A record attendance for NFL London showed that the love of American football in this country continues to grow at a spectacular rate.
Eighty-four kids from Greater Manchester schools (out of over 500 from around the country), who participate in the ‘EdStart’ program, were among the 85,870 Wembley crowd which shows that the future of the sport on these shores is in safe hands.
EdStart are a Manchester-based sports coaching firm that supports schools with their full physical education programme and after-school clubs.
Amelia, 10, who attends Lewis Street Primary School in Eccles, stands out as a testament to the success of EdStart, who currently work in around ten authorities but are looking to expand nationwide.
Rightly or wrongly, when you ask a 10-year-old girl her favourite sport you do not expect her to say American football (even at an NFL game) and you certainly don’t expect her to then go on to say that her favourite team are the Jacksonville Jaguars and her favourite player is Blake Bortles.
The surprises kept on coming with Amelia:
“My favourite thing about today was the tackles they [the Jags] did on the other team and I learned that there are many different positions on the pitch.”
Everything about her answer proves the inclusiveness of ‘JagTag’, a non-contact version of American football.
Whether it is the fact that age and gender are irrelevant or that Amelia was unaware of specific positions, this little girl revealed so much in so few words as to why this sport has a future in this country and why this initiative works.
If you don’t want to be a Jags fan then fear not, you’re still more than welcome. Just ask Lewis, 10, from Irlam Primary School.
“My favourite team are the New York Giants and my favourite player is Odell Beckham Jr.”
Lewis prefers rugby but JagTag is a close second and he’s clearly a daredevil in waiting as his favourite moment was seeing the Jacksonville mascot (Jaxson De Ville) Tarzan swing from the top of Wembley stadium.
Then there are Isabelle, Louis and Caitlen, all aged 10 and who all support the Jags. Their favourite sports are gymnastics, football and netball respectively.
DJ Chark Jr, a wide receiver for the Jags, will surely be pleased to know that he is Caitlen’s favourite player while Isabelle prefers Tom Brady and it’s another nod to Blake Bortles from Louis’ direction.
Chris Irwin, CEO of EdStart, said: “We were approached by the Jags 12 months ago and we were blown away.
“With the Government putting £18,000-£20,000 a year into a school’s budget for physical education, we feel it is important to make sure they are using it well enough.
“Kids should be active at least an hour of every day and until we get that, we are fighting a losing battle really. We would love to have a nationwide reach and inspire kids to be interested in sport.
“These coaches have a massive impact on the lives of young people and the way they deliver the sport will create a long-lasting love. It’s important we reach all kids regardless of location or gender.”
A child’s introduction to sport with these organisations is fun, they are not pigeon-holed into one position and then drilled on how to succeed in that position as has been the case in previous eras.
EdStart and the Jags get it and Amelia, Lewis, Isabelle, Louis, Caitlen and the hundreds of other kids who get to play the sport of American football love them for it.
If you or your child are interested in the JagTag program you can find more information here.
Story: Richard Lunt
Photography: Roger Goodgroves