By Johnny Neumann
Like father like son? Not in this family.
Because I am a professional basketball player, many people ask me why my son doesn’t play basketball.
My reply is simple: I have never forced my son to play any sport. Soccer was his choice, and he loves it and plays the game with great dedication and desire.
These are the two things we have in common about sports – a love for the game and the desire to play the game with all our hearts.
I excelled in a sport in which great eye-hand coordination is essential. In soccer, great eye-feet coordination is the requisite. To advance the ball in basketball, you may pass or dribble with your hand. In soccer, you pass and dribble the ball with your feet. You score in soccer by kicking the ball into a net, and in basketball, you shoot the ball, using you fingertips.
I had just returned home from coaching in China and was surprised to see my 5-year-old son, Mike, playing soccer. I was amazed by the way he was able to do things that seemed to come so naturally to him.
I remembered that when he was younger, he constantly dribbled the basketball and played with it. Then, to my surprise and astonishment, I returned to see a young soccer player in the making.
As he grew up, I repeatedly told him he had to do his schoolwork and practice at least three to four hours a day. He was dedicated and developed great skills.
Soccer is a year-round sport. You must practice daily, lift weights and have your body in superior shape to play.
My son practiced hours every day kicking the ball with each foot to develop the balance needed to control the ball. Then, he had to learn how to hit the ball and pass it with his head. This, in soccer, is called a header and is a very important shot.
Mike is now 18 and plays for his club team Panathinaikos, (PAO) in Greece. He has played for the Greek National team since he was 10.
There are many differences European sports and in sports in other parts of the world. Passions run much deeper, and in some games, people are injured or even killed.
The number one sport in the world is football, which is called “soccer” in the United States. My son plays the center position, and this is the player who controls the tempo and organizes the game. To play this position, you must be a good passer and able to score with both feet.
This week, the Greek National team is hosting a tournament in Greece with teams from Spain, Italy and Germany. The atmosphere in Greece will be festive, and the games will all be sold out. The Greeks have national pride and great passion for the game.
The games will be on national TV, and it will be a round robin tournament where you play each team twice. The reason for this passion is that most sports in the United States start in the schools. In Europe, Asia, South America and other parts of the world, there are sporting clubs. These are private clubs that have many sports teams.
At a very early age, parents bring their children to games, and these experiences help to mold their lives. Football players love the club team they play for when they are growing up.
Then, when they reach the age of 18, things change. If they are good enough, they become professional. They sign contracts with the team that will pay the most money, and loyalty to a club team becomes secondary.
But their parents will still have loyalty to the club team for which their children played.
My son was born in Greece and is a Greek-American. He will play for the Greek National Team, but he has the option of playing for the club team that will pay him the most money.
Outside of the United States, fans are much more passionate and fanatical about their teams, but to the professional player, it’s all about money.
In reality, the things my son and I have in common are our belief and faith in God, and the knowledge that we know we have been blessed in special ways as athletes and persons.