Spotlight On... The Exmouth Raptors

As one of the first start-up teams solely based in a school, Exmouth Community College’s ‘American Football Programme’ is an example of how the sport might be structured at school level in the future.

Drawing initial inspiration from the 1985 Chicago Bears team and the developments of Coach Smallworth’s youth programme in Cornwall and Devon, Rob Rooksby took it upon himself to create his own programme in his school which also happens to be the largest comprehensive in the country.

With Coach Smallworth’s encouragement and also the help of Exeter Demons’ BUAFL Coach, Ian Chown who allowed Rob to watch some training at the University and also join-in for a session (‘I was only 2 months off my 50th birthday at the time, it took me weeks to recover!’ Rob says) he put himself through his own training regime in readiness for taking his Level 1 Coaching Award that he gained in Oct 2010.

Securing a £10k Sports England funding award in January 2011, Rob was able to buy the equipment for the programme and make his dream a reality for the students at the college.

‘I’d ‘tested the water’ by playing flag with a couple of different year groups, so I knew the interest was there but being able to buy our kit really changed it for the students – as I knew it would! – as I am still the only qualified coach in the programme at the moment, I have more students wanting to play now than I can run groups!’

Rob is also taking a very different approach to traditional methods of training players;

‘In a school you have massive health & safety concerns. If the institution takes such a programme on, the programme must conform to the way a school would normally work. Unlike other club structures, I don’t feel any pressure to get players into contact quickly and with so many students and potential players ‘on-tap’, training can progress at a less intensive or urgent pace and with more concern for safe technique and safe training. In the programme here all players will spend at least two terms playing flag before they put kit on to play at least half a term playing ‘kitted-flag’. Only then might they get the chance to step-up to contact but by then they will have good game experience, techniaque and understanding.’

The potential difficulties of starting-up such a programme in a school must be very great but Rob says of this;

‘The whole programme has been a huge collective effort. The encouragement, advice and practical help both Coach Smallworth and Coach Chown gave me was invaluable. Indeed, what has impressed me so much (new to the sport as I am) is that everyone has really supported and encouraged me - the Officers of BAFA and BAFCA in particular but also the coaches and players I’ve met alike. Importantly, the school has got behind the programme - the Principal Mr Alexander, the Head of our Ofsted rated ‘Outstanding’ P.E. department Mr Thompson, the accounts department, caretakers and colleagues who have all given-up their time and gone that extra mile to make it happen. I see the success so far as a truly collective effort and I am so very grateful for all the help I have received. It has made the many hours I have spent on this programme without doubt very worth while!’.

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