American Football is now an international sport, being played in more than 90 countries all over the world! This great sport is taking people all over the globe and introducing them to various cultures in the process. “The Import” series allows players to share their unique travels and experiences about American Football being played internationally, but players are not the only imports involved with football internationally. Coach Derek Mann has been kind enough to share his import experience.
Coach Derek Mann has 22 years of football experience, including coaching currently for 8 years. He began his coaching career at South Delta High School, coaching quarterbacks. He spent two seasons at South Delta, also performing Assistant Offensive Coordinator duties. During those seasons, he also began his international coaching career, as the Quarterbacks Coach of the Oslo Vikings u17 team (Norway), and Offensive Coordinator/Co-Head Coach of the Rostock Griffins (Germany).
Derek Mann has spent the previous 5 seasons as the Head Coach of the Oslo Vikings u15 team, helping to directly develop the current Senior team players. He has spent 4 of those seasons coaching the Oslo Viking Senior Elite team as well, 2 seasons as Offensive Coordinator and 2 seasons as Head Coach. In addition, Coach Mann has spent the past 3 seasons as the Head Coach for the Oslo Vikings 2nd Division Men’s team. He also spent 2018 as the Head Coach for the Vikings u19 team. Derek Mann has helped build the Oslo Vikings for the past half-decade, from top to bottom.
Coaching for the Oslo Vikings organization has been beneficial for everyone involved. Derek Mann has coached the Vikings u15 team to 3 national championships. He has helped the Vikings u17 win 2 titles, as the Quarterbacks Coach, and recently secured a championship with the u19 team as Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. Coach Mann has also been successful on the highest level for the Vikings Senior Elite team, winning 3 national titles in his time in Norway.
Derek Mann has twice been voted Norwegian Football Coach of the Year by the NAIF. In 2017 he led the Oslo Vikings Seniors Elite to an undefeated season concluded with a championship. He followed that up with undefeated championships with the Vikings u15 & u19 in 2018, in addition to another Senior Elite Title (one-loss season). Mann has been instrumental in helping the Vikings qualify for international tournaments, including the NEFL they participated in last season. The coach has also sent over 25 Norwegian players to the United States to play High School or College football.
What teams have you coached previously?
South Delta Secondary School (AAA): Tsawwassen, British Columbia, Canada.
Oslo Vikings, (Norway)
Rostock Griffins (GFL2), (Germany)
Okanagan Sun (CJFL), (Canada) – Guest QB coach for spring camp
How many seasons/years have you been coaching in Europe?
Been coaching in Europe for 7 years. 17 different seasons over the different age groups.
When did you begin your coaching career?
I first started coaching full time in 2016 for the Oslo Vikings. I was the Offensive coordinator for our senior Elite team. Prior to that I coached youth in the Oslo Vikings while playing as an import from 2012,2014-2015. I also coached 2 years at my former high school as a quarterback’s coach and assistant offensive coordinator.
Which team was your best experience?
My First season as the Oslo Vikings Head Coach was in 2017. We went undefeated and won the Norwegian National championship. That was a very memorable experience. Something I will never forget. Having the chance to become the head coach of players I once shared the field with and winning the championship is an amazing feeling.
Which country was your best experience?
I have had the pleasure of being a part of two great clubs; Oslo Vikings and the Rostock Griffins.
Both Oslo and Rostock have and continue to be great experiences. Oslo is my home now. I met my Fiancé here and we are getting married this August. So, it’s safe to say it has been a great experience on and off the field.
Well I have played football from when I was 5 years old, all the way until I was 29 years old. I played 10 years of youth football for a club called the South Delta Rams. From the age of 5-15. Then, I went on to play high school football for South Delta Secondary School for my Junior and Senior year. After high school, I went to play for a club called the Okanagan Sun in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. They are a member of the British Columbia Football League (BCFC) in the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL). I played in Kelowna from the age of 19-22. After that, I went on to the University of Ottawa in the CIS. I played one season there, but unfortunately I was hurt during training camp. That injury held me back for almost the entire season. Following that season, I received offers to play in Europe. Norway, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland to name of few countries.
To be honest, I did not know much about football in Europe at the time. I just felt it would be an awesome experience. I made my decision to move to Oslo, and play for the Oslo Vikings as an import quarterback in 2012. We went undefeated and won the Norwegian National Championship that year. I then went to Rostock, Germany to play in the GFL 2 for the Rostock Griffins. Following the 2013 season, I returned to play in Oslo for the 2014 season, as an import quarterback. I have lived in Oslo full time since I moved back in 2014. 2015 was my last season I played as an import quarterback for the Oslo Vikings. In 2016 I was asked if I would like to stay aboard and coach for the Vikings. I of course said yes, because I felt very passionate about the club and the people who are apart of it. The 2017 season was coming along and the club had offered me the position of head coach. I excepted the offer, and after my first season I accepted a 3-year contract extension. I am now going into my 3rd season ad head coach and the second year of my 3-year deal.
An amazing part of all this:
In 2012, while still playing, we beat the Kristiansand Gladiators in the Norwegian Finals. There was a player on that team, another import like myself named Cody Smith.
Cody and I both left Norway in 2013 to play in the GFL 2. Little did we know that we were going to play for the same team, and be roommates, in Rostock with the Griffins. It’s a different experience beating a man in one country, then becoming best friends and roommates with him on another team, in another country.
After the 2013 season in Germany, we both went back to Norway to play for our old clubs for the 2014 season. He went back to play for Kristiansand Gladiatorsand I went back to play for the Oslo Vikings. We have been great friends ever since. It’s one of the amazing journeys American football in Europe can create for two people.
Life in Europe
How do you like it in Europe?
I love living in Europe. Like I said earlier, I met my Norwegian Fiancé here and plan to make Norway home for a long time. Europe in general is a wonderful place to live and work. American football is growing at an amazing rate, and I am happy to be a little speck of that.
How do you like the People in Norway?
I can’t speak for all the European countries. I have spent most of my time here in Norway and there is a reason for that. Norway is an amazing place with very kind and giving people. Norway reminds me of Canada in so many ways. That is why it was a very easy transition for me to call Norway home.
What is your go to meal in Norway?
I am not going to lie. I am a sucker for a nice bacon wrapped hot dog here in Norway. They are a game changer in the hotdog world!
Do you spend a lot of time with local players & coaches or on your own/with other imports?
I spend all my time with local players and coaches. I am the only “Import” in the club at the moment. Even if there were other imports, the players and coaches here welcome everyone with open arms. It is very easy to fit in for all new players or coaches.
Football in Europe
What level would you compare the football played in Europe to in the United States?
It varies from country to country. There is a huge difference from the top countries to even the middle level countries in American football. I have seen some very high-quality football been played here in Europe and it’s only getting better. The buzz is growing, the stadiums are filling up, the coverage is expanding. I would say it varies from Highschool level all the way to Division 2 level in the top countries.
What are some of the coaching challenges in Europe?
- Language barrier in some countries
- Practice attendance
- Lack of resources
- Lack of funding or sponsorship
- Field availability
- Constant battle of a developing sport vs i.e. Soccer.
- Marketing and getting the sport out there to the people and kids
What are some of the benefits to coaching in Europe/Overseas?
- Growing the game
- Creating new experiences for both kids and adults
- Excitement of growing a club.
- Building new bonds and friendships with people, and cultures you never would have, if you stayed in North America.
What do you see as some of the biggest differences between football in the states compared to Europe?
American football in the states is as main stream of a sport as it gets. American football in Europe is still an “alternative” sport in my eyes. With that being said, it is growing into something more than that. Until there is more money put into the sport, I think it will be very difficult for American football in Europe to even scratch the surface of what is in America. The NFL and NCAA and even high school football to some degree are massive businesses.
Also, when it comes to practice schedule, game promotions, and player recruiting. All this almost takes care of itself in America. In Europe, you have to work for it all. Practice times are hard to come by, game promotions cost a lot of money, player recruitment uses a lot of time and resources that a lot of clubs just don’t have.
How have you personally helped your players and coaches develop their American Football knowledge during your time abroad?
Consistency and continuity. Always work on the fundamentals and never stop building on them.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned coaching football internationally?
- Always strive to grow as a person and a coach.
- Truly believe in what you are teaching.
- Be a coach on the field and a friend off the field.
What advice would you give to someone coaching football in Europe/overseas for the first time?
Soak it up and enjoy it. Most players have full time jobs and pay to play. You need to find a balance on how much you can push them. There will be a lot of hurdles you will have to face that you don’t usually face in the states or Canada. Understand that your dealing with different cultures and values. You need to respect that and they need to respect you.
Can you sum up what American Football means to you?
Family, Friends, Football.
*I would like to thank Derek for allowing me to share his experiences.
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