At the end of June, the GB Women’s team took British American Football to a whole different level. They were competing at a World Championships, the first British team to ever appear at one, and a team, that at the previous championships four years previously didn’t even exist.
And boy did they do us proud! They beat Finland who had taken the European Final two years previously and while they missed out on a chance of the final in a tough game against Canada, in their first World Championships they were in a bronze medal match. On that day, they fought hard against Mexico, another team in their debut World Champs but the side from North America held on to grab the bronze.
But 4th in the world at your first ever championships? That’s a phenomenal achievement and one we’ve asked Phoebe Schecter, GB Women’s captain to reflect upon and the overall campaign. Read on as she provides her Canada memories.
- So Phoebe, Congratulations! How does it feel being ranked 4th in the world?
– All a bit surreal to be honest! I remember sitting in this little classroom in Warwick, just over 4 years ago, with about 12 other girls, when Jim Messenger and Richard Ward had come back from the 2013 World Championships. They knew then what the goal was and that was the moment we all bought into the process. Now look at us! What a huge achievement for the entire programme that within 4 years we have achieved this great feat. We do love to add in that we are number 1, outside of North America! 😉
- And rightly so! You’ve come so far in such a short time, but what was the mood in the camp heading into that first game?
– The team, inside knew that we could beat Finland, but needed to realise and believe it. As we had a healthy mix of returners who had played Finland and rookies who hadn’t, Finland may have had a scary reputation. The theme changed from putting all the pressure on ‘beating Finland’ to just doing our jobs, believing in the process and trusting each other. That is exactly what we did. The last walk-throughs that we did, there was a real calm confidence across the team, and everyone knew their job. Game day, we put it all into action and fought for every inch, it was immense!
- Having lost the Europeans to Finland by a large scoreline, how did you feel mentally and physically running into the game?
– The GB Women’s program is so fortunate to have such unbelievable coaching and support staff. We have been scouting and prepping to play Finland since January, so we never felt more ready. Mentally, apart from all the hard work that the coaches offer, we have had another first, of including sports psychologist Jennifer Jones, into the setup. Jenni has been great to help focus and adjust our mindset, plus be a support throughout. Physically, the team overall has greatly increased fitness and football muscle memory. I have never felt so fit and ready to go. A large part of that is due to the inclusion of Strength & Conditioning Coach Jay-C (recently profiled by us) into the GB programme and players realising being good at their position is no longer good enough. To play or be the best, we needed, as a team, to start putting in the work outside of football.
- Sum up for us how it felt when you beat the European champions?
– It felt like complete euphoria! We all had to work so hard throughout the game and especially with the way it finished, on our own goal line, it just added to the tension! There is no better feeling than getting our own back, after two years! The fact that it was playing at a great time in the UK, so everyone at home could watch, was so wonderful to think about as well!
- You then had to recover and prepare for Canada, how did you guys manage that?
– The team stayed and watched the Canada game, with the thought that they would win it. Our coaches worked tirelessly scouting, getting film up, and prepping us for our next challenge. The team knew going into it, that we would have a huge challenge ahead of us, but we were ready to test ourselves against the 2nd best women’s football team in the world.
It would have been good to have more time to reflect over the Finland game but in a tight competition like this, we only had so much time to look at what we did wrong and well from the previous game, then how to improve, but there is no time for any of that. By the time you realise you just won, it is on to the next chapter!
- Canada were a different ball game, you had a lot of opportunities but never quite managed a score. How did you feel post game?
– It really was a different ball game! But truthfully, the first half it felt like we held our own. Special teams were a consistent force to be reckoned with throughout the tournament and overall, we definitely made Canada work for their touchdowns, the score line doesn’t tell it all. In scout, Canada held onto their secret weapon, of how far and accurate their QB could throw. That became detrimental to us in the end, combined with our offence really struggling to get the ball moving. Canada was strong, aggressive and accurate on both sides of the ball, so there was a lot to take away from that game.
- A bronze medal game, such a huge achievement for this country, but mixed feelings perhaps at the end?
-I think it is important to keep reminding ourselves that we were able to play in a bronze medal game, at our first World Championships. That being said, it was a very winnable game. Playing 3 physical games in a week, in the Canadian heat, definitely wore away at the team by our last game. We had been quite confident about our odds against Mexico, perhaps unrightfully so, based off the final score. Mexico were the underdogs the whole tournament, a role that we are all too familiar with. As a team, we know exactly how it feels to be the underdogs and when people doubt you, it fuels your fire to achieve great things. Mexico played with heart and with that fire, making them the better team on the day. They are definitely a team we would love to play again and wish them all the best in their future adventures!
- Sum up the experience for us as a player and a captain?
It feels like a once in a lifetime experience. The fact that we were the first British American football team to qualify for the Worlds, the immense support from back home, beating Finland and playing the 2nd best team in the world…it doesn’t get much better than that!
- Where does the team go from here? What are your expectations now for the Europeans in 2019?
-Now the team get a little break, but not football in the UK! BAFA’s Diamond Series kicks off next month, where we will be teaching women 11 a-side football, have competitive games and scouting for the next GB players. Ideally we hope to host the Euros and our goal is to win gold and officially be the best team in Europe.
- What was pleasing for you to see during the tournament? Especially from a player’s perspective? There must have been some young and inexperienced players who you saw develop and grow?
– I loved being able to see the real football IQ of players, developing. The women’s programme has gone from strength to strength and had to be upskilled in a very short time, that the IQ has almost come second. If you think about it, as a set up, the GB team has only ever played 10 games. That is basically 1 senior season and for this tournament, we only had 10 days of practice essentially. What these women and staff are really achieving, says wonders about their dedication on and off the field.
But as you can imagine, given how young the program still is, the development of players and the talent coming through the program is so exciting! A couple standout younger players are Naomi Harryman- a defensive back, Sydney Green- quarter back, and Gaby Knops- who played a bit of receiver and running back. There were also some awesome performances from younger players to the program, like Jess Anderson (WR), Rachel Moody (DE), and Lucy Kirk (OLB). I know that there are some really incredible athletes in the UK, so I am buzzing to see what the future holds for this talent pool!
- How was the experience with other countries? Did you mix together much?
– The other teams were fantastic! We all stayed in the same accommodation and ate in the same cafeteria. A bunch of the team mingled with the Team USA players, as we shared a common room and we were on similar schedules. I always come back to the fact that Women’s American football is so unique in its culture, where no matter what team you play for, it is about the love of the game and growing it. The day before our last game, we had all the countries meet for a ‘stash swap’ . That is always brilliant as coaches, players and staff all come and bring items to switch with the other countries and take pictures with each other. It is so unique and hilarious to be a part of.
- How do you see this as a stepping stone to growing the game further?
– An idea we would love to see come to life, especially in the bye year, would be have a European All-Star game versus the USA.
Other than that, the content that our media guru, Alex Lilly put out, gives us more of a product to put forward to potential sponsors. It has also been huge in the actual coverage and positive messages sent out to social media and the amount of views we have had, are at an all-time high. Hopefully, that means that we will grow the game even more, get more coaches, players, officials etc. interested in becoming a part of American football. Already there is talk of some of our girls using their Level 1 coaching qualification and sharing their knowledge. One of these pioneers is Laura Moore, who will be joining Keele University’s coaching staff for the BUCS season. This is just the beginning for women in sport, the future is bright!
We couldn’t agree more. This is just the start and think the program can continue to grow. Modest to the last, Phoebe is currently growing the game overseas as she is in the USA with an intern coaching position with the Bills. Couldn’t be more proud and know she’ll continue to grow the game from strength to strength.