Super Cooper blazing a summer trail
Recently home from winning a Bronze medal at the IFAF European Women’s Flag Championships, in Denmark earlier this month, we caught up with Lions’ Receiver, #16, Jennifer Cooper on life after the event alongside a busy season ahead.
You’ve played football for a while now, how did you get into it?
I’ve been playing flag football for around 6 years now. I initially went to a taster session at Warwick University (with the Warwick Wolverines) and loved the strategic and athletic element to the game and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Through the flag community I then met players from contact (particularly Natalie Parker) who encouraged me to give tackle football a shot at the Lions. In fact I wish I had tried it sooner as the competitive and supportive environment along with the contact aspect of the game has very much suited my mentality.
How long have you been involved with GB Flag and what were your thoughts on the tournament leading up to it?
The inaugural GB women’s flag team was established in 2015, for our first European Championship in Madrid, and I’ve been part of the programme since. I was really excited to be back playing in my second Euros, against familiar teams such as Denmark and Israel and to include the addition of Finland. We knew as a squad we were coming back faster, stronger and more knowledgeable. The coaches had worked hard to build a playbook around our key attributes and individual skills as well as retaining flexibility to combat different defensive formations.
You were travelling to Denmark with fellow Lion, Phoebe Schecter, how was that?
It was amazing to already have that bond with Phoebe since she understands how to bring out the best in my performances (we also have similar pre-game music choices)! It’s great also to see Phoebe in action on the flag field, particularly if she is man-marking the opposition!
Great Britain performed well over the whole tournament, culminating in a clinical (second) victory over Finland for a well-deserved Bronze medal – what were some of your highlights and what next for the national squad?
The highlight has got to be the Israel game, we were one score down with minimal time left on the clock – we had to get an interception essentially to stand a chance of winning the game. Our Blitzer Kate Bruinvels did an awesome job at reading a quick toss, intercepting the ball and changing the whole dynamic of the game. We had one opportunity to drive down the field and score a TD to get ahead. In the huddle, we discussed how best we could exploit the defence on an individual basis to open up a play – our quick thinking worked, with a bullet by Milliee Barrett to the left corner. There was still time left on the clock but our defence shut them down! I think we well and truly worked as a team for that win.
A personal highlight has probably got to be against Finland when we spotted a potential hole in the defence. We amended the play on the first down and I caught the ball on a post route and managed to avoid tackles to run the length of the field for a TD!
You’re one of just a few dual code internationals [Cooper was also selected for the GB Tackle World Championship team who travelled to Canada, and finished 4th, this June], how does flag at an elite level differ from the corresponding tackle environment?
To be fair I get a similar adrenaline buzz from playing at an international level for both contact and flag. It’s a similar environment in so much as each team has its own style of play and it’s down to us to exploit the weaknesses, study game film and come up with an appropriate strategy against each team. However the most noticeable difference is probably the obvious – the smaller squad size! We took 15 women to the Euros for Flag (versus over for the Worlds), so it was quite a close-knit team to work alongside. With flag you play multiple positions on the offence and/or defence, whereas contact it is a lot more position specific.
Across both codes though what is apparent is the strong team bond you have when you step onto that field and line up against your opposition, that’s when you feel connected as one team, regardless of whether it’s flag or contact – you have the same mission, to win that game for your teammates and represent your nation to your highest ability.
You’ve had a whirlwind 12 months, what’s now next for you?
I have been very focussed on strength and conditioning in the Lions off season and I want to take this to the next level over the coming year. We’ve some fantastic opportunities on the horizon, which I can’t talk about just yet! but as a team we need to be fitter, faster and stronger than ever before in order to compete and undertake some of the pretty significant challenges we’re working on at the moment.
Beyond the domestic season I am looking forward to more international opportunities hopefully with talk of a GB flag fixture at some point next year.
Image © Céline Bisson, with thanks.