Exploring The Off-Season: Juha Hakala, Helsinki Roosters

Photo: Niko Karumaa
What is "the off season"? Does it exist in football? 
Actually third for me with the Helsinki Roosters, personally I don't like the word off season, as still after a season and before new season everybody works in one way or other to get better and prepare for the new season. So in my books off season don't exist in football. Only thing that really changes is that there is no games played between seasons and the structure of practices are different. 

What are the main goals coaches work towards during this time? 
During between seasons at first it is very important to analyse the past season, what the team did good and what the team didn't do that good and pick up development points from those going in to the new season. After that starts all the roster building tasks, where you build the team and before you don't have the base roster in your hands you cant do too much, it is all about the team and the players, not coaches, we are there for the players and the team.

When do you start looking for imports? What things do you consider when sifting through options? 
Actually I'm always looking into imports, but usually I first like to build the national roster as far as possible before making any decisions who to sign and to what position.

What things can an import do to increase their chances of gaining a teams interest? 
Have a good clear communication and of course having good amount of background data available with full game films and stats, always helps a lot.

What is the worst thing an athlete can do to hurt their chances? 
Pretty much the opposite what I stated above, have weak communication without any background data available and not show any respect by setting many demands before they have shown that they would be worth any of them.

Do you have any interesting off season stories? 
I think one of the best experiences that I have had as a coach during off seasons was before the 2012 season with the Helsinki Roosters when we had one of our Monday night run practice with our speed&physics guru coach Olli Jussila in January outdoors and the temperature was maybe -10C. We still got more than 30 players to workout and get better for the new season, the commitment level and team spirit of that one practice is something that did warm me up back then and still does.

Once you have narrowed it down, what factors go into furthering your selection process? 
Attitude of players and communication of the players, if I would have to choose between two athletes with similar skills sets, I would go for the athlete that I would feel has the same goals and targets than the team has.

What type of team building events do you do between seasons? 
Well you are asking this from a person from Finland and Finland is know for it Sauna culture, so most of our team building events between seasons and during season have to do with having Sauna nights with the team, of-course the best way to build up good team spirit is to get the players together and work and practice hard, but sometimes you have to relax a bit and also have some fun.

Do you have any advice to players about how to approach their own off-season and recruiting seasons? 
I would say to this that always keep yourself in fit and try to improve between seasons and have clear targets for next seasons on which level you want to play and what you want to accomplish.

Lance Kriesien
Mia Bajin