Women Enjoy Learning Football From The Illini

June 10, 2006

by Christa McGraw

[editor's note: Christa McGraw appears in the second-to-last photo in the gallery below]

Women learning the game of football

The Great West Hall of Memorial Stadium was invaded by women of all ages Saturday with one common goal, to learn more about the game of football. The Illinois coaching staff took a break from its daily routine and turned their attention towards mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and football fans alike to help them better understand the game of football.

As for me, I would consider myself knowledgeable about the game because as a girl, I grew up watching football with my brother and dad, and have always had a love for the sport. I know there is more to the game than reaching the end zone or kicking the ball through the uprights to score. So, if I understand the basic point of the game, know the positions, and realize sweeping is not just about mops and brooms, what do I need with a women's football clinic?

(continued below the photo gallery)
At first, I didn't know what to expect from a football seminar. I couldn't imagine how a coaching staff, as talented as it may be, could possibly spend an entire day talking about downs, tackles, and offensive strategy, and actually make it women!

Now, I have to admit I'd rather not spend Saturday cleaning, doing laundry, or running errands. I'd rather learn about football for six hours, but that may not be how a typical female would picture spending her Saturday. This clinic, however, was not just about the tactics, strategies, and fundamentals of the game, but more about the sport in its entirety. It was a crash course that gave women an insight into why the men in their life live for Monday Night Football.

Teaching football to a group of women might seem like a difficult task, but the Illinois coaching staff had an effective game plan. They divided us into teams, beginner, intermediate, and advanced, based on our knowledge of the game. The full schedule of events started in the morning with informative sessions on the team's strength and conditioning workouts, athletic training, and equipment, as well as a tour of the facilities.

This tour did not detail the interior design of Irwin Practice Center and the only color swatches that we noticed were orange and blue. We did, however, learn of the pluses and minuses of the different types of turf that are available and were amazed by the size of the weight room and the state of the art equipment it held. Helmets, faceguards, pads, and uniforms were plentiful in the equipment room where there is more laundry than most moms care to imagine. The spacious and comfortable locker rooms held not only individual space for each player but a common area for relaxation.

All of these sessions, along with the visual tour, gave an insight into the many facets of developing a football team, including the relationships that are built, both on and off the field, between coaches and players. During both the coach's wives' and current players' question-and-answer panels, it was easy to see the laid-back and comfortable relationship this team has formed.

The coaching staff broke out the playbook in the afternoon, when we separated as groups and attended sessions on special teams, offense, and defense. More specific terms, plays, and strategies were explained and the rough-and-tough side of football came out.

Demonstrations and hands-on activities simplified the game along with humor and easy-to-remember phrases. Even someone who knows about the game would find this beneficial. I knew the basics about kick-off returns, but didn't realize all the strategy behind what Coach Dino Dawson put as "getting the bread home to Mama." I understood the line of scrimmage, but never heard it defined as "10 big guys trying to kill each other." And not to mention, I have never seen a group of men so determined to send 80 women home with enough information and tricks of the trade to impress their husbands, boyfriends, and brothers.

In a way, I almost felt as if I were at football practice myself, reviewing film in the players' squad room. The football coaches in front of me with their laser pointers may have added to that experience, but the clinic itself gave me an idea of what a football player experiences day in and day out. As both a student at the University and a fan of Illinois football, it gave me a better appreciation and realization of how much time and effort the coaches and players put into this program year-round.

At the end of the day, I may have not been an expert on the game of football or the future coach of the Illini. But after hours spent learning the inside tactics and strategies of the game, the participants in this year's clinic now have the "option" of either spending game day tailgating outside Memorial Stadium or watching the Fighting Illini with a new understanding of the game of football.