St. Xavier (Cincinnati)
football coach Steve Specht was clearly in demand when he traveled the first weekend in April for a two-day coaching clinic in São Paulo, Brazil.
Specht and Columbus (Miami)
coach Chris Merritt Merritt – members of the USA Football organization – led a clinic that benefited 100 coaches of high school-aged and adult club teams in Brazil. It was the first time USA Football sent coaches to Brazil for instruction purposes.
The Brazilian coaches asked specific questions about defensive schemes and exhibited an enthusiasm for wanting to learn more about individual techniques. It didn't matter that Specht and Merritt were just
American football coaches: They signed autographs for their coaching colleagues.
"Steve was a rock star," Merritt said.
If a rock star brings 24 PowerPoint presentations and countless hours of film and reports for demonstrations at a university theater in South America, then Specht went platinum.
"It was a heck of an experience," Specht said.
Specht, 43, admitted that it was new territory for him; it was the first time he ever left the United States. Specht admits he isn't one for the big city and the traffic in São Paulo was nothing like he's ever seen. Yet, he enjoyed the cultural experience on many fronts.
The trip marked another milestone on an already impressive resume for Specht, who is considered one of America's most successful high school coaches. Merritt, who played professional football in Sweden and later coached in Germany before arriving in Miami, said Specht was open-minded about the entire experience and enjoyed teaching the fundamentals of the game.
Merritt was the defensive backs coach for Specht when the St. X coach was the defensive coordinator on the U.S. Under-19 national team that won a gold medal at the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Junior World Championship in 2009 in Canton, Ohio.
Specht didn't go through the motions in Brazil – he earnestly tried to teach specific football tactics to the group of coaches, according to Merritt.
"I don't know if St. Xavier knows how good of a coach they got," said Merritt, who has been head coach at Columbus for 10 years. "He is pretty darn good."
Although Specht is familiar with the sport from an international perspective, he didn't expect conducting a clinic in Brazil as part of his career path.
"I'd do it again," Specht said. "It was very enjoyable."
While the St. X football program is focused on the latest strategy against its opponents, Specht said the Brazil trip afforded him an opportunity to get back to teaching the basics of the game.
USA Football, which is America's delegate to the IFAF, has commonly helped to promote football on an international level. The Brazil trip was funded in part by the IFAF Education Development Program and Brazil's American Football Federation. Steve Alic, who has been director of communications for USA Football since 2007, said the clinic was largely an IFAF initiative, but USA Football assists in connecting coaches to IFAF.
"We feel responsibility to go the extra yard and assist the international community when we can with the help of people like Steve Specht," Alic said.
USA Football is largely involved with IFAF in teaching clinics and is able to provide assistance or insight when needed, according to Alic. The Brazil trip was just one example of how high school coaches like Merritt and Specht are contributing to a global game.
"This was about increasing the strength of the coaching base in Brazil," Alic said. "Strengthening the foundation of the sport there – that's what coach Specht was largely doing."
There has been significant growth in the sport on an international level the past couple of years and international players want to compete against the Americans, Alic said, adding that other IFAF clinics are planned, including in South America, Central America and Eastern Europe. Alic said there were 40 countries that had national football federations when he joined USA Football in ‘07. That number has grown to 59 federations spanning five continents – another sign that the game is "growing at a strong rate."
Despite the National Football League's booming popularity over the decades, the United States is a relative newcomer to the international football scene.
USA Football, based in downtown Indianapolis, is the sport's national governing body. It was established in 2002 through an endowment by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. USA Football is an independent non-profit.
The IFAF, based near Paris, was created in 1998 to organize and further develop the game through international cooperation and competition.
International competition was on display in February when the USA versus The World Under-19 game was held in Austin, Texas, on the night of National Signing Day. The game garnered national media attention through online stories, blogs and a telecast by NFL Network. It also attracted top prep players who were top-level college recruits.
The Upper Deck trading card company, which has a multi-year agreement with USA Football, will produce special edition trading cards of the Under-19 national team to be inserted into the company packs of cards this September.
The game was so successful on National Signing Day that next year's game will be in February 2012 with a location still to be determined. It will be the fourth consecutive year the USA will compete in the U-19 competition.
"We are very excited about the trajectory of this program," Alic said. "Ultimately it's the sport that benefits and gets stronger from it."
This summer, the Four Nations Cup – a U-15 competition – will be held July 16-24 in Canton, Ohio. Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Merrill Hoge will be the USA head coach. That competition will be held on a developmental level against three other countries. While it's not a world championship, the goal is to continuously help the game grow.
There will be educational seminars for athletes and coaches led by NFL coaches, players and football experts, 7-on-7 exhibitions and multi-country joint practices. Rosters haven't been announced yet and the participating international teams will be determined later this spring.
"It's about teaching the sport," Alic said.2010 USA vs. The WorldContinue reading