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I became fascinated by American Football at a very early age. In the early eighties, it was much more common for the kids in my neighborhood to be on a baseball team than to be on a football team. But there was something about this game that captured my imagination from the start. It helped that the backyard of our house faced the middle school football field. I watched them practice nearly every day.

Over the years I continued to play through High School (I was a FB), but it was always the strategy of the game that fascinated me the most. I was lucky enough to get an internship that led to an Assistant Coach position when I went to University. It was an education in itself as I watched the head coach, Roger Thomas of the University of North Dakota lead the team out of decades of obscurity to being contenders in the division finals 4 years in a row. It set the tone for taking the University from a Div II team to the Div I in the NCAA that it is today. 

When I settled in the UK, I never intended on getting back into football. It was a whim one rainy weekend. I heard about Britball by accident and just had to check it out. I haven’t left yet. It’s interesting watching how the game is played and even thought of here in the UK. The misunderstandings from those outside of Britball who compare it to rugby, and the desire by those within to gain as much knowledge as we can despite being an ocean away. 

So here are my tips for improving the game and the league.

Stop Comparing Britball To The NFL & College Football

Think of it like footie. Here in the UK kids begin learning European Football very early, and almost every day. During school, at the park with friends, there are youth association teams sponsored by the Premier League and many other grassroots organizations. 

The same happens in the States with American Football. High School teams practice nearly every day (depending on if you are a Freshman or on the Varsity team). There are summer camps, youth clubs… you get the picture. American Football players practice nearly every day from high school through to the end of an NFL career.

College and NFL coaches work insane hours, the turnover is nose-bleedingly high, most college games receive at least regional television coverage, and the lowest-paid Div 1 college football coach earned $376k (in 2016). The facilities for even a High School team are several million dollars at minimum, college tens of millions, and the NFL… well, as they say in New York, “fuggedaboutit”. This is all paid for by ticket sales, merchandise, and television and advertising dollars.

Here in the UK, there isn’t a team with a paid full-time coaching staff in Britball (to my knowledge), nor do we have paying spectators to necessitate such a budget, most of the time there isn’t the institutional knowledge among the coaching staff. General knowledge of football fundamentals varies widely and you’re lucky if the tech is up to snuff that day for a live YouTube stream for the bigger games.  Britball just isn’t there yet… and that’s ok.  

However, the NFL and College ball have given us a great roadmap to emulate. Britball is more like the NFL in the 1920s or 30s. We have an enthusiastic base of players, coaches (and some fans) in Britball who want what the NFL and College football has today. Yet we fail to admit that the NFL earned the consumer and fan base that they today over many decades.

It was earned on the field, in the mud, snow and heat. Good plays turned into great plays, and great plays evolved into a spectacle for fans to watch. This is how we will earn the right to have a paying audience one day here in the UK, in this league or any other.

The Kit Ain’t Shit

As a coach in Britball I have come to view kit as a necessary evil. It’s a big part of what draws players in. However, it’s certainly not what makes someone a good football player. We used to have a saying… “the kid with the new kit don’t know shit”. One of the best examples I can give is the reason players from American Samoa are so sought after on college teams and in the NFL.

Samoans are 56 times more likely to get onto a college team or turn Pro than anyone else. You would think they come from a strong football culture like the States that has all the bells and whistles. But you’d be wrong. They love the game so much, many practices are un-kitted and often on concrete parking lots or roadways (I don’t recommend this). You don’t even see this dedication in the States, but needs must as a good pitch can be difficult to find in American Samoa. This kind of determination illustrates the dedication and sacrifice that must be displayed on the field, every time the ball is snapped.

The best way to bring this dedication and sacrifice to life in your team is to make sure your players are taught how to continue to gain yards after their first point of contact (dedication), and those without the ball need to be coached in protecting and paving the way for that ball-carrier. Far too many times I’ve seen in-game film, from Div II to Prem division, I see players stand by and watch their teammate get tackled rather than providing protection. Far too many times I see Receivers and Running backs try to make yards through pure athleticism by trying to be faster, rather than footwork and angles to evade defenders.  Without this type of dedication and sacrifice, the game never evolves.

Realize It’s A Game Of Technicals

It’s not a game where you can show up half the time and expect to perform well. It’s not a game where you can blow off several practices. It’s a combination of small movements that make big plays and it takes a lot of hours on the field to get it right.

I coach footwork, angles, and leverage. Football starts from the feet up and it’s more like high-speed wrestling than it is a foot race. However, every year I watch receivers act like it’s a simple footrace, numerous Running Backs and Full Backs prefer to act like wrecking balls rather than excellent route sniffers, and tackling that is so passive it’s more like a friendly hug than a block against an opponent.

Improving any of these comes down to leverage, which starts with the knees; squaring to the ball or the target, which increases pass completions and effective tackles; and great footwork creates separation or will get you through the mesh.

I hope some of this helped. I look forward to submitting more articles in the future and seeing some of you on the field. Good luck this season!

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