“It’s good to be small.” — Rikhardur Dadason, former Iceland national team member, in TSN’s “Out of Nowhere.”
Undoubtedly, Iceland is the Cinderella story of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The small Nordic island country with a population of 340,000 is making its debut at the premier soccer tournament and the world is taking notice.
But how did they get here, and why do we love them so much?
It’s not because of their historic victory over England or powerful thunderclap, although those things are cool.
Iceland’s charm and the reason they’ve captivated so many comes from the country’s grassroots coaching initiative and commitment to youth development.
According to the TSN doc, approximately 500 Icelanders hold UEFA ‘A’ or UEFA ‘B’ coaching qualifications, which is about 1 per 825 citizens. This means that children as young as 6 years old have a very good chance of learning from highly educated – and almost professional-level – coaches.
Coaches like Heimir Hallgrímsson. He’s the manager of Iceland’s national team, a volunteer coach, and a full-time dentist.
Iceland’s commitment to development is also evident in their facilities. In the past 15 years, the northern and rugged nation has built 13 indoor arenas and 50 to 60 outdoor artificial pitches. Even more impressive is the fact that indoor arenas are open for kids to play in whenever they like, offering a break from the common gravel playing surface.
It’s this tough terrain, however, that has helped develop the Icelanders’ characteristic mental toughness.
Their hardworking style of play is sure to be noticed by opponents in Russia and in years to come. Iceland’s model of development and focus on youth might be replicated, but never duplicated, because even the Icelanders can’t fully explain their “recipe” of success. There’s more complexity and uniqueness to the isolated island.
For now, we can just clap along with them.