Getting Started

American Football is a rough, contact sport and you will need to take reasonable measures to protect yourself against injury. In addition to the relatively minor injuries associated with many other sports, head and spinal injuries are by no means unheard of amongst American Football players. Most players will suffer at least a minor injury during the course of their football careers.

You should, however, keep the risks associated with the sport in perspective; the risks of sustaining a serious injury are slim, particularly if safety equipment is worn correctly. Most professional players pad almost every inch of their bodies! It is your decision how much padding you choose to wear, but bear in mind that you are unlikely to regret wearing pads which turn out to be unneeded, whereas you would definitely regret sustaining an injury which could have been prevented by taking a few sensible precautions.

Most safety equipment can be found in sports shops. However, some equipment might not be stocked in smaller shops in countries where American Football is not particularly popular, including the UK. You should be able to find what you need at larger stores and, failing that, you will certainly be able to purchase everything you need online. American Sports UK, for example, is a reliable supplier of American Football equipment based in the UK. Visit the website, call 0161 928 0275 or e-mail to ask for information or place an order.

Buying a helmet

Your helmet is the most important piece of safety equipment you will buy. You should not even consider playing a game or going to training without wearing one. Someone who receives a serious blow to the head whilst playing football would be fortunate to escape with only a concussion.

American Football helmets have metal guards designed to protect the face. Padding on the inside of the helmet is designed to minimise damage from blows sustained to the head. In order for this to be effective, it is absolutely essential that it fits correctly. If you choose to buy your helmet at a sports shop, try on several before you make your final decision. If you decide to buy online, try the helmet you have chosen on in a shop first, or ensure that it can be easily exchanged if it does not fit properly. It should fit snugly, but should not be so tight that it is painful. A helmet which is too loose will be next to useless. A chin strap (which can be purchased separately, usually for less than £10) is helpful in ensuring that your helmet will not become dislodged during play.

Mouth guards are also a good idea. A nasty fall or an accidental elbow in the face could easily cost you a couple of teeth. A mouth guard purchased for as little as £5 could spare you a lot of pain and inconvenience. Unfortunately, the helmet itself is unlikely to come cheaply. You should expect to pay at least £100 for your first helmet, although you should not need to pay more than £120 in order to play amateur football. If this is a bit beyond your budget and you consider buying a second-hand helmet, make sure that it fits correctly and that the padding is still fully intact.

Buying Pads

Shoulder Pads

All players should wear shoulder pads. A hard fall can seriously wind a player. Most sets of pads cover the thorax and upper arms and will protect the player against heavy blows. As with any safety gear, you must make sure that the pads fit properly. Pads that are too tight will be uncomfortable and those which are too loose might fall out of place during play. If you have difficulty buying football pads in your local sports shop and are planning to buy on-line, measure yourself properly and purchase pads you are confident will fit. You can get an accurate measurement by standing with your arms by your sides and asking someone to measure you from shoulder blade to shoulder blade.

Shoulder pads differ slightly depending on position, so if you are new to the sport it might be worth borrowing pads until you know which position you will be playing. Linemen, for example, tend to have pads with few parts protruding from them, to avoid giving opponents something to grab onto when they attempt a tackle. They also tend to have hefty buckles which prevent the pads from being dislodged during tackles. Quarterbacks, on the other hand, will have lightweight pads that will not slow them down during plays.

It is easy to spend over £100 on shoulder pads, but a decent set can be bought for around £70.

Other padding

Most players also wear pads beneath their clothes to protect vulnerable body parts. You might want to consider investing in:

  • Collar Pads – To protect the collar bone
  • Thigh Pads – Around £10
  • Knee Pads – £15-20
  • Elbow Pads – £15-20
  • Neck Roll – Fits around the throat to fasten at the back and protects the throat. You should expect to pay £25-30
  • Forearm Pads – Around £15
  • Rib Vest – Around £20
  • Hip Pads – Around £10
  • Tail Bone Pads – Around £10
  • Girdle – Used to hold the hip and tail bone pads in place. Usually costs around £10
  • Athletic Cup and underwear – Around £10

As you can see, the cost of protecting your body can add up quickly. You shouldn’t, however, be tempted to skimp when it comes to buying good quality equipment. If you plan to play football regularly, it is definitely worth investing in equipment that could prevent a serious injury.

Playing American Football in the U.K.

A brief history of American Football in the UK

The first American Football game played on British soil took place in December 1910 between the USS Georgia and the USS Rhode Island. The game was played in Northfleet in Kent. The sport failed to become popular in the UK, but experienced a revival after the influx of American GIs during World War II.

As many American troops remained in Europe after 1945 to deal with the aftermath of the War, interest in American Football did not leave with the majority of the troops. Instead, the United States Armed Forces Europe League was set up in 1946. This had the effect of keeping the sport in the minds of many Europeans. The League was not disbanded until the early 1990s.

However, it was not until the early 1980s that a serious interest in American Football was expressed in the UK. When Channel 4 began showing NFL games, a number of Britons discovered the appeal of the sport and teams began to spring up around the country.

Despite this heightened interest, however, American Football remains a minor sport in the UK. The game is not a popular spectator sport, and little time is therefore devoted to it by the media. However, there are a number of dedicated fans within this country who enjoy watching NFL games and international competitions. A growing band are also involved in playing or coaching the sport in one of the many teams around the country.

Finding a team

The first move for anyone interested in playing American Football ought to be to contact their nearest team. Most teams are willing and eager to accept new recruits, regardless of their level of experience. A list of teams, and links to their websites, is provided below:

Young people should also be able to find a suitable team or club. Non-contact leagues are often organised for children as young as eight. Try calling around local leisure centres to ask if they are aware of any youth teams. You could also try contacting the British American Football Association (BAFA). The website is a useful resource for all British players and coaches. The BAFA’s Elite Player and National Programmes are designed to give British players the opportunity to improve their football skills and even represent Great Britain in international competitions. Information for coaches is also provided.

The organisation can be contacted by post, e-mail or telephone:

Gary Marshall
BAFA Chairman
West House
Hedley on the Hill
NE43 7SW

Tel: 01661 843179