American Football Around The World

American football continues to expand and expand in Europe, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and China

There is no other sport more closely associated with the United States than football. It wraps itself in the “red, white and blue.”

The Army / Navy game is still in its own weekend after the Power 5 conference championships. The NFL does a  Salute to Service every November. While the rest of the globe celebrates “world football” as the game where you do not use your hands and scoring is at a premium, American football remains part of the American landscape. School lights on Saturday afternoons on college campuses, or on Sundays in professional stadiums.

But as technology shrinks our world, and information is more readily available than ever, American football is hitting a growth spurt for all the reasons it’s loved here in the United State.

Wojciech Andrzejczak, who has coached in Poland and China:

“Football is a great way to build bridges between people of various ethnic, religious and political backgrounds. The game also appeals to millennials with the new designs of helmets and shoulder pads, it reminds them of Iron Man or Transformers. In my hometown of Poznan, Poland, the city supported because football was perceived as a great way to fight against youth alcoholism and drug abuse.”

Dan Levy , who has coached, run camps, developed clinics or consulted in 10 countries, says he currently coaches in  Brazil, where the game rapidly is growing.

“The Brazilians buy in to the culture around American football,” Levy explains. “The pageantry, tailgates, touchdown celebrations – everything that is American.”

Where The Game Is Growing

Not surprisingly, Canada is second behind the US in regard to American football, especially when you consider the annual Grey Cup is the most-watched television show in the country, says Roger Kelly, the managing editor of American Football International. He also points to the improving quality of play in Canada as younger players flood into the game, as evidenced by Team Canada beating Team USA in a recent U16 game.

Outside of Canada, Kelly mentions Mexico and Japan  as second and third due to “strong college systems and good grassroots development.”  John McKeon , the founder and CEO of American  Football International , says Mexico is thriving due to its proximity to the United States and fans there allegiances to NFL teams. More, the foundation is strong enough to support a new professional all-Mexican league (Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional) which held its inaugural season in spring 2016.

As for Japan, the X-League is the top professional league with a strong sponsorship system in place. Due to the sponsorship money, top American players are recruited by X-League teams, according to McKeon. American football continues to expand and expand in  Europe, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and China.

Levy previously mentioned Brazil growing at a rapid rate and his claims are backed by McKeon, who reports touch football just started there eight years ago and now there are already 105 contact clubs, plus a federation with 8,500 members. Andrzejczak says today’s technology is a reason why the sport is growing in Poland and China, where he coaches.

“In the early 2000s, when we were starting in Poland, we were greatly influenced by football movies such as Given Sunday and Remember The Titans. The Madden video game series also helps popularize the game, and now the kids who play it know a lot about X’s and O’s, and the rules. “

Also, as soccer continues to dominate interest on an international level, Andrzejczak sees this as a reason why American football is finding more success. He points to “second-love athletes” in countries outside the United States, who grew up playing soccer but never could make it to the next level. Now, in their late-teens and early-20s, these people already possess unique athletic abilities, so they devote themselves to understanding the fundamentals and rules of American football, they have an opportunity to play the sport at a national level.

Not Easy To Learn

For anyone who has never had a chance to participate in a football game, you know there is a great learning curve to overcome. Athletes not used to a high level of contact have a hard time immediately understanding the power and the force of the game.

“In every country I’ve coached outside the United States, the single, hardest fundamentals to leverage coaches, especially in the trenches,” says Levy. “It is just not natural for big guys to bend their knees and drop their hips to try to get lower than one another, especially when they never play football before their mid-20s.

“It is natural for players who are new to the game to want to stand up high, to see into the backfield and look over their opponents. I have found the best way to correct stubborn fundamental efforts of any kid is to start with the eyes, then work towards the hands and the feet, and the pad will follow. “

Part of the teaching outcome for international coaches is the lack of practice equipment on hand. Levy says there is always access to football, helmets and shoulder pads, but equipment like blocking sleds and tackling dummies are not readily available.

Andrzejczak says coaches in foreign countries must import a lot from the US, so they are dealing with exchange rates, taxes and tariffs. He says he’s spent plenty of time on the budget.

Do not forget, while many US-born athletes started throwing a football when they were young, the shape and feel of a football is different than that of any other ball.

“A big physical challenge is teaching older players the proper way to throw an American football,” says Jim Barnes, president of JB Sports Enterprises and American Football Worldwide, which brings US football teams overseas for games. “Developing quarterbacks which allow coaches to run any offensive scheme they desire is a significant challenge.”

Making Gains

Despite the obstacles, international football programs are slowly gaining when it comes to skills and execution of game plans.

This is evident when breaking down games played between American teams and those in other countries. Patrick Steenberge runs Global Football , a group working with American programs to go overseas and play a foreign club, school or national squad. He says he’s been doing this for 22 years and in the first 11, he organized a game between NCAA Division III and Mexican University all-stars. The US won nine of 11 games. But, in recent years, the teams have split the last four meetings.

As executive director of Dream Team Sports Tours, Ivan Molteni Facilitates overseas soccer tours for college and high school teams from the US He Organizes activities for the soccer programs traveling to Italy, SPECIFICALLY.

“Interest in football is going here,” says Molteni. “All over Europe, there is growning interest. American football coaches and players come to coach and play in our local clubs. In recent years, we have organized trips for Division I, Division II, Division III and NAIA programs, and also for high school football programs. Our mission is to help people travel with each other. “

By Michael Austin, AFCA.com, AFCAWeekly.com

American Football Coaches Association
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