Category Archives: Participation

Should netball be in the Olympics?

As part of the annual ThisGirlCan Week, which celebrates and encourages female participation in sport, UAL offers people the chance to have a go at a range of different physical activities.

I opted to try netball as it is a sport that has always caught my eye and intrigued me because it is not played in my home country, Spain. The closest thing we have to it is basketball, but there are many differences: size of teams, type of ball, more markings on the court, and many different rules.

In fact, the two are only seen as sibling sports because they both involve passing a ball with your hands from player to player and scoring points by placing it through an elevated net. But, like American football and rugby, they are related, but only distantly.

Although netball was originally called women’s basketball, things have changed. The first netball match in England was played at Madame Ostenburg’s College in 1895, and the sport quickly spread throughout what was, at the time, the British Empire but is now the Commonwealth.

For more than a century it was viewed mainly as a game for schoolgirls, played during Physical Education lessons, with little or no interest from the media or wider public even at international level.

However, as more funding became available in the UK – particularly for sports with a good chance of medal-winning success – elite netball took its first steps towards being semi-professional. England won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and finished third in this year’s World Championship, and netball’s Super League is now televised by Sky.

Strategic

During the try-out session, I realised how inclusive the sport is and how accomplished players need to be. UAL has two big, strong teams that play every week against other universities, and to play at an even higher level must require a huge amount of skill and determination.

The other thing to note was it’s not just for girls: there were boys in the training session, too, and they love the sport. Yes, they can be more aggressive, looking for more contact, and maybe their passes are stronger, but the game is really about being strategic and quick with the ball.

Whatever the perceptions outside of the sport, the reality inside it is that everyone supports everyone and gender isn’t a problem. More than 80% of the girls wanted more boys in the team as it is a mixed team league.

Perhaps, making it mixed at the highest levels would add to its overall appeal and improve netball’s chances of becoming an Olympic sport.

According to the International Netball Federation, netball remains very popular in many Commonwealth nations, specially in schools, and predominantly played by women. It is played by over 20m people in more than 80 countries. In the UK, it is the No.2 female participation sport after football, with approximately 1.4m women and girls playing it in 2018, compared with 8.2m who play football, according to England Netball

The UAL players I spoke to were all certain that it is a sport that deserves more attention – and perhaps the ultimate accolade of Olympic status.

Alexandre Hor said: “I feel like sometimes netball is not taken as seriously as it is a female sport and does not have as much status when compared to the ‘male’ sport equivalent of basketball and the NBA.”

Lauren Barrett said: “I would like to see more media coverage and money put into it as I feel its quite overlooked compared to other team sports.”

Maybe if it was in the Olympics, more people would know about it therefore more people would play it – Patricia Beja

Lauren Hillsdon added: “What I loved most about netball in primary school is that it was completely mixed, and teams were based on performance only, not gender. I found this so much more fun as there was no ‘netball is a girls sport’ and ‘netball is just rubbish basketball’ stigma. I didn’t even realise it was a ‘female’ sport until I got to secondary school and it was female only. It was considered ‘cool’ to play netball in primary, and everyone wanted to make the A team.”

Patricia Beja said: “I don’t think netball is a sport only for girls. I understand that it started as being just for girls to play, but in the 21st century I don’t think it makes sense to have sports categorised by genders. Everyone should be able to play whatever they want to.”

In terms of its potential Olympic inclusion, the main thing holding it back is perhaps its status as a Commonwealth-only sport, but Kirsty Shannon said: “It definitely should be in the Olympics. I think it’s not because people think it’s only a women’s game, but men can play too – mixed netball is fun and I think men would enjoy it if they had a go.”

As Patricia Beja put it: “Maybe if it was in the Olympics, more people would know about it therefore more people would play it.”

Photos courtesy of UAL Sports.

Goalball: A Unique Sport

Goalball features in the Paralympics as a sport played by visually-impaired athletes.

As there are different levels of visual impairment, the three players on each side all wear blindfolds, and the aim of the game is to put the ball in your opponents’ net – and stop them scoring in yours.

Rules: IBSA Goalball 

  • Both goals are nine metres wide
  • The court is a rectangle 18.0 m long by 9.0m wide (+/- 0.05m).
  • The ball is approximately the size of a basketball but twice as heavy as its weight.
  • Players must be blindfolded or wear eye shades.
  • Game must be played in total silence.
  • The team who win a coin toss will have the choice of throwing or receiving the ball first.
  • At the end of the first half, the teams change ends. The first throw of the second period will be by the team that defended the first throw at the start of the game.
  • Only players listed on the line-up sheet used for the actual game will be allowed to play.
  • A game consists of two 10-minute halves.

Throwing Technique

One of the essential skills of Goalball is knowing how to release the ball. To do this you need to:

  • Release the ball close to the floor so that it makes very little sound as it makes contact, thus making it difficult for the opposition to hear.
  • It must touch the floor before the overthrow line or it is considered to be a, ‘high ball.’ A high ball would constitute a penalty and nullifies any goal scored from that particular throw.
  • Release the ball near the high ball line so that the opposition has as little time as possible to respond; the highball lines are parallel to the centre line on each side.
  • Aim to get the ball on court at the opponents’ end so the opposition has to defend every shot.
  • Bear in mind that the ball must be rolled or bowled along the floor instead of being thrown.

Scoring

A goal is scored when the ball passes completely over the 9m back line of either team’s area. It is a goal no matter how it crosses the line, if it was thrown by the opposing team and/or thrown or carried over by a team member. The team with the highest score at the second half wins the game. If it is a tie, a ‘golden goal’ takes place to determine the winning team.

Defending

It is essential that all players stay within their team area while defending. When stopping the ball, some part of the player’s body must be touching the team area or it is called, ‘illegal defence,’ and constitutes a penalty.

History of Goalball

Goalball was invented in 1946 by Austrian, Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle as an activity to rehabilitate blind war veterans.

It was then introduced as a sport in 1972 in Heidelberg, Germany. Four years later, it made its Paralympic Games debut at Toronto.  Australia were the first team to win the gold in this event.

Since then, Finland, Denmark and the USA have dominated the Paralympic scene. In terms of Paralympic history, Goalball started of as a men’s event in the Toronto ’76 Games. In 1984, it was also introduced as a women’s event in New York.

In Rio 2016, it was Turkey who won the gold medal against China in the women’s event.  In the men’s event, Lithuania took home the gold.

World Goalball Championships

The inaugural World Goalball Championships took place in 1978, which were held in Vocklamarck, Austria.  Germany were crowned the first world champions.  Brazil and Russia won the men’s and women’s championships in 2018, Malmo. USA have been the most successful side in the women’s events, while Brazil, Lithuania and Germany have won two championships each. Unfortunately there have been no gold medals for Team GB at either the World Championships or the Paralympics.

Playing Goalball

A year after London 2012, I was part of a group from Treloar College in Hampshire that went to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to try out the different sports, which were part of the Paralympic Games. Goalball in particular was the one which caught my eye.

Being blind or blindfolded when you are playing isn’t easy, but the good thing about the sport is that although you can’t see, you can use your other senses such as listening.

The ball itself has bells inside, which the teams listen to in order to figure out the direction in which it is travelling. At first, this is tricky because you can’t see anything, but your ears quickly become attuned to the bells, and players can work out where the ball is and where it is going.

Q&A: Team GB assistant men’s coach Alex Bunney:

What do you enjoy most about playing Goalball?

  • The competitive nature
  • How unique the sport is playing under eye shades
  • Being part of team for training and competitions

How would you describe Goalball in three words?

Fun, Intense, Exciting

How did you get into Goalball?

I had a taster session when I was at the Royal National College for the Blind. I then joined a team in my home city of Sheffield.

What do you think people get out of playing goalball?

People play for lots of different reasons but I think everyone enjoys being part of a like-minded visually-impaired community, Awareness and exposure are the key elements to growing the sport. As an athlete with Goalball UK (the national governing body) I want introduce it to as many people as possible.

Should Goalball be televised more frequently?

Unfortunately, Goalball isn’t shown live on TV in the UK as part of the Paralympic coverage. Even at London 2012 it was restricted to a few minutes of highlights each day. Moving towards theb 2020 and 2024 Games, we hope this will change.

Is the ethos behind Goalball that everybody should a chance to play sports regardless of their ability – or disability?

I think all sports should be inclusive to everyone, regardless of their ability or disability.  Goalball is specifically designed for people with a visual impairment but that doesn’t mean someone with a different or additional disability can’t play the game.

Is it a sport that can played by mixed teams of able and disabled players?

The great thing about Goalball is anyone of any sight can play the game on a level playing field as everyone wears black out eye shades in the game.

In our UK National League, we have teams made up of visually impaired and sighted players.  However, at the international level you have to be visually impaired – roughly less than 10% vision to play.

At major competitions we get classified by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA).

What would your advice be for someone with a vision impairment who wants to get into Goalball? 

Find a local club or taster day via the Goalball UK website (www.goalballuk.com) and give it a go! You’ll love it!

Feature image: courtesy of Alex Bunney and Goalball UK  

Six-a-side footballers up their game at Sixways

Worcester’s Sixways stadium is known throughout rugby union as the home of the Warriors.

But since 2016, the Aviva Premiership club’s impressive 11,500-capacity venue has also played host to local six-a-side football teams such as 1860 Worcester and Gangs of Dwight Yorke.

It’s only made possible by Sixways’ state-of-the-art synthetic turf Limonta Max S Turf playing surface.

Organised by Leisure Leagues, who run other Astro Turf leagues in the Worcester area, games cost £34 per team.

And it offers a stark contrast to the city’s other not-so-state-of the-art, litter-strewn astro turf pitches – this is a ground with history, character and status.

Inception

Photo: Worcester News

Set up in 2016 originally by Soccersixes, a successful first season paved the way for Leisure Leagues to continue it today.

Terrific feedback from players and organisers alike, it has been a great success in the City it would appear.

Miguel Passaro has previously played for Worcester City’s youth sides and sees Sixways as a great opportunity for all in the local area.

“For young and old, I just think it is an amazing opportunity to play in this kind of stadium.

“Me and a lot of the lads have been coming here for well over a year now and it’s just made us all want to get our boots on again.”

 The Pitch

Replacing an injured regular on a soggy Tuesday night just off of the motorway to Birmingham, I began to get what Passaro was talking about.

1860 Worcester have been playing at Sixways since the idea’s inception, and on the night we came away with a 2-0 win against the mighty Makeshift Ballers.

Considering my distinct lack of fitness, this was a result that can be classed in the category of far beyond my wildest dreams.

‘One difference that was also noticeable between other Leisure Leagues I have played in before was the quality of refereeing’

What struck me most, as I bagged an okay goal, was that the surface was far superior to any other astro turf or 3G pitch I had played on before in the local area.

Being lucky enough to play on West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City’s 3G indoor Premier League-sized pitches as a junior, I found Sixways to be very similar in quality.

And when you consider that ‘Play on the Pitch’ tournaments in London, where adults and kids can often pay hundreds of pounds to play at a top Football League ground, £34 per team for a game seems a bargain.

Better facilities, better refs

One difference that was also noticeable between this and other Leisure Leagues I have played in before was the quality of refereeing.

Often with Leisure Leagues you can get some kid who doesn’t really want to be outside, texting whilst you take a corner, which can get frustrating.

So if you’d rather not find yourself shouting expletives at someone who is barely out of school, this is the league for you.

It was as if being in a top stadium forced the officials to take notice and act appropriately.

As the level of football rose on the pitch due to the playing surface, as did the standard of the officiating, it would seem.

A testament to community spirit

Worcester Warriors, though they have suffered relegation in the past few years, have recently stabilised themselves in the Aviva Premiership.

Royal Grammar take on The Kings School at Sixways. Photo: Worcester News

In stark contrast to the struggles of the city’s football club, the future of its professional rugby outfit looks to be a bright one.

Several high-profile victories in recent years have continued to lift the status of the club as they look to cement themselves as regulars within English rugby union’s top division.

Although it was reported before Christmas that the owners, Sixways Holding LTD, will be looking to sell the club after recently announced financial losses it should not pose major cause for concern.

After all, legendary owner and the man who took the club fully professional, Cecil Duckworth CBE, is still sitting president.

And as its venture into hosting six-a-side football shows, the club has a strong sense of community allied with a willingness to innovate when it comes to creating new revenue streams.

Welcoming the beautiful game into its oval-ball citadel is a win-win situation for club, footballers and the city alike.

Welcome to the Jungle

At one of London’s largest crazy golf courses, I’m taking on the challenge of Jungle Golf in Edgware.

I’ve done crazy golf before, but not on anything like Lost Jungle London’s 36-hole adventure golf course. It offers a water-based Amazon course and a jungle-themed Congo course. My skills are definitely going to be put to the test.

The two courses are designed to test your short and long putting game, as well as your patience. But all while  having fun, too.

The first few holes are fairly simple, but as soon as we get past the fourth, it becomes competitive between me and my friend.

Some of the holes are designed very cleverly. You have the option to take the simple route leading to more strokes, or the risky route and attempt a hole in one.

If you take the riskier route, you’re more likely to fall behind than if you play it safe.

Different strokes

I begin to wise up after one hole which seems very easy when looking at it. I decide to be a bit cocky and end up with a five-stroke difference between me and my opponent.

I then begin to take the safer route to minimise any slip-ups. You start to get tactical without even realising.

It’s a test of both tactical decisions and skill. My accuracy and shot power are vital, especially on the holes with slopes and restricted vision.

If you have a good sense of judgement on how hard to strike the ball, then it  gives you the upper hand.

After completing the first course we tallied up the scores and saw that it was very much neck and neck. Instead of just hitting the ball towards the hole and hoping for the best, I was going to have to properly think each one through and judge exactly how hard or softly I would need to hit the ball in order to get ahead.

Caves and waterfalls

The water-based Amazon course has a whole new variable to consider. This course has us using ramps so the balls won’t end up in the river, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t happen to me at least once.

I liked the scenery here. There are a lot of waterfalls and for one of the holes we had to go inside a cave, which is very different from the average crazy golf venue.

The only thing I don’t like is that each of the 18-holes is very similar. The Congo course had more variety.

Although the Amazon course has the water factor to deal with and is pleasing on the eye, the Congo course is a lot more difficult and tests my skill more.

But both courses brought different elements to my experience, which was a good thing.

Lost Jungle also has foot golf, which is something to try on my next visit.

Overall the experience is really fun. I’d recommend going here with friends and family of all ages and in the summer, if possible. The staff are very helpful and it wasn’t too busy, so we were able to go at our own pace and really enjoy the golf.

Lost Jungle London

 is at Watford By-Pass
, Edgware
, HA8 8DD. The course is open daily, from 9am-4pm, with the last entry being at 3.15pm. Prices start at £8 for students for 18 holes going up to £12 if you want to do both courses. 

Wembley dream over as Not for Me Clive go out of FA People’s Cup

For the second consecutive year, my team, Not For Me Clive FC,  participated in the FA People’s Cup at the Shoreditch Power League.

The People’s Cup is a superbly organised event run on behalf of the FA. This national five-a-side football tournament is free to enter and welcomes male, female and disabled players from under-14s to veterans.

It’s a fun but competitive environment, with all games lasting ten minutes.

The tournament starts at hundreds of 5-a-side centres across the country, with the winners from each one gradually moving through the competition to regional qualifiers, and the eventual final being played at Wembley Stadium in April.

Clive and kicking

Last year’s People’s Cup performance saw our team lose every single game, after being placed in one of the most difficult groups in the history of the competition.

When my cousin Alex created the team WhatsApp group at the beginning of the year, it was time to prepare for the Cup all over again. We couldn’t do any worse than last year… could we?

But this year was a new year, a new team, and a new team name: Not for Me Clive FC.

With the addition of my cousin Robert, previously of Southend United and recently returning from a football College in Canada, the team’s expectations of success were somewhat higher than in 2017.

Football focus: The Clive ‘keeper Harry sporting eye-catching gloves

Shoreditch sensation

After months of anticipation, we arrived at Shoreditch Power League on a freezing cold afternoon alongside hundreds of other players, kitted out in base-layers, gloves and hats, eager to get playing.

Following a sizing up of the competition, our group was announced. Our team name was the only one of any comedy value, so it became evident we were going to be playing serious teams with experience and ability.

On the back of a brief warm-up of dynamic and static stretching and a few shots at the goalkeeper, we were ready to play our first game.

“Up the Clive!” shouted Alex, our manager/captain/general day organiser, as we kicked off against a side in actual matching kits, opposed to our mish-mash of red coloured tops. ‘They must be decent,” I thought.

A tense, cagey affair, we went 1-0 up through a tidy finish from yours truly. A goal! We were winning a game! An FA People’s Cup first for our team. All we had to do was hold on.

Then came an unbelievable moment. The ball fell to me in our own half with seconds remaining. The score still 1-0, I tried my luck at a Tony Yeboah-esque thunderbolt.

The ball flew past the opposing defenders and goalkeeper into the top corner of the net. Teams from the side-line applauded the finish, and the final whistle blew. Two-nil to the Clive, and a 5-a-side career highlight for myself.

The next few games saw us draw one, lose one, and win two; keeping us in the race for top spot. Our Wembley dream was still alive.

Parking the bus

As the late-February sun set in Shoreditch, we took to the pitch for our must-win decider. It was win or bust.

Charlie in action during the first game, pre-wonder goal

I’m sure their manager had been taking notes from Jose Mourinho, and we witnessed a possible moment in history: the first team to park the bus on a 5-a-side pitch.

Almost impossible to break down and score against, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, and it was time to call it a day, at least until next year. We were proud of how we had done, it was a sure improvement on last year.

‘The ball flew past the opposing goalkeeper into the top corner’

As they say, though, every cloud has a silver lining. There was an underlying sense of relief amongst the Clive team after our elimination, with the entire side looking near frozen.

With most of the side Arsenal supporters, it was time to hit the pub, watch the Carabao Cup Final, and have a well-deserved pint.

It was only at full-time after watching the Gunners embarrass themselves against Man City, that one of the boys proudly announced: “The Clive would’ve put up more of a fight than that!”

Despite the heart-breaking exit right at the death, it was a fantastic event once again, and we will be sure to be back competing stronger than ever next year.

Sledging in Oslo fuels then dampens the Beijing dream

With the 2018 Winter Games currently taking place Pyeongchang, now is the time to reveal my Olympic ambitions.

It’s a dream fuelled by Britain’s success on the slippery stuff in recent years, and underlined by a trip to the Norwegian capital Oslo to try my hand at sledging.

As an avid sports fan I’ve spent the vast majority of my life trying (and failing) at most sports, but I naively couldn’t help but think this could be the start of something special.

Unlike Norway, Great Britain doesn’t boast a rich heritage when it comes to competing in winter sports. For instance, the 2014 Sochi Olympics saw Team GB leave Russia with four medals – of which just one was gold.

However, despite the poor strike rate, in recent times the likes of Shelley Rudman, Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold won a silver followed by two gold medals in the skeleton bobsleigh event from 2006-2014.

Of course, I was going to continue the trend, by whizzing down the Korketrekkeren track – which translates to English as ‘The Corkscrew’ – before later taking up the sport and qualifying for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Freezing but sweating

It is 2km in length and has an elevation drop of 255m. The view looking down the course was somewhat intimidating, and my confidence soon evaporated.

I found that I was somehow sweating, despite the freezing cold -8C temperatures. I had become a barrel of nerves with sweaty palms and full of anxiety who no longer had dreams of making the 2022 Olympics.

All I wanted at that moment was to make it down unscathed.

YouTube Preview Image

I rather cautiously set off, gently dragging my feet along the snow as I approached the first bend, decreasing my speed to prevent my sledge from spinning out of control.

A couple more turns and I was experimenting the different ways of which to manoeuvre myself to take the bends at speed, and before long, somewhat prematurely, my improbable Olympic dream was back on again.

I hurtled around the next few bends as the thrilling pace continued to increase, shifting my bodyweight right and then left, I was now on the same wavelength as Lewis Hamilton, as I was beginning to picture the best possible racing lines.

Turbo-charged

Ben (left) celebrates surviving his icy ordeal

Just like my confidence at the start of the run, the wall to my left seemingly vanished halfway down leaving nothing but a rather severe drop.

I instantly and rather sensibly attempted to decelerate, until approaching a turn I hit a spot of black ice, which propelled the sledge forward causing it to feel as though it had suddenly become turbo-charged.

I lost all composure, the sledge was out of control and before I knew it – much to my relief – and much to the joy of my friend – I went flying into a snow bank on the right; causing him to burst into a fit of hysterical laughter.

I slowly rose to my feet covered head to toe in snow, and with my woollen gloves now soaked through It quickly became apparent that my ambitions of sledging at the highest level wasn’t to be.

So, for now, I think it’s best if I  withdraw my application for the skeleton bobsleigh team for Beijing. In the meantime, does anyone know when the curling try-outs are?

Mountains not required – the lowdown on indoor climbing

My inspiration for having a go at indoor climbing came from watching footage of a breathtaking solo ascent by Alex Honnold.

The renowned American climber scaled a famously challenging 1,500ft vertical rock face in Mexico in just three hours, becoming the first person to do it alone.

This fantastic achievement led me to tackle the rather less intimidating walls at The Arch, which operates indoor climbing centres in Vauxhall and Bermondsey.

The Arch has a range of colour-co-ordinated walls designed to cater for all levels of experience, from complete beginners to gravity-defying experts. Specialising in free climbing, which is climbing without any harnesses or safety ropes.

After signing up for an introductory session at the Bermondsey centre for £20, I was introduced to the core skills and techniques of climbing and all the safety aspects to free climbing.

Importance of the introductory class

If you’ve never been to a climbing wall before the first time could be both intimidating and exciting. An introductory course is required before climbing on your own, and in the early stages, a supervisor or experienced staff member will guide you through essentials to climb.

After being shown around the centre, I was then introduced to the walls and levels. For example, green denotes the easiest climbs, and white the hardest. Having an experienced staff member encouraging and helping you get through the climb helps enormously, a great boost for confidence.

The most important way to improve your climbing is to continue practising. It’s easy climb but not use the right techniques, but doing it right will help you become a better climber in the long term.

One walk-in session costs £10 or memberships are available from £55 per month.

Equipment and techniques

The requirements for climbing indoors are having comfortable and flexible bottoms/shorts, t-shirt and your own climbing shoes. The latter can be rented from the centre for £3 or can be purchased in stores such as Decathlon or online. Chalk is also advised as it gives you a better grip; this can be purchased online or the centre at the cost of £1.50.

The climbing shoes are always one size less than your usual, this is so your toes can curl which is better for climbing.

The main techniques while climbing are route reading, which is analysing the route you will take before starting the climb.

Keeping your arms straight makes it easier for you to stretch for the next hold, making your climb easier. Twisting your feet changes your whole climb, it gives you the options to change directions rather than facing one way only.

 The challenges

Novice climbers have many falls, but The Arch has soft surfaces so when you slip from the wall your landing is likely to cause any injuries.

The most challenging aspect of learning to climb is to keep control of yourself and to stick to the techniques, such as route reading and keeping your arms straight otherwise you end up giving up as you run out of stamina.

Free solo climbing is the hardest form of climbing. Therefore, beginning this level straight away can feel difficult but a great way to begin the sport. Later on, you can begin climbing mountains with harnesses comfortably, but it takes years of practice to tackle daunting rockfaces Honnold style.

Outcome  

Alex Honnold once said: “My comfort zone is like a little bubble around me, and I’ve pushed it in different directions and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy eventually fall within the realm of the possible.”

The sport suits extreme sportsmen and women who have no boundaries, and for the ones who enjoy taking the sport a step further such as climbing mountains without harnesses etc.

How fit do you need to be to start climbing indoors? I noticed a range of heights but most people at The Arch were in reasonably decent shape.

It is tremendously hard to climb if you are overweight, and having good upper body strength, particularly in the arms, is a real advantage.

Indoor climbing is a great way to master the art safely, especially at The Arch where you learn how to free climb right away.

Gridiron try-out: a rookie gives American football a go

American football is growing rapidly in Britain and it’s doing so right in front of our eyes.

With the overwhelming success of the International Series, the National Football League now claims to have more than three million ‘avid’ UK fans.

This got me thinking, as one of those avid fans, wasn’t it time I give it go? After all, how hard could it be?

68 adult teams compete in three tiers in locations spanning the length and breadth of Britain but one team in particular caught my eye — the Leicester Falcons. I live in Leicestershire, so geographically they made the most sense and they compete in Tier 2, so in my head, they seemed a perfect fit.

Smashed to pieces?

Rather fortuitously, the Falcons were holding Saturday ‘try outs’ for veteran and rookie players at Fullhurst Community College, just a stone’s throw away from my beloved Leicester City’s King Power Stadium.

Rugby wasn’t my sport growing up, so would I get smashed to pieces, or could I call on my cricket background to cling on to some one-handed stunners? In my head I was going to be the Odell Beckham Jr of British gridiron. In reality, I’d be lucky to come home in one piece.

Saturday was upon me, and so was the anxiety. Would I be made to look like a fool? I weigh 75 kg, have no oval ball background and little idea about the sport’s intricacies.

Alas, after a motivational speech from the mother, which would rival the likes of Martin Luther King and Sir Winston Churchill, I was ready. Thanks to mum, I now knew just how the people of France felt after Charles de Gaulle’s rousing  ‘Appeal of 18 June’ speech summoning the resistance.

Rookies only

Picture this. Your stereotypical sports playing field in January. Bare, lifeless, rock hard and a skinny lad (me) standing there in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts. This wasn’t going to end well.

As I jogged over I was immediately greeted by one of the coaches who asked, “Veteran or rookie?” “Rookie,” I said and was pointed in the direction of what looked to be a pack of lost individuals who, like me, were wishing they were sitting in front of the fire at home.

I introduced myself and it became clear rather quickly that we were going to be part of a ‘rookie only’ practice session. We were asked what positions we wanted to play. I opted for wide receiver, so we  split up into groups based on those positions.

The drills were basic. We’d run a simple slant route and take a catch from the coach, acting as the quarterback. My handling was good, as I expected it to be, but what I didn’t have was breakaway speed.

Many of the guys were in fact speedsters, but didn’t have the handling skills which I guess, levelled the playing field.

Nod of approval

The second hour of practice was by far the most enjoyable. Our opposite numbers, the rookie cornerbacks, joined our group as we played ‘mini games’ of seven versus seven.

The objective was simple. Beat your man, get into space and make a catch from the quarterback.

Space however, was hard to come by. Due to the small area we operated it, to say it was congested would be an understatement, but with a shimmy or two, I finally managed to get the hang of it.

The highlight of the day was when a ball was inadvertently tipped by another receiver and I clung on to a one-hander right under the gazing eyes of my opposite number who, to be fair, gave me a nod of approval.

As practice came to an end, we headed over to the much larger group of veterans where the session was ended by a team huddle and some feedback from the coaches, which was, in the main, very positive.

Give it a go

It wasn’t until I got home that I started to reflect on my day.

What didn’t strike me at the time, but did hours later, was the fact that complete strangers engaged in a huddle just a few hours after meeting each other.

Why doesn’t this happen in other sports? My thoughts are that because the sport is so physically demanding, respect between players is immediate.

For those, who like myself, may be anxious about trying American football, don’t be. Give it a go. It may just surprise you.

Oh and Odell, I think you’re safe. For now, anyway.

To find an American football club in your area, visit the britishamericanfootball.org website.

Learning to sail in the heart of London

The first time I went to sailing was on holiday in Barcelona, and the experience blew me away. I was instantly eager to learn more about this exciting sport.

When I returned to the UK, I searched for local centres that offer Royal Yachting Association (RYA) courses in learning how to sail.

It looks like an easy, relaxing kind of pursuit, but actually requires a lot of skill. The learning curve is a steep one, and you will end up in the water if you’re not careful. That’s why life jackets are essential and being a confident swimmer is a good idea.

Tipping a sailing dinghy over isn’t hard if the weight in the boat isn’t distributed evenly, and strong winds can also punish poorly executed manoeuvres. But when a crew are all playing their part successfully, controlling the jib, boom or the rudder, it’s an immensely rewarding experience.

Finding a sailing club

You can use the RYA website to find your nearest location for sailing lessons. The closest to me in London is the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre which offers training from levels 1-3. A course which enables you to complete the first two levels costs £400.

Based in the old docks of East London and overlooked by the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, it’s certainly a memorable setting in which to take to the water.

It took a whole weekend to complete level 1, where you begin sailing and learn the basics. Level 2 also takes up a weekend and develops all the techniques to keep you safe whilst being alone on a boat.

I spoke to level 3 qualified Shams, who has been sailing for two years and uses it as a “break from life”.

He told me: “I go sailing every week to reflect and have time alone. It’s a sport that I love, and I  hope to one day travel the world by sail.

“I also found the levels a great way to be introduced to the sport, and they help you feel more comfortable out on your own.”

The challenges

The most challenging aspect of learning to sail is having full control of the dinghy regardless of the weather and other craft around you.

When learning in the UK, it’s especially advisable to avoid ending up overboard too often, unless you’re lucky enough to have really hot weather.

Learning all different parts of your boat, what they do and how to use them, is also demanding, and it’s also why most people sail as part of a crew rather than alone.

But the training is all worth it when the wind is at its strongest and your dinghy is zipping across the water at speed. As long as your feel in control and know what you’re doing, it’s an exhilarating sensation.

Learning the basics also gives you a great insight into the phenomenal talents of the greatest sailors, such as Ben Ainslie and Ellen MacArthur.

To do what they have achieved needs incredible skill and bravery, but everyone has to start somewhere and for me it was on the Isle of Dogs in the heart of London.

Explosive, electrifying, endearing – inside the world of Lucha Libre

Lucha Libre is a form of wrestling that originated in Mexico and translates from Spanish as ‘free fight’.

Mexican wrestling is famous for the colourful masks of its luchadores, and the codes of honour surrounding them.

I was recently granted a unique opportunity to attend and take part in a training session alongside members of Europe’s largest professional wrestling academy, the London School of Lucha Libre.

Being typically British, pro wrestling never really encroached onto my radar as a youth.

So when the chance arose to step behind the scenes of what I had been assured was one of the most explosive and outlandish athletic and theatrical spectacles in the city, in Lucha Britannia, and gain insight into the inner workings of the country’s pro wrestling scene,  I took it by both hands.

Club captain Garry Vanderhorne explains how Lucha Britannia takes the best elements from wrestling around the world and merges them into an almost balletic form of combat which boosts the fitness, confidence and self-esteem of participants who also form many friendships in and out of the ring.

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Check out the Lucha Britannia website for news about featuring upcoming shows and class times.

The school and venue is located at The Resistance Gallery, 265 Poyser Street, Bethnal Green. E29RF.

Film and editorial credit – Natalia Glow. Photo credit – https://www.facebook.com/PUMPphotography/