Millie Barrett is amongst the most recognisable faces in the UK women’s flag scene and is coming off a stellar 2017 which saw some outstanding performances on and off the UK shores. Barrett, 24, starts for the Coventry Cougars in the Opal series coming off her 4th title in 5 years, while having also completed a year in the BAFA mixed league as an all ladies team. Millie also recently earned her 3rd call up to the Great Britain squad starting as a safety but eventually taking over the QB position. We caught up with Millie to discuss highs and lows of 2017 and give us an insight into the UK women’s game.
Thanks for your time today Millie! You’ve had quite the 2017, can you give us some of your highlights?
2017 was a huge year for us at the Cougars. We entered the senior league as an all women’s team and came away with our first win against the Leicester Eagles. We made history being the first ever all women’s team to win a national league game against a men’s team. We then went onto win our second Summer Series going undefeated for 2 years. We also took part in the Outlaw league as an all women’s team, beating the Coventry Panthers team and drawing against the talented Wigan Warriors unfortunately we missed out on the play offs by one position.
We had 4 of our players take part in the European championships this year in Copenhagen, coming away with a huge win over the Israel national team. We also took part in Pink Bowl Rotterdam for the first time last year and came away with a 3rd place trophy – the best we have ever finished internationally. Finally, we won our 4th British championship title of the Opal series.
Before we get into 2017 can you tell us a little about yourself? How you got into Flag football and what’s kept your interest in it?
I am currently the head coach of the Coventry Cougars Flag American football teams. I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old so this will be my 14th year of playing. It all started in primary school when Peter Evans (former coach of the Coventry Jets) came in to take our P.E lessons. We had a choice of cheerleading or American football, those that know me or witnessed my attempted dancing at the cocktail party will know I can’t dance to save my life so American football it was! From the first session I was hooked.
After leaving primary school I carried on training with Pete taking part in many tournaments all over the UK and he also took us to Milan, Italy for a small international tournament. Pete then left the team to go back to university so in 2009 we broke away and set up the Cougar foundation. We now have 5 teams and a number of achievements under our belt.
American football is my life outside of work and I wouldn’t change it for the world. There is always something new to learn, new teams to play and new places to travel. I have friends all over the world through playing. From representing my city to representing my country
You are still at a young age but you’ve got plenty of experience, do you think you are still learning?
I am always learning in this game. Each game and each team I play teaches me something new. Whether it be footwork, trick plays or evading the tackle
Congratulations on your 4th Opal series title. I have to admit the loss to Hyde Park Renegades (HPR) during the season made a lot of people question if the Cougars would win it all again. What happened in that game and what was the mind-set after and in the lead up to the finals knowing you would face off again?
In all honesty we just weren’t on form that game. There were lots of drops, missed tackles and a few interceptions. HPR played extremely well and deserved the win. We were so nervous about the Opal finals knowing it was very likely we’d face them in the finals. The loss was the best thing to happen to us. We worked out what went wrong and how we could put it right again. We trained harder and made minor adjustments which thankfully paid off in the end.
The finals day was the best we have ever played as a team. The energy and connection between us was the highest it has ever been and I believe that was because of the loss earlier in the season. Losing hurts but you learn more from a loss than a win and that drove us on the day. The trophy was coming back to Coventry!!
The Cougars are a very tight net team, even on social media we can see the bond you all have with each other. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The girls I play with are my best friends. I see them all at least once a week whether that be training or socially. They mean the world to me and we know everything about each other which makes all the difference on the field. We know how to deal with each other in different situations so if someone needs to be left alone, they are left alone or if someone needs a cuddle we have a group cuddle. This helps massively as it keeps us together as a team. No arguments or tension so we can keep focused on the game.
As a team we do everything together whether it is going on holiday, staying round each other’s houses or a wild night out. We have a very special bond; we trust each other 110% and always have each other’s back. This makes us a very strong unit to come up against.
Your parents appear to be heavily involved in the Cougars set up also. Would you like to highlight their support?
I honestly couldn’t ask for more supportive parents! They do everything with us – training, driving players to tournaments and travelling abroad for games. The work they do behind the scenes is remarkable. Always looking for new things to do at training, washing the kit after every game day, arranging transport and making sure everything is in place so each tournament runs smoothly. That takes so much pressure off me and Kellie so we are able to concentrate on coaching/playing.
Week in week out whether it be snowing or a heat wave they are there. They have picked players up and dropped them home for training and tournaments, even players that live up to 40 minutes from our house. They have paid out of their own pocket so children can register or come abroad. Nothing ever seems too much for them for example; my dad was in hospital for a month in 2016 with a serious illness and the day after he was discharged he was at the tournament in Northampton with us! Our house is welcome to everybody. There is always someone round and they just walk in but my mum and dad would have it no other way. They are everyone’s adopted parents!
Going back to Big Bowl, I know there was some bad feelings about our predictions even though we were still rooting for you, we weren’t far away. Can you tell us about how the tournament went for the Cougars and yourself personally?
I think the bad feelings were because we had so much confidence in ourselves and after how well we did the previous year it was hard to comprehend. But you were right! Last year’s Big Bowl was definitely our toughest one yet. We had the hardest group and unfortunately got knocked out of the play offs by one point. It was a tough loss for us and we were all gutted. We made a lot of mistakes during the games on the Saturday and didn’t adapt quick enough on the field to the different teams we faced.
It’s tough with 12 minute halves and no time outs but every team was in the same situation and they just managed better than we did. I personally was pretty heartbroken with the result. After finishing 4th in 2016 I honestly thought we’d get on that podium last year. It hurt more because I wanted to do it for my dad. He missed big bowl 2016 due to his illness and he was devastated he couldn’t go so our aim was to get on the podium for his big return. I know he was proud of us either way but that was extremely hard for me. The tournament overall was outstanding as always! And of course the cocktail party lifted our spirits (what I remember of it anyway).
You have been attending Big Bowl for quite a few years now, what is it about the tournament that makes you return every year?
Every single one of us at the Cougars love Big Bowl. It’s the one weekend we look most forward to in the year. We love the competition because we play teams from all over the world which we would never normally face otherwise. We love watching teams play and learning from them. We have friends all over the world that we look forward to catching up with at Big Bowl. The tournament is run so well. It’s always so smooth and considering the amount of teams that take part with such limited time really shows how much of a well organised event it is. The experience we gain each year from attending Big Bowl has a huge part in our development as a team. Finally the cocktail party is always a success in the Cougar’s eyes. It’s a great way to socialise and network with other teams as well as letting your hair down after a long day.
Moving onto the European championships in Copenhagen, what was the goal prior to going out?
Our main goal as a team was to win at least one game. We also had goals offensively and defensively. Our goals offensively were to score on every team, make the catches and adapt our route reading to the defender in front of you. I think defensively their goals were to not concede a certain amount of points, making sure they got the tackle and being aggressive on the ball.
Apart from coming 3rd, beating Israel surely was massive for the GB Lions!
Personally I think this was our greatest achievement. This was a huge game for us as Israel were undefeated when we faced them. The game was one of the most intense games I’ve ever played. Israel are a very talented squad sponsored by the Kraft family. It was a very close game which could have went either way but a crucial interception in the last minute of the game got us the ball back. We had to score to win the game and the pressure on the offence during that last drive was nearly unbearable. We analysed the defense and picked a play to exploit their weakness – thankfully this paid off and we got the winning touchdown. I honestly don’t know how we stayed composed during that time.
How did you personally feel you contributed to the team?
It helped that I knew all of the girls previous to the training and the tournament. When we arrived in Copenhagen I arranged a team bonding session so we could get to know each other outside of football. This went down really well, lots of laughs and finding some very unusual things out about each other – which won’t be repeated! It was so useful that I have lots of experience playing internationally, so I’m used to pressure and intense games which helped me to keep the team composed.
The knowledge I have on the teams was also very useful after previously playing them which meant I could use my offence to its full potential. I did a lot of play calling during the Israel game as I’ve played them many times before it came naturally. It was such a good feeling that Mik our OC and also the girls on offence had the trust and faith in me to listen and take on board the changes I made. I’d like to think I helped keep the offence confident as well as composed during the games. We not only had trust but a very special bond by the end of the tournament and I was voted Player’s Player which meant the world to me.
Obviously being surrounded by a lot of your teammates helps but how did you feel the mood in the camp was??
The mood in camp was very good. We were all nervous but also very excited. We had so many training sessions before it was so good to actually get there knowing it was time to put everything from practice onto the field. Both the offence and defense had very close bonds between each other. We spent a lot of time separated, focusing on our own training, goals and specialities. During some practice sessions things did get quite intense between us at times because we were against each other we were always trying to outdo each other. When it came to the games though we were one unit and supported each other 100%. We had formed a trust with one another which helped the confidence as a team and also the performance on the field. The support on the sideline was amazing! Even when things didn’t go to plan, balls were dropped or tags were missed everyone was still in good spirits supporting each other and boosting the team morale. We all came away from the tournament as very close friends and that says a lot in itself.
Both the Women’s and Men’s squad seemed to have a good bond and supported each other through the tournament. How much of an impact do you think that played to both squads coming away with Bronze?
The support from the GB men’s team was unreal! Having them on our sideline through every game really did help our performance. They kept our spirits high but also made us laugh which helped settle the nerves. I noticed that some of the men’s players were giving advice and compliments to the girls who were playing in the same position as them which helped the girls on the field and the knowledge shared was really beneficial. I think this played a huge part in both teams achieving 3rd place! It’s so important to have a good support network around you.
We have so much respect for the men’s team and take on board everything they advise which helped our performance as it’s not only beneficial but also important to have constructive feedback from the sideline as things are seen differently to on the field. We loved watching and supporting the men’s games as it gave us a new focus in between games and we learnt so much from it. We had lots of banter between the 2 teams which helped to settle nerves but also had a great bond and supported each other throughout the whole tournament.
The LADS chant was the overall factor though right?
Of course! My favorite GB chant! I loved this because it brought us all together. By the end of the tournament we had every team joining in. It was light-hearted banter that made us all smile and took some of the seriousness out of the weekend.
The QB position is possibly the toughest in the sport to master. What do you think it takes to be a good QB and what do need to do to help your team?
There are lots of factors to being a good QB, this all starts from perfecting the basics. Obviously you need to be able to actually throw first and along with that comes accuracy. It’s also important to be able to keep composed under pressure. There’s lots of pressure on quarterbacks, not only with a blitz coming at you but controlling an offence and calling plays.
To become a good QB there’s a few more in depth components that need mastering, such as: the ability to change a play according to the defense in front of you, being able to successfully evade the blitz, getting the ball off quickly and being able to throw a distance, accurately. I’ve only ever had one session with a QB specific coach so I am self taught. In terms of development I joined the gym in October to focus on strengthening my shoulder, arm and core. I have flag training at least twice a week so I get in the repetition I need.
The biggest development factor for me last year was joining the senior league. This meant I had to throw a full size ball, accurately and at speed. I had to evade faster, more aggressive Blitzer’s, make plays over/around taller defensive players and play at a much faster pace. This made it a lot easier when it came back to playing all female teams.
Now that we are into 2018 what are your own goals for the year and ambitions?
My first goal is to beat Sweden. We play them on February 3rd in Glasgow and this is with the GB women’s team. Secondly I’d like to make it onto the podium this year at Big Bowl! I’m aiming for 3rd at least. Thirdly, winning our third Summer Series going undefeated. My fourth goal is to get my cadet and junior teams to Britbowl this year. The cadets have a great chance of winning their first ever British championship title! And finally winning our 5th British championship at Opal.
Thanks for the interview FFW! It was pleasure writing about all of my achievements and success this year.
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Thanks Millie! Good luck in 2018!