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How Iceland’s soccer success can translate to golf

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During the recent UEFA European Championship in soccer, Iceland surprised everyone with its performance. The Strákarnir okkar (Our boys) tied Portugal and Hungary, and beat Austria in the group stage before sensationally beating England in the Round of 16. Iceland has a population of only 330,000; England has 54 million.

The Icelandic soccer league has the longest pre-season in the world (7 months) and the shortest football season in the world (May 20-September 30). The possibility that a nation could produce such high-quality football is interesting. To understand the odds that this small nation could come up with a team of this caliber, you can see how the Iceland coaches selected their team (see numbers below):

Total 332,529 inhabitants
Women -165,259
Men<18 years old -40,546
Men>35 years old -82,313
Overweight -22,136
Busy in the whale sightseeing industry -1,246
Busy in earthquake surveillance -314
Busy in volcano surveillance -164
Busy in sheepherders -1,934
Imprisoned bankers -1,464
Blind -194
Sick -7,564
Working in hospital, police and fire brigade -564
Icelandic Football Fans in the stadium -8,781
Team doctor and physiotherapist -2
Team massage therapist and water carrier -2
Busy managing the national football team -7
Rest 23

Even if these numbers not are statistical verified, it does show the distribution of potential candidates pretty well. So how does Iceland so successfully find these candidates? And how can golf clubs and nations be better at finding golf talents?

If we look at what happened for five years ago, Iceland hired the former manager of the Swedish National Team (Lars Lagerbäck). He managed the Swedish national team from 1998 until 2009, leading Sweden to five consecutive Euro and World Cup appearances. Lars was almost always criticized by the Swedish media for being too boring and impersonal in his appearance during the matches. It went so far that Lars was called “the most boring man in Sweden.” This meticulous approach and controlled demeanour, however, has made him a successful football coach in Iceland. Some of the major changes Lars first did was:

  • Full professionalism from the treatment room to the canteen, where a private chef was hired.
  • The team would only travel to the big matches by chartered flights.
  • Every game, the mindset was to win and stick to the game plan no matter what happened.

These changes were just the frosting of the cake. The main reason why Iceland could generate great results in soccer may reside in the number of qualified UEFA licensed coaches per active footballer. The UEFA license is similar to the PGA club professional education for golf instructors. According to the Football Association of Iceland, the number of UEFA educated coaches increased by 400 percent from 2007 to 2016, and 800 percent for the prestigious UEFA A-license. If we then calculate the ratio between the number of UEFA licensed coaches and the number of active Icelandic soccer players, the result would be 1 coach per 27 active player. In the year 2007, this ratio was 1/69. In Sweden the ratio was 1/231.  

If we would compare this to a typical golf club with 1,000 active members, the number of PGA instructors would be 40 per 1,000 members. In Sweden, most golf clubs have one PGA Club professional and an assistant (who hopefully has a PGA education). If we had the coach:member ratio of 1:27, the possibility of finding the future Open champion would be easier.

The Technical Director/Coach Education director Siggi Eyjolfsson said this in a coaching symposium in Sweden:

“To create good players, you need good coaches. To create good coaches, you need good coach education”

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Other things that must likely have helped Iceland in their success may be the “Viking War Chant,” even called the “Volcano.” Fun fact about the last match between Iceland and France — 99.8 percent of all TVs that were on in Iceland were tuned in to the game.

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Simon Selin PGA Club Professional in Sweden, extensive teaching experience coaching both amateur and professional-level golfers. Coached on the Ladies European Tour 2007-2010 TPI Certified Level 2 Golf Coach "Your swing should fit your body instead of your body to adapt to a type of a golf swing."

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Mad-Mex

    Jul 27, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    Just checked, its not April 1st.

  2. Q

    Jul 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    So not even close to being relative, it’s crazy cra cra.
    In football, you’re playing opponent teams. Regardless of how well you, yourself and your team prepare, how the heck are you going to know what your opponents will throw at you? This past Euro 2016 tournament was a farce. Too many teams in 3rd place got through, and one of them won the whole thing after playing dour football. Iceland’s success? Everybody’s making too much out of the story, because it feels good, but seriously, it’ll never happen again. It was a fluke happenstance. And they don’t play every week. That was an international team of players whose squad members could change every month they play qualifiers.

  3. DD

    Jul 26, 2016 at 9:43 am

    Objection. Relevance? Sustained.

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One of the things that I think is very interesting and fun about this game is that there are a number of ways to play every hole you encounter. And sometimes a hole offers “better” ways to play it than you might think. Let me explain with a couple of experiences from my own golf life.

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