KOREA WAS colored red again over the summer during the 2010 World Cup that took place in South Africa. In response to this wild enthusiasm, the Korean national team succeeded in becoming one of the top 16 teams in the world for the first time at an away tournament. As the national team received more attention throughout their games, Huh Jung-moo ('74, Dept. of Physical Education), the coach and director, naturally came under the spotlight. Huh started playing soccer after finishing middle school and has been a part of the soccer world as a player, coach, and trainer of the national team.
Annals: How was your life at Yonsei University as an athlete?
As a member of the national team, I had to go to Taeneung Training Center and stay there for months. At the time, the national interest took priority over individual rights. For athletes, this meant the national team's schedule could not be negotiated over for personal reasons. If I was called to Taeneung, I went without question and stayed as long as required. We were called to gather at any time during the year, which made it difficult to have a normal school life. The Taeneung members used to call the center "the training prison" because there was nothing at Taeneung other than the training facilities and we could not leave freely. There was no place for the athletes to hang out and relax. Because life at the training center was so harsh, it is more memorable to me than the school life that I could not fully participate in.
What do you recall the most about the classes that you did take?
I remember most my elementary chemistry class. The professor who taught it was infamously strict, even with the student athletes. I went to class as many times as I could and took careful notes, but the class was very difficult for me, as I had not studied much previously. During the exam, I panicked. I just sat thinking about what I should do when the professor, proctoring the exam, came over and asked, "It's hard, eh?" I just told him I was completely stumped. I thought I would fail the class, but instead I got a B. I think he regarded my effort to come to class and take diligent notes highly.
What was the most difficult part about being an athlete?
The most difficult aspect was the competition. As I started soccer late compared to everyone else, I had to put in a lot of work to get the same results and to succeed. Every morning I would run up the mountain behind the President's Residence on campus. There was a spring at the top of the hill. Once I reached it, I would jog back to the gymnasium. The bushes, lining Baikyang-ro from the gym to the main entrance, were spaced about five meters apart. I would jump over them, using them as hurdles. After I finished, I would go back to the dormitory to eat breakfast before class. In order to become a better player, I also did not drink alcohol. After school, I would go to Doksuri cafe or Doksuri billiard room under the railroad bridge instead of a bar.
What is the difference between being an athlete and a coach?
A coach teaches. Teaching is a difficult job and a good player is not guaranteed to be a good coach and vice versa. When I first started coaching at the Pohang Steelers, I was very strict. I criticized the players for not practicing in the right way and could not understand why they could not fix the problems even after they were pointed out. My family and close friends told me that I was being too forceful and inflexible. They told me to turn a blind eye sometimes and to think more about how to tell the players about their faults. I realized that my attitude was wrong, so I changed my ways, finding new strategies to communicate with the players.
What kind of infrastructure is necessary for the development of better players in Korea?
A close look at the 2010 World Cup reveals that the biggest difference between the best teams in the world and Korea is technique. This difference comes from a misguided focus that only encourages competition. Currently, the system for raising young players is similar to high school education in Korea. Young players are taught to follow and exactly copy a pass or a faking motion. This eliminates even the smallest possibility of using imagination to produce creative moves. The children should have fun when playing soccer in order to realize their full potential, instead of concentrating purely on the outcome of a game. They should be able to look at the best players in the world, try to imitate their techniques and, in the process, give birth to a new skill specifically fitted to their strengths.
Another problem is that the current system to learn soccer is expensive and requires a lot of attention from parents. The parents have to pay a lot to have their child participate in a team and go through the training. They also have to drive the kids around to the practices and games. Even after having invested so much, they worry constantly and talk to the coaches often. These institutes should be a place to which parents can entrust their children. Having retired as the coach of the national team, I am putting much effort into creating this kind of infrastructure at the Yongin Football Club, where I am in charge.
Why did you choose to resign as the coach of the national team?
Even before the World Cup started, I was planning to quit afterwards. In Korea, there are incidents of messy personnel changes because the old and the new compete for the position. I think, however, that the transition from the old to the new is only natural and should not be resisted. I am just trying to make a smooth transition from me to the next director, who will lead the team on a new road. I am satisfied with what I have done and have no regrets. As I have said before, I will make efforts to construct the infrastructure for young soccer players-to-be. I have earned a lot through soccer and my entire life is based on it, so it is time that I give back to the society all that I have earned through it.
Any last words for Yonseians?
Yonsei University has produced many talented people who have contributed to the development of countless areas in society. Yonseians today should have more pride in being a part of Yonsei and feel a duty to lead the country. I have heard that students today are more concerned about their individual comforts, like having a fine career or a posh car, and do not give a second thought about how to improve the society at large. Yonsei University is an institution that aspires to produce leaders who can think and act on a greater scale. Dream up ambitions to shape the world!