Professional Soccer Player Arne Friedrich: “Done” but Still Dreaming
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About This Episode
Like most young boys in Germany, Arne Friedrich grew up watching soccer, cheering for his favorite teams, and playing the game every chance that he got. At five years old he recalls playing soccer as “pure joy.” As he matured he continued to rise through the ranks with the support and encouragement of his family and coaches. “I was humble enough to know that only a few made it,” said Arne. Recognizing that his chances at a professional career were slim, he continued to play soccer just for the joy that he had discovered as a kid.
His hopes became a reality when he turned 21 and signed with a professional team in Germany. He had always been able to set aside the pressure of games and his performance until he stepped onto the field for his debut with 60,000 fans analyzing his every move. For the first time, the fear of making a mistake and the pressure to avoid criticism became real factors. The expectation only mounted when he was one of only 23 players chosen to represent Germany in the World Cup in 2006. Rivals became teammates, new coaches took the reigns, and Arne strode on onto the pitch in front of 1 billion viewers for the home opener against Costa Rica. “Fear sets in when you face the unknown,” said Arne. Germany won that game 4-2, but both of the goals by Costa Rica were a result of mistakes that Arne had made. The media wildly scrutinized his abilities, questioned his place on the team, and really stole the joy out of his first World Cup experience. But thanks to a good friend and Olympic chaplain Dr. John Ashley Null and his close friends and family, he was able to maintain perspective through the waves of critiques. He remembers his team as supportive and encouraging, even if the fan weren’t and, thankfully, games come and go quickly in soccer and his mishaps were soon old news in the face of the next round matches. Choosing to learn from it, instead of pity himself, Arne took the opportunity to redefine himself throughout the rest of the tournament and celebrated as Germany placed third that year. That World Cup was special because it was his first, but also represented his first experience with the intense ups and downs of victory, defeat, and public perception. When it came time for Arne to play in his second World Cup in 2010, he was more mature, experienced, and relaxed, giving him the freedom to enjoy the tournament and be proud of another third-place finish for Germany.
With two World Cups under his belt and ten years of playing professionally in Germany, Arne was ready to make a change and fulfill another dream of his — to play soccer in the United States. He originally hoped to play in New York or Los Angeles, but his agent strongly encouraged him to check out Chicago. It only took one day touring the city and one trip up the Hancock Building to view the skyline for Arne to fall in love with Chicago and commit to playing for the Fire. His year in the US was filled with learning English, sightseeing, playing soccer, and discovering the stark differences between the two countries. In American strangers were friendly and chatty, the media was less involved in the world of MLS, and preparation for games was less intense. He enjoyed hitting the beach in the morning before games, learning new English words on his daily commute to the stadium with his teammates, and the beauty of the city. There were differences in the league as well. In Germany each and every game counts towards points that determine whether or not a team makes it to the championship, so even pre-season games are taken incredibly seriously. But in the US the regular season just determines who gets into the playoffs and that’s where the real crunch starts. Each format has its pros and cons, but it definitely made for a different pace throughout the season. Arne laughed that there was one more difference he was surprised to discover — that media was permitted in the locker room after games. He learned that the hard way after his first game when he emerged from the shower in just his towel to be greeted by a room full of shocked female reporters.
Unfortunately, during the pre-season of his second year in the States, he suffered a slipped disc in his back. He tried to recover in time for the season, but nothing was relieving his pain. Out of desperation for his discomfort to subside, he decided to retire and return to Germany to undergo surgery and recover with his family. The decision wasn’t easy, however, as he had just started feeling at home in Chicago. But Arne also realized that he had achieved incredible success during his twelve-year career and was proud to shut that chapter of his life. The surgery was successful, but the recovery required five weeks of laying flat on his back with no movement. Without the regular rhythms of training, teammates, and matches, he felt almost listless and without direction. “All of a sudden I had to find a new purpose,” said Arne. As he emerged from his bedrest he began to explore potential options and eventually committed to coaching Germany’s U18 Men’s team. He served in that position for a year, but eventually decided that it wasn’t for him and went on to start a soccer school for youth, study marketing, and use his experience to work as an international soccer analyst. He discovered that there wasn’t necessarily one specific thing that he liked best, so he has remained open to a variety of opportunities since his retirement. Most recently he has developed the Arne Friedrich Foundation which seeks to support children in hospice, refugee youth integration into schools, and education initiatives. The work is both exciting and fulfilling, providing an opportunity for him to give back to a community that supported him for so many years. During his retirement he also discovered the work of Hope Sports and has participated in home builds in Mexico on several occasions and now serves on the Board of Directors for the organization.
In addition, he has started a podcast of his own called “From Done to Dare” where he interviews professionals from all different spheres about how they have coped with times of transition, changes of directions, and career setbacks. Because of his own journey to discover purpose and vocation, Arne is keenly aware of the challenges involved. Be sure to follow Arne on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with the work of his Foundation and to catch the stories of other professionals we are dreaming even after they are “done”.