Ever thought you had a busy footballing life? Then spare a thought for Phoebe Schecter who this year has been a real trailblazer for women in the sport.
After leading the GB Women’s team to a 4th place at the World Championships, she took up a coaching intern position at the Buffalo Bills, returned to be part of the Women’s GB Flag Football squad which gained a bronze medal at this year’s European champs before heading out to a coaching role with Bryant University. And the year hasn’t even finished yet!
For Phoebe the beginning of 2017 seems a long time ago when she’s packed so much in (we feel tired reading about it, let alone doing it!), but it was back in February, at the Women’s World Football Games that opportunities would start to come about that would change her direction for the year.
“I met Sam Rapoport at the Games who presented an NFL Career Forum. She brought together some incredible speakers such as the Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera, co-owner of the Bills Kim Pegula, and the Falcons Assistant General Manager Scott Pioli to name just a few. In this forum we had the chance to see the different careers available within the NFL. Sam recommended to me that I apply for a Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship which I did, and after a couple of months and an email from Coach Sean McDermott, I got my chance of a defensive internship at the Bills.”
Sam has become Phoebe’s mentor and together they are opening up doors for women in the sport. There aren’t many better role models considering she’s just been named as one of People magazine’s Top 25 Women Changing the World! But how was life for Phoebe working in the NFL?
“It was such an incredible, eye opening experience! I learnt more than I ever thought possible. The first week was a bit of a blur with the new routine, learning the playbook, terminology and overall pace of operations. However, the other Coaches welcomed and helped answer any questions I had. The Bills opened up their entire program to me and I am forever grateful.”
The Bills organization completely embraced Phoebe into her coaching internship and she says that everyone she encountered was really supportive about the opportunity but realizes that for some, there is still a long way to go before women get the same levels of acceptance for their coaching ability as men do.
“It was great how well supported I was but I’m sure there may have been people in the wider Football world whom may have had opinions about my ability. I realise that the women within football is something new and it is in human nature to be hesitant to accepting new ideas. Basketball, Lacrosse, and Softball/Baseball have led the way for decades, now it’s time for Football to take up that lead. But I have found that being confident in yourself, knowing your abilities and limitations, buying into the team’s culture through working hard is a winning combination, no matter your gender.”
For many people around the UK, Phoebe is well known for her playing career (although she has been coaching for a few years too here) and this summer saw her lead the GB team to a 4th place finish in the World Champs. An amazing achievement but one she’s probably not completely had the chance to really celebrate as she moved from one football opportunity to the next.
“I’ve been so busy it seems a long time ago now so I wish I could relive it all over again! I have basically been in a football coma since we flew to Canada back in June, which is completely incredible! We have had some huge achievements, gotten GB even further onto the map and hopefully setting up the next generation for success! My biggest excitement is seeing the next level of athletes coming into our system to develop and grow, with any of the retiring players looking to pass on their knowledge.”
While she came back after coaching with the Bills to play in the European flag championships, the football fields of the UK have noticed a distinct lack of Schecter sparkle over the past few months. But with her coaching career taking off, could this be the last we see of her in playing uniform?
“Oh that is a tough one to answer!! I can’t express how much I am really missing all my teammates and playing, but I can’t complain as I am still fully consumed in the sport! When I was flying back from my intern with the Bills I knew that I didn’t want to stop learning or developing as a coach. Lucky for me, my incredible mentors had been hard at work and no sooner had I stepped off the plane I found that I had an email from Head Coach James Perry at Bryant University wanting to discuss a potential internship. So I’m taking the opportunities as they come, but hanging up my helmet? That’s an answer that you’ll have to wait on!”
I guess we can wait! But in all seriousness, while Phoebe has reached great heights in her playing career she is the first one to admit that she’s still learning and developing as a coach and still has much to do in this area.
For Phoebe believes that coaching is not something you can just dip in and out of, it’s a passion, a way of life not just a profession so it’s something you have to commit to and take the opportunities that come along.
Which takes her to Bryant University and the opportunity that she is currently enjoying. What kind of things does Phoebe find herself doing there?
“Many, many things! I wear a couple of different hats at Bryant, which is brilliant to aid in my learning and development of the sport as a whole! I am an assistant to the offence, specifically the quarterbacks, assistant to the Director of Football Operations and work heavily in analytics. I love every element of my roles here. It gives me a completely holistic approach, with the opportunity to pick the minds of everyone!
On the side, I am kick starting a personal training program in the University, which will hopefully one day be run by the student body.”
A great opportunity for Phoebe given the breadth of the range of roles that she can do at the high school/university level. For Phoebe she believes that at the moment that’s the right level for her, given the amount of coaching she’s done and the amount of learning she still has to do. But that doesn’t stop her having greater ambitions.
“I know I’m still learning as a coach and having had the opportunities I’ve had this year it helps you know where your level is at. For now. But also there is a level of responsibility as a woman in coaching as it is still a world we are breaking into so I want to make sure that I do the best that I can do and being confident in my knowledge plays a huge role in that. The aim will always be to be a positional coach in the NFL, however every day I am working towards that and becoming a more well-rounded Coach.”
Phoebe comes back to the UK in December and given the year she has had there are a few people who’ll be looking to call upon her services. No time to get a bit of a rest then?
“No, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I’ve had a few people approach me and I am hoping to get to a handful of teams throughout the UK, help with any development days and desperate to get in a day of playing football!”
As well as coaching and working for other teams, Phoebe is also willing to help others look further with their coaching ambitions and further their life outside of the playing aspect. “If you can then I would say try and shadow a college program, no matter the division. There is so much to learn from other coaches and programs, before you really decided where or what level you would like to coach.”
In the US it’s quite common for people to start their coaching careers earlier, simply as for the majority of players, the career ends at 22. If they haven’t made it then there isn’t the different lower tiers to play in. For Phoebe people might think that going into coaching now, when she can still carry on playing may be strange but she’s embracing all the opportunities that come.
“It would be great if more people could embrace coaching or officiating at a younger age in the UK. It is hard for people to want to make the transition, but you can start becoming a student of the game whilst playing. I’m hoping that we can change the culture, so we can look to see what doors can be opened for coaches to help them develop further.”
So to 2018 and Phoebe is looking forward to whatever comes her way and what lies ahead. After a pretty packed 2017, it has strengthen her resolve to take on more chances overseas, so who knows where she’ll be when we report back next!
But reflecting on 2017, it’s been a busy old year, has she got one highlight?
“ One highlight? No, not a chance! I couldn’t possibly narrow it down! This year has seen me playing my first international of beach Kabaddi with some fierce teammates, winning oru 4th National Championship with the Birmingham Lions, coming 4th in the World Championships, Buffalo Bills internship, coming 3rd in the European Flag Championships, interning at Bryant and following the development of sport and how more females are becoming empowered…wow!! It’s been a blast so if I could have a helmet full of highlights, those would be them!”
In fairness, I think she’s summed it up well. Looking forward to 2018 too!