By Niki D’Andrea
Dr. Jen Welter made history and headlines in 2015, when she became the first female coach in the NFL. Welter coached inside linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals during the team’s training camp and 2015 preseason. Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians described Welter as a “firecracker” and “ball of energy.”
On March 24, Welter brings her energy and expertise to Scottsdale, where she’ll conduct a flag football camp called “Grrridiron Girls.” Welter, who has a master’s degree in sports psychology and a PhD in psychology, also recently published her autobiography, Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL, in which she recounts her time working with the Cardinals.
“Part of my heart will always be in Arizona, and I will always be an Arizona Cardinal,” Welter says over the phone, while en route to a football camp in Miami. “All of my memories from Phoenix are such fond memories. I think it’s such a special crew, and all of those men on the team… were really excited to be a part of history. To me, that’s what is so special. There wasn’t such a distance; there was an opening to it… and really, I want to shout out how important it is to have men like Bruce Arians and Steve Keim and Michael Bidwell to be willing to change that dynamic. I think that’s one of the things that’s really special for me, is that all of these amazing men were willing to make that change. It says a whole lot about them.”
Welter’s inspiration behind conducting a football camp for females stems from her own love of the game and lack of resources growing up. “I loved football when I was a girl, but I didn’t get to play, and so I wanted girls to have more of an opportunity than I did,” she says. “And also, more and more girls are playing flag, and when I looked around at the market, it just struck me that here I was, helping out at a bunch of my buddies’ football camps, and a lot of the guys who are former players or current players have their own football camps, but none of them were specifically for girls.”
“And I just thought, with the current culture especially, it was important to show them that, as I always say, there is no game you cannot play, and no field you don’t belong on,” she continues. “So this is… taking a sport that was supposed to be not for girls, and making it for nobody but girls. That’s why we have our Grrridiron Girls. There’s nothing you can’t do. We can teach you how to play football if that’s something you want, but we really want to instill that confidence, that whatever it is you want to do in this life, that you can. And you should never be afraid to try it.”
The Grrridiron Girls camp in Scottsdale on March 24 will feature instruction from Welter, along with former Arizona Cardinals including linebacker Rodney Thomas. “We go through the basics of football. If you’ve played before, we can make you better. If you’ve never played before, we’ll teach you what you need to know,” Welter says. “It’s based around flag football, so they’ll learn how to catch the football, how to run routes, how to throw the football, different things on defense like reading and reacting, backpedal and change of direction, flag-pulling, and then they actually get a chance to play some games, as well. We try to bring them in and get a good experience of what it’s like to play the game, and hopefully encourage their confidence so when they see people playing, they feel confident they can step in because they’ve been given the basics.”
Welter was scheduled to conduct a minimum of 12 camps this year, but says she’s been getting calls to hold more. “What’s really exciting is, we’re getting requests from all over the country, like ‘Hey, could you come and do that camp here?’” Welter says. “Once people see it, they realize ‘Oh my gosh, this is so great, our girls had a such a good time,’ and now it’s really about taking that and rolling it out and being committed to allowing these girls to learn this game, and learn it from some of the best in the game, which is NFL alumni and some of the best women in the game.”
Dr. Jen Welter’s Grrridiron Girls camp takes place Saturday, March 24 at the Boys & Girls Club, 10515 E. Lakeview Drive in Scottsdale. Girls ages 6 through 18 are eligible. Registration costs $40. For more information, visit jenwelter.com/grrridirongirl.
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