A Lincoln woman is feeling confident about her team’s chances after being called up to Great Britain’s American Football squad for the upcoming 2022 IFAF Women’s World Championships.
Robyn Steward, 33, first played for Great Britain against Sweden in 2013 before helping the team to silver in the European Championships two years later. Fourth and third places followed in the World and European Championships respectively in 2017 and 2019.
It isn’t just on the field where the born-and-bred Yellowbelly has become a star. She became the first female head coach of a BUCS (British Universities and Colleges) Premiership team – the University of Leeds, and she has been at the helm for four years, whilst also playing for Manchester Titans Women.
Robyn, who is known by friends and family as Bo, also coaches Manchester Adult and is hoping to lead them to the Northern Premiership title this weekend, admitting “the game is mentally challenging, so being on the sideline coaching is (almost) as good as playing”.
Robyn is proud to have been called up to the squad again and is looking forward to Great Britain’s first match against Mexico on July 30.
Great Britain and Mexico are two of the eight teams competing in the tournament held in Helsinki in Finland, which will run between July 28 and August 8.
Robyn, who is a middle linebacker and currently has 11 caps for Great Britain, told The Lincolnite: “The GB Vs Mexico game is the big one. They stole the bronze from us last time so it’s a redemption game on the 30th.
“We are confident we will beat Mexico and the team we are now are ready for the championships after nine months of preparation.
“There is a lot of new blood in the team and there is a different kind of fire around us.”
Robyn’s love of sport actually started with rugby when she played for NK’s girls’ team at the age of 13. She played rugby up until the age of 23, with most of her adult playing career at Coalville in Leicester and Sleaford Rugby Club in Lincolnshire.
After moving to Leeds where she now works at a local tennis centre, Robyn fell out of love with rugby as she felt it wasn’t the same as back in Lincolnshire. She found out that Leeds had a women’s American Football team and thought ‘I’d give it a shot’ and has never looked back and is “in love” with the sport.
Robyn played for Leeds Carnegie between 2014 and 2021 before joining her current club Manchester Titans Women.
At club level women’s teams play 7 Vs 7, instead of the 11 Vs 11 seen on the international stage, something Robyn hopes will change in the not too distant future.
She said: “The thing that sits with me mainly is the fact we have been so successful as a national programme and we don’t play the same game locally. Imagine how incredible we would be with girls playing the 11 aside game all the time.
“I am just do fortunate to be surrounded by people who want to sport the womens’ game.
“I’m so lucky to have companies sponsoring me – Slothmove.com, Loch and Key Properties, EPsports, 55Therapy and Reanimate Coaching. Without these guys helping me the World Championships would be a tougher task than it already is.”
Earlier this year, The Lincolnite went to try their hand at American Football and joined in a training session with Lincolnshire Bombers.
Robyn would love to come back to her home city one day to launch a women’s team and she said: “Starting a women’s team is tough. There are not a lot of coaches in the sport, however I’d love to come down and see what the Bombers and the University team get up to. Lincoln is still very much home to me.”
She also wants to inspire the next generation of girls, whether that be in American Football or in other sports.
Her friend’s daughter India Fields plays a different sport – football – at a high level and has recently signed for Notts County along with a second season training at Sheffield United’s Emerging Talent Centre, having previously spent three seasons with Nottingham Forest.
Robyn said: “I play games like this so that young girls like Indy can play without the fear of it being a “man’s” game.
India currently plays in a boys’ league thriving in what is considered by some as a male dominated world, and Robyn is helping support the 10-year-old in her football pathway.
India was recently invited for trials with Aston Villa at Bodymoor Heath, where the women and girls train in the same facilities as they men. When she arrived for her trials at Villa her first reaction was ‘do women actually get to train here?’.
India’s dad Adam said: “It’s quite sad and heartbreaking she’d naturally think like that, although having role models and trailblazers like Robyn breaking social norms, showing resilience and going through the trial and selection process showing what’s possible in any sport, is important not only for her but as a parents.
“Not only that, India will often ring Robyn after a game, or after training when she’s done something she’s proud of or just for advice, Robyn also makes huge efforts to travel the length and breadth of the country to watch India whenever she can. Indy is extremly lucky to have someone like this outside her immediate family to champion her.”