Women in Pro Sports: An Interview with Phoebe Schecter

Phoebe Schecter is a pinnacle figure in the UK’s American Football scene. She worked closely with the Buffalo Bills as their coach to develop a successful NFL team, an experience that today makes her an authoritative leadership expert. 

In recognition of Phoebe’s influence as the first female NFL coach in the UK, she was named in The Motivational Speakers Agency’s 50 Women Who Are Changing the World. We sat down with Pheobe to learn more about her experience with the NFL, women in pro sports, and her insight as a female inspiration, in this exclusive interview.  

What motivated you to become an NFL coach? 

“It all started when I moved to the UK and got involved in the sport. I think for me, it was such an exciting moment in my life, and it gave me so many opportunities off the back of it. 

“When I started going from player to coach, I just felt like I wanted to give back to the UK originally, because they gave me so much. And then from there, that built up to ‘actually, I can really do this thing, I can really keep pushing myself’.

“That’s when I thought, ‘I might have the opportunity to go into the NFL and coach’. And when I said that out loud and kind of spoke into fruition, I think it was literally a year later that I ended up getting my first internship with the NFL, with the Buffalo Bills.”

As an NFL coach, how would you describe your leadership style? 

“I’d say I definitely lead by example. I bring high energy to everything; I really want to be positive, and I think that helps my players as well, whether it’s the elite level or grassroots. People really appreciate consistency – they need to dig deep and find that inner strength, and positivity can really help pull that out. 

“I’m not really the shouty coach. But I think, celebrating things that are really positive or things that happen for people are massive, and I don’t think we do that enough as a society. It becomes almost an expectation. So, I think it’s really important to celebrate all of the little wins, and celebrate wins that aren’t just in terms of the game itself.”

must-have leadership skills traits

The NFL is a high-pressure environment, where marginal gains can make the difference – what skills do you think coaches have that are transferrable to business? 

“I think there’s a tonne of transferable skills. I mean, for starters, organisation and preparation! They are two key things in sport and the business world. I think, sometimes, these key skills are underestimated, especially when you get into these massive organisations where there are too many people to keep track. 

“I think we actually relate a lot to businesses because there are so many similarities, like, how do you run that many people? Whether it’s a small group or a larger group, how do we actually get the most of everyone within our team? How do we support each individual? 

“Because – like in [American] football – teamwork is key to the success of a project or organisation.”

What is one big thing you learned from coaching at such an elite level?

“If you can show people that you truly care about them, their success and what’s going on in their life, they are so much more willing to give you more. I never thought that was actually going to [apply] to the NFL, but actually, these are real humans. They have families, they have lives, they care. They’re investing so much of their life into what they do. And you spend pretty much 24/7 with these guys for seven months straight. 

“So, when you really invest in someone, you understand them much better and going back to what we’re saying before, you figure out their strengths, their weaknesses and even how they learn.

“I think, especially in business, it may not seem financially beneficial to take the time to ask your employees; ‘what did you do at the weekend?’, ‘how is your family?’, or ‘how are you feeling?’. But in the Buffalo Bills, we really try to support [our team] physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and even spiritually.

“I think in business, there’s definitely more that could be done to get the most out of employees.”

negotiating  a flexible work schedule

As a woman in a male-dominated sport, what advice can you offer women in other male-dominated industries?

“The first thing that comes to mind is self-belief. You’ve got to believe in yourself and believe that you have earned the right to be in whatever situation you’re in. I also feel, as a female who’s been in these situations, I never really thought of myself as being the ‘only female’. I think we really need to start to remove that mindset from the situation because otherwise we’re always going to be singling ourselves out and mentally that can play mind games with you.

“This definitely took me time, understanding and identifying the value you bring to an organisation. It doesn’t have to be the same as everyone else. For me, in football, I knew I could add value with my consistency and positive energy, my interpersonal skills with the players; they would open up to me more.

“That all starts with self-belief and through that, you build confidence and identify what you bring.”

This post was authored by Sophie Wheeldon

Sophie Wheeldon is a Celebrity PR Executive at The Champions Speakers Agency, an industry-leading speakers bureau that works closely with the world’s most influential figures from business, technology, politics, sport, the military, and more to deliver keynotes that inform, engage and inspire.

Phoebe Schecter

Phoebe is an American Football Coach and player from both the USA and Great Britain.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.