Spring has arrived. The many hours spent sweating at the local gym have been replaced by the wet green grass of the playing field. Finally, as a young player, you’re able to let your muscle strength bring fruition to your team’s success. Your physical abilities are one thing, but an even more vital element is your mindset and how far you want to take your game. If you are a youth player in Europe, the dream of playing at the collegiate level is not far-fetched or unrealistic.
With friends and family often not sharing your love for the game of American football, the first obstacle to overcome might be their skepticism in regards to your dream. But do not let others’ negative opinions impact your resolve. You are well within your rights to have your own personal goals and to pursue your dreams – the dream of bringing your athletic talent overseas. The dream of becoming a star player. It obviously requires a large amount of work to reach your goal, and very few make it all the way to the big stage: the NFL. That said, there is nothing wrong with dreaming big. With the right attitude and a realistic mindset, you will be able to take huge steps in the right direction, fast. It will require the very best of you, but the road might not be as tough or as bumpy as it may sound.
At The Growth of a Game, we want to help you achieve your goal. So take into account the following important factors:
1. Withstand the skepticism
As previously mentioned, your friends and family might express their prejudices and skepticism about your dreams. For a young teenager, this can be the biggest challenge to overcome. These first few troubles may plant just enough doubt in a young mind that it starts a downward spiral of negativity ending with his or her talent being wasted. These athletes then often choose the obvious road – searching for success in the more common European sport of soccer. The round ball rolls in thousands of well-established leagues, as does the billions of euros. By showing interest in this much more “accepted” sport, the skepticism from friends and families usually disappears. Then add the sky-high salaries for even the young stars of the game. But the big difference is obvious: football players are athletic talents that overshadow any other kind of athlete in the world. The arguments in favor of American football are undeniable.
“But the game is slow, boring, stuffed with pauses, without continuity, chaotic and the rulebook seems more complicated than the book of Moses”. That is how critical voices might sum up their limited understanding of the game of American football. However, this is exactly where you as a young ambassador of the game have every opportunity to stand up for yourself. Help friends and family members become more interested in the game, not just by talking about football with positive energy, but also by inviting them out to the field on game day. Let them see your passion for the game first-hand. In that way you’ll not only encourage others to respect the game, you’ll also get yourself fired up mentally as a result of personal fan support. At the same time, you will show them that football how fast-paced American football really is. The sport is a lifestyle of its own, and it creates bonds and praises teamwork. You will show them a game that gives you unique personal qualities, and also teaches you how to handle even your toughest opponent with the utmost respect. For instance, explain how each and every player on the field kneels down when a player is seriously hurt, even though the player might be from the opposing team. American football is a game that teaches you a lot of positive values. The younger you get started, the greater the life experience you will receive, and your family will benefit from it too. Their skepticism will eventually fall silent.
2. Don’t let anything ruin your dream
You might already be a talent at your position, but try not to settle there. Instead, put in a workman-like effort. Even though you may be a star player on your team, stay humble. If you play at the youth level, there are tons of opportunities for you. If you’re already a starter on your team but you don’t feel that your position is quite right for you, don’t hesitate to make a change. You actually might be preventing yourself from maximizing your potential by not doing it. Ask your coach if there is another position on the field that might be a better fit for your style of play and your physical abilities. Since you’re the starter at your position you may not have felt the interest in exploring other options. The experience you gain in your youth defines your skill level as you grow older. Remember to stay realistic, because you won’t excel in every position on the field. Prepare yourself for occasionally failing in your efforts. Some days you may feel devastated by not living up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself or those of your teammates and coaches. Most importantly though, don’t be afraid to fail, because your failures often teach you much more than your successes.
Again, ask your coach if there are areas in which you can improve, both regarding your play or as a teammate in general. As a teenager your body is not a finished product, nor is your brain in total balance handling success or adversity. There is always room for improvement, physically and mentally. You may not be able to conclude these facts for yourself: ask someone you respect for advice. Relatives, teammates and coaches know you better than you may think. However, don’t take offense to their guidance and recommendations. They might even mention an area at which you presumably felt you excelled. But remember, the toughest advice for you to receive may end up being the most rewarding for you as both a person and a player.
When you feel you are on safe ground having found the right position on the field for you to play, then comes the time for you to study hard. Watch game tape and read about every facet of the position you play to help your team the most. Study the mechanics of your position in detail and get the fundamentals right. Eventually, it might be possible for you to ask a player on the national team how you can improve. If not a national player, then go to the seniors of the local team to watch their games and to ask them for advice. Only by studying every aspect of your position you will end up with a skillset that makes scouts or national coaches raise their eyebrows. Don’t forget that playing for the national team in your country will be a huge step in the right direction.
3. Prepare for physical and mental commitment
If you are between 13 and 19 years old, a consistent sleeping pattern, regular homework, and a daily dose of hard physical training might not be high on your to-do list. However, these three elements will fill up the largest part of your day at a high school or college in the United States. A missed training session or a “boy’s night out” might not get you a one-way ticket back to your family, but you have to acknowledge that getting a scholarship and living out your dream means serious business. Your week will have very little room for personal interests outside of school and a regular day is scheduled for you from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed.
Danish talent Kristian Wredstrøm, a freshman at Wagner College in New York, explains the contrast between a small high school and a large university. “It takes much more effort to gain respect on the field,” he explains. He came to Wagner from small La Lumiere, IN., and the mentality is a lot tougher.
“A regular day starts early in the morning with strength and conditioning work in the gym. After that, breakfast and a few hours of rest or homework await us before school starts. Mid-afternoon we’ll meet up as a team and start our walk-through on the practice field. After dinner at night, there are usually a few hours for homework before bedtime. It takes our full attention from 6 AM to 10 PM,” Wredstrøm says.
Throughout the entire 2015 season he fought for a starting position on the team, and that kind of scenario will be common for any player traveling overseas to test their luck. “It takes a lot of hard work every day. The will and the desire to reach your goal are constantly on your mind,” Wredstrøm continues. He also believes that it’s worth fighting for. “It’s a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for me, and that’s why I will do anything to not to settle for the ‘next-best’ position on the team. I keep reminding myself that I need to enjoy every day here, and to not give up on my path to reach the threshold of my skillset. Also, as advice to other young athletes, remember to live like one of the locals. Only that way you will add the human element to your experience.” Finally, he states that you have to be realistic in your approach, “as very few go on to play for an NFL team. My way of thinking is to just take every day as an opportunity for me to gain more experience and to get better as a person and a player.”
4. Success stories
Kristian Wredstrøm is not at all a unique example of someone taking his or her talent from Europe to the USA. SGS College, located in England, is one of the most successful schools in Europe at sending student athletes to universities in the United States. The mass of talent is huge and the way the school is helping these young athletes is impressive. SGS College has a declared goal to help young athletes evolve in a direction that matches the college level athletics of the U.S.. In the last six years, SGS has sent more than 15 athletes to U.S. schools. Their rate of success is mainly built upon 8 to 12 hours of weekly intensive workouts and coaching. In addition, the school’s weight room is open 24/7 for every student. Recently, SGS College sent Thomas Samonig to Austin College in Texas. Samonig, a big offensive lineman who is deeply dedicated to becoming an elite football player, reaped the rewards from competing at SGS. The recruiting process helped Samonig improve his physical assets, and his skill level has improved dramatically. Combined with the classroom results as an A-level student, Samonig might very well end up being a draft prospect for the NFL in a few years from now. He is already listed as a starter on the Austin College depth chart.
In Italy, another intriguing talent has found his way to a US college. At a younger age, Tamsir Seck didn’t attract much attention as a future football prospect. Still, Seck never gave up on his dream. With a humble attitude and a strong work ethic, he played wide receiver and running back at a U.S. high school in 2015, and from this year onward he will be on the roster for Emporia State University.
See our complete list of European players in US colleges here.
5. Recruiting services
In Finland, Juho Illi is the CEO of Euro Athlete, a scouting agency that assists with finding scholarships for young European athletes seeking to play sports in the United States. He often receives questions from young players who don’t know how to get in touch with an American school. That is exactly what services like Euro Athlete are capable of helping with. From the moment an agency receives a player’s athletic profile, it helps to take the load off his or her shoulders and handles all of the hard work. Many of these types of services have lots of connections in the US college system. Another possible way of connecting with a schools is through websites like Hudl and Go Big Recruiting. These services allow you to create an online player profile to showcase your athletic ability.
Online services open up the possibility for young athletes to contact a school or a coach of his or her own choice, thereby the chances for getting a scholarship drastically increases. Ross Tucker, a former NFL player and the founder and CEO of Go Big Recruiting, explains that Go Big Recruiting has more than 20,000 registered profiles of both European and American athletes.
Many European countries have recruiting services or agencies that work hand-in-hand with national American football federations. These collaborative efforts are designed to be utilized for the athletes of these respective federations. If you are a player, don’t hesitate to ask someone from your team’s management about the possibilities in your country.
6. Be realistic about your level of play
Receiving an athletic scholarship may be a dream of yours, but staying calm and collected while acting in a realistic manner is always the best approach. Should the opportunity arise, you need to keep in mind that the level of talent is extremely high. You can’t expect to arrive at the training facility and suddenly be the newborn star of the team. Like a certain Tom Brady once said about the early years of his career, you need to stay humble, keep your mouth shut, and listen to your coaches and your more-experienced teammates. As time goes by, your physical abilities – combined with a growing understanding of the game – will enable you to rise up the depth charts sooner rather than later.
7. Your education is your backbone
Keep in mind that football is obviously a violent sport and that injury can happen often. The injury bug bites almost anyone involved in the game at some point in their career. Jukka Rysgaard is a former Danish player who studied abroad and played football through both high school and college. Repeatedly sidelined by injuries, he came to the conclusion that he had to stop his playing career in college. Having to cope with these injuries, Rysgaard now uses his degree in Exercise Science and Fitness Management to do important work off the field. His experience is not an aberration. It’s important to remember that getting your education is truly is the backbone of your future.
Football is without a doubt the ultimate sport. By playing the game in an American high school or a college, it gives you a unique experience that you can carry with you for the rest of your life. Yes, studying abroad requires some sacrifice, as you will be missing out on family and friends back home and it requires you to stretch your financial resources. However, if you are the kind of person who wants to travel and gain life experience out of your comfort zone, a trip for months around the world might cost you a fortune. Playing the greatest sport in the world in the nation of its origin, might cost you something too. But, you will get an education and learn how to live a healthy life – something that can be far more beneficial than what a vacation can provide. Some European countries pay your tuition fees and some even provide you with a monthly stipend for studying abroad – another bonus in a life changing experience.
You could be the best at your position in your home country, but why settle for that? Go ahead and set some goals for yourself. Don’t hesitate – pursue the big dream!
Dan Bering is a guest contributor and Danish translator from Faxe, Denmark. He was part of the establishment of the national Danish Flag Football League from 2003 to 2004 and also played quarterback for the Running Rhinos during that time. He’s been an NFL fan since 1999, following the league every year as a writer and analyst on several Danish football magazines and websites. Dan also writes on his blog and can be followed on Twitter at (@huthutdk).