The American Football Coach Who Wants to Bring Pigskin to Israel

Soccer has its problems; Erez Lustig thinks it's American football that should be played in the Middle East.

What do you do?

I am a coach who is setting up a team that will play American football with kids from Hod Hasharon and Kibbutz Na’an. There are high school and adult teams in Israel, but no children’s teams, which is where the basics are. It’s like building a penthouse and then checking to see if there are foundations.

Is football relevant to Israelis?

The game is tailor-made for the Middle East. You have soccer, which as a sport is terrific − but the question is the values you transmit to the young generation through it: cursing, violence, lack of mutual respect, the pursuit of stardom. In basketball, too, you have the point guard, who is the big deal on the team. In American football you have the quarterback, who has his own aura, but he knows he can’t win without the others. I see football as physical chess.

Who is your target audience?

The children who come to me usually have a weight problem and were told to be goalies in soccer, or short children who weren’t accepted to basketball teams. The most important element for the kids is the sense of belonging and self-confidence.

I have developed training “props” for tackling. I recommend that the kids think of someone who is bugging them, whom they don’t like, and imagine that they are tackling him. They vent so much aggression and bad stuff that they come out of a practice session very tired, but clean and light. It’s amazing the way it affects you for the rest of the week. Football is an excuse, though: I am more interested in education for values. I am an ardent Zionist, too − how many people do you know with a Palmach tattoo?

How did you come to be a football coach?

From my love of the game. My older brother lives in the United States, and on every visit he brought me football jerseys and footballs. We played in the village – that was our greatest fun; we waited for it every week. I decided to get to know the game, but there was nowhere to learn here, so I learned a lot from YouTube.

Is this your main source of livelihood?

I really like working with kids. My biggest dream in the past 15 years has been to find a way I can make a living from doing that. I worked in marketing and sales, which I am not wild about. The overriding thing about working with children − besides the fact that you are surrounded by fun and happiness and laughter all day long − is that they don’t have the bad mannerisms of adults. They are not hypocritical and they don’t lie: What you see is what you get. There is nothing I enjoy more. Happily, I have managed in large part to realize my calling. I see a horizon here for many years to come, and I hope to develop a range of possibilities in this field.