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As legendary soccer star Oliver Kahn caught up with 56 young athletes at the 2018 Allianz Explorer Camp, he revisited five life lessons from football…
The most responsible place in the world – and the loneliest – can be the goal line during a football game. At times, the last defender’s ability to save a fast ball shot at a difficult angle can save or sink not just the dream of the team but that of also an entire nation.
One person who knows this pressure well is Oliver Kahn, Germany’s legendary goal keeper. A titan of the game, he was voted world goalkeeper of the year thrice and selected as the best player of the World Cup in Japan in 2002.
Recently, he spent a week with 56 young athletes from 24 countries as part of the 2018 Allianz Explorer Camp Football Edition. Kahn found that he was not only helping the younger generation develop skills and attitudes but also learning from them. At a micro-conference last week, ‘King Kahn’, as he was known during his heydays, touched upon five life lessons from football that he revisited during the camp.
...in life, office or the field. In his early years, a 6-1 result for his team could still leave Kahn beating himself up because the opposition had scored and he had “failed” as a goalkeeper. “As I grew older and a little bit wiser,” Kahn said, “I learned football is a team and not an individual sport. It doesn’t matter if you get one, two or three goals kicked against you, as long as the team performs well.” Sounds like a good strategy for workplaces too, doesn’t it?
Famed Italian trainer Giovanni Trapattoni provided Kahn with one of the strongest examples of leadership. After Bayern Munich drew one of the last games of 1997-1998 with a 4-4 result, it dashed the team’s hopes of winning the German Bundesliga. Kahn admitted to played poorly. Sitting alone in the changing rooms later, he was startled when “il Trap” suddenly appeared and talked to him in broken English. “He said ‘Oliver, you failed today. No problem. You want to be a great goalkeeper. No problem. In the next game we play, forget it.’”
It wasn’t so much the words that inspired Kahn as the attitude: his trainer realized how weak and vulnerable his player was feeling and took the effort to talk to him. “I will never ever forget that moment, the time he took me by the hand and again built up my confidence. To me that is absolutely top leadership.”
As a young athlete, Kahn had a great ambition: to be one of the great goalkeepers. “Many people, still today, think me arrogant that I had such an ambition when I was so young,” he said, before explaining how he built up the confidence in his ability in incremental steps.
“By setting small, achievable goals in life, your confidence rises. When this occurs, you develop yourselves as a human being and can then come to lead other people because you have confidence and can inspire others. If you want to make other people strong, you yourself have to be strong yourself first.” Confident team members make confident teams but the onus of building confidence in your own abilities is on you.
During the Allianz camp, Kahn encouraged the young explorers to not forget how important small steps are for achieving big dreams. Also, relatively young and inexperienced players should not be dismissed just because they are not big names yet. A comment from one of the participants in the camp highlighted how important it is to not judge talent by its size. “She said, ‘I too want to be a great keeper to show the world that even small countries can produce greatness.’ That is absolutely right,” Kahn said. For example, young professionals have as much to contribute as their more seasoned colleagues to a company’s success.
The right attitude matters as much as talent, irrespective of age, professional standing or life stage. Kahn said the media often asked him for his opinion on the upcoming crop of players vis-a-vis previous generations. “I don’t like those kinds of questions. I think it is important to be open to learning and acknowledge that the younger generation can learn from the older, just as the older generation can learn from the young. In accepting this, it will help us all move forward in life.” A healthy exchange of skills and knowledge across cultures, ages and generations is a powerful growth tool for companies and individuals.
After his retirement in 2008 after 535 Bundesliga matches and 86 caps for Germany, including 49 as team captain, Kahn has become a sport commentator and an entrepreneur. He has established the Oliver Kahn Foundation, which supports the worldwide development of educational centers to motivate and encourage socially disadvantaged children.
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