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You Become A Champion Through Hard Work!

 by Coach Gianni Mininni

Very often we make the common mistake of thinking that champions are born that way. Sure, talent is an important component, but it’s only that. One of the components in the ‘recipe’ for making a champion.

More often than we believe, those who became outstanding champions, were kids with grave physical problems. Sports history clearly shows this.

Do you remember the great Johnny Weissmuller who, a long time ago, made all of us go crazy for his interpretation of Tarzan? He was the first man to go under a minute (that’s 60 seconds!) in the 100-meter free style.

Looking at him in the movies, it seems impossible that he wasn’t born with that statuesque body, but when he was a kid, he was anorexic with enormous problems in growing correctly.

The doctors told his parents that the only way to cure him was to develop his body through sports. He began to swim regularly EVERYDAY, not sporadically one hour a week. This simple activity made him one of the greatest swimmers ever in sports history.

Do you think he’s an exception? Wrong!

Very often a physical handicap is the beginning of a great career, not necessarily in sports, but only on one condition. Fighting that handicap by working hard every day and not using it as an excuse for not having succeeded.

If you remember Gigi Riva, who scored during the famous game of Italy-Germany 4-3, maybe the most remembered game in soccer/football history, he was also an anorexic. He worked hard every day in the gym and built an indestructible body, to the point that his nickname was ‘Rombo di Tuono’, in English, ‘Thunder’. He’s the only soccer/football player that I remember who broke his leg 2 times in his professional career and came back stronger than before. This takes an iron character and a lot of courage.

Another of the greatest players that fought and won his battle was Johan Cruijff. Who would believe that that ‘monster of talent’ had polio as a kid?

When life challenges us so drastically, we have a forked road in front of us: one leads us to fight and the other leads us to fall prey to discouragement and to abandon ourselves to self-pity.

Today we have another great example in front of us.

12 years ago, there was a 13-year-old kid, who had great hormonal problems which, at that time, didn’t allow him to grow correctly. In his family his nickname was ” La Pulga”. In English ” The Flea”. His parents didn’t have the money to treat him, but in spite of his physical problem, he never stopped playing the sport he loved: soccer/football!

The Barcelona Club took him onto their soccer youth teams. Just for your information, this club, like other great clubs in Europe, have more than 400 kids (four hundred !!!) in their youth soccer program.

So, back to that kid, Barcelona paid for all the treatments he needed. In 4 years, he grew 12 inches, and at 17 years old he scored his first goal in La Liga, the highest level of professional soccer in Spain. Ronaldinho treats him like a little brother “hermanito”. When they were playing with the PlayStation, Ronaldinho always chooses Barcelona or Brazil. The young Argentinean always chooses Inter Milan. (Too bad, my ancestral enemy)

It’s time to say his name. Leo (Lionel) Messi.

When he was a kid in Argentina, Maradona said that he would go anywhere, even to a chicken coop, to see him play. We can consider Messi the natural heir of the ‘Great Diego’, la mano de Dios!

I keep repeating in this country that, today’s talented soccer players have to be at the highest levels by 17 or 18 years old instead of wasting time playing at High School or College!!!!!And this doesn’t mean not to study. They’ll study at the expense of a Top Soccer/Football Club !!!!

It seems to me that I have an audience of deaf people or maybe I don’t have an audience at all!

With all due respect for the truly hearing impaired, in Italy we say that there’s no one more deaf than those who don’t want to listen!

Coach Gianni can be reached at:

Gianni Mininni

Coach Gianni Mininni is the author of "The Team", a Soccer Novel. The novel is for people of all ages, even if they are not strictly soccer lovers. Players and coaches will find dozens of situations and suggestions that will permit them to improve their soccer knowledge and consequently, perform better at any age. Learn more about Coach Gianni Mininni at The Coach Gianni Soccer Academy.