The Coach’s View – Part 4

The Coach’s View – Part 4

So that is the end of Sapphire 2017. It went by so fast – too fast. Way too fast.

Looking back at the four rounds, they have to be some of my most enjoyable coaching moments. The amount of energy and enthusiasm on the sidelines is infectious. Everyone is completely into the game. Always looking  to the next play, how they can get better, how they can succeed. There is never a negative moment. They never have their heads down – it is always looking forward and that just makes them so much fun to coach.

There have been some great moments through the tournament…

Winning our first ever game obviously ranks high in the list. But so does moments like the end of the Oxford game, when we drove the length of the field for the score in two plays taking 13 seconds. So does watching the defence go out in the final round against the division leaders and take the fight to them, giving it all they had. So does watching players step into new positions without a second thought. So does watching them pick up new defensive and offensive plays during a game, taking them out onto the field and executing. So does seeing the Offence working through the whole game and continuing the streak of scoring in every game.

But my favourite moment has to be at the end of Round 4 when I had players and coaches from the other teams telling me how impressed they were with the Valkyries players and how amazed they were at how fast they had developed through the tournament. It was so great to hear, especially from other teams, that showed the hard work they had put in had been recognised by everyone.

But while the tackle season is now other, the Valkyries don’t stop. We will be starting all over again on the 29th April as we begin our preparations for the Summer Series.

A flag competition, it promises to set the team yet new challenges as they look to face off against top-tier UK teams featuring many of the GB Flag team – some of which will be returning from playing in the Big Bowl XI, a major flag tournament hosted in Germany with teams from all over Europe and the USA in attendance.

However, if my time with the Valkyries has taught me anything it is that they will not shy away from the challenge and will take it head on.

I just hope I can keep up!

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The Coach’s View – Part 3

The Coach’s View – Part 3

It has been a little while since the previous Coach’s View – but things certainly have not been quiet.

The team is currently gearing up for the forthcoming Opal Series, the national flag tournament. This year sees the most teams ever enter, with several new teams joining – including the Valkyries. As such it promises to be a great event and a great chance for us to showcase what we have been doing on the national stage.

Opal Series Lineup

In the previous post, we noted how the team had moved to more technical, fundamental style training. The aim being to give them the skills to get into the right positions and how to execute correctly. Now, focus has shifted to bolting all that together and creating more game style situations.

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This has been done in different ways, with the main one to actually play a game. Playing against different players creates a whole different dynamic and we are lucky that we have teams in the area that are willing to help us out. Previously we had played the Cardiff Hurricanes, and now we were extremely grateful to the Cardiff University Cobras for taking time out of their pre-season camp to give us a game.

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As with the Hurricanes game, it was an ideal chance for us to run through our full playbook – both on offence and defence – and to work through some of the new plays and coverages.

From the training side, now that all the plays and terminology are installed it is more about getting reps at them as a unit – bolting together all the things that we have learnt into a cohesive whole. As with the game, members of the Cobras have also come down to training sessions to run scripted plays in a structured environment to give the Valkyries specific looks at different plays and situations. Part of this is about getting ourselves into the best position to succeed and so a defensive focus has been having the players recognise what they see in front of them and check out of a play based on the offensive formation.

It has been great fun watching the women develop as we put more and more stuff together. However, while many of these have now been doing this for a while, we aim to also make sure that it is fully accessible to new players as well. Therefore, the playbooks all revolve around a couple of core rules from which everything is built. This, coupled with the flexibility of the play calling system means that we can quickly get players to a point where they are fully capable in taking part in full team sessions.

So if you are reading this and think that it might be too late to join – it isn’t. We are always looking for new players to give it a go and we have the system in place to develop you.

So join up and be part of the forthcoming Opal Series – and beyond!

The Coach’s View – Part 2

The Coach’s View – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series we looked at how the club had started out from nothing and had grown into a team. Here we reflect on the team’s continued growth and what we have been up to over the last month…

ITV Wales
Lois and Aimee talk to ITV Wales

Off the field the growing interest in the club has been amazing. We have featured on ITV Wales, which was amazing, as well as getting back onto Wales Online in a new article. This exposure has seen many people get in touch with the club looking to join and there has also been further media opportunities arise – so hopefully more good news to follow!

On the field we have continued to develop at pace. The focus at the moment is getting the players as much experience as possible of playing the game, in order to help develop their knowledge and understanding. While not neglecting the drills and teaching of the fundamentals, the focus has been more on game situations and scrimmages to allow the players to see how the plays work, what they are looking at and how they need to move around the field.

On Offence, we have been moving to putting in the play calls as verbal calls rather than using diagrams to show what players need to do. On Defence, we have continued to develop the coverages and add in a new one to give ourselves a complete package of mixed coverages and blitzes.

As we move forwards, now that players have got that better understanding of the mechanics of the game, the tactics, and the logic behind what we do, we will be starting to re-focus back upon the fundamental skills. This will help them to not only get into the positions that they need to be in but once they are there to execute successfully – be that scoring a touchdown or intercepting the ball.

But the team is always looking for a new challenge and a new way to test itself. Luckily for us we have one of the country’s top male flag teams right next door…

Valkyries v Hurricanes
Cardiff Valkyries on Offence against the Cardiff Hurricanes

Currently sitting atop of the SWC South, and with the #1 Offence and #1 Defence in their division the Cardiff Hurricanes gave us exactly that, running their usual playbook against us. We are extremely grateful that they took time out of their season to help us develop, and it was an amazing opportunity for our players to experience what an elite team looked like, how they operated, and for us to see just how far we had come.

From a coaching perspective it was brilliant to see how the team responded. At no time did they show any fear or nerves at playing such a high calibre team. Rather they were constantly full of excitement that they had this chance and just revelled in the opportunity.

And we made plays! Considering that this was the first time that we had properly utilised play calls from the sideline in this fashion as well as the fact that several of the defensive plays were still new to the players, they did amazingly well.

At the end, what was also great to hear was players saying that they wanted to do it all again. They want this type of competition. They want to be pushed to get better.

Alongside this game against the Hurricanes, with 7 players having now attended across both national Diamond series trials, several players looking to join a scratch team to play in a flag tournament over July and August, as well as some looking to head down to Plymouth for a national flag development day later this month, the future looks good for Women’s Football here in South Wales.

Now we just see what the next couple of months delivers…

Diamond Series try-outs

Diamond Series try-outs

On Saturday four the the Cardiff Valkyries  – Maria, Dani, Izabel, and Zoe – traveled all the way to Northampton for the Diamond Series tryouts. With limited or zero experience in contact football, the day certainly started off as a morning of anxiety. We were in a room with some of Britain’s best women American football players, which included Team GB players scattered among them. However, once we were all kitted up the anxious feelings went away, and we were soon filled with excitement.

After the warm-ups, offense and defense were separated. From this separation the groups were split again into two or three smaller groups which ran certain techniques and drills. There was so much to take in. So much talent surrounding us from women across the UK, from women of all shapes and sizes, from women with a range of experience in the contact game. It was amazing to watch.

Catches, footwork, escaping, sprinting; it was a heavy morning in humid weather. Sweat dripping from our faces even after 5 minutes of training. It was amazing how quickly the first half of the day went by. After a quick lunch, we went in again for some more drills before being asked our ideal positions for the scrimmage;

Offense

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Dani: Wide reciever

Maria: Right tackle

 

Defense

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Izabel: Defensive back, corner back, free safety, strong safety

Zoe: Buck linebacker

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Once our positions were confirmed, we first ran some of the runs and movements in our own groups before moving towards the middle of the field for the real thing. There was a 7 aside, then an 11 aside. The pressure was on.

Though at some points the scrimmage was overwhelming, we all got into the momentum very quickly. Izabel got an interception to the end zone, Zoe successfully tackled, Maria and Dani maintained a strong offensive line and threw quite a few of the defense around the field.

So much knowledge was taken in. So many amazing coaches surrounding us.

Of course we all did our best, but whether or not we will get a callback is another thing. We will find out at some point this week, but regardless of the outcome it will be an invaluable day.  We can’t wait to get back into the contact scrimmage, and will hopefully transfer all our knowledge of that day as best as possible in our training.

Finally, a ‘thank you’ to all who made that day possible and to all the other women players. You made us feel very welcome and gave lots of advise. Women’s american football in the UK is here and it’s here to stay. You can’t stop us! #hitlikeagirl

 

OTHER NEWS:

In other news!! We are having a friendly match again the Cardiff Hurricanes THIS SUNDAY!! Roath Rec, 11am. Come join us and say hello!

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A Tale of Might and Muscle

A Tale of Might and Muscle

As many of you will know, the Cardiff Valkyries have been giving their all in the last few months. For many, they have learned a whole new sport from scratch. Some have even experienced coaching the team, communicating and directing new members and old. Regardless of the level of experience, however, there is always room for development in both skill and strength.

 

A Tale of Might and Muscle: The Fury of Fitranx and Dean the Destroyer.

Though the style of training may vary relative to one’s positioning in a team, there are generally two key components to body development; strength and conditioning. Squats, dead-lifts, sprints, burpees…the list of what falls into these two facets are endless!! However, for those who are new to any sport, learning to overcome your body’s comfort zone can be a daunting experience. A question that will come to many is “Where do I start?”, and this in itself leads to other questions along the way;

What if I’m using the equipment wrong?

Did that set even look good?

What are my goals from here?

Where can I find a training partner?

Could I have gone heavier, or faster?

Even with my few years of experience in the gym, the anxieties and worries around my body’s capabilities – especially whether I’m doing anything useful for my goals – still arise. It doesn’t help that I’ve gone from one extreme to the other either, from wanting to be a fighter  at 60kg to wanting to be a power lifter at 84kg, to wanting to not compete at all and be happy somewhere in between. I’ve felt a bit useless,  and very low in confidence.

As discussed in my first post (“Whose Health Is It Anyway?”), now I’ve found American Football I can incorporate the range of the interests and skills learned, mixing the thrill of contact and quick decisions with the heavy lifting. But what does this mean for my anxieties? Have they gone? No. Have they improved somewhat? Well, actually, yes they have. This is in part from the encouragement from the team and the coach, but for me this was also a result from a recently new class – Fitranx at Dave’s Gym (read more about Fitranx here >> http://www.fitranx.com/ )

Overall, Fitranx really highlights your weaknesses. The class combines a lot of body weight exercises as well as free weights, resistance, cardio, and it’s really the ideal class for me. I am strong, but I can get stronger. I have relatively ‘okay’ cardio, but that’s not enough to satisfy my goals.  So in Fitranx I am being taught how to improve all of these components, minus the stress and anxiety of training alone and wondering forever if anything I’m actually doing has a point. You have an instructor there, you have others in the class doing the same exercise as you, and there is a friendly atmosphere to reduce the scariness of ‘the gym’ for any newcomers.

Learning how to do a push-up properly, how to do a kettle bell swing without breaking your back, how to incorporate cardio and resistance raining sufficiently – these are all goals in themselves. And, of course, they are all goals which translate to playing American Football. It incorporates a range of strength AND conditioning, and I would say I can definitely see a difference in my body’s abilities. As my goal is to become a honeycomb of bone and muscle – though unfortunately still a honeycomb with anxieties – Fitranx is absolutely perfect for me. Even some of the other Valkyries have started to train in the classes, and yesterday both myself and Lois took part in our first Fitranx grading.  WE PASSED! We are now Level 1 beasts in the making, so watch out…

 

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HOWEVER, developing our fitness skills doesn’t just end there. Oh no.  We have been lucky enough to have Dean – our new strength and conditioning coach! Dean will be putting us through hell once a week, complementing the techniques of American Football with the hell of strength and conditioning. I can’t say for certain whether I’m going to enjoy these sessions there and then. I’ll probably be crawling on the floor, crying and pleading for no more burpees. BUT, I will enjoy the results and the new skills.

Go check out his blog at  https://dcpersonaltraining.org/ !

 

Next point of Discussion; The Diamond Series Try Outs.

This Saturday several of the Valkyries will be attending the try outs for the BAFA Diamond Series. BAF pill logo final

This particular series consists of 11-side contact games, and will be – for the majority of the girls – their first experience with a contact training session. Over 100 women across Britain are attending try outs in two different locations, which will then transfer into two teams who later play against each other in July. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet other players and learn new skills, and even if none are successful in call-backs it’s sure to be a fantastic day!

I think what really shows is how quickly we are developing our confidence and abilities, in both mind and body. Who would have thought that new members of a very grass-roots football club would be trying out for such as established series? and a contact one at that!

Things really are coming together. There are so many goals to reach on both an individual level and a group level. So, make sure to watch this space!

– Zoe

 

 

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The Coach’s View – part 1

The Coach’s View – part 1

This is the first instalment of a series where I will try to give you an idea of the team through my eyes, as Head Coach of the Cardiff Valkyries. Through the series we will look at all aspects of the team, from development to the drills we run, and then preparing for games and tournaments.

In this first post, we set the scene by reflecting on the growth from our creation to now…

Looking back to February, I remember the first session we held. A group of determined women on a park in Cardiff braving the rain coming in sideways, freezing wind and a ridiculously muddy pitch. For these this sport was completely new. While some had watched games before, or had partners that played, none had ever attempted to play themselves. Yet there they were, battling the elements running routes and making blocks.

Back they came the following week…and the week after…more joined the group…the sun started to show itself…we added more complexity in…the players responded…we added more in…every time the players showed they want more.

Here now in May, the hard work that the team has put in through the training sessions has shown its reward. Growing in confidence each session they now look like a team, with players slotting into different positions and roles. On the Offence, we have multiple formations, motions, miss-directions and combination routes. On the Defence, we have different coverages, including some zone coverage and blitzes. Each week we put a little more in.

The club has big aspirations, and the work ethic reflects that. Everything we do is aimed at competing in the forthcoming national competitions, and some aspire beyond that to the development days for the GB squads. Each week takes us one step closer to that.

Yet, the team never loses sight of the fact that they are also there to have fun. Every session sees the jokes flying between the team and the atmosphere remains light and supportive. New players are welcomed in with current players engaging with them and helping them out with what they need to do.

For me it has been an amazing experience to watch. I can honestly say that stepping away from my previous club to undertake the role with the Valkyries was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, and one which I took a long time considering. However, watching them develop each week and seeing them genuinely enthusiastic to play the sport, I feel I made a good choice. While I will never forget my old club and the memories they gave me, I look forward to many more memories made with the Valkyries.

Simon Browning

Head Coach – Cardiff Valkyries

Ready for my closeup

Ready for my closeup

They say that everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame. Well, for the Cardiff Valkyries, this week we have made that a reality. At our training session on Saturday, ITV Wales came to film us for a segment on ITV Wales at 6.

Now, myself and a couple of our other team members as well as our coach were interviewed, we were asked questions about our team, American Football in general as well as what kind of reactions our team had received since the beginning. It was a nerve-wracking experience, and all I could think about at the time was “Oh God, I’m going to look so fat”. However, after seeing some pictures and videos of us training and playing on Saturday, I started to think “Who gives a crap?” I was interviewed to give my opinions and experiences of Women’s American Football, not for a fashion shoot or weight loss program. The experience should be taken as empowering to women. That is the great thing about American Football, no matter your shape or size, there is a position for everyone. And if you are not very fit (I know I definitely need to improve) then the training sessions are intense, so its something you can always build upon.

Saturday was a great day, everyone put in a lot of effort, everything ran smoothly and people knew what they were doing. We also had time for a scrimmage at the end and we portrayed ourselves to ITV as the best as we can be (for the moment). We are such a new team, in December 2015, the Valkyries was not even a reality, however in a very short time, our coach Simon and all of the founding members and committee have put in so much effort to ensure that we get a running start into Women’s American Football. I know that I, for one am very very very excited about the future of Cardiff Valkyries.

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