success. Indeed, one of the biggest successes in this instance was accurately highlighting an area of need in the first place.

NFL teams give a unique example of how organisations can get their staffing and talent strategies right, and also how it can go wrong. Successful sporting franchises, as with successful businesses, are reliant on having the right talent in place. With the glitz and glamour of American Football it can be easy to forget that often the bad teams are struggling simply because they haven’t recruited well. The same can be said for struggling businesses.

Tim Barber

Linebacker