Rookies a proud part of the pride

Rookies a proud part of the pride

On the eve of the fifth BAFA Sapphire Series – with the Lions poised yet again to challenge for honours – we thought it a prudent time to check in on some of this year’s newest recruits, and with a few questions posed, here’s what Vicki Bone (DL #65), Phoebe Mortimer (OL #61), Katie Carroll (DL #78), Jess Hastings (WR #83) and Amber Roberts (LB #55) had to say about the challenges of learning a new sport, team expectations and their feelings ahead of their first Finals Day.

You’re new to the sport – how did you / what made you give the Lions a go? 

VB: Well I work with Maz, and she asked me if I was going to come along to the Rookie Camps. She’s very persuasive! I decided it give it a go, as I thought it was time to have a go at doing something for me – I spend most of my time at work or on Mom duties for my 12-year-old. I also wanted to challenge myself, build up my confidence and come out of my comfort zone. I hadn’t played sport since school so it was definitely doing that. My son said I should go for it too – I think he likes the idea of his Mom playing American Football.

PM: Rugby and American Football are two sports that my family and I watch and support religiously. My brother and sister play rugby so of course I wanted to give it a go; as much fun as I had in my short period of playing rugby I felt like I wanted to do something different. Speaking to mutual friend Becky Williams and hearing that she had played American Football was amazing to me, within minutes she convinced me to message the team and sign myself up and I haven’t regretted that decision at all.

KC: I’ve played rugby for over 15 years and have been friends with fellow Lion Maz Hughes for many of them. I had seen that she had recently taken up the sport and it sparked my interest. Having reached my peak in rugby (having played at county level a few years back), I was looking for a new challenge and thought I’d give it a go. I also enjoyed watching football back in the day when Channel 4 used to show it – and of course watching the Superbowl in subsequent years when possible! Maz was pretty sure I would enjoy playing, so she kept me informed about the rookies sessions…which I attended and loved!

JH: I got into watching American Football at university with friends, but didn’t get involved until this season because I was competing in other sports. A few months ago I searched for opportunities to play ‪American football in the UK and found a number of open days including the Lions rookie camps. I mostly chose the Lions because they are reasonably close to where I live and they also turned out to be a friendly, team-oriented, competitive group of women (and men).

AR: I played flag at Nottingham University and really enjoyed how tactical the sport was and I also loved being part of a team. After finishing my studies I wanted to stay in a team sport and learn more about American Football, I knew that the Lions had been champions for a while and many were also GB Lions and with this I knew joining this team would really challenge me to be better with everyone having a wealth of knowledge for me to learn from. Safe to say I was exactly right.

What were your expectations before joining the team? 

VB: If I’m honest I wasn’t really sure. I won’t lie, I was apprehensive because sport was never one of my strong points. But I was also excited because I knew how good the team was and was eager to learn from them and to see everyone in action. Since joining everyone has been lovely, supportive, honest and knowledgeable so I didn’t need to worry.

PM: I expected it to be a lot of hard work, especially as I was new to the sport…I had no idea on any of the plays or correct footwork for example. I also knew I was going to have to put a lot of time in outside of training to be able to learn everything I needed to know.

KC: I just hoped it was going to be fun and challenging in all the right ways and that I would get to experience first-hand a game that I’d only ever watched before! So far it’s met and exceeded all of those expectations, and the season isn’t even over yet!

JH: That the team environment would provide opportunities for learning, developing and competing. The Lions has more than ticked those boxes, as well as offering a pool of friendly people who always take the time to answer my rookie questions!

AR: Honestly? I was really nervous. I knew I’d be put through my paces and I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I also thought that the coaches and team would be super scary and serious. I’ve never been in a competitive sport or high-level team before so thought I’d be biting off more than I could chew.

As a newcomer (to tackle/contact football) what has been the biggest challenge in getting to grips with the sport? 

VB: Myself! I’m not that confident and have no experience of playing team sports so there have been times when I’ve told myself I couldn’t do it, but I’ve had some great pep talks from the girls and I’m learning in terms of both the sport and how to believe in myself. It’s not an easy sport, but it’s really fun and rewarding. My aim now is to get stronger and faster for next season.

PM: Going from being completely inexperienced to having to learn everything to the point with which I could do it on the spot. Being on the O-Line means that if any one of us makes a wrong move it could potentially prevent the play from running smoothly or even at all, so, whilst it’s been hard, learning the plays is key and has been the biggest challenge.

KC: The physical side of transitioning to football from rugby has probably been easier for me in terms of collisions and contact, but the positioning of the body and the different types of fitness/muscles required to perform my role did put my body into slight shock for the first few weeks, however with the support of the team’s physios, these issues are now virtually gone. Having to be so disciplined was also a challenge – coming from a rugby background, I tended to just focus on who was carrying the ball, now I have an assignment and need to fulfil it. I am still learning to control my inner-Labrador!

JH: Learning to tackle and getting tackled are scary new things for me coming from much gentler sports, but the hardest thing has been sponging all the information in and understanding how important all the details are.

AR: I’d say the biggest challenge in getting to grips with this sport is having to be so aware of everything that happens around me and how quickly things will need to change and be adjusted. I often like to know exactly what is happening and what I need to do at all times. However, with this sport we sometimes need to adjust at the last minute, the last second even. I struggled with this at first as I’d already had down what I was doing in my head. As my confidence has grown though, this is becoming more natural and more comfortable for me to accommodate.

What have you found to be (to date) the most satisfying element of being part of the Lions?

VB: The Lions’ team spirit. It’s a true team in every sense of the word. Everyone supports each other, and guides one another. They will tell you if you do something wrong, but only to help you and that’s amazing. The group stand up as a team too. If something’s not going quite right it’s the team that works to sort it, not calling out individuals. Being part of that is quite something, even after only a few months.

PM: The most satisfying part of being a part of this team is the fact that we truly are a team. There is so much enthusiasm, excitement and encouragement to ask questions and to speak up when you’re not sure on something; we’re all constantly working together to help each other out and it’s just incredible.

KC: The feeling of being part of something that is growing, getting bigger and stronger, and learning so much more about the sport. I appreciate American Football films even more now! I do love a good tackle as well!!

JH: I like a little competition from time to time, at the Lions I get quite a bit of that, a lot of the time.

AR: Easily the most satisfying element of being part of the Lions is just that… being part of the Lions. The support from the team and coaches is incredible. Everyone is supportive, no one is scary or super serious and everyone wants you to learn and get the best out of training and games. You can really tell how passionate everyone is about the sport and the team. I was super nervous on my first day but within minutes I felt comfortable and welcomed. My confidence in all aspects of what I do has grown since being part of the Lions. I feel empowered, strong and I know the team believe in me. Becoming a Lion has helped me in ways the team will never realise both physically and mentally (it’s also pretty awesome to see people’s reactions when I tell them I play American Football)!

It’s Finals Day tomorrow – what are you looking forward to the most?

VB: I’m looking forward to getting back on the field and getting a few reps in as I’ve been out for a few weeks with a knee injury. I’m also looking forward to cheering the girls on whilst continuing to learn from them, as we come up against some big opponents in the final hopefully.

PM: What I am looking forward to the most is being able to walk out onto the field on Finals Day with this incredible army of women. I am so excited!

KC: Just being part of it all if I’m honest. From start to finish I’m aiming to give my all and enjoy the day. If I can sack a QB too, that would be awesome.

JH: Working hard with and for the team to kick butt and put all our training into practice.

AR: I’m looking forward to experiencing another big challenge. Finals is going to be another step up to the tournaments I have played so far, as each team will have the fire in their bellies to try to knock the Lions from their top spot. It will be a great day of football and I trust that all of us will stay united, hit hard and most importantly have fun!

Photo by Garry Charles © MyLonelyTreeMedia photography.

Jess Hastings Birmingham Lions Women's American Football Jess Hastings Birmingham Lions Women