The slow drive down­field

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWOCENTS - By Thi­ago DaSilva

“Ready, set, hike” are three dis­tinc­tive play calls ex­clu­sive to the game of Amer­i­can foot­ball that have been echo­ing loudly through­out count­less fields in China. The great Amer­i­can pas­time has been gain­ing mean­ing­ful trac­tion over the last few years, which is proven by vis­its from renowned pro-level star play­ers like Pay­ton Man­ning and By­ron Cham­ber­lin from the Den­ver Bron­cos to the land of the Great Wall. Even the Na­tional Foot­ball League (NFL), the lead­ing author­ity in the game, is turn­ing its eyes to one of the largest re­tail mar­kets in the world.

With the cre­ation of sev­eral clubs and leagues like the China Arena Foot­ball League (CAFL), Amer­i­can Foot­ball League of China (AFLC), City Bowl and AFU Lim­ited, it cer­tainly seems like Amer­i­can foot­ball is mak­ing head­way. Nev­er­the­less, “the drive down­field,” is ever slow. Though at the time of their launch en­thu­si­asts and fans were over­whelmed and hyped, all of th­ese Amer­i­can foot­ball en­ti­ties fell short in one way or an­other. The CAFL was can­celed for the sec­ond year in a row due to lack of in­vest­ment. The AFLC rounds up teams from all over China and though rec­og­nized by the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Foot­ball (IFAF), they have no en­dorse­ment, govern­ment aid or mean­ing­ful spon­sor­ship since foot­ball isn’t an Olympic sport. The City Bowl has been even less suc­cess­ful; its play­ers are ac­tu­ally re­quired to “pay to play,” and the AFU Lim­ited, with its uni­ver­sity teams, is a fail­ing col­lage sports model – the ath­letic devel­op­ment, the grit and the com­pet­i­tive spirit all need to be honed for years be­fore ever step­ping into that level of ex­pected play and per­for­mance. Quite sim­ply, Amer­i­can foot­ball’s unique set of val­ues and train­ing phi­los­o­phy are un­like many trends brought over from Western cul­ture – it can­not be na­tion­al­ized in China.

It is a process that re­quires en­gage­ment at an early age and time to de­velop, which leads to an­other dilemma – time. It is an as­set Chi­nese youth don’t re­ally have due to their as­tound­ingly busy sched­ules set up by de­mand­ing Chi­nese par­ents who push and pos­si­bly over­step for ex­cel­lence from chil­dren who are as young as 6 or 7 years old. China dom­i­nates in­ter­na­tional stan­dard­ized tests, and by ex­ten­sively pre­par­ing its youth for the gaokao, it sac­ri­fices phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and sports devel­op­ment.

The suc­cess of Amer­i­can foot­ball in China rests greatly on whether or not time can be set aside for the sport to be prac­ticed at an early age where har­ness­ing the ba­sic fun­da­men­tals is just that – fun. The thrill of catch­ing and throw­ing the foot­ball, run­ning around chas­ing some­one and fall­ing down and get­ting back up must all be im­planted at an early age.

Amer­i­can foot­ball in China at its high­est level may not en­tirely de­pend on high-level-play­ers nor mag­nate in­vestors, but rather the young. There are now pi­o­neer­ing sports schools in China like the Great Stone Grid­iron. Schools like th­ese grasp that con­cept and fol­low the good old Western for­mula be­hind the sport – hav­ing fun. Chil­dren from ages 3 to 12 who par­tic­i­pate in sports schools prac­tice all the fun­da­men­tals of Amer­i­can foot­ball by sim­ply learn­ing to first have fun. Schools like th­ese and the par­tic­i­pa­tion and ded­i­ca­tion of par­ents and stu­dents are re­ally what’s keep­ing the “drive down­field” alive.

Will Amer­i­can foot­ball con­tinue to thrive here in the Mid­dle King­dom? That may well de­pend on just how much time we al­low the youth to learn how to have fun as they prac­tice the fun­da­men­tals of the game.

Page Editor: chenxi­meng@glob­al­ cn

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