Keeping it in a proper Arena

Sports is only a vehicle to success, but not the reason for it, according to U.S. soccer coach Bruce Arena.

Sports is only a vehicle to success, but not the reason for it, according to U.S. soccer coach Bruce Arena.

April 18, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

Bruce Arena has a tough time putting the secret of his success into words.

It's difficult to verbalize about something you don't really have.

It's not that Arena's running his show by the seat of his silk shorts. His methods of simplicity have put the United States on the international soccer map.

"The philosophy is not to be rigid," Arena said. "You have to be flexible and have to take in account the caliber of players you have. No matter what level I've been on, the ball is still round and the field is still rectangular."

Arena delivered a message about the flexible approach while having fun playing soccer - or any other sport - on Thursday as the guest speaker at the annual Boys and Girls Club Steak and Burger Dinner at the Sheraton Four Points.


Skeptics don't have to look far for proof that Arena may have something.

Arena is probably the most recognizable soccer coach in this country. He made his name by turning around the University of Virginia program, complete with four NCAA titles in 18 years. He earned his reputation by jumping in on the ground level with the D.C. United in the Major Soccer League and winning the league's first two championships.

And now, he has given the United States a competitive international soccer team which made waves in the World Cup and Olympic tournaments before elimination, something that even the most passive sports fan notices.

The 51-year-old coach did it all, seemingly with relative ease. He revived Virgina's program to a point where he had a higher winning percentage (.808) than John Wooden recorded in his years with the UCLA basketball team (.804).

"It's difficult coming in and getting started and becoming successful in any sport," Arena said. "You got to have good players."

Arena was guaranteed "good players" when he moved onto the professional ranks with the D.C. United. He got talent and helped develop it with the U.S. Soccer program.

"Going to the national team was a big difference," Arena said. "International sports are so different. For example, we have the best basketball, golfers and tennis players in the world, but we have had trouble in the World Championships, the Ryder Cup and the Davis Cup. Other countries are playing the games that are considered American, and soccer is the most global sport in the world."

Arena's diverse background in a sport that is just gaining major acceptance in this country is part of the draw that he carried to be invited to speak at the Steak and Burger Dinner. In the past, the guest list has been headed by football and basketball players and coaches. Arena was chosen by club officials to help widen and diversify the interest of sports.

But no matter the sport, Arena believes the purpose is the same.

"Basically, have fun," Arena said. "As life goes on, how sports go in the Boys and Girls Club is just a way to move on in their lives."

Soccer has been the vehicle that Arena used for success in his life. Many youngsters are finding soccer as the starting point to a journey to a well-rounded adulthood.

"Soccer is the biggest youth sport in the country," he said. "It is a good entry level sport. Youth sports are not supposed to develop the players into professional athletes. It is supposed to be for the players to have fun, get exercise, adjust socially and develop self-esteem. And then, if they get some skills to advance along the way, that's all the better."

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