The NWFL Interviews: Tanya Dales of the Peterborough Royals

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The last in this weeks series of NWFL interviews goes to Tanya Dales of the 2021 NWFL Central East champion Peterborough Royals before the start of their season tomorrow at Sandwell.

We talk about Peterborough’s ambition to become back to back division winners, the GB squad and the future of the NWFL.

Who are you and how long have you been playing for?

I’m Tanya Dales and I’ve been playing since 2016, I think, with the Peterborough Royals. They set up as a flag team initially. From memory, I think I had a year in flag with them, then we progressed to a contact team the following year.

I Initially started out as a defensive back, apparently – my mind seems to have blocked that part out! Until I see photographic evidence reminding me that I was 10kg plus smaller than I am now, and it makes sense! I had a couple of years playing DB I think before coaches realised I just wanted to run forwards and kill people, plus the fact I was not great at running backwards probably helped us to decide too!

 So, I became a linebacker and have felt at home ever since! I went travelling so missed a season but asides from that I have been a core part of the Royals over the years, being appointed in additional roles such as Defensive Captain, Team Manager, Game Day Manager and Chairperson. Many of these hats I have continued to try to keep wearing despite my increasing football commitments!

I only started playing 11’s last season when a local team was setting up – South Lincs Lightning. I wanted to challenge myself and to progress as a football player which I think it has definitely helped with, going up against some big dudes, learning 11’s and the increased intensity.

You can see how interested and committed I am to developing the sport because I also volunteered to take on the Management role here and supported the new coaches and players with getting things going which has helped with my own confidence too!

What NFL team do you support and why?

Believe it or not, I wasn’t somebody who went into playing American football because I watched the NFL or had a team I supported. This seems to be the general theme with the men!

I had never actually watched a game before I started playing. So, I knew nothing about the sport. This is something I often share with rookies and anyone women interested in trying the sport because there is a fear that you need to know what you are doing – absolutely not! I think I watched my first game 2 years in to playing!

Initially, a previous coach had asked me what my favourite colour was and knew that I liked Nirvana so appointed me a Seahawks fan! I’ve, by default, now ended up becoming a Steelers fan because that’s who this coach, also now known as my boyfriend supports. I ended up being encouraged to watch games with him and his friends, one of them is another Royal too so it has become a thing now.

Your division starts rather late comparatively to the to the Div 1 North and Prem South, do you think the latest start benefits your team?

Tricky one. I don’t think it was intended to start this late. I think we were initially scheduled for an April start if I am remembering correctly and I believe the change was due to the adjustments that BAFA had to make with the schedules once the teams in 9’s changed to 7’s.

I think that was why the dates ended up being shuffled which is why we ended up with the 21st of May as our first tournament. There’s pros and cons to it now being later. Yes, it gives the teams a little bit of extra time to prepare and train but pre-season training is longer, you have got to keep that momentum and intensity going.

At the same time, I think when you see the other divisions getting started, you kind of just want to get stuck in. So, it depends how you look at it really, we’re taking it as a positive, it has given us extra time to prepare, extra time dedicated to rookies. We’ve been able to have a friendly scrimmage, so we’ve factored that into the extra time too in terms of being able to review film and support our development as players and as units ahead of the season kicking off for us.

So, for us it’s been positive, and we are ready!

You play for the South Lincs Lightning as well. What are the differences between senior ball and the NWFL apart from the rules?

It’s quite a bit different to be honest, you almost need subheadings for this topic. Obviously, the biggest difference is the size of the teams and the size of the field.

So, it’s sevens in the NWFL, Eleven’s in the senior league, there’s no special teams in sevens. It’s been quite interesting going from the NWFL to a senior team where just the concept of special teams alone is completely new. So, you’re kind of learning from scratch in lots of aspects.

I think most people would probably agree that the senior league is more known about, it’s more publicised and talked about and people are more aware of it as opposed to the NWFL. I don’t think many people still even know to be honest, that women play American football and competitively, in the UK.

The level of intensity and the mentality I have also found to be completely different between the senior team and the women’s team too. In the senior game, everything happens so quickly, and you have to trust in your team mates to do their job and stick to yours. In 7’s because there are less people it is easy to fall into the habit of trying to do other people’s jobs as well.

In the senior team there is a lot of competition and motivation to go out against who is viewed as your enemy – that seems to come much more naturally than in the women’s league. The senior players actually want to hurt you and there is a tension and rivalry there!

Don’t get me wrong, from my experience with the senior team I am with at least, we are super respectful but there is that intensity there from the start. I find you have to build that within the women’s game, there is no “beef” between teams for example, everyone is friendly and supportive of one another because we are all in it together, breaking barriers and wanting to grow the sport of course and obviously I am all for that.

At the same time, we want our team to win and bringing rookies into the environment you kind of have to teach them that if you are on Defense for example, Offense are not your friends. They worry about hurting people or their friends, men generally do not seem to have that filter. Playing with both teams, I have found I have had to balance this and respect the diversity but hopefully I bring some intensity to the Royals and lead by example.

Peterborough won their division last year but weren’t made into a Prem Side, how do you feel about that?

Yes we did! We’ve kind of had to get over it to some degree.

We’ve managed to turn it into a real positive which is the important thing and it’s what we’re now using as our fuel, if you like, for this season. We’ve really got a point to prove, and we are aware that we’ve got a target on our backs as the other teams will want to come in and beat us this year as the winning team from last season.

So, I think if anything, we are using it as an extra motivation to go out and prove ourselves this year. We absolutely deserved to win, the dedication and effort from coaches and players was insane over the last few years and everything we had done was to work up to getting that win!

I think it is also fair to say that it was really disappointing how the season was managed last year.  Obviously, I appreciate there were factors out of everyone’s control to consider, given COVID and the fact they moved the divisions to be based on geography to allow us to safely be able to play was a bonus in itself that I think everyone was grateful for.

However, I think even a little bit of recognition would have been nice, a token or gesture at least to highlight the teams that had won in their divisions last season. I would love to see the Royals in the premiership but whether or not a promotion to the Premiership was available, a trophy or certificate at least would have been appropriate in my opinion.

We have tried to make it a real positive for the players, for the team, especially rookies who came in during COVID and the unusual circumstances we were playing in, they may have thought “oh, we won and now what?”. We arranged an awards ceremony and celebrated our winning status regardless. But I do think it would have been nice to have had that reflected at a higher level as well as within the league.

Who would you say are your biggest rivals?

Within our division this year I think everyone will be viewing the Royals as the ones to beat, we will be bringing big competition to the division for sure and we are obviously out to beat all three teams in every tournament, yes please!

We, like many of the other NWFL teams, have had a turnover in coaching staff and players this season and we have rookies and people playing in different positions so the other teams will need to be prepared for the surprises in store.

Of course, having played the Falcons and Devils last season, we will always have unfinished business with them. I feel that in terms of rivalry there always appears to be more heat around our tournaments with the Falcons so we are looking forward to seeing what they bring to the table this season. Can all of the girls from both teams stop being so lovely though please, maybe it’s been a ploy in the NWFL all along!

With the Sandwell Steelers, they have an air of mystery around them at present because not a lot is known about them, we are aware they are a relatively new team to competition so we are looking forward to seeing what they are about this season. We never take any team or tournament as an easy win, that is how you lose, we always prepare for war with every single tournament.

What are your views on the tournament style of play in the NWFL?

I get it. I understand the reasons why the particular structure and format is in place and there’s not any other realistic options at the moment, when you weigh up the pro’s and con’s of alternatives. Given the fact that women’s teams play seven a-side and recruiting women for the sport remains a challenge we will realistically remain in 7’s until this changes.

I know in an ideal world where we would all be progressing towards 11 a side but that’s just not possible at the moment, we would see clubs folding if we were to push too soon for this due to low numbers and safety. So obviously playing in the NWFL is very different to playing in the senior league at present.

I think in some aspects, it means we have to prepare more and develop better resiliency and mental grit as players in the NWFL because we are playing two games against two different teams at every tournament realistically.

I do think there’s probably more preparation that’s needed. Like, you are working up to “game day” and considering two completely different teams. Whereas, in the senior league you have that focus on the one particular team you are next up against.

I am talking in terms of considering what you may come up against, looking at schemes and personnel etc. With a tournament day in the NWFL, you prepare for both teams at the same time, you play one, have a break and have to prepare to play the second team the same day.

With the senior team, you can go and scout your opposition when they are playing another team, come back and plan and prepare ahead of your next game against them. You don’t have that luxury in the NWFL because the teams you are playing against are all with you on the same tournament days. You have to be savvy and try to arrange scouting on the day, if you can.

I think the fact that the NWFL play 7’s and hold tournaments as opposed to playing 11’s and having game days has sadly not assisted with the women’s game being taken as seriously as the senior league. However, the two shouldn’t be compared, the NWFL in 7’s is a competitive league in it’s own right. It is not 7’s because it is women, it is 7’s based on the ability to recruit enough women to play the sport. I know that most women are keen to be able to play 11’s if and when the time arrives, which I really hope it does.

How have you seen an evolution in the sport since you began?

I have enjoyed seeing more women come in and give it a go! More women competing in senior teams because that is what it is after all, the NWFL opening up to 16 year olds and being able to support younger girls with growth and potential, women empowering women and breaking barriers, more women in coaching capacities and just generally being badass etc, etc.

I have felt that interest and promotion of the sport in general has increased in some capacity, at lease on social media for example. There are more platforms around that promote fixtures, results, predictions, interviews, highlights and both teams and individual players for example. I know everyone is now talking about Girlsofgridiron and Sportank for example and finding out about teams and players which is exciting to showcase the talent across the UK!

I think for me personally, with the Royals, for example, not being associated with a senior team like we spoke about earlier, it has been evolutionary in itself to see how far we have come as an independent team set up locally by local people. We had a head coach previously who implemented the structure of the coaching staff and the committee, and this has massively supported our team to become successful. It has seen us go from a team close to folding, to a team that is making use of the talent and skills of players and putting them in leadership positions, the team now being able to gain sponsorship, recruit locally, develop some fantastic marketing and promotion, become financially stable and able to invest in the team and the players with regards to kit and equipment and awards ceremonies for example. It was this structure set up that included linking us up with the local rugby club that has subsequently become our home and we are extremely lucky and fortunate to have this available to us for training and tournaments etc.

I feel like there are more wider attempts to try to support teams to become sustainable and self sufficient now and that is important for longevity.

What do you think could aid coverage and recruitment?

I think a lot of it comes down to publicity and interest. I know we’ve mentioned BAFA previously, and I know BAFA are one of the main platforms really in terms of people knowing who they are and their influence and the links they must have. I still think that BAFA could do more in terms of coverage for the NWFL in particular. I can see they have started to promote the NWFL more recently on social media which is great, and I feel that their contact with teams is increasing this season too which is also great. Rory has been developing coverage of different teams and showcasing videos he has put together of tournament footage and interviews for example, these could be used more widely by BAFA for sure. I think they have capacity to do so much more for the NWFL than they are currently doing though. They are the foundation that could be championing the NWFL and giving reason for women to turn their heads and want to come and give the sport a try. Pay for some wider advertisement, get on some billboards!

And I think we could go even further and look at the NFL as well. The NFL in the UK, American football is such a fast-growing sport in the UK, with new teams popping up. And I think the fact that there are NFL games held in London means there are there’s lots of different channels that we could be tapping into. Get some clips of the NWFL in action , some highlights up on the big screens damn it! There are plenty of women who will go along to watch these games and be unaware of the possibility that they could play themselves in the UK!

There’s a lot more that I think could be done to promote the sport and the game in the UK in general. As women, we’re always going to be fighting, fighting to try and make sure that we are treated equally and getting the same sort of exposure as the senior league. There are many senior teams as you can see, if you look at the divisions. I think the need for exposure through coverage to aid recruitment is something that’s really important in the NWFL and needs to become a priority if we are wanting to support the accessibility and sustainability of the NWFL, let alone develop it further, thinking of 9’s and 11’s .

As most people in sport will know, there’s an increase of publicity and interest, admiration around women in sport in general. There’s a lot more publicity over the last few years about women empowering women and athletes who are female, females in sport and campaigns like “this girl can” for example. Under Armour showcased a female playing American football on their website recently too. There are a lot of channels that could be explored to put the NWFL out there, somebody needs to look in to it, it is almost that ideas need to be put to the person taking on the responsibility for coverage and publicity of the NWFL as a joint effort so things can be actioned.

I just, I think that there’s a lot more to come.

Have you had any issues with getting equipment?

We have done. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you think of when a team initially sets up, how do you even begin?  Where do you even start from to get equipment? Grants need to be applied for etc.

Another difference that I’ve recognised between seniors and women’s, guys are quite happy to go out and buy their own kit. It’s cool, isn’t it? It’s cool for a guy to go and buy and own their own helmet and their own shoulder pads to play the baddest sport. With women, it’s not the same. A lot of women come into american football to try something new, to step out of their comfort zone, to get fit, to meet friends, most guys are fans of the NFL and wanna be a baller! Women don’t know if it is going to be for them, going out and spending 300-400 odd quid on kit is not something that is easily achievable in the women’s game.

The NWFL has to be more accessible for these reasons. In that respect, women’s teams do need to have kit available to hire for the players. This isn’t always easy because of the cost of helmets and shoulder pads in particular; you then have the safety aspect of helmets to consider in terms of their life span which means a team will have to find money to re-purchase 100’s of pounds worth of kit at some stage too.

This is why a hire system is working well currently because it means we are keeping things at a very realistic and achievable cost for players and the income from hiring means we are accruing funds to be able to purchase new kit when needed, along with being able to pay for everything else that is required for the running of a competitive team of course. Making the team much more self-sufficient overall though!

When I joined the lightning, there was no kit available for players, being a brand-new team for example but the guys were mostly all straight off to bloody football America to buy their own gear. It is so different. We want women to have their own stuff too of course and it is encouraged once a player is committed, this is what keeps the team being able to recycle and remain financially stable.

We definitely have to be mindful of that in the women’s league, that we almost do need more funding going into that aspect to make it more available and accessible to women, make it more achievable for women to actually get into the sport in the first place.

We have been fortunate to have been donated different pieces of equipment over the years, our current financial situation allows for us to buy some new equipment too. It hasn’t always been easy; we have to be creative and make use of what we can get access to. My dad even made us a line man chute for example, think outside the box!

What are the pros and cons of not being associated with a Senior team?

I guess the fact that there hasn’t been a senior team within the Peterborough region has meant that anybody who’s wanting to get involved with coaching may consider us, which makes us quite fortunate in that respect. This may mean that our coaching staff have been able to be more dedicated as they may not need to divide their time between senior and womens teams for example. We have been super lucky with our coaching staff over the last few years, going from 2-3 coaches to around 10 coaches, having the luxury of positional coaches etc.

I kind of touched on this earlier but it has been harder for us in some respects, setting up from scratch, with nothing. All the hard work has been put in by our own coaches and players, there are always a few players who are the glue of the team and do everything to keep things running in the background.

On the other hand, as a committee, independent from any senior team or additional structure, we’re able to implement what we think and what we know works for the team and the women and kind of work with what we feel is in everyone’s best interests. I like to think I am able to balance the best interests of both the team on a business level as well as the needs of the players too.

I guess, in a wider structure, attached to a senior team. There’s probably more conflict of interest to deal with, about what works best for what team and clashing training days and times, and trying to meet the demands of both teams.  We don’t have any of that. We’re actually really fortunate that we’ve established a really positive working relationship with our local rugby club , we were having to find venues and book slots on fields etc beforehand!

A lot of the other women’s teams have got a very well-established senior team attached to them that have been able to kind of build them up and set the structure for them, which has helped with their promotion and recruitment etc. We’ve had to do all of that ourselves, we’ve had to work bloody hard to achieve that, some of us basically have a second job with the amount of time we put in to it.

What is playing for team GB like?

Well, this is my first year being around the GB team, so I am taking it all in and absolutely loving it! Having a year in 11’s prepared me somewhat , even in terms of the sheer size of some of GB’s best female ballers, I thought I was a big boy in my NWFL division but I have figured that geographically we must just have some very small, tiny people! It has been great to get to know so many of the girls, lots of them have team mates from their NWFL teams there so initially it was a bit overwhelming but luckily I will talk to anyone, everyone is supportive and together a new team is created.  

I like the fact that there has been a whole new shift this year with new coaching staff and new systems in place, taking the programme to another level of elite. It feels like a good time to come on board, and they have some mega plans which I am excited to hopefully continue to be a part of.

The whole process has been new to me, the Royals have not had much exposure to be considered for the GB team over the years in my opinion, so I feel really lucky and grateful to have been recognised and to be able to represent the Royals and Peterborough too.

Yeah, so you went through a selection process where everyone who was invited attends trials with the team over a few camps. And it was from these that I was then selected to become a part of the training squad. So, at the minute I’m on the training squad and then there’s further selections to make for the team that are going to be traveling to compete in the world championships in July.

Being given the opportunity to potentially play for your country is huge! This is a dream and I need to not let the pressure of that get to me sometimes, but you know when you want something so bad, you need to manage that against just being yourself and playing football. A lot of the women new to the programme this year, we have only just started playing in 11’s, some have not played in 11’s at all and therefore there has been lots to learn. Another consideration for the NWFL and the impact of playing 7’s of course.

What I like is the intensity of the GB team is high, everyone wants to be a winner and that is my mentality all over. Pushing one another to be the best versions of ourselves and collectively striving to be the best is bloody great. If I wasn’t already motivated enough to be a baller, being given this opportunity has taken it up another notch, if that was even possible, my life is now consumed by football in every sense of the word and I am inspired. I look forward to spending time with my group of linebackers every camp and bringing back my new-found learning and knowledge to both teams I play for here as well. It has encouraged me to become much more curious and able to challenge in both of my teams here too!

What do you think should be showcased about the NWFL?

Everything man, tournament’s need to be shared more widely. There needs to be more promotion around the teams. I know that BAFA now have the map tool in place so that people can go on and find their local teams and stuff like that, which is fantastic. I think that was a really good start, I remember getting excited about that.

I may be biased obviously with the Royals, but I think we’ve had massive success through our marketing over the last couple of years through how we have used social media. By getting fantastic videographers involved, sport photographers involved, and the content that we’ve been able to then produce and share from our social media accounts has enabled us to go from about 300 followers to over one thousand in a very short space of time. And this is just a few people for one team, imagine what could be done on a bigger scale.

It’s really trying to find channels to reach out to showcase.  Like everyone these days generally use your social media. I think that’s a great starting point. And I think the more content that can be put together, through those channels, the better. And I think a lot of it does come down to footage.

So, films, clips, photos from games, so people can see women in kit, women in action. The diversity and the uniqueness of women from all paths of life, sharing that this is a sport for everyone! Things like that. Seeing things like that circulated it’s hard hitting isn’t it, catches your eye and I think there’s a lot of teams that have the resources to be able to do that themselves but then there’s a lot of teams who don’t and it leaves that inconsistency again.

A lot of senior teams live stream games, why can’t that happen for the NWFL too, we just need facilities and resources and there are so many volunteers out there!

What are the best things about playing for Peterborough Royals?

It’s my baby. The Royals will always be my baby. The best things, where do I start, it’s been a journey, going from being an athlete to a football player and everything I have learnt along the way about the sport, about myself. The sacrifices I have made for the team have been worth it, prioritising football over CrossFit has been worth it.

I started not long after the team had kind of set up and back then, our head coach was a female, many around the sport will know her, Benita. Again, this was another evolutionary prospect across the NWFL and the sport in general and inspiring in itself. It just happened to be that I worked with her and she dragged me along one day to give the sport a go and voila, now she’s playing with us so its kind of gone full circle and I love that.

The team are so diverse, I love that aspect of it too, all have different stuff going on in life but when we are out on that field, nothing else matters, there is unity in that. We support one another on and off the field and through the pandemic, we looked after one another. I don’t think I am anti-social, or maybe I am but I spend more time with my Royal Family than I do any of my friends or relatives so the team is a big deal to me.

You want to be there. You want to be around them. You want to be better. You want to help them to get better. And there’s that real sense of winning mentality basically that we all want to encourage our teammates to be there, hold each other accountable. We all want to push one another to be the best football players and coaches that we can be. Everyone has different skills and we come together for the same goal. This year we’ve got a lot of rookies again coming into the team and that is exciting and keeps things fresh and vets on their toes too.

Plus, we have great parties, so you know.

And then with that, with that, any closing remarks

It’s interesting.  I think when you’re involved in the NWFL, I don’t think you necessarily realise the impact that you’re having on other women and other girls and small children in general. It kind of hits home every once in a while, and I don’t think it’s something to be underestimated at all, every woman playing American football should be super proud.

Trying to think of an example. So, with the Lightning, for example, I have been the only female on the team and a lot of the players have their kids come along to watch them play. One of the players daughters comes to gamedays and apparently she is in awe with the fact there’s a woman playing American football with the boys, she thinks it is great and comes over to help me clear up at the end for example.

My boyfriends young niece and nephew come along to watch both the NWFL and the Senior games sometimes and wear their supporters t-shirts. His niece already wants to give it a go when she is old enough and it is things like this when you realise the impact you are able to have to positively influence the younger generation.

I could talk about football all day. Now I want to go play football!

To keep up to date with the Royals follow @ptownroyals on Instagram and for NWFL coverage follow Sportank and girlsofgridironuk on Instagram and Facebook

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