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Total Eclipse

April 8, 2024.

A star gazers delight. Millions journey significant distances to view a total solar eclipse, those precious few minutes when the moon passes in front of the sun. The event as rare as a pink diamond; a celestial wonder which completely blocks the sunlight.

Quite literally, mid day turns into night. The sky turns black, cities plunge into eerie darkness, temperatures drop precipitously, animals and insects fall silent amid the stillness.

I should be in awe.

Alas, I am not. Instead, I remain unsettled. Forced, even from the relative sanctuary of Canada’s west coast, to consider a world already suffering through more than enough darkness. Pain, misery, cruelty, absolute chaos. War on a monstrous scale, severe famine. Earthquakes, floods, other climate disasters. Madmen and lunatics in key global leadership positions. Terrorist attacks, refugee crises, the drumbeat of mass shootings.

The list goes on. A menu of doom and despair.

To counter my gnawing uncertainty, to combat the murkiness and gloom, I search for any tiny shafts of light. Sport, in just one of its many forms, again comes to the rescue. Provides a salve, an inspiration and several timely reminders.

Enter Erling Haaland. A generational talent.

The very name strikes fear into defenders all around the world. As soccer’s deadliest striker, beginning as a teenager, he terrorizes first the Norwegian, then Austrian, then German, then English premier league. Now plying his trade for Manchester City, arguably the best club team on the planet, he scores goals for fun on his way to multiple individual and team awards, records, and titles. On the international front, even if Norway fails to make any headway in terms of European or World Cup qualification, he is equally prolific.

6’4”, powerful, fast, and strong, he uses his sizable frame to great effect. A deadly finisher, blessed with tremendous vision and acceleration, he continually finds space in the opposition penalty area. He dribbles brilliantly, creates chances for teammates. Equally patient and calm, his skill and movement impact significantly virtually every game he plays.

As a former high school coach, I am keen to learn more. Especially in terms of upbringing and progress through his formative years.

Though born in England, Haaland moves back to Norway at the age of three. To Bryne, a small town of some 13,000 people. Located 400 kilometres south and west of Oslo, the capital city.

My heart sings to find out he quickly becomes a multi-sport athlete. Handball, golf, track and field. And, not surprisingly, starting in 2005 at the age of five, soccer. Perhaps inevitable given his father's own successful professional career.


Haaland joins the local club. Bryne FK. A club with its act together. A club and community with both a grassroots focus and clear development model. 

For those aged six to ten, soccer practice is limited to 1-2 sessions each week. An emphasis, first and foremost, on enjoyment. The coaching staff connect with every player at every practice. The able and less able receive the same level of attention and care. Drills are age appropriate. No selection process, no cuts. No tactics, no introducing a style of play, no position-specific training. Instead, plenty of laughter and plenty of small sided games. Along with an ongoing focus on basic fundamentals, especially on those the players can then do on their own.


Slowly, from ages eleven to thirteen, then through the ensuing teenage years, the program ramps up in intensity. Training 2-3 times per week, then as often as four times for those desiring more. Significantly, everything still neatly measured and with a sense of balance. Furthermore, these additional sessions are based on player choice, not his or her perceived skill level.

Eventually, the coaches introduce tactics and some position-specific training. Yet, always with a continuing emphasis on skills, fun, and learning. Everything backed by plenty of unstructured play and in-practice competitions.


The completion of an indoor facility in the centre of town further extends opportunities. Remarkably, a facility left unlocked by design, in order that those interested may enter and train if and when they so choose.


The head coach drives the program. A former pro, technically astute, he commands respect. Still, he sees the bigger picture. Teams representing the club don’t play in sponsored tournaments until age 13. There is no particular pressure to win. Just encouragement to do one's best. Process trumps outcome. Player development trumps results.


Indeed, overall time spent in the program becomes one key marker of success. As is the club philosophy which purports to keep involved “as many players as possible, for as long as possible. While making them as good as possible.”


Amazingly, no doubt due to many of the reasons listed above, six of the 40 players in Haaland’s soccer cohort go on to play at the professional level. While 29 others continue with the sport as adults.


Now I am in awe. In these troubled times, I revel in such uplifting stories and their roots. Even as I accept that the success of Haaland’s group, not to mention his own outrageous ability at a young age, is an outlier, not a universal result.


Nonetheless, I salute Bryne FC’s aims and objectives. Applaud its youth development model. Hail its philosophies, its focus on player improvement at the expense of victories. Laud its refusal to buckle to any hint of parental pressure or ambition.

Lucky indeed Erling Haaland and his mates. Pink diamonds for all of them, as ironically, they benefit hugely from a total eclipse of a different sort.

Namely, in their athletic growth, success comes via joy and effort. Via choice, consistent messaging and delivery. As well as through highly effective, inclusive and principled structures.

Combined, these protocols completely block out selfishness, early specialization, win at all costs mantras, and athlete burnout. Not to mention other less than savoury policies and practices currently in vogue across much of youth sport.

Et lux in tenebris lucet. Light shines in the darkness.


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