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How Great Players Learn

In the L.A. Times, I read an article about Marta, the 2006, 2007 and 2008 FIBA World Player of the Year. How did she develop into the best soccer player in the world?

Dois Riachos. Two little rivers.

Marta Vieira da Silva remembers them well. They were the playgrounds of her childhood. For half the year, when the rains had long gone and the streambed was dry, she and the rest of the kids in Dois Riachos used to play soccer in the sandy river bottoms.

It was there that the scrawny youngster who grew up to become the world’s finest female soccer player learned the tricks that now keep fans worldwide spellbound.

No fancy fields, coaches or clubs. Just pick-up games in a dry riverbed.

This remote locale, where she dodged the tackles of older boys intent on taking her down…The step-over moves, the dribbles, the dragging of the ball this way and that, at speed, with the sole of the boot, the lightning quick turns, the instant acceleration, the unleashed shot with power or the placement with finesse — all these the woman now known simply as Marta learned on the dry streambed.

Where did she draw her inspiration? How did she know what moves to try or practice?

Marta’s soccer knowledge came not only from playing, she said, but by watching Brazil’s never-ending procession of World Cup standouts. She rattled off the names: Rivaldo, Romario, Ronaldo and Kaka. “I tried to watch each of them and observe them and take a little bit from each of them,” she said.

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