CAFL – Professional American Indoor Football in China

Exclusive Interview with JW Kenton, Head Coach of Shenzhen Naja

Shanghai, China (23 August, 2016) – By Allan Price

On the 20th July, the first of the international coaches, coach JW Kenton made his way onto Chinese shores a full 2 months prior to the season commencing, with the goal of bringing his passion and in-depth knowledge of football to China, as part of the CAFL professional league as head coach of the Shenzhen Naja team. The highly experienced high school coach across Florida & Hawaii describes how his CAFL journey began:
“This whole journey started a couple of years ago, when people started to talk about creating a league over here. At first I didn’t know if it was real, but once I finally got offered the job I was excited. I’m primarily a teacher, I’ve been a high school coach for 24 years and I just saw this as a great opportunity to come to another country and teach Chinese how to play American football. That’s the main reason why I took this job.”


Coach JW instructing OL draftees at the first organized OTA session – July, Shanghai

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JW making observations at the Beijing open trials

JW has taken a very different approach in his preparation for the inaugural CAFL season, moving himself to China far earlier than all of the other US coaches, who are due to arrive in China mid-September with the US players arriving 2 days after that. This meant making his own way to China, finding a place to live in and begin adapting to the Chinese culture & ways of life, experiencing many of the hurdles and challenges that other foreigners, travelers & expats go through in their first months.
In explaining his reasons for doing this, JW said “It was all part of my draft strategy. We were gonna draft the best Chinese players we could, and I think we did that. But we couldn’t just come here and draft, we had to come and teach fundamentals, so it was all part of the plan to come here early and teach a lot of the fundamentals of football. So I arrived July 20th, and so far it’s been great experience just learning how to navigate Shanghai and the rest of China. But I enjoy just being with my players. It started with just my players, but now players from other club teams and even players from most of the other CAFL teams have arrived to join some of our workouts”

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JW working with QBs in Shanghai

Since his arrival, JW has been on a mission to connect with the Chinese players and establish daily workouts to train the players, and prepare them for the season initially with his drafted Shenzhen Naja team, but also extending his welcome to players from other teams who are located in Shanghai and interested in attending the evening sessions. Working initially with one of his assistant coaches, Datong Wang, an experienced Chinese coach with years of working with the local Shanghai Titans team, they have been taking the players through rigorous workouts together.
“The number one thing I ask from my players is effort, and they give great effort. We had to start as if they were young high school players, teaching the fundamentals of holding the football, safety in contact and every aspect that you can imagine we tried to cover. We’re doing a lot of footwork drills at the moment. It’s a very difficult task, but I’m glad that I’m here early and glad that I’ve been able to start the relationships with my players and other players from other teams. It’s just been a really fine experience so far.”

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JW offering advice to the young athletes adapting to the professional workout regime

“I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but this has definitely been different than most of my travels. Probably the most difficult thing for me to adjust to is the food – normally I’m a mashed potato kind of guy, and there’s not a lot of mash potato in China!
The American coaches arrive next month, and the American players arrive 2 days after them. Here, it’s completely different than most of the United States, and just being in this big city life that we’re in, as well as the cultures and everything really. Even travelling on the subway here is completely different even compared to any New York subway”
As the coach slowly adapts to life in China, he has spent more and more time with his players, establishing relationships with the Chinese half and encouraging early development between the Chinese & US halves through early online communication.
“Obviously, I feel that in order to be successful you have to have a family atmosphere with your players, and that’s the biggest thing right now. I’m hoping when my American players come over, that they continue their relationships that they’ve already started through WeChat, and continue their relationship with the Chinese players. That will be a huge step towards our success, but probably the number one thing I’m looking for on the football field is toughness, and I’m looking for that from my American players and my Chinese players.

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JW working with his Shenzhen draftee QB, ‘Taylor’ Yu Tao

Another of coach JW’s assistant coaches has also recently joined him in China. Alex Gerke, a coach with over 30 years of coaching experience at high school, junior college, NCAA division 1 & CFL professional football levels. Together, JW, Alex & Datong continue their preparations for their season opening game against the Dalian Dragon Kings at 7pm on opening weekend, October 1st, at the Beijing LeSports Centre.

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For more information, contact Lou Tilley at LTilley@Tilley.TV

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