The Yorkshire Rams first saw players don pads and helmets in 1986, yet, 35 years on, the 2021 season may be the most hotly anticipated yet.
This weekend sees the Rams first fixture in 707 days, after the 2020 season was curtailed due to the coronavirus outbreak, with their last run out coming on 28 July 2019 in a 15-12 win at home to the Glasgow Tigers.
Awaiting them, in the aptly named White Rose Division, is a trip to Sheffield to face the 1-0 Premier Division Giants. It’s been a long wait for the return of Rams football, and no one will have felt this delay more strongly than ‘new’ Head Coach Jason Shaw.
Shaw was named Head Coach, his first lead role, ahead of the 2020 season, after serving as Offensive Coordinator the year previous plus helping to take University side Carnegie American Football (CAF) to a National Championship. It’s this experience that has also led to a role at Great Britain U17s Offensive Coordinator.
Everyone has their own personal story about how they got into football, for Coach Shaw, it was a family interest that first lit the fire.
“I started watching American football in the 90s, when it was on Channel 4. My dad was a long distance lorry driver and he used to get me up at silly o’clock in the morning to watch the Thursday night game before he’d go off to work and then I’d creep back to bed. Something that my mum didn’t find out about until I was about 21.”
It’s an interest that has passed on by Jason to the newest generation of Shaw, and one that led to his first delve into coaching.
“More recently my son started playing at the Yorkshire Academy. He started off in the flag team when he was 10 and then I started putting some cones down for flag and then that moved on to coaching the U17s contact, the U19s contact, the University and now the adult team so I’ve gone full circle across the academy.’
It’s a chance for Shaw to test himself at what he believes is the highest level and one he is relishing.
“One of the big things about coaching at the Rams, from coaching youth football and even the younger guys at the University is that this feels like the top level of the game in this country. Being able to be yourself and coach people of a similar age, being able to be a little bit more direct than you would with some of the younger guys, it’s a great opportunity to be amongst your peers.”
It’s this mindset and seeing his players as his peers that has ensured a mutual respect between Shaw and his squad and why his main goal, more so than the Xs and Os and wins and losses, is all about development and enjoyment.
“I think we’d be foolish not to have a development plan in place for all the players and coaches, not just joining the Academy but joining the Rams in particular and my goal, particularly as a Head Coach is to ensure that every single coach and player that’s part of the squad is better this week than they were last week.”
No matter the players experience level or prior knowledge of the game, the message is the same.
“Try your best and have some fun. This game is nothing if you can’t enjoy yourself while doing it. There’s a position for every single type of person. There’s no, ‘you’re too tall, you’re too short, you’re too thin, you’re too heavy’. There’s literally an opportunity in this game for everyone, so just stick at it and work hard.”
Of all the quotes from Coach Shaw, there is one that sticks out most of all: “For me, the characteristics that make a good football player are those people that can put something greater above their own needs.”
That’s exactly why Coach Shaw is where he is today, ready to lead a team out onto a field as a Head Coach, because he coaches how he wants his players to play. Putting the team first, playing lights out between the whistles and being stand up people off the field.
It’s not just a coaching method he’s looking to implement, it’s a culture and one that will only breed success for the players and coaches involved both on and off the pitch.
It’s been a long time coming for this first time Head Coach, but the effort and care he’s put into his team over the past 707 days will only bring great things.
Good luck Coach Shaw and let’s go Rams!