Many youth football coaches are curious as to the popularity of American Football at the youth level in other parts of the world. While we do have customers in England, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Corsica, Canada, Mexico, Panama and American Samoa, the numbers are pretty low. First of all with the exception of Canada, they don’t refer to our game as Football, that term is reserved for the game you and I call soccer. They call our game “American Football” and it is played mostly by adults who are playing for the first time. The age ranges are large but there is a small but devoted group of American football fans and players in every European country. Unfortunately the high cost of equipment and lack of experienced coaching limits our games growth in many areas. In Europe there are football teams in every country and the game is quite popular in many areas where American military bases are or have been in the past.
In Europe the teams from Germany and Austria are usually considered the best but growth and improvements in quality have been seen everywhere from Finland to Crete. The Eurobowl is considered the top prize for American Football in Europe and new teams are competing every year. The 2010 season saw big improvements in both the quality and the number of teams from places like Poland, Hungary and Russia. The teams are usually coached by Americans or by veteran former players from the area. A number of American High School coaches even come over to coach for a season as the seasons usually conclude in late July. High School football “gurus” like Don Markham and Hugh Wyatt have coached in Europe. The pay is either very low or non-existent with some providing a housing stipend and car. If you are coaching in Europe, you are doing it for the experience and love of the game, not for any financial gain. The coaches that I know that have coached over there loved it, players willing to do what you’ve asked and wanting to learn the game. The only negative was that since the only football they see in Europe is the NFL, anything that doesn’t look like what they see on television is typically not received well. At the youth level, interest is fairly low, most of the football being played in Europe that are not tied to US military bases is being played by players from 18-25 years old.
Canada is another story, while hockey still rules, football is very popular thanks to the NFL and the Canadian Football League. There are many youth football programs throughout Canada, with some of them venturing south of the border to play from time to time. The rules in each league vary a bit. Some play by US rules right out of the box, others stick with Canadian rules, which use 12 players, allow for multiple players in motion, 3 downs to get a first down and of course the larger field. Other leagues use a combination of both sets of rules. In any event it is football and the Canadians love their football. The interest may vary a bit from Province to Province. One place where youth football is very popular is in British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast. Often times my Seattle coaches clinics are half full of coaches from Canada. This year we are doing our very first Canadian clinic near Vancouver.
Laurie Smith from Cilliwack Canada has been a football fan for all his life, he can tell you more about some NFL and CFL teams than ardent fans from those cities. He was named the top youth football coach in British Columbia in 2010, winning the coveted Orange Helmet award for the 2010 BCCFA Peewee Provincial Championship and also the Community Coach of the Year award in the same year. He took his teams to play at Quest Field in Seattle to play at halftime of a Seahawks game, played at halftime of a BC Lions game and traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska to play my teams. Laurie, pictured here is an excellent coach and runs a great program, he uses the “Winning Youth Football” system and has attended our clinics.
There are teams from Latin America that play the game with Mexico and Panama having the highest number of participants. I had a chance to watch some teams from Panama play this year as part of the Pop Warner National Championships at Disney. While staying pretty basic, they played a nice brand of physical football. We’ve tried on numerous occasions to set up games with the best Panamanian teams to no avail. When setting up games like this, you need to be dealing with people you can trust as the age verification issues can become an issue. Some teams ask for some very unrealistic and maybe even dangerous age and weight concessions. Others will try and send an all-star select team to play against your non-select teams. All of the Canadian teams I’ve dealt with including Laurie Smith were absolute gems to work with. The experience for both programs was a very positive one.
While youth football as we know it is still a niche sport in many countries outside the US, it is thriving in Canada. If you ever get a chance to play an International game, make sure you do your homework and embrace it as a cultural experience for your kids. Our kids had a blast and we made a lot of new friends.
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