Last weekend, 224 women from 17 countries gathered in New Orleans for the third Women's World Football Games. The event, put on by USA Football and its director of development, Sam Rapoport, was hosted by the New Orleans Saints at their training facilities in Metairie, Louisiana.
Participants spent six days improving skills and technique, getting instruction from top-level coaches and facing off in competitive games. Among the coaches and observers were Saints running back Khiry Robinson, former Saints receiver and return specialist Michael Lewis, Tulane coach Willie Fritz and former Arizona Cardinals coaching intern Jen Welter, the first woman to hold a coaching position with an NFL team.
"Coach Jen Welter took the time to pull each player aside and break down the components of their game," participant Melissa Castor said. "Her passion for the sport is inspiring and motivating to all of us. I feel truly honored that I had the opportunity to learn from one of the pioneers of women's football."
Some of the participants, such as Tammy Pham, a digital marketer from Manhattan, were putting on pads and a helmet for the first time. Pham found the event through a Google search. When asked for her position preferences, she requested defensive line for all three options because she said she really wanted to learn how to tackle.
Other women, such as Rebecca Samuelson, an offensive and defensive linewoman for the Women's Football Alliance's Seattle Majestics, flew in with several teammates to hone her skills.
"The New Orleans Saints rolled out the red carpet for us," Samuelson said. "They treated us like full-time NFL players for the week. We used their team meeting rooms for film reviews and position meetings, we ate in their team cafeteria (amazing food!), and we took over their fields for the week. It was a truly life-changing experience."
The Saints brought in their equipment manager to lend a hand and their head nutritionist to give a presentation on healthy eating and hydration. The team also provided the players and coaches with tickets to the Pelicans' game against the Jazz, at which the women got a halftime shout-out.
Samuelson said many of the women were eager to return next year.
"The hardest part about the experience is coming back to our real lives," Samuelson said. "Most of us play in leagues that don't support us the way they should, and they definitely don't support us like USA Football and the Saints did. We're all hoping this is the beginning of some serious positive momentum for our sport."