Exploring The Off-Season: Richard Bonds, Kragujevac Wild Boars

What is "the off season"? Does it exist in football?
Most think that American football is only seasonal, but for players it’s year round and not the 2 or 3 month preparation leading up to competition. Conditioning, speed training, agility weights, flexibility programs, and time to heal and put on mass are all part of the so called “Off-Season” for us in addition to skills training its life preventive medicine.

What are the main goals coaches work towards during this time?
Most coaches are trying to slowly introduce the mechanical tools needed before having to get technical with the “X and O’s” this is the time we develop players for the rigors of a tough long season and help prevent injuries that could be detrimental to the player and team. This is the time for me as a coach where the focus is on the body of the players first and later the mind.

When do you start looking for imports? What things do you consider when sifting through options?
As soon as possible, most teams start in December up until a few weeks before game schedule starts. It’s a first come first serve bases and the longer a team waits the less marquise players are available. It’s like looking for a needle in a hay stack! You are trying to find 3 major characteristics, one, a player that will mesh with your team but yet still be a great impact, a player which will mesh with the system and coaching staff and buy into the program and not go Rambo on you, and most of all, a player which will be a good representative on and off the field and will help domestic players get better around them.

What things can an import do to increase their chances of gaining a team’s interest?
One is to be honest and straight, most coach’s, A.D, and General Managers don’t have the time or like me the patients to play the wait and see game while they play the “money game” with one team against another , either you want it or you don’t, because the last I heard in Europe, no import is getting rich. 

The other thing is, have good quality and recent film and references. I know I’m not interested in seeing highlights but I’m interested in film that’s show what a player do in game situations and schemes similar to your own, and horrible film with nice music will never help your chances of getting signed since most team are working on a sight unseen basis and only have references and film to go on and team are not into wasting money! 

What is the worst thing an athlete can do to hurt their chances?
This is easy! Don’t say you played for this team or that team, this position or that position, this league or that league if you never had, because the community of football players is big in a sense, but small when it comes to who knows who! References will be checked!

Do you have any interesting off season stories?
None interesting, mostly horror stories, like training 40-50 players in indoor facilities so small 12 children would have a hard time being able to jump rope in place. Or better yet being locked out of your own facilities, because some outside source forgot you were using the facilities. But you have to be flexible and be able to adjust on the fly its part of headaches at this level.

Some teams don’t have the indoor space and facilities like colleges and professional teams, and those that do are fortunate because those facilities are primarily for Soccer/European Football and not American football. It would be great if local facilities were more cooperative with American football clubs to share use of facilities.

Once you have narrowed it down, what factors go into furthering your selection process?
After many phone calls, Skype conferences and emails, the most import factor is finances. Can you really afford a coach or player for 6-9 months! There are plenty of stories of players not getting paid as per their contract agreement and leaving the team early. The organizations can’t give away the farm, so to speak just to get an import. 

The second most important thing is what are the areas on your team that needs to be strengthened? Don’t just get a big time player just to get press, but get a player that will help the outcome of your program even when he is long gone!

What type of team building events do you do between seasons?
I believe the more you do off the field, the closer you get on the field especially in competition. Things like movies nights, bowling night, video game competition, watching games together, and off-season lifting and conditioning completions with food as reward always bring guys together.

Do you have any advice to players about how to approach their own off-season and recruiting seasons?
Yes, imports should understand that this is a privilege to be able to live and experience another countries culture and play the game you love. Yes they should have fun, but remember you are being paid and a player that is paid is a professional, so he she act and preform as such. The same elements he had in college are not there so he must be even more disciplined in his regiment than he was in college. Be humble, this is not the NFL, CFL, UFL, or NCAA, so realize what level you are on and except it for what it is! If you are playing for the love of the game the money doesn't matter, because if it’s about money you should stay in North American and remain the 1 in millions of guys trying to do the same as you instead of being a superstar in a European league and country.

Lance Kriesien
Mia Bajin