Guest article by Grace Hilbourne
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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