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Commentary Oct 23, 2013

Forget Mike, I wanna be like Raul!

Editor’s note: This is the latest blog post from Dr. Wendy Lebolt, a longtime coach and physiologist who is the founder of Fit2Finish, a Northern Virginia-based training, fitness and rehabilitation company which works with teams and individual players to maximize health and performance. The Soccer Wire is excited to present Wendy’s learned perspectives on the mental, physical and psychological aspects of the beautiful game. Learn more about her background here.

I just can’t stop watching the replays of Raul Jimenez rescuing Mexico’s World Cup hopes with the game-winning goal in the 86th minute vs Panama on Oct. 11!

Along with a couple million other folks, I was amazed, delighted and astounded. My friend Gerardo, who hails from Mexico, said he literally leaped off the couch in celebration. A goal like that is spell-binding, for its artistry and its execution. A receipt, a touch, a strike, a goooooaaal!! OMGoodness.

And you can be sure that the next day, on fields or parks or play areas or yards across the world, thousands of young soccer players, mostly boys, will try to execute a bicycle kick. That bicycle kick. They want to be like Raul. Because if you just believe…if you keep trying and wishing and hoping, you can, right?

Well? Not so fast.

That moment of magnificence was brought to you by years of practice, and hours and hours of preparation. That’s something we would do well to remember here. The kids won’t. They tend to idolize and dream, but dreams don’t come true by magic. They come to those who work hard and are equipped with talent and physical giftedness, not to mention stamina, mental toughness, nerves of steel and any number of other characteristics it takes to excel on the big stage of professional soccer.

So, if we want our inspired tykes to have the best chance of imitating their heroes, we need to help them develop the physical attributes that Jimenez needed to execute that strike.

Let’s think about it:

  • Dynamic balance (a backward half flip, folks!)
  • Strength to fire and to hold torso taut as he fired, upside down!
  • Coordination (no need to elaborate)
  • Quickness to receive, touch, time and fire (skill!)
  • Agility to jump, splay feet, see and connect with the ball (all under pressure)
  • Flexibility to fully extend a leg overhead while bent nearly double at the waist
  • Patience and poise (oh my!)
  • And upper body strength – back, shoulders, arms and neck.

Why the last? Because while we were all standing dumbstruck along with Jaime Penedo, the Panamanian goalkeeper, watching the ball find the back of the net, Señor Jimenez was landing. What goes up, must come down. On earth, gravity always wins. Watch in the replay as he lands on his back and his head hits the ground. You can’t do this any other way!

I feel sure that I will never execute a bicycle kick, and I don’t recommend it for the over-40 crowd. But youngsters will try it. Because it’s fun and it’s a challenge. It’s soccer performance with the greatest artistry. And because they can.

We’ve got to help them see what lies underneath the execution of such beauty. The physical training and preparation, not to mention the mental and psychological. Introduce them to all the pieces they can then unleash as they create the game with skill, finesse, deception, speed and all the rest.

It would be a shame if out on those fields kids gave up after a few tries because it was just too hard. It will be. For sure. It takes patience, dedication, hard work and talent to be that beautiful. But that’s what inspires all of us.

Can Raul reprise that goal? Who knows? (The USMNT kept the door open for him with their comeback win over Panama on Tuesday!) But what’s sure is that there are a ton of kids out there working on it. We can’t do it for them,but we can help pave their way.

If you’d like to bring physical training for fitness in sports to your practice field, head to the Fit2Finish website ( where you’ll find dozens of articles that will help you. Use the search box to find stretching/flexibility, strength, dynamic balance, quickness, agility, speed plus more on performance for the field.  Or contact me.

It takes a village to raise a child. Let’s prepare them to be great.

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