Head Coach of the East City Giants (Helsinki), Jabari Harris, has been kind enough to talk to me about his current coaching position and the impact of American Coaches in Finland. Checkout more interviews on the AFF podcast.
How many seasons have you been playing in Europe? How many in Finland?
I’ve played now 5 seasons in Europe. This upcoming season will be my 6th and 4th in Finland.
Last year after playing in Poland, you joined the Helsinki Roosters on their Maple League Championship run. This year you are the Head Coach for the East City Giants who are also located in Helsinki. Why did you decide to join the ECG organization in Division 1, instead of maybe taking over with the Roosters in the Maple League?
The Giants give me an opportunity to not only be a player, but overall team builder and face of the organization in every aspect. For a 24 year old, or any athlete in Europe, that’s a big opportunity to be your own boss and use your mind to build up a young organization. Last season in Poland with the Lowlanders and with the Roosters, I was able to learn a lot about, leadership, coaching, and player development. The Roosters allowed me to have an inside look at how great teams build their organizations from the ground up while also maintaining that formula for years to come, starting with the youth programs. With the Giants, I have now the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned over the past 4 years and continue to be a team builder as I have been throughout my entire career.
What kind of goals have you set for the Giants this year, and how do you plan to achieve those goals?
For this team, I want to restore winning traditions, confidence, and bring back that old school, bad boy ECG swagger that existed earlier in Maple League history that I hear about often. I plan to do that by changing the culture and mind-set of football being a “hobby” to the men, but a passion to them. We work hard and I push my players to dig deep and find their true “why” for playing this sport!
Can you explain how your specific coaching style will bring success to your team this year?
I’m a young and motivating coach. I’m able to relate to the players because I’m still a player. Also, I’m able to lead by example of what I want from the players. I’m strict, and I demand consistency and discipline from each individual. These are the basic traits you find in every successful team.
There seems to be a recent trend of American coaches in Finland. Do you think this will continue in the future, or just a coincidence of this time?
I think Finland is a very great place to live and the football experience and lifestyle here attracts many people. I’ve never once heard any import say anything negative about their experience in Finland. I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all. There are many like myself who come here, and find a place in society and are able to do well in the football community as well. If I can guess, I think that trend will continue and help the growth of football dramatically.
In the next 5 years, where do you see yourself in regards to American Football?
In the next 5 years, I think that I will be winding up my playing career, but working to be more on the business side of football here. My dream is to be one of the first Americans to play for the Finnish National team and to also have a seat on the board of the SAJL. May seem like a long shot, but I think it’s very possible. I want to be in a position to impact football here.
In the next 5 years, in terms of competition, popularity, or culture, where do you see American Football in Finland?
Finland is already one of the top countries in Europe for football. With the number of Americans coming and starting families and contributing to the diversity of the population, as well as the sport, I think that this will implant the growth of the sport as it did it Germany years ago with the military men settling there.
If you could make the necessary changes, what suggestions do you have for increasing sport participation and competition in Finland?
If it were up to me, I would try to advertise and promote football here as a family event and make it more appealing to the viewers. When you look at football in Germany and Austria, you see that it’s accepted as a part of the culture and the sport is supported and recognized by many. If that were to happen in Finland, with it being such a small country, it would be easy to see majority of the men and women here embracing football at a young age and participating with the mind-set of it being a part of the Finnish way. Sauna, summer cottages, and American Football!