Wales’ only women’s American football team face new challenge

Coronavirus will ‘massively hit’ recruitment, says Cardiff Valkyries head coach

Cardiff Valkyries after the November 17 rookie day

THE first and only female American football team in Wales is facing a challenge in attracting new members and retaining current players for next season.

The Valkyries currently have 22 players and were formed in 2016. This year, they competed in the full-contact women’s seven-a-side Sapphire Series against Leicester Falcons and Cheshire Bears.

Pre-season normally runs from the end of August until November, with the games taking place between December and March.

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, pre-season is now scheduled to begin in October.

Head Coach Simon Browning, 40, of Whitchurch said: “We can see this year is going to be massively hit in terms of recruitment”.

Recruiting new players will not be the only challenge for the Valkyries – retaining the players they already have is potentially a tough task.

Mr Browning said: “A lot of people are going to have other priorities, such as going on holiday and going to see loved ones they haven’t seen for a while.

“Playing any sport is not necessarily going to be high on anyone’s agenda”.

Keeping players engaged over lockdown has been a priority for the Valkyries’ coaching team, with online tactical sessions being held weekly.

Mr Browning has also participated in virtual “coaching clinics” for local people.

Social distancing will prevent the Valkyries from doing any contact training, though Mr Browning believes this may be positive.

“There will be a shift back towards the core fundamental skills that we do sometimes gloss over.

“There is a lot of good stuff that will come out of this”.

Mr Browning said in November that a major issue is recruiting women who are not “stereotypical athletes”.

Mr Browning said: “For some players, playing American football is the first time they feel their body is actually a positive, not a negative.

“It is difficult to speak to a demographic that isn’t looking to be spoken to, and you’re trying to overcome that social inertia and convince them that actually, you can do this. We value you for you”.

While there is a need for larger players to fill the roles of specialised positions, club president Lois McConville, 25, of St Mellons, was keen to point out that “really quite small and petite women” have a place in the sport too.

She said: “In this sport, there’s probably a different position we would put you in where you won’t actually get much contact.”

Though many begin playing non-contact Flag Football, Mr Browning said that thanks to the prevalence of rugby in the region, “the concept of hitting each other is not an alien one”.

Some players were drawn to the Valkyries because of the contact. Mandy Gould, 31, of Cardiff Bay said: “I sought the contact. Flag was always more to help with fitness”.

The popularity of rugby has its drawbacks for the Valkyries, with potential players opting for that over joining the Valkyries.

Miss McConville said: “I know there are a lot of women interested in rugby and we’ve tried to get some rugby players, but they’ve gone back to rugby as that is what they’ve done since they were around seven”.

Mr Browning believes that the relatability of rugby compared to American football can put some women off from trying the latter.

“If you watch a rugby game, it’s easier to relate to that,” he said. “With American football you put the pads on, and you hear the sizes of some of the players and that’s all you can see. But when they get here, they realise the women who are doing it are just like them.

“Once they’re in it it’s not about the physicality of it, I think it’s more about making that initial jump in. Women’s American football is not the same as the NFL. You don’t have 6ft 9in behemoths running around”.

Another rookie day is being held on Sunday, November 24 at Pentwyn Leisure Centre from 10.30am to 1pm, though new players are welcome to join at any time.

The Valkyries have their first games of the season as part of the Sapphire Series at Leicester on December 7.