Across the country we find many people not finding their way into the game of American Football until they reach university. With the university programme gaining strength each year this can only grow.
Certainly a move to university opened the path into American Football for Rhiannon Gibson, whose housemate had signed up for a taster session and she decided to tag along. While a taster was as far as her housemate got, Rhiannon was hooked.
“I’d watched and liked the sport for years, I’m an Atlanta Falcons fan and would watch the Super Bowl every year (yes regardless of who was in it!) but had never had an opportunity to play, however once I did that was it!”
Such is her enthusiasm for the sport, Rhiannon is happy to play in a range of defensive positions for her team Portsmouth Destroyers, she likes to play corner back in both contact and flag. But becoming a footballer has come into a lot of comments from people.
“The main reaction I get is ‘But you’re so little!’ and don’t see how someone of my height (Rhiannon is 5ft 1) can play the game. But that comes down to people’s understanding of the game, yes there are roles for big people but there are so many positions within the game that you can find something no matter your build. Hey I’m up for a go at Running Back this season!”
Rhiannon also gets criticism from people who say that the game isn’t a sport and isn’t it just rugby for girls. But she takes it all in her stride. “We don’t see enough about American Football in this country so for many people they only see the International series or when the Super Bowl is on, so there is a huge myth around it. I shrug it off but if we could see more publicity and more opportunities for people to play in the UK I think this will change in time.”
And while university gave Rhiannon her opening into the game it hasn’t all been plain sailing. “We’re a small team as far as the university is concerned so it was hard to get funding and get new players along. We’ve merged with community team Portsmouth Dreadnoughts for the forthcoming season which means we can recruit players from both university and the wider community and we can utilise the better facilities and coaching teams they have. We’re seeing so much talent come into the game, I just see American Football going from strength to strength in this country.”
Now she’s left university Rhiannon is in a similar situation with other people trying to balance a full time job with playing football but still has ambitions for herself in the game. “I really want to work towards the GB Flag team so while I’m working I try and get to every tournament I can to take all the opportunities there are.” And she’s certainly on the right track as she received Defensive MVP for the entire flag series last year for the Destroyers.
But when you ask Rhiannon to sum up what American Football has given to her as a sport it may be something that people wouldn’t think of initially.
“Confidence. I’ve really gained so much, taken on so many challenges and it has helped me grow in confidence massively. I’ve also made some amazing friends through the game and I’ve met some fantastic people from all walks of life. It’s just made me that bit more happy and a hell of a lot more driven as I work towards where I want to be!”
And that confidence has given Rhiannon the courage to keep going and not be put off by any setbacks. “I would really encourage people to give the game a go,” says Rhiannon. “The girls in the UK American Football Community are so welcoming and so helpful and people want to help you improve your game. You can make mistakes but the most important thing is not to give up, go back, train harder and have fun. As the old saying goes, you just need to get back on that horse and try again.”
With that commitment to the sport expect to hear the name Rhiannon Gibson in the game for a great many years to come, or even better, get playing yourself to meet her on the field!