Sarah Jauncey is an American Football Coach from the UK. From the glitz and glamour of multi-million dollar franchises in the US, Sarah coaches the sport in much more humble settings.
From her roots as a swimming coach for over 20 years, Sarah moved into coaching American Football after falling in the love with sport watching it with her husband. ?5 years on, and Sarah is the Head Coach of her local team and the only female coach in the GB set up.
Below, we asked Sarah about her coaching career and the challenges of working in such a male dominated sport.
How did you become an American Football Coach? Whilst it is a huge sport in the US, it is very under the radar in the UK.
I have been coaching for a little short of 25yrs in sport, mainly swimming. In 2011 I wanted a change, something new and something different. I had watched American Football with my husband, and decided to see whether there was a club near me. I found my first club, Chester Romans. I contacted them, explained that I would like to be involved. They invited me down, I went and met the coaching staff and the team. I started doing warm ups, as I had no experience coaching the sport, just coaching sport in general. Within the space of 1 year I had been promoted to Special Teams Coach, and then to ST Coordinator. I got my qualifications through BAFA (British American Football Association), first level 1 and then level 2. I moved onto take Head Coach of the University Team, where I still coach, and then moved clubs to Staffordshire Surge until January 2016. I have never played, mainly due to the fact that I have had brain surgery and have holes in my skull!
In the UK, there are currently approximately 60 senior male contact clubs, approx. 70 University teams, plus ladies teams, youth and junior teams, male and female flag teams and associate teams. It is very probable that you will find a team near you. The league is split into Premier, 1st and 2nd both north and south. Every team plays towards a Bowl Game at the end of each season.
Can you tell us about your various coaching roles within American Football in the UK?
My roles include/have included:
Special Teams Co-Ordinator: Control and Coaching of the Special Teams Unit (kicking team), this unit starts and finishes every play. It has 6 main units and draws players from both offense and defense side of the ball
Head Coach: Management and coaching of a team. Working with the coordinators to ensure the playbooks and coaching plan meet the schedule for the season.
Assistant Defensive Coach: Working at GB level, as an assistant coach you move around the positional coaching roles. Currently I work with Linebackers
Quarterbacks Coach- Working with the development squad for GB Ladies flag football. I work with the HC and Offensive Coordinator to ensure consistency and correct technique of the QB.
All my roles are voluntary, I travel miles! I can be in Leeds one weekend and London the next!
The NFL and American Football in the US are making huge strides towards the equality of coaching and leadership, with Jen Welter and Kathryn Smith as coaches, Sarah Thomas as an official and the NFL women?s summit?but what is the situation like in the UK and Europe – are there many female coaches and leaders?
Trying to find figures! But in the main the majority of coaches are male. I am currently the only female coaching at GB and the only female HC. But over the last few months we are qualifying many more ladies to the coaching qualification. With the growth of the ladies game, it would be great to see more women involved.
There are a few ladies coaching at Men?s contact, and at Coordinator level, more coach at flag or ladies clubs.
What is the coach education system like for American football and can you tell us about your own experience?
The education system at present involves a Level 1 and Level 2. You can coach unaided at Level 1 status. I was the only female at both of my qualifications. But recently the number has increased, it currently sits at around 15% female.
BAFA held a ladies specific coaching session which really encouraged other ladies to get involved. Which was perfect! 10 ladies in one day became coaches! BAFA are very encouraging in getting ladies involved, both playing and coaching.
At every qualification I have attended, whether it be as a participant or assisting in delivery, the ladies there whether it be 1 or 2 have not felt out of place. Everyone is really welcoming. Also with the rapid growth and achievements of the ladies squads, there are in general more women involved with the game, and in time that can only lead to more ladies coaching.
In such a hugely male dominated sport, where do you get the confidence and self – belief from to be able to stand up there as the only female coach?
*laughs* gender really is not an issue, not in my experience. Within the football community, both coaches and players are used to seeing more females on the field, whether it be playing or coaching. On my very first day at the Romans, I was apprehensive but everyone made me feel so welcome that within minutes I felt at home. I have shocked a few spectators! I have been asked was I a players? mum, and which position did my husband play??I just respond that my daughter is not sporty at all, and my husband is the spectator and chauffer! It still shocks many, probably because I am only 5? and my players are mainly 6? and over!
I have never, in 5yrs, experienced any form of discrimination from other coaches. I attended the Coaches Convention last year and was one of only 2 female coaches there. No one commented, I spend most of the time talking football with other coaches whilst my patient husband waits at the hotel.
Can you tell us about some of your achievements as a Coach?
Making the GB coaching squad was by far my proudest moment. The ladies came 2nd in Europe at last years championships, coming from seed 6 (out of 6). It has been an amazing journey! We are holding a ladies trial day in Wales this month, to encourage the sport to grow into Wales. This is organized by the GB HC Jim Messenger, who also heads up Womens football for BAFA.
My second season with the Romans saw us win the league and progress through to the semi finals, and last season I was part of the Surge team to make the play off for the first time in many years.
My university squad is entering the BUCS/College league this coming season. I have been with the team from conception, and seeing the team grow and learn is probably my biggest achievement.
In your opinion, what attributes does an American Football Coach need in order to be successful?
A slight obsession is good! The work involved can be a lot. The game is tactical and technical in equal measure. Every play is choreographed and planned, each training session is planned and scheduled to the minute. The safety issues around the players are taken very seriously, it is not a coaching role that stops when you leave the field! Another attribute is a sense of humor and the ability to cope with the weather. We are an outside sport who will play in the snow, train in the rain and wind, and the university season runs through the winter months.
An organized mind, and the willingness to learn and grow are probably the most important.
What advice would you give to other women who are considering becoming an American Football coach, but not yet taken the leap?
Go do it! It has been the most rewarding role I have ever had in 24yrs. The family atmosphere is really unique. I am by far the busiest and happiest I have ever been.