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It’s no secret that I play amateur sport – an American Football club based in London. I love talking about it with people and (sometimes) bring it up in conversations. Whenever it does come up in conversation, I always get the same few questions. These tend to include; “Oh wow. I didn’t know they had American Football in the UK”, “That’s interesting. How long have you played for?” and “What made you get into that?” To quickly answer them…1)Yes they do. There are actually 3 divisions (Premiership, Division 1 and Division 2) and my team is within Division 2. 2)I started playing last year after never actually having watched any American Football besides in films. 3) I wanted to meet people and play a new team sport. Having played rugby in school, I thought ‘How hard could American Football be.’ Spoiler alert… it isn’t easy.
Now, as mentioned, those are the standard questions people tend to ask. For this article, I wanted to cover some of the things people don’t tend to ask and the things they wouldn’t know unless they played a sport.
It becomes a lifestyle
Since starting, I’ve trained a lot as part of a team and watched a lot of American Football on TV. I have come to this conclusion… The pros in the NFL have it easy compared to us. Before you say things like ‘is this guy serious?’ let me explain. The players in the NFL eat, live and sleep football. It’s all they do day in and day out. Watching documentaries like Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing or HBO’s Hard Knocks has re-enforced this view. From watching these shows, I also noticed how our coaches take a similar approach to our training. A major difference is that the majority of players on my team have full time jobs or are in full time education. I would love the chance to train with my team more often than I do but with everyone’s work constraints, it’s just not possible.
Playing for an amateur UK club means that American Football takes up the other half of my life that is not being taken up by my day job. This sport really does become a lifestyle as well as a hobby. Since joining the Wembley Stallions, my gym routine and diet have both changed. Gym for me is now an hour of cardio followed by an hour of weights per night whereas before it was about 45 minutes of unorganised exercises. I now eat 3 meals a day and have changed the types of food that I consume as opposed to only eating lunch and dinner and having fast food/junk food during the day. The positive side effect of this change is that I am now 40kg (88lb) lighter and several waist sizes smaller.
I have found that playing a sport has really taken over my life in a positive way. I now talk about it, watch it regularly and have shifted my priorities around to focus on work and training.
Playing an amateur sport can change your mentality
Now, I guess a couple paragraphs on mentality is a good way to follow on from the line above about positive changes. I wouldn’t say I was sluggish but prior to playing a sport as part of a club, I was certainly lazier than I am now. I think at times, I had a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude when it came to things. Let’s give an example.
Person – “Hey Jonny. Let’s go to ABC tonight.”
Me – “Isn’t that in Brixton?”
Person – “Ye. It looks fun.”
Me – “You know what? It’s a bit far. I don’t think I can really be bothered going all the way there.”
To give a bit of context, I live in North London. It’s about an hour on the train from Brixton and about a 50 minute drive with no traffic. Some of you living in London know what I mean. Travelling beyond the Thames feels so much farther than it actually is. Over the last year, I have woken up at 7am on Saturday mornings to train with my team for several hours as well as on the odd Sunday to play games. On top of that, during the off season, I have started waking at 8am on Saturdays to travel to train in a gym in Brixton with some members of my team. Now, I feel I am more outgoing and more willing to travel around my city however faraway places may be.
I have seen changes in mentality manifest in different ways as well. Having worked in a business development and sales environment for years now, I am no stranger to competition. But nothing prepared me for the level I of intensity I would need to be operating at to try win a Divisional championship. This ‘winners mentality’ is what spurs me to train 2 hours a night, wake up early and put in the extra hours around my hobby.
Not that I was uptight or aggressive before-hand but I have also found that I am far calmer, more collected and am able to think through situations faster and with more clarity than before.
You become pretty good at recruiting others
If you are passionate about the sport you play (like I am) it comes across when you talk about it. The tone of your voice peaks a bit and your speech speeds up a bit when excited. Sometimes I have to slow myself down so as not to overwhelm the people I am talking to. From finding a sport I enjoy, I have actively tried to recruit people at my gym and whom I know from social circles so they can feel the same enjoyment that I do.
Granted, I know this isn’t for everyone and from working in sales/business development, I am used to the rejection and fob-offs. But… I have managed to recruit quite a few people who have come down to a training session to at least give it one go. Soliciting people in my gym to play a sport they never thought of playing before was not something I thought I would be doing 2 years ago. Back then, I didn’t even like talking to people in my gym very much. I would go in, get my session done and leave. This makes me sound anti-social – something I can assure I was not.
The difference now is that I have a group of ‘gym friends’ with whom I train with regularly. Even though they have no interested in playing American Football, it’s still nice to know I can have a group of people to train in the gym with who will push me to my limits.
Your network grows
I guess this one is taken for granted by everyone. I always thought that if you play a team sport, you will meet new and interesting people. Heck! That was one of the reasons I chose to play a sport. I didn’t realise to what extent this would be. At this current moment, I am part of nine Whatsapp groups relating to my team. Some have every member of the team while others have specific people only. It is not uncommon for me to look at my phone and see 150+ unread messages in my Whatsapp. For some people this may be an idea of hell but I rather enjoy being connected to everyone. Social team bonding experiences like meals out, nights out or even coach karaoke (solo singing on a bus while the rest of the team join in for the chorus) have helped cement these bonds.
I have also met many new and interesting people across countless industries. Some of whom, I am sorry to say, I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise but glad I have done. It’s what happens when you becomes part of the team. They know what you go through because only they train with you and as hard as you do. Sometimes it feels a bit like an exclusive club but the irony is that anyone can join this ‘exclusive club’. Just turn up and put in the effort.
My team, Wembley Stallions
What kind of person would I be if I didn’t try recruiting some of your readers? We have a senior team, women’s team (both flag football and full contact), a youth team and junior team. Training sessions are open for anyone who cares to give it a try. All we ask if that you come down and give it your all. If you like it, yay, welcome to the team. If you don’t, it was nice meeting you and let’s hope you try us again in the future. You can find more information on the official website and fan site. You can also find you local club on the BAFA (British American Football Association) website.
Do you play sports for a club? Would you agree with what I wrote about in the article? What would you add? Leave your messages in the comments below.