Saturday 1st April saw almost a 100 women from all over the UK travel to Northampton to take part in the open trials for the GB women’s flag team, as they look to continue their preparations for the forthcoming European championships later this year. The trial was aimed at adding successful players to the existing GB squad ready for training camps over the summer, after which the final team will be announced.
Three Valkyries took part in the trials. For two of them this was something completely new, having only joined the team in January and having no previous Flag Football experience. However, with the Summer Series tournament coming up followed by the National Flag tournament in October it was a great opportunity to learn the game from some of the best coaches – and players – in the country.
As Mandy, one of these new players, notes:
During the lead up to GB Flag trials I started thinking “why did I say I’d go to this?” I’d only been playing tackle American Football since the beginning of the year and had not even played Flag yet. But then I thought what have I got to lose? I decided if I went there and just learned one thing that would help me progress as a player, then it would’ve been worth it.
For Holly, our other new starter, this drive to learn the game and challenge herself was at the heart of it:
I’ve been playing football for two minutes. Okay, so it’s actually been two months but that only equates to eight or nine weeks, a handful of practices and a few tournament games. When I arrived at the GB trials I did so with zero expectations and every possibility that I would fall on my face. After all, I might have grown up watching the Super Bowl every year or playing touch football at brownie camp but flag? What even is flag football? So you’re probably thinking, uh why go? And honestly I asked myself that a few times as well but it all came back to the same thing for me. This has been a year of trying new things and pushing my personal fitness. With the end of Sapphire quickly approaching I wanted to get a feel for what football meant without contact and how I could possibly fit into that picture.
While the prospect of attending a GB trial may sound scary, and out of reach, the structure of it is very supportive and players are supported through every step. As Emma, the veteran of the group having played in the previous Opal Series, explains:
The GB coaches made the day run very smoothly as it was very well structured making it easy and fuss free for every player attending. Anything you needed then you’d just ask.
The day itself was broken down into two sections. First the morning focussed on various drills designed to showcase the talents of those participating. Then, in the afternoon, it was time for a series of game situations.
We then were placed into 8 teams where we would have fun in-game situations on the field. Each team had a coach that was there if needed for assistance but we were able to make our own decisions about our game plan and strategies which was really fun and you could get creative with it.
For Mandy, this meant undertaking lots of different things and gaining lots of new experiences:
Throughout the afternoon I played different positions, ones that I am really not used to playing. However, this gives you greater insight into the game as a whole rather than solely on your position. During the trials, I bumped into players from teams I’ve played against and found myself playing on their side. It was an amazing experience to see new and familiar faces and to train together.
The afternoon session was also one that Emma enjoyed:
This was the part of the day that I felt benefited me most… learning new terminology with people who I had never played with before, differences of opinion, and understanding each other. All in all, it was a fantastic day.
Overall Holly sums up the feeling of the players perfectly, and the overall ethos of the club, to try new things and to constantly challenge themselves:
An amazing experience that I will always remember. Playing on the field with girls who are so talented and at different stages in their personal journeys was really inspiring. And for me? A massive sense of achievement for having done something I never would have dreamed of two months ago because not all of us have to make the team but why not put ourselves out there and make the effort.
And that is where they thought it would end. However, for Emma, there would be some amazing news to follow.
After a strong Opal performance, which earned her the Valkyries Defensive MVP award, Emma had already started to catch the eye of scouts. Demonstrating a mixture of athleticism and a natural instinct for the ball, Emma put in a great performance at the trials leading to some great feedback from coaches and staff. The effort was duly rewarded when the full 24 player roster was announced and Emma’s name was there!
When the finalists came in for the 24 person preliminary trials, I was in utter shock and I felt sick momentarily, but soon after I was on a high all day. I’m pretty sure I was the last to know on my team – sneaky devils! The support I received from my coach and teammates beforehand and after were phenomenal and I am very thankful to each and every one of them.
It is truly an amazing achievement by Emma, and serves to show just what opportunities there are for players to aim at. Just a few years ago, there was no women’s football at all in the UK. Before February 2016 there was no women’s team in Wales. Now we have players successfully competing on National level. Hopefully Emma is the first of many to progress to the GB squads, but for now we are all routing for her to go all the way and make the final squad.
So, after reading this you may be thinking “what is Flag Football?” While American Football is usually associated with players in the full gear making big tackles, Flag Football is the fast paced, non-contact variant. Played between two teams of 5 players it can serve as a great way to experience the sport. The Valkyries are keen to ensure that anyone wanting to play this game has the opportunity to do so and for us it serves as a great way to learn our schemes and plays before progressing to the full tackle version – if you wish.
As a result, the team undertook various Flag tournaments and friendlies through the previous year. These included:
- Opal Series (the formal ranking National tournament)
- Marcus Price Memorial Tournament
- Additional friendlies against local teams such as Cardiff Hurricanes and Cardiff Cobras
It is planned to continue these games as well as also competing in the upcoming Summer Series this June. If you want to join the club and experience the game then please check out our trial day on the 29th April – click here if you’re interested!