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American football – what you need to know about playing for the women’s team

Lou Robbins is an o-line player in American football for Portsmouth Dreadnoughts women's team and senior team.

The Dreads women’s team is about to enter its fourth season. However there has always been an American football women’s team in Portsmouth since the women’s league was born in September 2012.

The team was originally run under the umbrella of the Portsmouth Destroyers which is the Portsmouth University team, however the team eventually moved to be part of the Dreadnoughts as this opened the team up to non-university players.

Lou Robbins on American football
Lou Robbins

What is American football?

In the simplest form it is a team contact sport made up of the “offence” and “defence” with the aim to get the ball from one end of the field to the other to score a touchdown either by throwing the ball or running it.

The defence’s job is to stop that by tackling the person who has hold of the football.

You have four attempts (known as “downs”) to attempt to get the ball a set distance down the field. If you meet this distance you get another four downs to reach the next distance and so on until you score. But if you don’t meet this distance then the ball is handed over to the other side.

A touchdown is worth six points and when this is scored you get an attempt to get either one or two extra points.

There are also “special teams” but that is a whole other conversation . . .  

Why I chose American football

Growing up I would watch my dad play football. I never had a chance to play at a younger age as women’s football simply didn’t exist.

I was a student at Portsmouth University when the women’s team was formalised and I jumped at the opportunity to give it a go. So I dragged my housemate along with me and fell in love with the sport and the camaraderie.

After university I moved away and wasn’t near a team for almost two years. I was involved in the creation of the Oxford Saints women’s team but only had a year with them before I moved back down south for work.

I was so excited to go back to Portsmouth. Although the team had been rebranded, and there had been a huge turnover in players, it felt like coming home.

The team has a great spirit with a good mix of people and has always had amazing opportunities.

American football team, the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts
Portsmouth Dreadnoughts

Important to get recognised

In theory, all senior teams are mixed but I still believe that it is important to have women’s teams.

Women’s sport has always been undermined in society and I feel it is important for us as women to stand up and be recognised.

I can assure you that women can play with as much strength and ability as the men do.

Difference between the men’s and women’s game

In the UK there a few key differences game, primarily the format.

A standard game of American Football is 11v11. This means that 11 members of each team are on the field at any one point.

The senior league (male) is currently playing this format, as is the women’s GB team.

It is also used in the Diamond series which is a national league (North v South) over the summer.

The women’s game currently plays in a 7v7 format, having previously played 5v5.

Around the world and among the junior leagues there is also a 9v9 format. This difference is primarily due to the overall size difference of teams in terms of players. The aim is one day to play the 11v11 format as the league grows.

There is also that thing called special teams that I mentioned earlier, this involves varying situations where you kick the ball. This is not done in the women’s league.


This completely depends on how much you want to do.

During the season we usually have two mid-week sessions which are an hour and a half each.

These sessions usually involve footwork, positional drills and a scrimmage (mock game).

However, as we get close to a tournament we tend to have a few extra sessions where we review film and talk through our playbooks.

This is what we do as a team, however, many of us choose to do extra work in the gym or extra cardio or workouts relevant to our positions but this is in no way expected or required.

American football in the UK

The number of women’s teams in the UK are rising every season so I can’t give you an exact number.

From starting with just three teams there was enough for four divisions last year.

In America there are so many teams. There are a number of different leagues active at any one time with numerous teams across the country.

I try to keep track of the American leagues but with the time difference and limited coverage it is very difficult to keep up. However, luckily a lot of teams are using social media very well.

At the moment Ruth Matta (RB for GB Lions and Birmingham Lions) is out in the USA playing for the Boston Renegade.

My advice if you thinking about getting into American football

  • Get online and find out who your local team are (most have Facebook pages)
  • Find out what time and where they train – get yourself down there and give it a go
  • The hardest thing about getting into a new sport is starting it
  • When you get there accept that a lot of football is unnatural body positions and it is a whole new language. Then just relax and have fun
  • At the moment whilst we are in the off season most teams are hosting “taster days”. These are aimed at those new to the sport to come down and give it a go. It is a great way to get a feel for the game at which point you will fall in love with the sport.

My sporting heroes

Earlier in the year I was watching a lot of the Football (soccer) World Cup and I have found the Lionesses to be truly inspirational.

Aside from them I’ve always had a love for gymnastics. Simone Biles from the USA is incredible and full of pure strength. She is the most decorated American gymnast and has two moves named after her.

Simone pulled out the most amazing come back on her return to the sport in 2018. She has also overcome a number of issues publicised in the media.

I hope to see some new faces on the football field next season!

For more information on Portsmouth Dreadnoughts click here.

Read more: Women’s football: How I made a career out of the sport I love

This Girl Can: How sport helped with my self confidence

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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