American Football vs. Euro-American Football

Razorbacks and Beavers line up before scrimmage.

Razorbacks and Beavers line up before scrimmage.

Sometimes it takes getting some distance to see things right in front of you. Coming to Europe showed me what American football is really about in the United States; money or character training.
In the NFL and major colleges, the game isn’t a game but a business. Players and coaches may or may not enjoy what they do, may or may not derive higher meaning from the struggle, all that truly matters is success on the field and, by extension, in the pocketbook. Winning leads to ticket sales, TV contracts, higher salaries and promotions for coaches. D-1 college players play for room, board, tuition and to increase their NFL draft status…Money.
In high schools and lower college divisions, the game is a teaching tool to supplement classroom learning; teaching teamwork, discipline, commitment, delayed gratification, toughness and responsibility. I often remind my HS players that football skills are absolutely useless in the real world but the process of gaining those skills teaches character that can be transferred to any aspect of life. I strongly believe in this mission, as my on-field education shaped me more than all the math, science and social studies courses ever did.
In the US, football is never about football, it always serves another purpose. In Europe, the motive is much simpler. People play and coach because they love it.
There is no real money in the European game. Although the game can be loosely described as semi-pro, most players and coaches here pay for the privilege of playing. The clubs themselves likely pour every Euro made in endorsements, ticket sales etc straight back into building the programs.
Europeans don’t expect their schools to teach values. This seems to be an American idea. They also don’t connect character building to sports. Sports are about fun and exercise, not work, teamwork or discipline. If a player has to miss a practice because of a business trip there’s no guilt about “letting the team down” or “lack of responsibility.” These are grown men with other responsibilities and families. For me, it’s a refreshing change. I don’t have to worry about “building men” or outlining the life lessons taught by the struggle. I simply coach the guys who show up.
It’s common for our players to light up cigarettes after practice. Friday night a player brought several cases of beer for everyone to share directly after our scrimmage with the Biberach Beavers; things that would be unheard of in either a US school setting or a money-making program, but normal here.
Although character building isn’t the goal of Euro football, the very nature of the game does build character whether intended or not. Football only works when players sacrifice for the team. It only works when players prepare for a handful of games by committing to long off-season training. It only works when player have the discipline and toughness to push through pain.
Our head coach told me of how recovering from an injury and returning to the field taught him that reaching goals is possible if you work hard. He said the experience changed his life.
While life changing is not the mission in Europe as it is in the States, the process teaches values regardless of the continent the game is played on.

Ravensberg vs. Beavers 3-13 008

Most likely my last ski trip of 2015. At Silvretta Nova in Austria

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One thought on “American Football vs. Euro-American Football

  1. Paul Jr Petrich

    Outstanding reflection on the joy of playing football in Europe! I coached a lower division in Finland (1988 ); on the European Champs in 2001 ( Italy ); on a budding Innsbruck team in 2002 that won the European Championship in 2009; and in Sicily in 2009. The reelections here-in are mostly right on: But, I would add, most players who enjoyed and stayed with the American Football, felt they were a special fraternity due to different expectations and challenges in the sport. I have to call this a “self imposed” expectation toward character building. Let me explain.
    In every country I coached, the female fan base was part of the various forms of sociability at games via European adaptations of what we call “tailgate parties”. Men came to games with dates, and stayed to socialize at a set up social after game affair, maybe at the stadium ( with the other team invited). This was is a character building aspect of American Football, in its own right! That very same stadium most likely was a soccer (“real football”) stadium, which when soccer games were played, restricted fans from intermingling at all before or after the game: With even locked gated separating players and officials on the field, from the fans in the stands.
    Indeed, one big reason the women liked attending, and even offered to be cheer leaders, was because they felt safe and welcomed in stadiums they would never go to otherwise. I, myself, never considered taking a date to a big soccer game in any of the European cities where I coached due to the un-sportmanlike nature of the local male fans. So, I think their is a very big expectation among supporters of American Football, both players and fans, to instill a different character to sports participation than they have very often experienced in Europe.

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