Looking back on the career of Finland’s football giant – Jarmo Lahti

This a story about the dedication and passion one man has to American football; one of sacrifices and hard work — for the ultimate team sport. It’s a story of believing the importance of development and international co-operation. This is a story of Jarmo Lahti.

In Finland, Jarmo Lahti is passionate about American football in many ways. His football career begun in 1982 and has continuing on ever since. 2017 has seen this man competing in his 36th season. His career has been noticeably full of achievements which can be recognized as an exceptional at a European level.  This article will take a closer look at what Jarmo Lahti has been doing throughout his 36 seasons.

Starting in Vantaa TAFT in 1982 he played both the offensive line and tight-end positions. During his 16 seasons player career, Lahti won five national championship titles; Maple Bowls — one of which with Vantaa TAFT (1985); and four with the Helsinki Roosters (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998).  After the end of the 1989 season he was elected to the Maple league All-Stars offensive line. In his award vitrine there is also two Maple League bronze medals (1989, 1994). In the international competition Lahti won Eurobowl I with Vantaa TAFT in 1986 and with the Finnish national team he was awarded two silver medals in the European Championship tournaments.

International activities have always been close to Jarmo’s big, “american football-sized” heart. As a player, he competed four times in the Eurobowl series (1986, 1996, 1997, and 1998). He was also a member of the ILAF Blue Fox Helsinki team of the Football League of Europe, however the league was cancelled before commencement.

Lahti has also played  as an import.  He played in Sweden for two seasons (1992, 1993) with the Gothenburg Giants and actually moved to Sweden for the 1992 season with his family;  his wife Katri and newborn son Niko, Jarmo finished his playing career in 1998 with a Maple Bowl victory.

Like father, like son Jere, his second son, was born in 1996 — and he too also fell in love with football. Deciding to take a step back from playing himself and passing his skills onto the younger generation,  Jarmo served as team manager for  the Roosters when they played in the Champions League in 2014  with his son Jere Lahti playing offensive line when the team went on to win the first IFAF Europe Champions League title.

It can be said without a doubt that the Lahti family is a football family and even the women have become involved one way or another. For instance Jarmo’ s eldest daughter Salla Lahti is a well-recognized photographer; shooting thousands of pictures of youth, men and women’s football teams throughout Finland and in several other European countries.

Jarmo Lahti loves American football and has never been afraid of his responsibilities and has always worked hard not only for the clubs he has been a part of, but for the teams and for players. Throughout his football career, his broad shoulders have carried the weight of both difficult (high-pressure games and losses) and wonderful times (victories). His love and passion for football has taken American football in Finland forward spanning over four different decades and the fifth is approaching fast.

Coaching youth teams a passion

Jarmo was already a board member of Helsinki Roosters for three years. When he was the president of Vantaa TAFT, he began his career as a coach of youth teams (1997 to 2000). In addition to the offensive and defensive lines coach, he also served as their strength and conditioning coach. This is the area which Lahti has always seen as a corner stone for all players, youth, men and women teams.

He strives to develop players to reach their top physical capabilities with the aim to reach the top level of football in Europe. A significant and successful period of sixteen seasons as the coach of youth teams, Lahti was awarded in 2013 with Coach of the Year, the Youth Award by American Football Association of Finland. At least for time being, Jarmo’ s last season as the head coach of the youth teams ended in 2014 on the 3peat U19 Finnish championship.

Jarmo’s experience in coaching men’s teams has been at a high level. He was Finnish national team offensive line coach for five years and his coaching continues with the Helsinki Roosters women’s team. He has however, stuck with his strategies and dreams, pursuant to which qualified female coaches are coaching women’s teams in Finland successfully at the highest level. Last year, after the Helsinki Roosters women’s national championship victory, Jarmo gave great recognition and praise to his coordinators, DC Mrs. Heli Harjanne and OC Ms. Anni Kivikataja in an interview on television.

The management of club sports organizations has been a challenging involvement for Jarmo, and his involvement spans across a continuous period of almost 20 years; all this time it has been his hobby at his own expense. His desire and will to develop American football within Finland and its teams, have been constantly reflected throughout his career. In the fall of 2011, Jarmo started his latest presidency of the Helsinki Roosters with the launch of three year Football Development Program 2014 together with the board and coaching staff.

As football fans throughout Europe may know, the program turned the Helsinki Roosters back onto a very successful track winning five national championships in the Maple League in five years, and one could say that it’s positive effect created a ripple effect throughout other football clubs and football in general  in Finland.

Running football club operations for five youth teams (U11, U13, U15, U17, U19) and two adult teams (women and men) is not one man show so  Jarmo has been working together with a large number of other volunteers in order to provide football as a competitive hobby for hundreds of players during the years. It hasn’t been only about recruiting players but also training and building a bond with coaches and other members of staff.

International participation important

As mentioned earlier, the importance of international co-operation is Jarmo’s built-in way of working. Young players from the Helsinki Roosters youth teams will certainly forever remember their game trips to New York, USA; Vienna, Austria and to Arlanda, Sweden. Jarmo has also been the chief architect of the Roosters men’s team international activities in 2012-2017 together with former head coach Juha Hakala (2012-2016).

In 2013, the Roosters participated in the Eurobowl series and advanced from the Nordic group to the semifinals against  the Austrian powerhouse, the Swarco Raiders Innsbruck.

In 2014, IFAF Europe Champions League provided game trips to Sweden and France. In 2015, the Roosters weren’t as successful against the Carlstad Crusaders in Sweden in the Nordic group. In 2016,the Roosters did something new by having joint spring camp with Swedish Tyresö Royal Crowns and by playing in the  international Battle 4Tirol game against the Swarco Raiders from Innsbruck, Austria. 2017 was the year of Northern European Football League – NEFL with two game trips to Sweden and the championship.  In 2013-2017 Jarmo Lahti “Roosters Travels” has organized one or more international game trips to 124 different players. Those players have been very privileged compared to any other team in Finland because of these high level international football experiences.

And Lahti has also organized the international practice activities for the women’s team.

One international aspect of Roosters football which Lahti is very proud of are the Roosters players who have been studying and playing in the high schools and colleges in the USA. Since 2010, 17 Roosters players have attended American high schools, nine Roosters players attended junior colleges and four Division I Universities (three received scholarships after junior college and one after high-school). Two players also had a scholarship to Division II schools and one graduated from a Division III college. An NAIA college has one Rooster and this fall the Canadian university league will feature a Roosters player, in Montreal.

Team building a never ending process

One could think that it’s easy to build a new team after championship season. However, the truth is that from 2012 to 2017, each year only 49%-57% of the players continued to play after championships. It’s nice to retire or take a year off after a victorious Maple Bowl or use a highlight film to get to US College or to European powerhouse teams.

Jarmo Lahti and the Roosters coaching staff have been encouraging both the U19 players to challenge themselves and older players in Maple league team practices and games. Own juniors are the most important team building block. Recruiting of players is tough every year for all the teams in Finland. Lahti has also had a big supportive role when coaching staffs are recruiting import players to the Roosters; by having his own experience as an import player, Lahti has well understood how important it is to show respect and to give support in all different ways when players move from different countries to Helsinki.

Import players impressed by Jarmo Lahti

We asked two import players to tell us their thoughts on Jarmo Lahti and his impact:

Running back Jaycen Taylor  (Purdue) is playing in his fourth season in Helsinki and has actually lived in Finland for almost three years:

Jarmo has always been a fair and honest guy from the moment I met him, and that was when I was in Austria and played against the Roosters. He knew my name was Jaycen Taylor or Jaycen Spears, and because of his fairness he allowed me to play [despite of a mistake in a roster]. Upon arriving to Finland Jarmo quickly became my go to guy whenever I needed something he always helped me anyway he could, even if it was simple things like giving me a ride home to more personal things like inviting me to be a part of family celebrations so I feel more at home. Those are the things he simply does off the field, on the field he’s even more caring and dependable. He cares about the entire Rooster Organization. There’s not just one team he focuses more on, from men, women to juniors. I’m pretty sure I do not know all the smallest details that this man does for the Roosters but I can guarantee he goes above and beyond.

Roosters quarterback Brandon Connette (Duke and Fresno State)  is playing his first season with the Roosters:

My first time speaking with Jarmo was when the Helsinki Roosters contacted me about possibly playing for them in the 2017 season. From my first time talking with Jarmo through social media, I instantly felt that he was extremely sincere, and not only cared about winning and competing in the Maple League. But that he also cared about everyone in his program, from the youth 13, to the women’s team, all the way up to the men’s program. Although most teams practice at different times, Jarmo thinks of them as a single program. All of which work together in unison to help each other grow and become better. Without Jarmo, the Helsinki Roosters football program would not be what it is today. And I believe that football in Europe is better off because of what Jarmo has done for it, and the many athletes he has molded.”

Thirty-six years ago Jarmo Lahti, as an eager 16-year-old player could never have imagined the impact he would have thanks to his love and passion of his favorite sport.

Upon reflection of Jarmo’s highly laborious football career and achievements as well as the effectiveness of developing players and the exposure of Finnish gridiron in this country, we hope that you, regardless of the country or the team you support will join us to applause to one of the most influential man we have seen from European American Football of all time.

 

Olli Jussila
Olli Jussila was the program coordinator, media team activist and strength & conditioning coach for the Helsinki Roosters from 2012 -2016 His sons Henri and Jere played for the Roosters. Olli Jussila was selected the Coach of the Year by the Finnish Football federation in 2012.
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