How a Dog Helped Make A Champion

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Bayern Munich and Poland striker Robert Lewandowski spent hours as a youngster playing against his dog

Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski’s 5 clinical goals in just 9 minutes against Bundesliga rivals VfL Wolfsburg was one of the spectacular individual footballing performances of 2015.

Little would the Wolfsburg defenders have known that a dog had a role in giving Lewandowksi the speed and technique that he has today.

A range of inputs
As a child Lewandowski was born into a family that loved sports.  His mother Iwona played volleyball for Poland while his father became a European junior judo champion.

Under his father’s tutelage the young Robert learnt judo as a child and a range of other sports including basketball, volleyball and handball.  Each helped improve his co-ordination, spatial awareness and response to contact – vital for his career as a striker once he had settled on football as his focus.

According to journalist Macej Iwanski, writing in The Blizzard, it is clear that Lewandowski also incorporated unstructured play into his training in the form of his dog.

“He came home angry once,” Iwona remember, “because the dog was quicker than him.  He tried to be faster until he succeeded.  I laughed, but now I see that he was focused on winning, always and everywhere.  It wasn’t easy, and he was much smaller than the other kids.”

Overcoming adversity
While Lewandowski has developed an impressive physique as a professional his strength was an issue as a youth player.  At 17 he was tall and slim, not physically equipped for the muscularity of lower division football in Poland.

For junior coaches it is all too easy to place athleticism as a priority while a junior player is still maturing.  By doing so, players with technical skills are given reduced opportunities purely on the basis of size.  It is important to remember that elements of athleticism can be improved as an individual becomes an adult.

In the formative years technique is king.

Beyond his size, Lewandowski had to also contend with being dropped at a young age.

In 2006 Lewandowski was released by his preferred hometown club, champions Legia Warsaw, after being injured when playing reserve football and transferred to lowly  3rd division club Znicz Pruszkow for just GBP1000.

This must have been a blow to his ambition of a stellar footballing career.  But by 2008 Lewandowski had turned his situation around and was starting for 1st Division Lech Poznan and being selected for the Polish national team.

He was able to turn adversity around.

Getting better never stops
As a youth player also Lewandowski embraced the opportunity to improve through critical self-evaluation.

He asked his father to video his matches so post-match they could check when he made the right choices on field or could have made an alternative decision.  This desire to always seek incremental adjustments to his game continues today even though he is one of the very best finishers in the world.

Ultimately Lewandowski was a classical #9 by the time he joined German powerhouses Bayern Munich.  Once there he had to alter his style of play to attack from different positions on field given the possession based style of manager Pep Guardiola.

Versatility is an under-rated asset.  It is important that in training, at all levels, players experience different positions and become flexible in their thinking.

National team captain
Lewandowski was able to get one over some of his Bayern teammates when Poland defeated world champions Germany 2-0 in successfully qualifying for the 2016 European Championships.

The reward for qualification is a rematch with Germany at Stade de France in Paris on June 17 NZT.  With a likely win against Northern Ireland under the belt by then and a match against Ukraine to follow it is likely that Lewandowski will have the opportunity to display his talents on a global stage at national team level.

Don’t be surprised if Robert Lewandowski is one of the stars of the Euros.  By tournament end the story of how he trained with his dog as a young player could be the stuff of legend.

The Blizzard Football Quarterly, issue 19 – “The Throwback” by Macej Iwanski

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