“WE HAD to win. We would have been treated as traitors even if we drew the game,” recalls Shin Jae-home (Head Coach., Yonsei Univ. Football team) when asked to describe the pressure felt during the last Yon-Ko match. Proudly marked in the hearts of Yonseians, September 2017 was the first time since 1956 that Yonsei won all five sports of the annual Yon-Ko games, and at the core of this great victory was the Yonsei University football team that competed last. Eight months since then, what are the players doing and what happens inside the team? Fortunate to be able to spend a day with the team, The Yonsei Annals kicks off this month with an insightful look at Yonsei University’s football team.
A day as a Yonsei football player
Bright and early is the start of the day as a Yonsei University football player. With the “C grade rule” implemented in 2017, all athletes must receive an average grade of C in order to compete in sporting events organized by the KFA. Football practice is no longer a valid excuse to miss classes at Yonsei University and consequently, the football team now gathers early in the morning or late at night in order to train all together. In contrast with the foggy sky, the football field was vibrant with the spirit of football coaches and players who yell “Yonsei!” for motivation. “Our preparation for the coming Yon-Ko game started right after the previous one ended,” commented Shin while supervising the morning training session. As the training exercises grew in intensity, the panting became more audible; however, not once did a player opt for a break. I could only stare and imagine how driven one must be to keep pushing such physical limits.
After the morning training comes university lectures and the various responsibilities as college students. “Many people taunt the school’s athletes who sleep through class, but sitting through lectures after the morning training session is very tiring. At times, I find myself falling asleep in class, but it’s never intentional!” explains Kim Chan-gyu (Jr., Dept. of Physical Education.).
Once their academic classes are over, players resume training late in the afternoon, participating in teamwork activities and in an intense weight training session. On average, a footballer player gets to bed by 11:30 p.m. and has to wake up at 4 a.m. the following day. Although this hectic timetable may be imaginably tolerable, the actual experience of it is a completely different story. The energy required is immeasurable; it is something that only stems from genuine ambitions and a true love for the game of football.
Talking to the team
Head Coach: Shin Jae-home
Annals: Could you introduce the Yonsei football team and explain what it means to you?
Shin: Rather than what it means to me, the Yonsei University football team is the site of players’ hopes and dreams. It helps them to develop football skills while studying, like any other Yonsei student. The Yonsei University football team aims to foster student-athletes.
Annals: This is your 14th year as the head coach at Yonsei. Are there any particular reasons why you choose to coach here?
Shin: There have been times when I was offered positions at pro-level teams. However, I chose to stay at Yonsei University because the whole development process is more rewarding for me. I feel pride when players successfully debut in pro-leagues, and even play for the national team, after their growth at Yonsei.
Annals: What is your role as a head coach? How does it differ from what the coaches do?
Shin: A head coach is like the team manager. As well as being involved with football training, I am responsible for maintaining adequate relationships with many affiliated corporations such as the media, football associations, etc. On the other hand, the coaches are in charge of more specific activities, directly working with the football players. As such, they have more intimate relationships with the players while I keep a certain distance from them.
Annals: Why do you keep distance from the players?
Shin: Each head coach approaches his players in a different way. In my case, I don’t interfere with anything not concerning matters that relate strictly to football. During a match, everyone must strictly adhere to a set of rules in order to work together effectively. A focused mentality is vital and as such, I try to always keep a football-centered atmosphere.
Annals: Do you have any special managerial methods?
Shin: Since the beginning of my career at Yonsei, I have conducted a team speech session every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Each player stands in front of the room and talks to the team on any topic of their choosing for five to ten minutes. They are not very experienced in talking in front of an audience, thus, they find it tricky to communicate their thoughts effectively. At first, the boys are very shy and don’t even know where to place their hands while talking. With time, their public speaking skills improve greatly and the speeches which are sometimes informative, sometimes motivational, and sometimes even personal binds the team together. I have found that the exchange of thought and emotion develops team work.
Annals: Lastly, how do you wish the players to develop from being in the Yonsei football team?
Shin: I want the Yonsei football team to be renowned as a place where the players grow both as successful footballers as well as principled individuals.
Players: Ha Seung-un (Soph., Dept. of Physical Education.), Lee Jun (Jr., Dept. of Sports & Leisure Studies), Kim Chan-gyu (Sr., Dept. of Physical Education)
Annals: First of all, congratulations on the last year’s Yon-Ko game victory. Ha, you scored the winning goal, how did it feel?
Ha: To be honest, I didn’t feel anything until I was on the bus after the game ended. The situation seemed unreal and I could not believe it.
Lee: When Seung-un scored, he ran across the field. I didn’t know he could run that fast! I slept well for two months after the win.
Annals: How are you preparing for the next Yon-Ko game?
Lee: Mental focus and fortitude are most important for the Yon-Ko games. Concentration is the primary factor, as opposed to our football skills or tactics. We practice set plays a lot and build communication with other players.
Annals: Do you have any special routines on the day of the Yon-Ko match?
Ha: On the day of a big match, I tend to go silent. I stare into blank space and imagine scoring a goal.
Lee: On the day of any football match, I tend to watch goalkeeper videos. Before stepping into the field, I tell myself to stick to the basic fundamentals. Instead of aspiring great success during games, a good goalie is someone who stays stable and calm.
Annals: Although you are pursuing a professional career in football, you came to Yonsei University. What was your reason for this?
Lee: I lived far away from Seoul and so did not know much about the universities there. However, one day, when I was in my first year of high school, the Yonsei football team came to a bathhouse near my school. The blue uniform looked so cool and I was awed by the players’ aura--my heart started beating really fast when I saw them. Since then, I dreamed of playing for the Yonsei football team and luckily for me, I was accepted in.
Annals: What have you learned or experienced through your time at Yonsei University?
Kim: During high school, I had no control over my time. I was given orders and forced to follow a certain timetable; I felt restricted. However, at Yonsei University, through procedures such as choosing and enrolling into my classes, I felt very responsible for myself. Although as university students we do experience a great deal of freedom, it is followed by the need to be responsible.
Lee: In high school. I thought trying my best was everything; I always tried to push past my physical limits. However, in university, I realized that this was not always true. Overworking my body led to injuries and so I learned to stretch and know when to take breaks. Food is also very important! I eat a lot of healthy food and even drink bo-yak*.
Annals: What does football mean to you and what are your future plans?
Ha: Football is everything in my life. I have lived in dorms with older children ever since I was of pre-school age, all because of my love for the game. Like everyone else, I want to become a pro player and ultimately play for the national team. In the very far future, I would like to set up a football center and name it after myself.
Kim: Every football player aspires to play for the national team. As for future plans, in the short term, I would like to successfully carry out the duties of a team captain. Then, I would like to debut as a professional football player.
Lee: Currently, my aim is to start my career as a professional football player as soon as possible. Furthermore, I want to play for the national team. I will push myself and try my best every day. I believe that every little effort counts; it will bring me closer to my dreams. In the far future, after I retire, I would like to start a career in the entertainment business. More specifically, I want to be on The Return of Superman television show with my children.
Annals: Any last words to Yonseians?
Kim: We’re a team driven by our ambitions; we live everyday pushing ourselves to achieve our dreams. So please cheer us on!
*Bo-yak: A herbal brew of traditional Korean medicine that strengthens the immune system