Pulling The Flag

Interview with John Sherwood

Name: John Sherwood
Age: 38
Profession: Area Sales Manager Sony Mobile
Years in Flag: 3
Club: Waveney Wolves
Position at Club: Head Coach

How long have you been involved in flag football? And how did the Waveney Wolves first come about?

This is now our 2nd year in the BAFA flag leagues. We started forming our team in March 2015. I’ve always been passionate about american football and I’ve been coaching youth soccer now for many years, so when I heard that two guys I use to play american football with had done a flag taster day at a local high school I got in touch to get involved.

Me, Nigel and Mat met up and from day one knew we had the same vision to develop a club from the bottom up. Starting with the most important age of all, the Under 12’s. From my contacts at Waveney FC, we offered free sessions for players.

Image courtesy of Waveney Wolves

There’s not much in the way of competition near you in Norfolk, so what was the thinking in setting up a team over there?

The initial set up was never really focused on entering leagues and to be honest I didn’t really knew they existed. We were just testing the water and wanted to see how the kid took to the sport.

What have you done to attract players to come and try flag football at the Wolves?

We have been in many local schools and from this have great partnerships in the region. Our taster days have also bought many new players. The local high schools especially seem keen on this.

Image courtesy of John Sherwood

You seem to have an excellent set up in conjunction with the football (soccer) academy there. Has that helped you with recruitment?

The relationship with Waveney FC has been crucial to everything. We are and totally feel part of their club. We have done many sessions with the soccer teams and a lot of our players play in Waveney soccer teams.

The major success here is that the sports work hand in hand together. I never try to compete with soccer- completely the opposite to this. The players that play both have excelled in there soccer because of there flag football. Leadership skills, speed, decision making, acceleration, separation from a defender, are all transferable skills to name a few.

One of our players from last season who won our Defensive player of the year has since been picked up by Norwich City FC academy, why this relates to us is the dad told me the big difference that his son had was from what he’s been doing with flag football.

We also have many other success stories already with many playing high level academy soccer since joining our flag team.

Image courtesy of John Sherwood

Have you actively tried to find funding for the Wolves? (If yes, how has that gone?)

Funding has been good. Nigel is the brains behind this and is always applying for grants and we have had success a few times. Plus we have an amazing bunch of parents that are always asking around. We have had local sponsors for kit, balls, cones etc..

Also recently one of our players mum arranged for a local Tesco to give us a couple of gazebos and we are also doing a bag packing day there to raise funds. Waveney FC once again have been awesome giving us an initial big start up for shirts too.

Image courtesy of Waveney Wolves

Tell me about your coaching staff and how they came to be part of the Wolves?

Coaching staff have come from initially me, Mat and Nigel all 3 of us have played and Mat and Nigel coached kitted football at many levels for many years. So, gifted with a wealth of experience, I like to think it’s gelled together nicely, with my youth soccer coaching skills and passion for American football.

Since launching we have slowly found a few dads happy to get involved and since then two have been really involved taking first aid and safeguarding courses and we have trained them on the Waveney Wolves way and are a major asset to our club.

How did it feel the first time you got to coach the kids on the sideline? What did the kids take away from that competitive action?

Coaching that 1st competitive game was amazing. From the first ever scrimmage we played against the Huntsmen (which we cant thank these guys enough for getting us involved in the leagues) I remember our 1st few ever snaps that day Fumble, Fumble, Fumble. Lol. After that there nerves settled down and we haven’t looked back.

Image courtesy of Neil Wymer

The Wolves were invited to the 2016 All Stars tournament as a guest team. How did that experience help with the growth of the club?

Coming to the All star was a great experience for me and the boys. Firstly for me, it showed me that the parents were all willing to travel to play this sport. The key of the all star game is its all about the kids playing ball. Scoring, tackling, 1st downs with crowds cheering and applauding. This is what the game needs to be about. Its that simple. FUN

Image courtesy of John Sherwood

Shortly after you competed in the pre season Huntsmen Bowl II in Leicester and won your age group. Tell us about the experience and what it felt like taking home silverware so early in the clubs history?

Once again massive thanks to the Huntsmen inviting us to there tournament. These where our first real competitive games ever and I was so proud of the boys. Now taking home silverware was unexpected however it helped propel our club. People love winning things. So word of mouth spread more social media hits, in the local paper and hence more kids turning up at training.

Image courtesy of Waveney Wolves

You then entered the BAFA national league at under 12s. You were placed in the South, with London Blitz, London Warriors and Buckinghamshire Wolves. How did you fair in the regular season?

We had a lot of travelling, which not one kid or parent once moaned at, which is amazing and I thank them so much. I must admit I loved travelling to away games and so did the kids and I understand why. There’s not many sports where you go to school and say I traveled to London and played a tournament. We won the south tournament which again was an amazing achievement in our 1st season. On the way we had some great matches with the Blitz and Warriors.

Image courtesy of Waveney Wolves

You were down to host a league tournament, but the traveling opponents chose not to attend in your age group, meaning you qualified for Britbowl as division champions. That must have been a bitter sweet moment?

I’m really hoping this year will be different. I understand that travelling is difficult to arrange, but I felt sad for my players who where all up for showing to local Nan’s and Grandad’s that can’t get to our away games how they play. Our 1st home game is really early in the season this year so hopefully this will have a full turnout.

Image courtesy of Waveney Wolves

Going into Britbowl, you were seeded second and looking in great shape. What was the national finals experience like for you?

National Finals!!! Did it feel like a national final? The teams where great and I enjoyed all the matches. However its a NATIONAL Final, there was NO banners, balloons, scoreboards, music, hot dog stands, programmes, player entrances. No Love for the teams or our players what so ever. The finals NEED to be special for the kids. This didn’t happen at all.

What learning points did you take away in preparation for the 2017 season?

We will carry on letting the players call plays in the huddle, we will continue to let them learn the sport. Rest is an important one at these league tournaments as well. When you are playing 3 games in short space getting the rest in is crucial.

Image courtesy of John Sherwood

At the recent Huntsmen Bowl III, you entered three teams. Two under 12s and one under 17s team. How did that go?

Another really successfully run tournament from the Huntsmen (ironically this feels more like a finals than the final).

This was another really pleasing tournament, with 50% of the players attending playing their first ever games. U17 didn’t get any W on the board however scored a few TD’s and hit 1st downs and get the D of the field on many occasions so really pleased with this.

Both u12’s excelled past expectations too. Wolves u12 unbeaten and winning there second huntsmen bowl and the big suprise was our Timberwolves coming 2nd with a blend of new and experienced players gelling well.

Image courtesy of Waveney Wolves

Focusing on you a little. You’ve been actively involved in the School Games project with BAFA’s Rob Brooksby. Can you tell us a little about what that entails please?

School games project and how its presented is excellent. I love the format as its simple and easy for the teachers to understand and develop the kids. I’ve been only involved in 2 of these so far but both I felt went really well. Rob has real passion for the sport and how its developed in schools.

Image courtesy of Rob Brooksby

How do you think the flag community can help the growth of the sport?

Million dollar question. I actually personally believe that the players will be there, the issue is getting coaches on board to start teams.

If I had the power, what I would do is have start up kits and regional buddies to help start up new teams. Its very daunting starting up with costs, marketing, how to train, venues etc…

I was lucky we found Leicester as a buddy club.

Flipping the question slightly, how do you think BAFA could improve on what they’re doing to help improve the future of the sport?

BAFA are busy and I completely understand that. However let us help! It feels like Flag u17 and u12 is bottom of the agenda.

I have many thoughts on this. For one age groups need to be changed to align with Europe u13, u15 and u17. u12 to u17 is a silly age group and we will lose players due to this. There needs to be more open channels. Set up someone that takes care of u12 South, u17 South, u12 North, u17 North on all matters, schedules to player registrations to league tables. Share the work about.

We all work and can’t do everything but we will be stronger if BAFA let more people help out. I’m not sure how the school thing aligns with leagues yet if we can use this to create more regional tournaments feeding into the national leagues. (Once again would be nice to be involved in this conversation)

Image courtesy of BAFA School game and Rob Brooksby

The idea of bringing back the youth GB set up has been regularly spoken about. Why do you think it hasn’t happened yet? Would you be interested in being a part of that if it were to happen?

I would 100% be interested in a youth GB set up. I’m not quite sure why this isn’t on the road map. Money most likely? However I don’t see that being an issue if you put together a committee for say u13 and u15 Flag football UK team.

I believe that sourcing funding for this would be no issue. Once again its nobody with power to start this rolling is opening these channels up.

Lastly were do you see the Wolves in 5 years time? Is contact football on the radar?

Yes contact football is on our 5 year timeline. We still remain the most important focus being the u12 group and introducing kids to this great sport and then developing from there. Primary schools is where we will focus a lot on recruitment.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us John. From everyone at PTF, we wish you all the best. 

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