Bournemouth Bobcats’ wide receiver coach Jason Griffith believes that British American Football has the potential to develop from the amateur level. But how exactly does the sport make the jump?
Jason Griffith has been Bournemouth Bobcats’ wide receiver coach for almost four years. Promoted to his new role after the club restructured their coaching staff, he identified his knowledge of the sport and potential to develop the team’s offensive plays. Originally taking up British American Football seven years ago, the coach has seen the sport develop both on and off the field.
“When I started playing, you heard about the sport basically via word of mouth. I first began watching about 12 years ago and it was still fairly small, and I didn’t know there were American Football teams in the UK.
“However, BAFA [British American Football Association] has really stepped up in the last two or three years. They’ve installed a better board, a new CEO, and they’re really active in recruiting. They invested more money into coaching; they’re looking to raise their coaches to a level where they can make the players better.”
MEDIA INVOLVEMENT IN PROMOTING BRITISH AMERICAN FOOTBALL
Whilst more financial support is being provided to improve the British game, Griffith has also seen a vast improvement in the media promotion of American Football in the UK.
“The last three or four years have seen the sport grow in the UK due to social media. Helped by games at Wembley games and the BBC’s coverage.
“In the UK, we are seeing more games being streamed, and we hope that they can keep that going out.
“BBC Sport streamed BritBowl this year on BBC iPlayer — that’s massive because it was the first time ever. I think we could get to a level where, hopefully, they show games on BBC2 and BBC3. So, the more exposure the British game gets, the better.”
Alongside gaining further promotion through television production deals, other media platforms helped the British game to grow. The British teams use social media as a means to increase their support base and also attract new players.
“Normally at Bournemouth, we share a lot through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook”, Griffith explained.
“A lot of the players joining us will say that they have seen us on social media. Our website has also been a big help, because we always post about our games and match reports.
“We do player profiles and post pictures so that we can be more active and keep people interested. We even have a team photographer in to take and release pictures of the team. It helps people realise that there are American Football teams in this country.
“That has helped us grow as a team. Seven years ago, when I started playing, we were a squad of maybe 25-30 players. Now we have over 80 players registered, so social media has helped us grow quite a bit.”
CHALLENGES FOR BRITISH AMERICAN FOOTBALL
Bournemouth Bobcats have been successful in their new approach to recruitment. However, Griffith revealed that adjusting to the style of the sport can be very difficult for emerging players.
“The hardest thing about American Football is that it’s not a cheap sport. It’s very niche, and getting helmets, pads, stuff like that… it really adds up. We were quite lucky because two years ago, we received a Sport England grant. This meant that anyone who joined us will get the chance to hire kit.
“Furthermore, it’s a difficult sport to learn. There are people who are really good at the sport and take to it quickly. And then there are people who don’t take to it straight away and don’t stick it out. It is a lot of money, plus they may be getting hurt and not playing as much.
“It’s different to any English sport I would say. It gets compared to rugby, but the body movement is very different and the hardest part of retention is maintaining enjoyment. If people don’t enjoy the sport then they won’t stick around.”
CHALLENGES FOR YOUNGSTERS
A lack of opportunities for younger talents has also been a significant area that Griffith believes could be improved on. He believes that developing the next generation of talent is important for the British game’s growth.
“The problem with young people picking up the sport is that it’s based on where you live.
“There are a lot of good sides up in London or the North. You have the London Warriors and the London Blitz who have youth sides, and the more you travel to those locations the more opportunities you’ll get for youth development.
“Bournemouth Bobcats had a youth side a few years ago, but the coaches had to give it up. Since then, we’ve never been able to get it back off the ground. We recently joined with Salisbury City, which one of our former players runs. There are also the Poole Dolphins who have started up, so it is starting to get bigger down in the south.”
A further issue with the lack of opportunities in the British youth game is the prospect of players moving abroad to compete. Griffith explained how different countries are attracting the UK’s young players to play in foreign domestic leagues.
“I think the problem with British youth American football is that the youth teams tend to start at the age of 13. There isn’t any way for kids to pick up American football earlier on, which is a barrier for them. Kids can play non-contact rugby until age 12. After that, they start contact and they already have the basic skills.
“Then we have the emergence of the NFL Academy and Bristol Pride who are scholarship youth colleges. They feed into America essentially. So, the idea is that these players are top crop in the youth sides, and they have the chance of having scouts and getting trials over in America and Europe.
“The pinnacle of the sport is the NFL in America — that’s what everyone wants to go to. In Europe, the pinnacle is the GFL (the German Football League). That’s the highest level of American football outside America and Canada.
“If you’re really good and based in the UK, you’ll most likely go to the GFL. But that’s mainly because they can get paid, receive a package, accommodation, get fed, and so on.”
“The thing with British American football is that they don’t allow imports. So players from different countries can’t come to the UK to play American Football and be funded essentially.
“It’s amateur, and I think the biggest stumbling block is that it’s amateur until they can tip the scales and make the British American Football better. At the moment, if you’re really good at American football in the UK, you’re going to Germany. You’re not going to stick around because you’ll have better prospects abroad.
HOPES FOR THE FUTURE OF BRITISH AMERICAN FOOTBALL
Despite some of the difficulties that are associated with the British game, Griffith is hopeful that the sport will develop into a top-level sport within the UK.
“I think BAFA are doing very well with just trying to build from the bottom up,” he said.
“They’re improving coaches and that can only lead to further improving the players. So I’m hoping we get to a point where the sport is more on a national front and they look at changing it from amateur to semi-pro.
“Maybe in a few years, we will look at bringing in imports and make the Premiership a league that people are proud of. Hopefully we can get there.”
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