The Culture of German American Football, Sports and Hobbies

This column was written by Gray Levy, and long-time American football coach and now author of Big & Bright: Deep in the Heart of Texas High School Football. Levy is currently coaching in Ravensburg, Germany with the Ravensburg Razorbacks.

“Our goal for American football in Germany is that someday, tens of thousands will play and it will be a sport where people can take their families.”

This quote from German American football coach, Thomas Miller describes a major difference between the role of sports in Germany and America.

For most Americans, football is a spectator sport. Few of the fans filling college and NFL stadiums ever wore pads, those who have, mostly hung them up as teenagers.

In the U.S., American football is successful because Americans watch it. In Germany, success will be determined by the number of people who play.

American football in the U.S. is going in two opposite directions. Concussion fears has led to dropping participation while, at the same time, the sport has never enjoyed higher ratings and attendance, dominating all other sports and popular culture in North America. Football will never approach this dominant position in German culture.

But for Germans, sport is less entertainment and more a ‘hobby’.

Hobbies are something I often hear discussed in Germany. First, I assumed the importance of this word in the German lexicon was just a translation fluke. But I’ve learned it has significance in how Germans approach leisure time.

Germans have more free time than most Americans. Every week seems to hold a national holiday. Most Germans have an additional month off from their jobs (its two-weeks for most Americans.)

More important than the free time, is how its used. Miller again on the subject;

“When we’re children, we’re expected to find a sporting hobby or take up a musical instrument. Most do a sport.”

There is an amazing variety of physical and outdoor hobbies seen on nice days in Germany. Bicycles fill the many bike paths lining the highways. Mountain bikes, road bikes, older people on bikes with electric motors to help on the hills. Also on two-wheels are bike gymnastics and bikes/scooters/rollerblades & skateboards at the numerous skate parks in every town. Sharing the paths with the bikes are Nordic walkers (hiking with ski poles, usually done by late-middle aged women.) Groups of people jog together, ride motorcycles together and do stretches in public parks.

By train tracks, plots are rented to hobbyist gardeners. Every town seems to have a public climbing wall, a skate park, a roller hockey rink, beach volleyball courts, clay tennis courts and a dog park with dog obstacles.

The team sports; Soccer is everywhere but team handball, soccer on bikes, even American baseball can be found.

I recently asked a local how many he thinks regularly participate in some physical hobby in Germany. He estimated 80-90%, a number that fits what I see. Certainly exercise numbers in Germany are much higher than in the U.S.. Except that so many smoke like chimneys and like their beer, Germans have very healthy lifestyles.

Where does football fit into the picture? Somewhere between soccer and basketball would be my guess. One of our linemen said American football drew him because it was a hobby for big men; unusual in Germany, where big boys were often told that sports weren’t for them before football.

I’m biased, but football has a lot to recommend it. No other sport has so many varied roles or demands such teamwork. No other sport demands as much collective discipline and organization, traits that fit the German character well. Several Germans told me they worry about physical toughness in German society, a necessary trait in football.

The goal of the German American football community isn’t to rival soccer as a national passion, but to make football a viable option among many; an activity where men of all shapes and sizes can come together as a team and provide great entertainment for friends and families.

This column was written by Gray Levy, and long-time American football coach and now author of Big & Bright: Deep in the Heart of Texas High School Football. Levy is currently coaching in Ravensburg, Germany preparing the Ravensburg Razorbacks for their 2015 season. You can read more about Coach Levy at his blog here!

Gray Levy
Football coach and retired teacher. I wrote Big and Bright: Deep in the Heart of Texas High School Football. New OC for the Ravensburg Razorbacks in Germany
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