By Mike Woitalla
Last Sunday, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann showed up at a breakfast for the 46 finalists of the 7Up Sueno Alianza National Finals presented by Verizon in Southern California.
The surprised boys, ages 14 through 19, dropped their forks to listen to the man who had won a World Cup as a player and 10 days earlier celebrated the USA’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup.
Here are excerpts from Klinsmann’s advice to aspiring young soccer players:
DECIDE YOUR PATH. "It’s always difficult at this age, when you’re 17 or 18 or you’re 14 or 15, to imagine, where’s my road leading? Where’s my next level?
“It’s all down to you guys what you’re going to do with your opportunities. Whenever someone opens a door for you and gives you a chance to show and prove how good you are, take that chance. Hopefully coaches will show you that level. But you’re going to have to decide your own path. You are your own driving force. …”
PRACTICE DAILY. “... What does that mean in reality? How often do you train a week? Everyday? How do you think you can get better if you don’t train everyday?
“How can you do that if you’re not with your team? In the park. Kick the ball against the wall. Meet your buddies somewhere in the neighborhood. Make an opportunity.
“Every time you kick the ball in some way, you’re going to make yourself better.”
GOOD MOVES. “How does a Kobe Bryant become a Kobe Bryant? He’s not learning all those moves because a coach tells him to make those move. He learned them himself, by fooling around with the ball."
COACHES ARE JUST HELPERS. “Take your path in your own hands. Ask questions all the time when you can to coaches and to other people.
“But you are the driving force. We can tell you certain things, but you have to do it. … Maybe you’re tired after 70 minutes and if you lose the ball we expect you to chase the ball back. But I can’t do that run for you.
“It’s you who makes the decision. That’s the beauty of soccer. That it’s all driven by you, not by us coaches. We’re just helpers.”
DON’T LOOK FOR EXCUSES. “From professionals, and not only American professionals, professionals everywhere -- because I played in four different leagues in Europe -- I often heard, 'The coach doesn’t play me … This is wrong … The media doesn’t like me …'
“They’re really good at finding excuses. But every coach wants to win. At the end of the day, every coach will play the best team he can. If you belong to those best, you’re going to play.
“If for whatever reason he doesn’t play you, then go up and ask him, and he will tell you. Maybe you don’t show the right spirit. Maybe right now you’re more a taker than a giver.
“‘Taking’ meaning you think about yourself too much. Maybe you’re not thinking about the team at that moment.”
AVOID DISTRACTIONS. “Maybe some players are too busy with their haircut, and how they look. Or how many followers they have on Twitter and Facebook.
“We coaches, we see that. We tell them, ‘You know it would be nice if you start to focus more on soccer than on your cell phone.’”
COPING WITH SETBACKS: “When you get an opportunity, give it all you have, and things will develop. Even it doesn’t work out right away, it doesn’t matter.
“Even if the reward doesn’t come right away, keep going. Keep going and it will be the next time, at the next opportunity. There are many opportunities coming up but you’re the one who drives it.
“Drive yourself. Your dream is yours.”
When the floor opened for questions, one boy asked Klinsmann about his pro playing career, to which the man who played for VfB Stuttgart, Inter Milan, Monaco, Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern Munich and Sampdoria said:
“Most importantly I learned a lot off the field. I learned a couple languages. I understood I have to take the people the way they are. People are different in different countries.
“When I went from Germany to Italy … The Italians are different. We Germans we’re very precise. We’re always on time.
“In Italy I had my own apartment and I was all kind of hyper. … So my washing machine broke. I called and I said I need someone to come and fix it. They said, no problem. We’re there tomorrow at 10 o’clock.
“Nobody showed up. Another day, nobody showed up. Three days later someone showed up and fixed my washing machine. And I was furious. I was a German. So I told the story to my teammates.
“My teammates at the time included Walter Zenga, Giuseppe Bergomi, Giuseppe Baresi. World Cup winners. They told me, ‘Jurgen, if you don’t learn the way we live the life. If you don’t adjust to it, you’re in big trouble.’
“You better adjust yourself to the way people are, or you go crazy. So I made that decision, wherever I go, and I went from Italy to France, to England, now here -- I learned to take people the way they are and respect who they are.
“Wherever you go, you will find different people. You will find different coaches. But it’s down to you to adjust to them. Don’t expect them to adjust to you.”
Klinsmann ended his talk with: “I wish you lots of luck. Enjoy it. And have a smile on your face whenever you kick the ball around.”
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)