The first few pages of the book… Hope you like it!
It’s dark and cold under the dim lights of the practice field. I’m in a fog, disjointed, out of place and jetlagged from a 26-hour travel day.
“I’m coaching football, in March… in Germany,” I keep reminding myself, the sentence hardly making sense in my head.
After 25 years, coaching is mostly second nature. Familiar phrases come out of my mouth without much thought… “Get your asses together,” I tell two offensive linemen working on combo blocks, forgetting they may not understand English.
Football is football in any language and on any continent, but this is a strange context. The pads, the sounds of contact, the look of the players are all familiar, but in sharper focus the differences are plain. The side talk is in German. Many players are approaching middle age and many aren’t very fit. The bluish football lines on the artificial turf barely stand out from the green on a field set up for soccer. The “locker room” is a utility shed with a shelf of scary looking, battered, old helmets, a cart piled with ancient blocking bags and other miscellaneous hand-me-down football gear. After practice, a dozen players take off their helmets and light up cigarettes. Welcome to Germany.
For all the strangeness, I’m excited to be here. Whatever I’ve gotten myself into, one thing is certain, this is going to be interesting. The experience of doing this work in a foreign land will be completely different than any coaching I’ve ever done. I have the opportunity to help export the game I love into a different culture and to see what it looks like from a European perspective.
Since I took the offensive coordinator job for the Ravensburg Razorbacks, the coaches and players have been beyond cooperative. They’ve treated me like a rock star. Long before arriving, I learned that simply being an “American Coach” gives me status in Europe. Respect I’ve yet to earn. Expectations are that any coach from the sports homeland will know the game better than the locals.
It’s my first day in country. But between Facebook and Hudl, I’ve been working with the Razorbacks from the United States since October, doing my best to earn the trust the team has placed on me. The other coaches have been very receptive, implementing my suggestions immediately. In the US, other coaches and even players are often skeptical until a new coach has proven himself. German players and coaches, however, are hungry for coaching, and I feel lucky and excited to be here.
Tonight, everyone quickly makes me feel welcome. Right tackle and Razorback captain Sebastian (Trabbi) Trabold introduces me to the other offensive linemen. Except for right guard Christian Bromund, they speak English. At 6’2” 330 pounds, Bromund is the biggest player on the field. Generally known as Bam Bam, he’s a giant-sized version of the Flintstones character.
Communication is easy enough that I quickly forget I’m the one speaking the strange tongue… something it’s easy to forget, but I must keep in mind. After individual drills, Coach Leo Grenz asks if I can please speak more slowly, as some players have trouble with my rapid-fire English. Ten minutes later, I’m given my first taste of what I’m to find is typical German sensitivity when Coach Leo asks, “Is it okay, what I said about your speaking slower?” clearly worried that he’s offended me. I tell him, “Of course, I’m not angry. I need to know if my words aren’t getting through and please let me know if anything is confusing.”
Beyond the foreign setting, I feel awkward and out of place with a team who’ve been working together for months before I arrived. Coaching jobs usually have definite beginnings and progressions; pre-season meetings, the first day of spring ball, summer workouts, two-a-days, the season and the whole thing again the following year. The Razorbacks are basically a year-round operation: a month off after the season, directly to indoor practices followed by outdoor workouts when the weather clears up enough to allow them. I’m stepping into a work in progress.
Unlike US school-based programs, players here don’t graduate. Most have been with the team many years, retiring only when the pain gets too great or other commitments take priority. I’m the outsider, but given my status as an ‘American Coach’ I’m immediately given the reins, despite knowing little about my new team or what I’ve gotten into. It’s a crazy situation, like being trusted to lead a lost party out of the wilderness, without being quite sure of my bearings.
I’m in over my head, and I feel the teams’ expectation of me. Now isn’t the time to show doubt in my ability to do this job. We’re beginning the team offensive session; I call plays and correct mistakes as though I’ve been here for years.
“Get to the line! Martin, you have to overtake the one tech so Bam Bam can climb. Run it again!” I’ll check to see what they understand later…