“Dream big, work hard, and never give up!”: 15 Questions with the Kuwait Gridiron National Team

“The players here (Kuwait) have a huge desire to learn the complexities of the game and train their bodies to compete against teams from around the world.”

U19 Head Coach James WilliamsAFI had the opportunity to speak with James Williams, Head Coach of the U-19 Kuwait Gridiron National Team, an American Football team based in Kuwait City, Kuwait. The state of Kuwait is situated in the northeastern edge of the Arabian penisula at the tip of the Arabian Gulf, covers an area of 17,820 square kilometers (6,880 square miles) and has a population of about 2.8 million. Williams and the rest of his team hope to make those 2.8 million all new American Football fans! Next year, Kuwait will host the IFAF (International Federation of American Football) 2014 U-19 World Championships in Kuwait City!

The goal of this Q&A with James Williams is provide insight on the growth and current status of American Football in Kuwait as well as the challenges and bright future for American Football in the Arabian Gulf!

  1. Thanks, James! Tell us a little about yourself before coming to coach in Kuwait.
    My background in American football spans nearly ten years. I was a scholarship student-athlete at the Division-I NCAA level in the United States at Vanderbilt University under Coach Bobby Johnson, and Arkansas State University under Coach Hugh Freeze. I volunteered as a mentor/coach for 5 years through college and post-graduation at a local non-profit foundation in Middle Tennessee. I helped organize and conduct multiple football camps and combines for youth and elite high school student-athletes.
  2. Can you tell us when the Kuwait Gridiron National Team was founded?
    The team was formed with the creation of the Kuwait Gridiron Football Federation in 2010.
  3. How was the Kuwait Gridiron Football Federation formed?Kuwait Gridiron Football
    Guys were playing the game on the street, and our organization’s founder noticed this and facilitated a field for use and began to acquire equipment.
  4. How many active athletes/players are in your organization?
    There are 200 players registered in the organization, making up three teams. The three levels of teams in Kuwait include the Senior National team, U-19 National team, and National Flag team. All of the teams are located in Kuwait City, under the direction of the Kuwait Gridiron Football Federation.
  5. What are some of the challenges your Federation has faced?
    The audience of Kuwait doesn’t know much about American Football. There is also a lot of competition for fans among other sports. It is challenging to attract players away from more established sport teams here. Securing sponsorships and obtaining enough equipment to meet demands are also challenges.
  6. What established sports must American Football compete with in Kuwait?
    The other sports we compete against include Handball, Football (soccer), Futsal (indoor soccer, smaller field), and Squash. In Kuwait, these sports have been around for a longer period of time than American Football.
  7. Do you receive any support from governmental organizations?
    Yes. All sports in the country are supported by (PAYS) Public Authority for Youth and Sport.
  8. What are some of the challenges you foresee for American Football in Kuwait?
    The fans here are not familiar with all of the American Football rules. We’ve made much progress and must maintain the momentum we currently have. Also, keeping our athletes away from other sports that they are more familiar with.Kuwait Senior Team vs Jeddah Jaws March 2013
  9. Are there many NFL & NCAA American Football fans in Kuwait?
    Yes. Fox Sports broadcasts many games here. Unfortunately, ESPN’s contract recently ended. There are many people who wear NFL jerseys around the country. American Football is starting to grow and become more popular in Kuwait. The hosting of the IFAF (International Federation of American Football) 2014 U-19 World Championship will further help growth here locally.
  10. Have you established a schedule? i.e. When does your season begin and end?
    Yes. We are in the process of organizing the Kuwait League season which will be played from August to October this coming fall. We will then choose our Senior National team, which will enter the IFAF Asia qualifiers for the 2015 IFAF World Championships. We train all year round and schedule friendly games throughout the year to play different teams.
  11. How have your teams fared in their recents matchs?
    The Kuwait National Flag Team participated in the 2012 IFAF World Championship Flag Football tournament in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Here Kuwait won their first game as a Federation in an international tournament!) The Kuwait Gridiron Senior Team played their first official game in Kuwait against the Jeddah Jaws from Saudi Arabia. (Kuwait won 21-17!) Most recently, our Kuwait National Flag Team split into two teams to participate in the 2013 Asian Club Championships for Flag football in Bangkok, Thailand, and finished 5th & 6th out of 9 teams.
  12. Do your teams have access to the proper equipment and facilities?
    Yes. While we do not have a complex solely for Gridiron Football, we practice and meet at one location and utilize the weight room and pool facilities at a nearby facility.
  13. What are your organization’s short-term (1-3 years) and long-term (3+ years) goals?
    (1-3 years)

    1. Maintainence of local league with 3 teams, including coaches, referees, and players.KAF U19 1
    2. Hosting the 2014 IFAF U-19 World Championships.
    3. Place among the top of the Asian IFAF qualifiers to earn a spot in the 2015 IFAF Senior World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden.
    (3+ years)
    1. Grow the sport and fan base locally.
    2. Establish momentum in our local Kuwait league.
    3. Compete around the GCC region. (The GCC is the Gulf Cooperation Council and makes up the countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman.)
  14. Can you share an interesting cultural experience you’ve had in Kuwait while trying to explain what American Football is and how it is played?
    As a coach with playing experience at the Division 1 level in the United States this has been an amazing glimpse into how popular this sport is, and how fast it is growing worldwide. Everyday is a unique cultural experience. For example, Gridiron Football rules and lingo is often translated into Arabic. The opportunity to be here and see these guys embrace and accept the challenge of playing such a physically and mentally demanding sport has been the experience of a lifetime. In regards to American Football, most of these guys heard of the game through American movies, television, TV, and YouTube videos. Also, I played for Coach Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss) in college at Arkansas State University. I am excited to one day show the guys the inspiring American Football movie “The Blindside.”
  15. Are there any other things you’d like to let the world know about American Football in Kuwait?
    1.
    We want to put our mark on the sport here so that people from other parts of the world will look up and realize what we have American Football here, and will want to come play the game here.
    2.
    The motto of the Kuwait Gridiron Football Federation is “Dream big, work hard, and never give up.” Our team management is very enthusiastic and has great vision for the future of the sport here.
    3. The Kuwait Gridiron National Team’s colors are Red, Blue, and Black.

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If you would like to contact or follow the progress of the Kuwait Gridiron National Team:
James Williams (U19 Head Coach): [email protected]
John McKeon
John McKeon is a former professional and collegiate American Football player and coach now living and working in New York. His goal is to spread news, information, and opinion on the global growth of the sport he loves.
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