Immediately after his birth, Erling Haaland entered the Norwegian sporting aristocracy. His father Alfie was one of the most famous modern footballers in the country. His mother, Gry Marita, was a national heptathlon champion.
And while Haaland’s rise was not predetermined, he was a winner in the genetic lottery.
In keeping with his parents’ happiness, the newborn Erling had another advantage: after his brother Astor and his sister Gabrielle, he was the youngest of three siblings. Having older siblings is a significant statistical advantage for aspiring athletes, as I explored in my book The best. Essentially, playing with older brothers and sisters is more challenging and forces younger children to pick up skills faster.
Erling’s early interest in sports was not limited to football.
A growing body of evidence shows the benefits of a multisport childhood: those who specialize in one sport earlier are more likely to suffer injuries and burnout. A number of sports can encourage a child’s movement and motor development. A study of British gold medalists showed that, compared to promising young athletes who didn’t make it to the top, the elite tended to play a variety of sports as children and specialize later.
Haaland’s childhood is a standard-bearer for a multi-sport upbringing. At the age of three he moved to Bryne, a town of 12,000 on Norway’s southwest coast. Small, safe and easy to move – but big enough that there were always enough children to play.
“I can’t remember when I started playing handball, I think I was eight or nine,” Erling recalls. “When I was young, I also did athletics. And I also played a bit of golf. So I did a lot of things.”
And very good: Haaland still holds the world record for a standing long jump by a five-year-old, set at 163cm in January 2006, and was later told he could pursue a career in professional handball. Erling regularly played handball, athletics and cross-country skiing until he was 14.
In Runaway, Malcolm Gladwell shows how lucky Bill Gates was with his timing: At the age of 13, his school was given access to a mainframe computer. Gladwell shows that in the mid-1950s, a remarkable number of software tycoons were born within three years, meaning they were in college when the computing industry took off.
There’s a hint of a similar coincidence in Haaland’s story. When he turned five in 2005, Bryne FK built an indoor grass soccer field that was always open on the weekends. In the past, children couldn’t exercise in the freezing cold winters; now they could, meaning Haaland could play a lot more than if he had been born a few years earlier.
Some of his teammates also became professionals as children: It was a “special environment,” said Haaland.
Most indoor games were casual pick-up matches with friends, with no coaches looking on: the kind of informal game that — like at the Parisian suburbs or in South London – develops players’ creativity and ability to think for themselves.
A study comparing Germany’s 2014 world champions to less successful German professional players found that the world champions had played less formal football as children and played significantly unstructured football in their youth.
Haaland was also supported by skillful coaching. At the age of eight, Erling was promoted a year at Bryne FK, which exposed him to tougher competition. In keeping with the enlightened attitude towards youth sports in Norway, Erling did not play an 11-on-11 game until the age of 12, instead playing in smaller games that give children more opportunities with the ball.
Erling’s rate of growth may also have worked in his favour. Looking at the 6ft 4in behemoth today, it’s odd to remember that Haaland only had a growth spurt just before his 15th birthday.
“It was maybe good for him to be smaller,” said Bryne FK coach Alf Ingve Berntsen, “because when he was 11, 12, 13 he had to be clever in the box, he had to be smart to create chances “.
Haaland’s father was not a pushy parent. “Alfie was very easygoing when coaching,” recalls Berntsen. “There hasn’t been any pressure, not even in all our years, to do certain things or process Erling in a certain way.”
Instead of forcing his dreams on his son, Alfie allowed Erling, who joins Manchester City next season, to take charge of his career.
“I’ve always said to myself, I want to be a professional footballer at a high level,” Erling said in 2020. “Trying to be better than him is also a goal. I had many role models, but my father is perhaps the greatest.” Put it all together. nature or upbringing? At Haaland it’s a cocktail of both.
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/premier-league/serendipity-in-sport-key-to-haalands-rise-41650739.html Chance in sport is key to Haaland’s rise