Phoebe Schecter made headlines earlier this year when she became the first British woman to take on a coaching role in America’s NFL. To say this is a pretty big deal is an understatement; it wasn’t until two years ago that a woman first coached in the NFL.
The talented PT and Bio-Synergy ambassador is paving the way on the pitch as well as off it, as captain of both Great Britain’s Women’s American Football team and the England Women’s Kabaddi team. Oh and she’s also a Ninja Warrior competitor-turned-course tester. Phew. I put some questions to Phoebe about NFL, coaching and what it feels like to captain the No.1 women’s American Football Team outside North America.
Can you tell us a bit about your sporting background – you were an accomplished equestrian prior to American Football, weren’t you?
My main passion has always been horse riding. Growing up, I played just about every sport under the sun. As I hit middle school into high school, lacrosse was the sport that I excelled in most, playing the position of goalie. I was offered scholarships to play in college, but horses won! I adopted my pony from a rescue shelter when she was only 4 months old, so she became my life. I went to school for Equine Business Management and the reason I moved to the UK was to work for a gentleman on the Dutch Olympic 3-Day Event Team.
How did you go from horses to captaining the GB women’s American Football team?
It is all rather ironic how I ended up in the GB programme and playing American Football. When I moved to the UK almost 5 years ago – I have dual-citizenship – I was looking for a way to meet people. I saw an ad on Facebook for American football trials in Manchester, went and made the team. One of my new teammates prompted me to come to the GB Trials in Warwick. I did, and fell in love with the whole programme, and luckily made the team! I had never played before, which in a way has been great, as we all went through the growing pains together.
Your position is line-backer (defensive position). Can you tell us what kind of fitness/skills this position requires?
Yes indeed! My position requires agility, tackling, balance for change of direction, speed, strength and explosiveness.
What kind of strength and conditioning do you do as part of your training?
When it comes to my gym training, it’s an average of 6 days a week, depending on practice and games. I always have one day as more bodyweight/sprints/interval work. In the gym I mix Olympic lifts like snatches and cleans with deadlifts, squats, bench press and more.
Everything I do is working towards increasing my explosivity and is all sport-specific. I always try to have some form of sprints/intervals at the end of my workout, as it’s how [American] football would translate. In order to protect myself and allow longevity in sport, prehab, rehab, rest, mobility and neck strength are key. They are a huge aspect of my training, in order to keep my muscles long and strong.
What does a typical week of training look like for you?
I rarely work on isolated muscle groups, as I need my whole body to work together.
In Season it looks like this:
Monday – I will do more leg-based work: snatches, squats, pull-ups, lunges, etc.
Tuesday – I will do more upper body-based work: military press, cleans, incline bench in the morning. Then Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the afternoon/evening.
Wednesday – Sprints and bodyweight work.
Thursday – Deadlifts in the morning; Thai boxing in the pm.
Friday – Light cardio/emphasis on stretching
Saturday – [American] Football practice or game
Sunday – Same as Saturday, otherwise that becomes my rest day.
How do you manage to fit in coaching alongside training?
It’s definitely been an interesting year to fit it all in! When I’ve been on my coaching internships, my schedule totally changes. Then, the priority becomes finding any available time to sneak in an organised, 30-minute workout. During training camp, the days can be very long, as you only have limited time with the players and a lot of information to deliver to them. Most of coaching is preparation for games/opponents, film study, and delivering the information to the players. You have to be a team with your fellow staff, and I’m very fortunate to be a part of some incredible coaching staffs.
A typical day, not in training camp, would be a 7am start, then watching and breaking down film from the previous practice or team you are going to play. Then we have staff meetings, working on more scout of our next opponent, presenting that to the staff, team meetings, then breaking into positional meetings, preparing for practice, practice, then watching the film of practice. The cycle then continues!
Can you tell us about your experience coaching the NFL?
I feel so fortunate to have had that experience with the Buffalo Bills. They are an incredible organisation, led by the Pegulas (the owners) and head Coach, Sean McDermott. I learnt more than I ever thought possible about every aspect of the NFL, coaching, and American football overall.
The opportunity came about through an incredible mentor and friend, Samantha Rapoport. Sam is the director of football development within the NFL and had suggested that I apply for the Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship, an incredible internship that allows minorities to get a foot in the door and experience the NFL. Essentially it’s an online form, you pick 5 teams, send your CV, and hope that you are qualified enough for the role! From the moment I spoke with the Bills staff, they gave me an incredible feeling of support and acceptance and that still continues through to today.
Did the team and players react well to you joining the coaching team?
Absolutely. Everyone was so respectful, welcoming and supportive of me and did not care that I was female. That’s a huge reflection of the times, but more specifically, that is a trickle down from the owners themselves, where Kim Pegula is one of the only female co-owners in the league. The players just want to get better and if you can help them with their development, that is all they want.
Would you say you’re happier coaching or playing?
That is a tricky one! They are two completely different realms. I think that because I haven’t stopped playing, it’s still my own form of meditation and stress relief! I love my teammates, being on the field with them, working together, there is no other feeling like that.
Coaching is its own amazing feeling! When you see the players, learning, translating what you’re teaching into actions on the football field, it’s incredible to be a part of.
Women’s American Football doesn’t have a high profile in the UK, so most people won’t realise how successful the GB team has been – can you tell us about your team achievements?
There are a lot of dedicated people trying to grow American football in the UK, at all different levels, so hopefully we will one day have a higher profile. The women’s GB team have just come back from the World Championships out in Vancouver, Canada. We qualified when we played in the European Championships two years ago and became silver medallists. We were the first British American football team to actually qualify for a World Championship! I have been so fortunate to be a part of this incredible program from day one. Previously, in the European Championships, we had lost in the finals to Finland. The World Championships opened up with us having a rematch… and we won! That had been our goal and we achieved it! The rest of our tournament in Canada was not as prosperous, but getting the privilege to play #2 seeded team, Canada, was incredible. It has set the bar where we need to be and given us a goal to work towards. Although, leaving the Worlds as number one outside North America and 4th in the World is something to cherish forever!
You play as part of a male team as well as a women’s team, don’t you?
Yes I do. I play contact with the Birmingham Lions Women’s team and also with the adult/men’s team, Staffordshire Surge. I also represent Great Britain in flag football, where we just earned bronze at the European Championships!
The GB American Football team worked with sports psychologist Jennifer Jones recently. Was this helpful?
We were so fortunate to have Jenni involved in our programme. It was definitely something I wanted to add and she fit in perfectly. American football is so much more than just the physical side of it, it’s the emotional and mental side as well. Jenni gave us the tools we needed to become better teammates, handle stressful situations, and direct us towards creating a goal for the team and ourselves. Jenni was also pivotal when we were away, should any player or staff member need to speak to her and, equally as important, the rollercoaster effect that occurs when you come back home.
If a reader is interested in playing American Football for a women’s side, what’s their best starting point for getting involved? Please come check us out on Facebook at BAFA Women or BAFA Official. You can also find us on Instagram and Twitter, with the same names. Also, please feel free to contact myself and I can always better direct you from there.
Do you have to stick to a particular nutrition plan or are you pretty relaxed on the food front?
As I’m a pescetarian, I need to make sure that I meet my protein requirements for the day. That being said, I don’t go overly crazy in regard to how strict I am with what I eat, but I do like routine. A lot of it is listening to your body, but I rely heavily on food and have been known to get hangry!
An average day looks like this:
Breakfast – SKYR yogurt, banana, cinnamon, mixed seeds, coffee and Bio-Synergy Lean&Green vegan shake
Snack – Spinach with 3 boiled eggs, tomato, avocado (tuna if I’m getting a double workout in) and balsamic vinaigrette
Lunch – Salmon, sweet potato, beets, broccoli, avocado
Pre-Workout snack – Oats mixed with my Bio-Synergy protein
Dinner – Fish of some sort, sweet potatoes/rice, lots of greens
Snack – (what I look forward to all day) Apple and peanut butter!
How do you fuel your American Football matches?
Since I am a lover of routine, my pre-game fuel is my latte, mixed with my protein. Throughout, especially at halftime, I make sure I have either energy gels, my Bio-Synergy BCAA’s on hand, or say a banana, that can absorb quite quickly.
What was your experience on Ninja Warrior like?
I loved my time on the show! It was a huge adrenaline rush, plus it was a challenge, which I’m always chasing! Coming off the back of it, as I was less than successful, I started course testing for them, which I love even more than the TV aspect of it!
You’ve also represented England in Kabaddi! Can you tell us about this?
Yes, I am so lucky to Captain this incredible team of athletes! Essentially, there are two forms of Kabaddi – rectangular and circular. They’re like rugby union and league, in the way they’re looked at. The concept of Kabaddi is similar to British bulldog. You have a tagger (raider) who crosses through a gate, then has 30 seconds to try and tag one of the defenders (stoppers) and get back to the line. Seems simple, right?! It is the most addictive game, I love it, completely gets my adrenaline going! I got involved when a friend I played American football with, who represented New Zealand in Kabaddi, brought me along to a session. I genuinely never looked back and it has brought me on some of the most incredible adventures and met the most wonderful people.
What are your favourite pieces of kit for training, coaching and for matches?
For training, I am all about just raw lifting with an Olympic bar and weights, mixed in with kettlebells. For coaching you don’t need much to be honest… a football and cones, perhaps!
For my matches, I’m pretty simple. As long as I have my equipment, boots and gloves, I’ll make something happen!
Phoebe is an ambassador for nutrition brand, Bio-Synergy (follow them via @biosynergy on social media.)