A group of students from the College of Media and Communications recently traveled to Kuwait on a university-sponsored trip to study the print and broadcast media institutions in the country. While over there, our group was contacted by a former Red Wolf who is doing great things in Kuwait. We met up with him and talked about his job and experiences in the Middle East.
James Williams is a 2012 Arkansas State graduate and former offensive lineman for the football team who is now the head coach for the U-19 Kuwait Gridiron National Football team in Kuwait City, Kuwait. For the past five months James has lived in the country and helped build the U-19 football program at the grassroots level.
Day-to-day operations involve strength and conditioning, planning practices, and developing assistant coaches, among other things. About seventy Kuwaiti teenagers have registered with the program. Players on the team range from 9-18 years old. They practice in the evenings for an hour to an hour and a half and practices vary from pool water workouts to weight room sessions to on-the-field practices. During Ramadan, when players were fasting during the day, they had evening workouts at the pool.
There are some unique obstacles that James has to face such as the language barrier. While many players can speak basic English several words and nuances from football jargon simply do not translate. However, many players have followed the game in some aspect for a number of years. They see football on television and in movies and some wear the jerseys of their favorite NFL players. James’ experience as a player in NCAA Division 1 college football gives these young guys an opportunity to learn about organized football. The people who sign up for the team are curious about football and want to learn about the sport. It’s not only a unique opportunity for James but a unique opportunity for the teenagers to learn about a sport that is not widespread in their country.
Still, American football is spreading in Kuwait and across the globe. According to James, “It is amazing how this sport is growing so rapidly and has transcended national barriers. The sport is bringing together people from so many different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions. We all immediately find common ground, joining together on the gridiron. The values the sport represents such as teamwork, sportsmanship, discipline, and overcoming adversity are relevant in every nation and these lessons last long after the final whistle, as young men hold on to these experiences and value the lessons learned as they grow and excel through their lives.”
In his role he is more than just a coach. He is a global ambassador for the game of football. “I’m really thankful for the opportunity to come and contribute to the development of the sport here.” There are about seventy countries throughout the world that play American football. Next year, Kuwait actually hosts the 2014 U19 World Championship for the International Federation of American Football. This championship will gather 8 teams from around the world to compete next July. The previous tournament was in Austin Texas, and James says that this will be a big moment “for the growth of the game, not only in the Middle East, but for the whole world.”
There are three branches of the national team: flag, U-19, and senior. The senior team is coached by Paul Williams, no relation to James, who has been in Kuwait for almost 2 years. The Senior team recently played their first ever game in Kuwait against the Jeddah Jaws of Saudi Arabia. They will compete against the Korean national team in Seoul in April of 2014.
The national flag football team recently played in the European World Flag championships in Gothenburg Sweden. The tournament had twelve nations in attendance.
The U-19 squad led by James has not played yet but should play in two or three matches before next summer’s world championships hosted in Kuwait.
Life in the Middle East
James has adapted to life in Kuwait and Middle Eastern culture. “I definitely experienced culture shock when I arrived. Learning my way around and communicating around town was difficult in the beginning. There are many languages spoken here and people from across the planet. I once dreamed of traveling extensively and living abroad and now every day is a unique cultural immersion experience. The Middle East is a dynamic place and I am learning so many new things everyday like Arabic.”
While he’s across the globe, he’s still representing the Red Wolves. He says “ASU was a great time. I met a lot of great people, some really awesome professors, and I got to play for Coach Hugh Freeze. He really inspired our team to do big things with our life. That experience, I really hold close to my heart.”
For current Red Wolves athletes, James offers some candid advice: “Give your all in the classroom just like you do on the field.”
Excerpts from the interview are in this video:
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