By @Lucy_Roberts_72

Despite being born in Connecticut in the USA, American football player and coach, Phoebe Schecter, only discovered the sport when she moved across the pond to the UK.

Phoebe Schecter, ambassador to sports nutrition and wellbeing company, Bio-Synergy.

Phoebe Schecter, ambassador to sports nutrition and wellbeing company, Bio-Synergy.

What started as an opportunity to bring some American culture into her life – responding to an online advert for an American football team in the capital of the north, Manchester – transformed the course of Schecter’s life.

As she has dual citizenship due to her mum being from Britain, the former equestrian played and captained the female Great British NFL team, coached at the Buffalo Bills, played for Birmingham Lions and is currently a coach for the U19s Great British team, a coach educator, and Women’s Development Officer at the British American Football Coaches Association.

But Schecter is a woman of multiple sports as she also has a passion for kabaddi, a full contact sport where two opposite teams send a ‘raider’ into the other half of the field and points are won by tackling members of the opposing team - she was named captain for England Kabaddi in 2016.

Schecter, ambassador to sports nutrition and wellbeing company, Bio-Synergy, revealed the intense training regime that she sticks to and what it was like to be involved in the NFL where only a handful of women have worked professionally in the organisation.

Q) How come you moved over to the UK just before you started playing American football?

A) I’d actually gotten a job over in the UK with someone who’s on the Dutch Olympic team for three-day Eventing (an equestrian challenge). Truthfully, I had gone over to visit my Gran and she said why don’t you see what your options are and she kind of helped me see different instructors over there and I interviewed with this gentleman. At the time I said this is the craziest thing because I had no intention of moving and even if I could, I couldn’t move for another year and he just said figure it out, you’re hired. And that was it. I moved over just before Christmas 2012.

Q) Ironically, you saw an advert to play American football while you were in the UK, but why American football?

A) I think it was a few different things. Horses are very all encompassing, it’s a 24/7 type of job. And I think I was looking for something a bit different, and then when I saw the ad it just spoke to me because I was looking for a bit of American culture and also just a way to meet new people. It truthfully worked out perfectly. I mean I’d never played a contact sport before so that was probably a bit out of my comfort zone, but I always say when you are out of your comfort zone, you’re so much more willing to take risks and you’re not really afraid to fail. So, I just went for it. And that pretty much changed the trajectory of my entire life so far.

Q) What does your training regime look like?

A) It’s kind of interesting because I guess it’s two ways. I also play another sport which is a full contact sport so trying to make sure that I’m accommodating my training towards both those sports, so between kabaddi and American football. I think being prepared is probably key for that. But I’d probably say I do six days a week, always having one rest day, even if that just means going for a walk on the last day. But having one day that’s usually accommodated towards sprinting and that kind of cardio, changing direction work, mixing in some Brazilian ju-jitsu or Thai boxing for the upper body side, and lots of explosive strength work for American football. It’s definitely an interesting balancing act.

Q) How does diet and nutrition help your performance and what do you use?

A) That’s a really big key. Because I’m burning quite a few calories and I need to make sure that I can maintain my energy levels throughout all of this. I’ve been really fortunate to have been working with Bio-Synergy for the past, gosh, four years now. And their supplements have been brilliant. Their proteins I absolutely love. I have it every morning for breakfast. Making sure, because I’m also a pescatarian so I don’t eat meat, I eat fish, but making sure that I’m meeting all my nutritional goals for the day. They have something called EAAs which are like your essential amino acids and I’ve actually found a really big difference when it comes to my recovery time. At the moment, they’ve got some immunity multivitamins which, well I travel so much and knock-on wood I’ve stayed healthy throughout. And I definitely attribute some of that to the immunity vitamins that I’ve been taking as well so I feel very fortunate to have them on my side and have been working with such a great company for four years.

Q) Did you thrive, or did you feel the pressure when you captained the Great British NFL team?

A) For me sport was never something that I thought I was going to do as a career, let alone ever play for an international team, so to captain them was unbelievable. We’d really all grown together as a team and for your teammates to look at you like that and think you’re that type of leader is such a huge honour and compliment. Obviously just to represent Great Britain has been incredible. We’ve played in a couple European Championships now; we’ve played in the worlds. We’ve gone from literally not having a program eight years ago to now sitting almost first in Europe and fourth in the world which I think is an incredible achievement in a short amount of time. I just feel really honoured to be able to be a part of team who’ve got so many natural leaders and I think that there’s a really exciting time ahead for females in sport and specifically with our women’s American football team in the UK. I’m just really excited about it.

Q) Why did you go into the coaching side of the game as well?

A) I’ve been able to coach alongside (playing) which is great. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to play forever despite still playing. Probably two years into playing I thought, at least go somewhere you’re comfortable. So, I started coaching with the youth and junior teams and from there it just kind of built and built, it’s quite a quick trajectory it terms of not really knowing the sport to coaching at the elite level with the Buffalo Bills pretty much within the three-year period.

Q) Is the difference between being a player and a coach a massive jump or is it unnoticeable?

A) I think it’s actually kind of a challenging role because of a couple of things, one being that you’re going from player to coach on a team that you’re playing on. Re-identifying yourself and almost separating yourself from that player with your friends and teammates to now almost needing them to see you in a different light, I think that really challenges the way that you hold yourself. But it’s also for most people in any sport going from player to coach, sometimes it’s not your choice to do that which makes it tough, and I think you really have to be ready to fully dive into a coaching role and that’s not always easy. You still love the game, sometimes you’re watching these players, you think: “Oh I could do that better.” But I think a lot of it has to do with giving back and for me that’s always been my driving force, how can I give back to the sport and to the people that have given me so many opportunities in my life.

Q) Did you get chance to enjoy your time coaching at the NFL club Buffalo Bills or was it high pressure all of the time?

A) Just being in the NFL there’s a certain standard that you are there to meet. It’s enjoyable because you get to do what you love all the time but just like any job it’s got its highs, it’s got its lows. But I think it’s almost having that realisation, that pinch me moment everyday where you think, oh my gosh I get to work in the NFL, I get to do what I love, I get paid to do what I love, and I get to be around great people. And what was specific to the Bills for me was I just loved the energy and I loved that being in Buffalo every day, I just wanted to be better, not just for myself but for my team, for my organisation. When you have a job like that you can’t not just love life. You can overlook the negatives a bit more.

Q) Did you feel embraced as a woman in the NFL or were you treated differently because of it?

A) Every organisation is different just like any business is different and the culture that they have created is different. I was so fortunate to be part of Buffalo where one of our owners is female, our head coach has daughters and wants his daughters to be able to achieve anything they want to be one day. We do have this great support system with the females within the sport so if I needed anything, I could reach out to them, but I had a lot of great mentors, male and female. The tough thing is if you’re in that world and you’re concerned about being the only woman in the room, then your focus isn’t necessarily on the right things, whereas it should be about getting your players better and how you can help your team the best. But that’s not to say that there weren’t struggles along the way, whether it was my own self-belief. But it was never others that made me feel a certain way, it was the pressure or the way that I had kind of put that on myself, I don’t know, like if you read into imposter syndrome, things like that. In hindsight for me that’s more of what it was as opposed to anybody else doing anything to make me feel a certain way. They were embracing of me being there and thought I was there as a great coach; it didn’t matter what my gender was.

Q) What advice would you give to people who want to get involved in American football whether that be playing or watching it?

A) I know people think there’s quite a few barriers to the sport, whether it’s the start/stop nature or not understanding all the rules. But if you’re trying to get into watching it more, watch it with someone who knows the sport or when you are watching it, try not just to follow the ball, find one person or one positional group and see what they do and build out the picture that way. But if you’re looking to get involved in the sport any way, shape or form as a player, official or the tons of other different roles out there, the beauty of the sport is it’s for anybody, any shape, size, background, whatever it is, we’re just such an inclusive sport and we need everybody to work together on the field. I think you’d be hard missed if you didn’t get involved and joined this new football family. Personally, the way that it’s empowered me and the confidence that playing the sport has given me is just incredible.

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