Although the views presented by Coach Jon Walker in this article pertain to Sweden, they can be generally applied to anywhere American football is played throughout the world.
My Hopes for American Football in Sweden By Jon Walker
In my four years coaching American Football in Sweden the #1 question I get is “How is football in Sweden compared to football in the US?” My answer is very simple, it does not compare. There are so many variables in why the difference is so vast that it is unfair to compare the two.
The next question I inevitably get is “How do we make the sport better here in Sweden?” I will try to answer that second question here.
Over the past four years I have coached at almost every level possible in Sweden. I have coached in the Super Series, Division 1, U19, U17, U15, U13, SLL, JLL, and DM. As an American coach coming to Sweden I think that I look at the sport here from a different perspective than most Swedish coaches/administrators. This perspective combined with the wide range of experience I have in this country gives me a unique and insightful view of what Swedish American football really is and where changes can be made to make improvements and help this sport grow.
Football is not sustaining itself
The first thing needed in answering the question of “How do we make the sport better” is an honest answer to the question “Is football in Sweden sustaining itself?” My answer to that question is “No”. Football in Sweden is not a sustainable product yet. It is in survival mode. There are a small number of clubs in Sweden that are able to grow year in and year out and sustain a good product at all levels of the club. But, most of the clubs here are not able to thrive and grow at a steady pace year after year. I attribute this to a misguided ideology of how to best grow this sport here in Sweden.
Building from the top down never works. The idea that the national teams and the Super Series (the top league in Sweden) teams are the catalyst of raising the participation and level of play in the junior programs is flawed. 13 and 14 year old kids don’t play American football because of their dreams of playing in the Super Series and on the national team. They play for the experience of playing a sport that challenges them physically, mentally, and emotionally. They play because of the bond created between teammates and coaches. They play for the fun of playing. I believe a fundamental shift in thinking needs to happen. We need to start helping clubs grow U13 and U15 teams.
Importance of practice downplayed
The second issue I see that needs to be answered is the lack of importance placed on practice. This is a sport that needs players and coaches to be at practice. In order to make practice exciting and fun and for the players to safely play the game they need a near 100% attendance rate at practice. Sadly most clubs experience an attendance rate closer to 50-60%. This is an issue that is impossible to fix without better scheduling. Playing one game every 3 weeks is not conducive to the players understanding of the importance of practice. It is unreasonable to ask a player to be at 100% of the practices over a 22 week period when there are only 6 games in that same time frame. If we schedule our games closer together the coaches can reasonably ask for 100% attendance over a shorter time period.
Sweden’s Super Series Too Big
Thirdly there needs to be an effort to create a more equal playing field at the Senior level. At the same time we need to be able to do this without increasing the costs of the clubs greatly. The 40+ point victories are becoming more of the norm at every level of Senior play. The well-played, hard fought close matches are becoming more and more rare. The Super series has been diluted from expansion and now has more teams that are unable to compete both on the field and financially.
Superettan is not a viable option because it is not feasible financially as a nationwide league. Division 1 now has become lopsided with experienced teams playing against teams full of beginners resulting in scores of 60+ point victories.
The answer to all of these issues is to grow the middle. The Superettan is the solution to making the Senior level a sustainable product. Growing the middle is the most effective way to have more competitive games at a cost that is affordable to the clubs. The ideal outlook would be:
- A small Elite Super Series league. This allows for the teams to really push the envelope of what is possible for football in Sweden.
- A large Superettan that is regional allowing for teams to play more locally and play against teams more evenly matched.
- A medium sized Division 1 that is mostly full of players who are beginners or players unable to commit to the higher levels.
About Jon Walker
Jon Walker has been the head coach of the Kristianstad Predators for the past four years and guided the team up to the top league. Before joining the Predators, Walker spent seven years as the head coach, offensive coordinator and running backs coach for the American River College Beavers in Sacramento, California. During his tenure, the Beavers won several championships and was rated having as one of the best offenses in the CCCAA – California Community College Athletics Association.
Walker also heads up the Kristianstad junior program and is an assistant coach on both the senior and junior Swedish national teams.