Last updated on May 25th, 2023 at 05:15 PM
Prior to the highly anticipated Championship Game of the inaugural Jets & Bears NFL Girls Flag league, which occurred on Monday, May 22nd in Ealing, London, I had the privilege of speaking with Phoebe Schecter.
Phoebe, a trailblazer in the realm of American Football in the UK, holds the distinction of being the country’s first female coach in the NFL, having worked with the Buffalo Bills.
Not only that, she is also an esteemed player for Team GB NFL Flag and serves as an analyst for Sky Sports NFL, all while serving as a global ambassador for NFL Flag.
Phoebe has emerged as a leading figure, advocating for increased female participation in the sport. Recent studies have revealed that female fans comprise up to 33% of NFL UK fans, highlighting the growing interest and support among women.
In a remarkable endeavour, Phoebe has launched the first-ever all-girls competition of its kind in the UK, designed to empower young girls and help them overcome obstacles in the world of sports.
This groundbreaking league brings together girls aged 12-14, who will compete in two conferences consisting of six teams each, making a total of twelve teams.
Spanning across five weeks, the league provides a platform for these talented young athletes to showcase their skills and passion for the sport.
What sets Phoebe apart is her own journey in American Football. Despite being born in the United States, she initially harboured no interest in the sport until she relocated to the UK.
It was there that she discovered her love for the game and began her football journey at the age of 23. Phoebe’s story serves as an inspiring reminder that anything is possible, breaking barriers and encouraging others to follow suit.
Phoebe Schecter’s presence and dedication continue to reshape the landscape of American Football in the UK, championing diversity, inclusivity, and a bright future for women in the sport.
As the UK’s first female coach in the NFL, what were some of the most significant challenges you faced in breaking through the barriers of a traditionally male-dominated sport?
Phoebe: Truthfully, most of the barriers are the ones that I put on myself. Looking at imposter syndrome, self-doubt and not yet understanding what value I brought to an organisation.
However, once I evaluated and took ownership of my roles, then my mindset changed. I was surrounded by supportive and inspiring people who saw me as a coach, not my gender, so the rest was up to me.
Can you share a transformative moment or experience that shaped your journey and reinforced your passion for coaching and playing football? – from a playing per
What impact do you believe your presence and achievements in the NFL have had on aspiring female athletes and coaches around the world, particularly in terms of breaking down gender stereotypes?
Phoebe: Ultimately, being the first has its responsibilities, but the biggest key is to not be the last. I have always been aware that I wanted to do the best job possible to allow others opportunities to achieve their dreams.
By having diversity at the elite level, it shows from a top-down approach the benefits of having a range of different people, backgrounds, and mindsets pulling together for one shared vision.
As a coach, what strategies do you employ to foster inclusivity and create an environment where all players, regardless of gender, feel valued and empowered to perform at their best?
Phoebe: You have to create an environment where people can be their authentic selves. If you want to get the most out of someone, that person has to feel comfortable and free to be who they are.
Vulnerability is also an important factor to foster these environments. You have a limited amount of time to build trust and how do you do so? Through vulnerability.
In what ways do you see your role as a coach influencing the broader narrative around gender equality in sports, and what steps do you take to promote this message?
Phoebe: The more that people like myself and other women and minorities are able to use our platform to inspire, the more that it becomes the norm and almost equally as important for young men and boys to see women at the top of the game within sports.
Everybody deserves an opportunity to achieve their dreams and if I can help someone get there, no doubt I will because none of us got to where we are without the help of others.
As a member of Team GB NFL Flag, what does it mean to you to represent your country on an international stage, and how has this experience impacted your personal and professional growth?
Phoebe: I feel so fortunate to be able to represent GB in multiple sports. When our National Anthem plays, there is no feeling to describe the pride I feel for a country that has given me so much in life.
It has truly given me purpose as it is so much a part of my identity, playing sports. To see the growth of this sport over the past couple years alone is mind-blowing.
For me, I’m just so excited for people to fall in love with the sport, find a place they feel they can be free, and find a role that is perfect for them because it is so inclusive.
In your opinion, what unique strengths or qualities do female athletes bring to the game of football, and how can these attributes contribute to the sport’s overall development and success?
Phoebe: Female athletes bring a tremendous amount of curiosity, communication, teamwork, athleticism and more. This helps to develop the overall sport as female athletes are literally making the game better.
By asking “why” and wanting to understand more, it challenges the coaches and teammates in a positive way to truly know the root of why we may do something, to give a full picture.
Can you discuss the importance of mentorship and support networks in your journey as a coach and player, and how have these relationships influenced your career trajectory?
Phoebe: Mentorship has been an imperative part of my career. I’m fortunate to have a couple of different mentors in my life, all with different skill sets, but all will be completely honest with me.
Sometimes we need people who are in the spaces that we are trying to get to, to help guide us and open the door. However, it is still up to us as individuals to earn our way through.
What steps do you believe need to be taken to further increase female representation in coaching positions across the NFL and other professional sports leagues?
Phoebe: I think the NFL is doing a tremendous job of creating a pathway for female representation across the NFL and perhaps other sports leagues and organisations can learn from the intentional pathways being created.
Putting the right people at the top to see what it is like, otherwise a lot of times people don’t know what it takes to get there or what they are working towards.
At first, there is an element of highlighting those females at the top, to showcase these opportunities, but ideally, we get to a point where we don’t have to point out females or other minorities, it just is the norm.
Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals within the realm of football coaching, and how do you envision contributing to the continued progress of gender equality in sports?
Phoebe: I would love to take a team to the Olympics as a coach with flag football. That would be a dream. Regarding continuing to progress gender equality in sports; I will continue to organise youth events specifically for females to try new sports, mentor female coaches, and connect people to help achieve whatever their dreams are.
My goal has always been to send the elevator back down and my work with women and girls has been one of the most rewarding ways of doing that.
Who would you say has been your biggest help and inspiration?
Phoebe: Samantha Rapoport has been one of my biggest inspirations. She is head of Diversity and Inclusion for the NFL, she started the NFL Careers Forum for Women, and just someone I truly look up to who is always pushing the boundaries.
What’s your advice to someone looking to start out in American Football?
Phoebe: Go for it! Don’t let the fear of trying something new hold you back. The world of American football is vast and there is a position for everyone no matter their shape, size, or ability. The people you will meet will become your football family and we would love to have you be a part of it!
Do you have particular foods you go to for gaining more muscle and power?
Phoebe: As a pescatarian, I am aware of what I eat a bit more, to make sure that I always am getting enough vitamins, minerals, etc. so protein is a bit sort of my diet, I love salmon, avocado, eggs, and when in doubt, my favourite snack is an apple and peanut butter!
How do you keep yourself so motivated and focused?
Phoebe: Abit part of my motivation is I love the gym and that is my “meditation” time. Everything I do, I think of how it helps my team, and how I can be better for them and they inspire me just as much.
When it comes to the bigger picture, meeting all these young girls, and watching the game grow, that is what truly drives me.