We tend to think that there is only one right way to succeed, but we are all different, so what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you.
After an ordinary dentist fortuitously ended up as the head coach of his country’s national soccer team, he paved his own, highly unorthodox, way forward. Now, he’s helped his team make history and has proven that success doesn’t follow a formula…
A Fishing Community
For the less than 5,000 people that call Heimay, a small island that is part of Iceland, home, life and job prospects revolve around the fishing industry, which is 1 of the country’s biggest industries and is the backbone of their economy.
Determined To Be Different
Many kids who are born and raised on the island end up finding work within the fishing industry, however, 1 boy who was born on Heimay in 1967 and grew up in a family of 6 kids was determined to do something different with his life…
An Uncommon Path
Despite being raised by a father who supported the family with his small business repairing fishing nets, the boy wanted to do more with his life. So after completing high school, he decided to continue his studies instead of getting a job as a fisherman or continuing his father’s business.
The determined young man moved to Reykjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland, and started studying computer science so that he could become a software engineer. However, as he started his courses, he started to realize that his dream career wasn’t actually something he enjoyed…
A New Career
“My sister’s husband is in that field, so I started reading the books and I thought, This is quite dry,” said Heimir Hallgrimsson, who dropped out of his computer science classes soon after. “My friend was doing dentistry and I thought I would just sign up with him and change later… And I never did.”
After Heimir finished his degree, he moved back home to Heimay and opened up his own dental practice to offer his dental services to the less than 5,000 locals. Over time, he earned a reputation for explaining exactly what he plans to do and he became the go-to dentist on the island…
A Talented Dentist
“He’s always smiling, really professional and really good at what he does,” said Vedis Gudmundsdottir, who has been a patient at Heimir’s practice since she was a girl. Part of what makes Heimir so great at what he does is his ability to change his technique and approach based on the individual patient.
Changing His Approach
“You know how it is in the dental chair,” Heimir explained. “Some are really afraid of going to the dentist. Others don’t mind one way or the other. The third group are sleeping. You have to approach each client in a different way — you have to adjust to his personality…”
That approach is also what made him an excellent soccer coach and manager for the IBV women’s club soccer team and later in 2006 when he was appointed to the men’s club team. “It’s the same with football players. You can shout at one but you have to be careful with how you approach another one,” Heimir said.
Coaching The Clubs
At the time, Iceland didn’t even have a single professional soccer team and Heimir, who grew up playing soccer for various club teams, just enjoyed coaching the club teams in his spare time as it was a way to still be a part of 1 of his favorite sports…
The Big League
But by 2011, Heimir was appointed the assistant manager to the national team, which was managed by Lars Lagerback and was ranked around 133rd in the world. The team had also never qualified for a major international tournament.
Rather than focus on their ranking and their shortcomings, however, Heimir recognized 1 of their real key issues, which was the fact that the team had almost no fans or support from the country with a population of about 330,000. “There was no real support or enthusiasm for the team when Lars and I first came in,” Heimir said…
An Unorthodox Tactic
Heimir thought of an unorthodox tactic to build some support and enthusiasm for the team by inviting the fans that they did have to meet up at a pub before matches to reveal their strategy for the upcoming game. “I told them that, before every home game, I would go to the pub that they have and give a report into what we were going to do. They would be the first to know the line-up, how we would play and I would show them the motivational video we had made for the players – at the same time the players were watching it,” Heimir said.
A Loyal Fanbase
The plan worked just as Heimir hoped. “My feeling was always that if you come to all the games and you sing and you shout and you support the team, you deserve to get something a bit extra. This was just our way of showing those hardcore fans our respect and appreciation. It meant they went to the games feeling part of things and knowing more than other spectators or people just watching the game from home. At first, there weren’t many there when I would go down to the pub but now there are hundreds, and I think it’s had a big part to play in changing the culture in the stadium. Now the support and atmosphere we have there is fantastic…”
Climbing The Ranks
Over the years, the team quickly climbed the world rankings and qualified for their first-ever international soccer competition in 2011. In 2014, the team nearly qualified for the 2014 World Cup and went on to qualify for the 2016 European championship, where the underdogs stunned the world by beating England and making it to the quarter-finals.
The 2018 World Cup
In 2018, the team, which Heimir is now the head coach of, is competing for the first time in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. “Our football now has a clear identity. We have found a way to win football matches using our players’ specific qualities, and by getting everything out of them,” Heimir said…
True To Themselves
“If there have been a few questions about our style, I would answer by saying that if we attempted to play like Spain we would only ever be a bad replica of them. When we could, we showed the quality of football we can play. We are comfortable with who we are, and the task is now to make it work for years into the future.”
Underestimating The Team
“If people still think it’s a kind of Cinderella story, and that in some way we don’t deserve it, then they underestimate us,” Heimir said. “So I kind of like it when people come here and ask: ‘Are you still a dentist?’ In my opinion, it benefits us but I know some people among our staff who would like more respect, professionally, than they are getting…”
A Part-Time Dentist
Meanwhile, Heimir is still committed to his dental practice when he’s home and still goes to his local pub to discuss the team’s strategy before games and tournaments. “It’s a good way to relax,” he explained. “Some coaches play golf, shoot reindeer, whatever — everybody has something. But I really enjoy going back home to my clients.” At the moment, however, Heimir is currently focused on the team as they compete in the World Cup, in which they have some of the worst odds of winning.
“You always have to be prepared to stop and restart again,” Heimir said. “Success is not a destination. The rise and fall of Icelandic football is not connected to what happens in Russia in three games. It’s a continuous journey, which is why we would like to keep the momentum and understand that it’s not just this game or the next tournament. That’s the only way you can think when you’re an underdog.”