With viewing figures of over 3 million, there will be many people in the UK who will know the name Phoebe Schecter for being a participant of this year’s Ninja Warrior UK rather than her success in the field of American Football. With the game to an extent still in its infancy in the UK, this is not a great surprise, but one that Phoebe, and over football players in the country are trying to address.
Personal trainer Phoebe decided to go on Ninja Warrior UK as a challenge to herself, but if it’s lifted the profile of women in football then all the better. Especially as most people don’t even realise that women play the sport.
“I find when I tell people I play American Football that they try and correct me and tell me I play soccer or rugby,” says Phoebe. “When they find out I’m a linebacker and play an aggressive position they’re really shocked.”
Phoebe’s journey into American Football was perhaps how many British women come into the sport – seeing things on social media. But Phoebe was born in America but came into the sport once she arrived here.
“Of course I knew the game before I came to the UK but I never really played on a big scale. I came here in 2012 to work with horses and saw something about Facebook about Manchester LFL and decided to give it a go.”
Fast forward three years and Phoebe is not just a player, but a twice British national championship winner with the Birmingham Lions and a European silver medallist for GB! That’s quite a journey! But while she loves the success that the game has given to her she also has a drive to build the game for all women.
“We’ve got a great level of players in the UK at the moment and people with passion that want to drive the game whether that be flag or tackle football. But we need to keep that momentum growing, and in order to grow the sport in the UK we have to get the younger generation involved.”
Since the launch of the #thisgirlcan programme twelve months ago, many women have gone back to sport or taken up sport which is really encouraging not just for football but for generally women. “Naturally I’d love all girls to be playing football but if we are getting girls active and boosting their self esteem and confidence, then we are doing a great job as a nation.”
One way that Phoebe does push American football a little further is through her own fitness training that she does in the Manchester area. “I love to bring football drills into my sessions. My PITT classes at Team Chongi love to hate doing football stance as a warm up! I like to add in fun, but challenging drills, that use full body movements and build up your core.”
But what of the future, does Phoebe see that there are opportunities for young women in American Football? “Absolutely, American Football is undoubtedly a growing sport in the UK. We have the NFL over here every year, with intention of a team based here before we know it. I would imagine that flag football will make it into the Olympics at some point. In the meantime, there will be a European Under 19’s championship, and we have a national GB Flag team. The opportunities are endless for the future, we just need to keep the ball rolling.”
And keeping the ball rolling is bringing more awareness of the game and seeing more people join teams such as the Birmingham Lions. For Phoebe, it’s worth the travel from her base near Manchester as she gets so much from the organisation.
“It would be great in time that there are more clubs and more places to play across the UK, but that will happen I’m sure as the sport progresses. But for now I could never imagine playing with another team, I just love being a part of the Lions family. To be the best, you need to train with the best, and I feel that way about the coaching staff, facilities, and players. I have played team sports my whole life, and have never come across the bond that we have as Lions. It is a family, and you need that sort of togetherness in a sport like American Football.”
With the Lions Phoebe has enjoyed great success, winning the national championships two years running and hoping for a third in 2016. But getting to represent GB was something that she never dreamt of when she first arrived in 2012.
“One of the girls on my first team, Beverley Marwood, first told me about GB trials and I thought I’d give it a go. Jim Messenger, the GB coach said I needed to look at a different position as I’d been playing quarterback, so it was quite surreal the first time I pulled on that jersey.”
But now the GB team are ranked second in Europe which is a phenomenal achievement. “We were rank outsiders, we weren’t even ranked and shocked everyone to take the silver medal in 2015. I really hope we can make it to the Worlds in 2017 and really show people what GB women can do. That’s the beauty of American Football, we’re making great steps every single year to be better and better, and that’s a great thing to be a part of.”
Phoebe’s success comes from a great drive and determination, but she takes her inspiration from people both in and out of the sport. “In the game of football, Ray Lewis, as a player, inspires me. His speed, aggression and leadership skills are ones that I look up to. Looking outside of American football, Bethany Hamilton is a pro-surfer. Unfortunately, she lost her arm to a shark attack, but never let that hold her back. The following year, Bethany went on to win her first National Title. Her positivity, determination, and ability to not let her horrific incident hold her back. Bethany is truly inspiring, and we could all learn something from her bravery.”
While Phoebe has not had the level of setbacks that someone as incredible as Bethany, she is in herself an inspiration to young footballers everywhere. She has come in to a new country, picked up a sport and literally run with it. She wants much for women in this country, to feel like equals in sport to their male counterparts.
“My wish for women’s sport as a whole, is that people look at women as athletes. By that I mean, take away the gender role and appreciate their athletic ability. Once people start watching women’s sport, you can’t help but appreciate all the technique that is used. We may not be able to use muscle the way that men can, therefore our technique has to be on point. Hopefully when people start to recognise that, we can start to get the publicity and awareness for ourselves as athletes.”
If one young woman reading this is inspired to take up American Football then Phoebe would be happy. She’d be happier if there were more, but one step at a time in this great game. But if she had one bit of advice to any young player making their way in the sport it would be this.
“Firstly don’t feel that you have had to play football from a young age and if you haven’t you won’t make it. Not true, in my believe you should grow up trying multiple sports because to be a better athlete in the long run, you need to have a versatile background. You can take skill sets from many sports to transfer to football.
But mainly, don’t feel afraid to ask questions. Ask as many as possible! It might seem silly, but we are introducing a new sport to this country, the only way you will learn is to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong and whatever you do, do it 100%.”
This article was first published on afdlimited.com – we are grateful to them for allowing us to share Phoebe’s story again.