Exploring The Off-Season: Brian Amaral, Kronborg Knights

What is "the off-season"? Does it exist in football? 
Traditionally the off season would be the period after the season and before the preseason. Players are usually given time to relax, take their minds off football and recover. Mainly the only team type activities would be non voluntary players practices. The length of the off season varies from team to team. 

I was brought in last year here with the Kronborg Knights right at the start of the preseason. Since I was re-signed to a full year contract and since I live here in Denmark now, we have not stopped. After our season was over in September we started our preseason the following week, and are now into our 6th week of our preseason, getting ready for the start of our season in the spring of 2014.

What are the main goals coaches work towards during this time? 
Normally if the coach was a first year coach with the team, he would be getting familiar with his teams strengths and weaknesses and basing his playbook on that or developing players to fit into his Offensive/Defensive schemes. He would be working on the fundamentals and individual position based drills that fit in with his system. By doing these drills he can evaluate the players skills and how they can transition into his offensive/defensive philosophy. Installation of the plays and non stop reps. Trying to get his players to buy into the coaches way of doing things and trying to develop the mentality the coach sees fit for the team. And one of the most important is building team chemistry and gaining the confidence and trust of your players. 

I was resigned here with the Knights in October. Even though last year I was coaching the U-16 and the U-19 teams and now I am coaching the U-19 and the Senior teams, the playbook is already in place on all the youth and senior teams since I took over last year. So for our practices now, we just concentrate on some drills, techniques, and cardio in the form of 2 hand touch games. Since our season is about 6 months away we will slowly get back into our traditional types of practices.

When do you start looking for imports? What things do you consider when sifting through options? 
Our Club is small and financially we do not have the budget to sign more than one import at this time. Last year it was decided that an American coach was the best solution for this organization. As a Head Coach, if I had the budget or needs for an import player, I would be looking between July and August when most of the European seasons are ending. We end our season the end of September or the 1st weeks of October if we are in the play offs. If a team waits to long they run the risk of not getting some of the best, proven players that have European playing experience. Whether it is an American, Dual Passport or European player most teams know the best time to contact players is late Summer. 

Depending on your teams budget you have to be smart with your money. If 2 top European players fit your team needs and budget vs 1 American, it would be nice to have a large group of free agents to pick from, instead of just whoever is willing to come. If you are a big Club, then Dual Passports are key. They usually are sought after 1st because there are few out there and they are valuable if you plan on adding imports to your team if you are at the limit for Americans in your lineup. Big Clubs have the luxury of waiting because there are plenty of quality Americans free agents every year. The small Clubs need to start early and search for EU players that fit into their team needs as well as budgets. 

As far as what I consider, based on my teams situation I am heavily favoring EU players. Over my time playing in Europe, since 2008, I have seen some very talented European players. When situations arise, I look at these players. I put a lot of value in players that I have seen and played with or against or players that I have been able to follow over the years. 

From my experience here in Europe if I were to sign an American player i would feel more comfortable if I signed an American that has played in Europe before. Based on whatever budget we have, I would always look for the best value for our team that fits financially for everyone involved.

What things can an import do to increase their chances of gaining a teams interest? 
Getting your foot in the door in Europe is huge. Word of mouth is a great way to get recognition. Production never goes unnoticed, no matter what country you come from. Also quality film goes a long way. It is nice for a team to have as much film and info on a player to be able to make a decision on who to sign out of the thousands of players to pick from. 

I also suggest being proactive in marketing yourself. Do not wait for teams to notice you, make yourself know to them. There are various websites for us athletes where we have profiles and can contact and be contacted by European teams. Contacting teams is the best way to get your name on the map. 

Make them ask themselves, who is that. If they ask themselves that question then you have now put your name in that coaches mind. Partnered with good film and playing experience you have now made yourself known out of the thousands of players in the free agent pool.

What is the worst thing an athlete can do to hurt their chances? 
Some of the worst things a player can do are having too big of an ego and attitude and not having the willingness to buy into the European game of Football and the lifestyle. Players that do not live up to their obligations and players that have left their teams in the middle of the season are also a red flag and should be stayed away from. Unfortunately it happens every year and some teams are better equipped to deal with it. As a small Club, we would not consider anyone that was a known risk of not fulfilling their contract or backing out of their deal and leaving in the middle of the night. That would devastate the small Clubs for that season and be too hard to overcome. Researching your candidates thoroughly is highly recommended.

An interesting off season stories?
Last week I was elected President of the Kronborg Knights Organization. One of the 1st Americans to be elected President of a European Football Club. Also during the 2013 Copenhagen Combine and Camp in early October with players from all over Denmark and players from Sweden and Germany, 11 Knights players from the U-14, U-16, U-19, and Senior team were recognized with awards and prizes for their performance during the weekend.

Once you have narrowed it down, what factors go into furthering your selection process? 
After the budget is agreed upon the factors I would consider are ability vs production, attitude, playing experience/experience level, and film. Talking with the player on the phone is always a great way to get to know someones personality. Personal references from someone that i have played with, against, or a coach/team in my European football contacts I would consider heavily.

What type of team building events do you do between seasons?
Normally we have weekend overnight football camps between seasons. We are a small Club, remotely located on Northern Copenhagen Island. We have good team chemistry and most of our players have played and grown up together. For this season we are trying to finalize a preseason game for our U-19 and Senior team on the Island of Corsica vs the Corsican All Star team later in the Winter/early Spring. I have spent time over the past 2 seasons as a player and coach with the Bastia Panthers from Corsica and I am in talks with Eric Sommella of the Corsican Football Federation to iron out the details.

Do you have any advice to players about how to approach their own off-season and recruiting seasons? 
I would just say that if you are truly dedicated to this game and want an opportunity to play as an import outside of your country, I would say stay in shape. You never know when that phone is going to ring and there might not be enough time to start to get in shape before you land in your new country as an import and all eyes are on you and you end up making a bad impression. 

Also, do not just go to the gym and lift. Do some football related drills or even just gather a couple players and run some routes or have a pick up game. Just because the season is over doesn't mean you stop being a football player. Everyday until the day you stop playing, you are a football player. So put yourself in the best possible position to be able to successful on game days. To help yourself in the recruiting process make sure you have good film and that you put the effort in to contact teams and market yourself.

Lance Kriesien
Mia Bajin