SUMMARY: Lacking inspiration? Think you have it tough as a coach here in Australia? Then you’ll be blown away by what’s going on in US Footy. During the off-season, we were fortunate enough to attend the 10th National US Footy Championships in the United States and see some of the amazing things that were happening with our great game over there. Apart from being overwhelmed by the funny accents, we discovered a warm and dedicated community of Americans, Canadians and expat Australians that are doing our great game proud. Prepare to be impressed!
In October 2008, I was fortunate enough to attend the 10th National US Footy Championships at the US Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, about 70 miles from Denver in the beautiful state of Colorado. The experience was fantastic!
Incredibly, this event is one of the biggest Australian Football tournaments in the world, attracting around 1,000 players, officials and coaching staff from both Canada and America. There were a total of 28 men’s teams spread across four divisions, as well as 6 women’s teams.
The Championship Games
The carnival kicked off on Saturday October 11 in wet and cold conditions. And I mean COLD! The temperature got down to minus 2 degrees, but with the wind chill factor factored in, it was actually minus 10 degrees on the ground… and that’s Celsius!
I remembered coaching a WA country team in Boddington many years back, and I thought training nights got cold during winter there. But that had nothing on this weather. Forget skins, players were running around with thick track pants under their shorts and beanies on their heads. Now that’s commitment.
Thankfully the weather warmed by Sunday, but I don’t think I have ever seen games being played in anything like that weather on the first day before.
I actually umpired a game of women’s football between Calgary and Milwaukee. The game was played in good spirits and there was no verbal abuse directed towards me as the umpire.
Overall, the skill level of both the men’s and women’s team weren’t bad. In fact, I was surprisingly impressed by how good they actually were, all things considered.
The Canadians won both the Womens tournament and the Division 1 mens. I was told that the Canadians actually play a full season of football in some of their leagues. The Ontario Football League for example has 10 teams and plays 13 matches in a full season of football. It is one of the biggest and strongest leagues outside Australia.
This probably gave them the edge in the finals with many of their American counterparts apparently only playing around 5 games a season.
Coaching Challenges and Observations
During the event, I also conducted a coaching seminar with a group of dedicated coaches from the US and Canadian leagues, and it was evident that they were all hungry for knowledge and the success of the game.
It provided me with the opportunity to speak with coaches and passionate supporters of US Footy and it gave me an incredible insight into a set of unique issues confronting coaches in a land where the game does not come as natural as it does in Australia.
Here’s a brief summary:
# 1 – Coaching Both Experienced and New Players At The Same Time
Having participated in a coaching program that involves overseas students from Murdoch University in Western Australia, I thought I had a handle on most of the issues facing coaches who are trying to teach 20 year olds how to kick a football, but in reality, that is only a very small issue facing the coaches.
To me, the most important aspect of playing football is the ability to kick the ball well and whilst this seems to be a major stumbling block for US coaches, another problem that we don’t seem to face is the blending of experienced players, (usually Ex-Pats) with new players who have seen an hour or two of our game on the TV.
In Australia it is simply dealt with by separating the two groups, with the better skilled players usually playing in the senior team, whilst the less skilled players spend time in the reserves or lower grades until they develop.
But for the US coaches who are trying to build just one team, it becomes a major issue, especially at training.
Experienced players train at an entirely different level and their own development must surely suffer whilst training with the new guys. Having assessed many other issues, such as the lack of games played per year due to travelling, the issue of teaching new players verses satisfying those that can already play seems to be the most common issue amongst coaches.
This issue was discussed at great length by the coaches and myself at the seminar, and whilst I have never really faced this problem as a coach, many ideas were bandied around. Options such as a mentoring role for experienced players and the use of a buddy system where new players were paired with an experienced player prior to official training to practice the skills of the game were all ideas that were born through discussion.
It would be interesting to hear what our readers have to say about these issues, as the US coaches are always seeking advice from experienced coaches of all levels. It is very possible that the advice on teaching a 20 year old how to kick may come from an Auskick coach and not a senior coach like myself.
My approach to teaching new young adults the game doesn’t change much from the way I would prepare my club in a pre-season. It is still all about touching a football, with many multiple touch skill drills and small sided games being the feature. I then usually throw in some specialist skills sessions, such as video taping kicking and working through the technical flaws with each student.
# 2 – The High Level of Passion of Americans and Canadians
The one thing that did grab my attention whilst in America, is the passion of both the Americans and Canadians about playing the game. It is not uncommon for a player to drive 200km to training and then 200km home again just to be involved. It is this platform that will help continue to grow the game in the states.
The enthusiasm that Richard Mann and his team from US Footy have in promoting, teaching and organising the games played also impressed me greatly.
I must also take my hat off to the coaches. They are passionate and committed to teaching the locals about our great game. They are also responsible for creating an environment that best captures the spirit of the game and the great culture that captivates us all. Friendship, team-mates, team work and community are all virtues that the US coaches have to teach, along with game skills and game knowledge.
# 3 – The High Level of Patience Required
Some I also noticed during pre-game speeches and half time addresses, was that the US coaches possessed a skill that many of their Australian counterparts often lack – and that was patience. They all realise that a new convert to the game in the US does not possess the ability to hit targets or create space, yet they are keen to spend time and work with these players to ensure they get to understand our game and remain in the game for many years.
Maybe there is something in that for all coaches here in Australia. By being a custodian of the game, we are all responsible to ensure that we don’t loose players by a lack of patience or over aggressive coaching. Enjoy the challenge of coaching and teaching, and take your reward from knowing that you helped a young player become a competent player, not just a premiership player.
There are over 13 international governing bodies for AFL overseas including AFL Canada, Danish Australian Football League, AFL Britain, AFL Japan, ARFLI, Nauru Australian Football Association, New Zealand AFL, USAFL, AFL South Africa, AFL PNG, AFL Samoa, Tonga Australian Football Association and AFL Germany.
And while the AFL is trying to push or game into the International markets, its the committed coaches, players and officials in these overseas leagues that are really growing our great game – they are in essence the real international ambassadors of our game and the real drivers of growth overseas.
If the US experience taught me anything, it’s that we really don’t appreciate how hard the challenge is for them sometimes, and how much work they all put in to make it happen.
Their patience and commitment to growing our game in the most trying circumstances is truly inspiring. And for that, we take our hats off to all our coaches, players and officials overseas… Well done!
Title photo by
Flying Cloud via: freeforcommercialuse.org.