In a country obsessed with the sport of soccer, it’s surprising to know that some athletes would rather pass on a goal and go for the next best thing: a touchdown.
Now their wish can be granted when they join the Colombian Federation of American Football (FECOFA). Comprised of six teams, including Pumas D.C. and the Skulls of Bogotá, the Lobos from Medellín and The Manizales Toros, it involves players between the ages of 15 and 35 participating in a sport that generates billions of dollars in the U.S. annually.
“It started 5 years ago with a bunch of guys throwing the ball around just because they were interested, says Renzo Devia, coach of The Pumas. “Now, little by little it’s been growing.”
Devia grew up in the U.S. and started playing when he was 12 years old in Queens, New York. At the position of quarterback, he was an all-city, all-state champion in high school. He became a coach last year when the league was still very disorganized with players who didn’t know much about the game’s fundamentals and didn’t even have equipment for such a full-contact sport.
This year has been a big upgrade, with the men having their own pads and wider knowledge of how the game is played. Learning technique for something like tackling is essential because lots of injuries can occur. Some players have already learned that the hard way after sustaining some career threatening leg problems like the dreaded torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury.
If you play it, they will come
With a league that expands every season, it is still a mystery as to how you can generate interest in a sport that has had very little public popularity. But it all goes to back to many players having a connection to the United States. It’s usually men who are predominantly from a higher social class who have money to watch the U.S.’s National Football League on t.v or even have family up north. Some have also played in the States.
From there it leads to telling friends about the game. The other portion of players comes from guys who know absolutely nothing about American football, but are just contact sport junkies and like its physical nature. But they get surprised when they realize just how deep the rules of the sport goes.
“Once they learn the game, they see how complex it is,” explains Devia. “So they either love it, or it gets too complicated for them to continue.” That makes sense, as even the inexperienced referees here have had problems getting caught up with the rulebook.
The game has even been simplified for logistical reasons. Normally, it is played on a 100-yard field with each team starting 11 players at a time. Here in Bogotá, they made an 80-yard field in a game of nine versus nine. It may seem like a problem, but it actually benefits the league in the long run. With such a small league of unpaid players, some of who do not take their football careers so seriously, coaches have a tough time getting them to come on time or even show up, period.
“My goal is for these guys to learn the ethics of the game,” says Renzo Devia. “It’s more important for me that they to get there on time, respect their teammates, learn about leadership and understand winning and losing.” This season, which runs until the end of November, has been very evolved compared to ones in the past because there are more trainers to get those lessons across to the players.
Communication, according to Devia, is essential to keep the men bonding as a team as it forces them to be more productive. They can grasp the playbook while they put in extra hours of practice, exercise and eat right. FECOFA believes that applying discipline and teaching life lessons are just as important as having fun and actually playing the game.
The FECOFA league plays at the Centro Deportivo Empresarial (Calle 193 # 38-01)