No pain, no strain: the Son Heung-min way

No pain, no strain: the Son Heung-min way

Son Woong-jung, father of South Korean football star Son Heung-min, smiling at his football academy in Chuncheon, Seoul. AFP

As Son Heung-min's career takes off in England, his legacy is already taking shape in South Korea -- at an innovative academy where ball control is king and shooting is frowned upon.

The SON Football Academy in Son's native Chuncheon, run by his father Son Woong-jung, takes an unusual approach for South Korea where typically, training is strenuous and young players practise for up to eight hours a day.

But the results of too much training too soon can be grim, says Son senior, a gifted former striker who had his career cut short by an injury he blames on overwork.

"Korea's football system is obsessed with winning... so kids are exhausted from a young age," he told AFP.

Determined not to let his son suffer the same fate, he kept him from joining a football team until the age of 14 and trained him on his own, focusing on fundamentals.

So when his peers were playing 11 on 11, Asia's future superstar worked on mastering basic skills -- ball control, dribbling and passing -- and for no more than two hours a day, to prevent burnout.

It paid off: the 26-year-old forward is among the few players who can comfortably shoot with both feet and recently signed a new five-year deal with Tottenham Hotspur after emerging as the top Asian scorer in Premier League history.

Now the older Son is applying the same philosophy to dozens of teenagers attending his academy in Chuncheon, a small city about 75 kilometres (47 miles) east of Seoul, where Heung-min spent his childhood.

The 56-year-old has big plans for the SON Football Academy, hoping to expand it to eventually include a school, soccer pitches, futsal facilities, a gym and a museum dedicated to his son.

With a strong emphasis on fundamentals, the training programme offered at the academy is as good as the one he used to teach his son, "if not better", Son said.

More than half the student body is over 15 years of age -- and none has been taught to shoot yet.

"Maybe in two years," Son said, adding that practising shooting too early could strain the muscle tissues and later cause knee dislocation.

The repetitive routines and seemingly slow progress do not bother students like Ryu Dong-wan.

"My handling of the ball has become much more accurate," said the 16-year-old, who hero-worships Heung-min.

Although Heung-min no longer requires private training from his father, the older Son is always by his side, analysing his play after each game.

It has always been this way: when Heung-min took the highly unusual decision to leave school at 16 to join Hamburg SV's youth academy in Germany, his father accompanied him.

"I stayed in a cheap motel across the academy and would wake him up early in the morning... for weight training before he left for team practice," Son said.

He has devoted his life to supporting his son -- who has often attributed his success to his father's dedication -- and expects the parents at his academy to do the same.

"I always yell at the parents," Son said, chuckling.

"Whether it's golf or tennis, in whatever area, parents who raise a successful child are different," he added.


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