After making his professional debut in Australia, Stefan Mauk embarked on a career that would see him win the A-League and play in multiple continents. But his pathway to professional football was not easy. In this article, Mauk, now playing in Japan for Fagiano Okayama, reflects on his childhood playing football, the biggest factors in his development, and how adversity helped drive him to become a professional footballer.

In This Article

A Sporting Childhood

Mauk traces the origins of his career back to a childhood playing many different sports. “My first clear memories are playing football in primary school,” he recalls. “But I played a range of sports. In the summer, it was tennis, cricket, and indoor football. In winter, it was football and AFL. I always had a ball at my feet.”

According to Mauk, the skills he learned through an array of varied sporting experiences would ultimately benefit him when it was time to specialise in football: “It definitely helped me with general coordination. The way that I play football probably reflects my AFL background as well, in terms of my aggressive side and me not being afraid to use my body.

“I think the general tactics and knowledge that you learn from playing different sports can go into your main sport as well. Playing multiple sports will only improve you.”

The Importance of Engagement

When discussing the aspects of youth football that engaged him the most, Mauk instantly talks of competition. “I loved the challenge of playing in a club team,” he says. “Junior football in Australia is quite competitive, and I think that’s what keeps many young players interested. I wanted to get better, score goals, and win games. So I really enjoyed that environment.

“Kids like getting better, achieving tasks, and seeing their improvement. It’s something we all constantly strive for. So I think that should be the coach’s main job: improving players.”

Mauk also acknowledges that his passion for the game — both on and off the field — played a decisive role in his footballing education. “I loved Arsenal,” he says. “And my dad was born in Germany, so I loved watching the German national team too. The older I got, the more passionate I became. And that’s probably where I learned the most — watching those players. My passion and interest started to benefit me as a player.”

Overcoming Adversity

Now, Mauk is an accomplished professional, enjoying a successful career in the game. But he does not underestimate the role of adversity in his footballing journey. “My first setbacks were not making the state teams,” he says. “Then, around the age of 12, my dad was diagnosed with cancer and, after two years, he lost that battle. He was the one who took me to training, who’d been driving me to play football.

“I think there was a big change in me around that time. I became more driven and more aggressive. Not getting selected for state teams also made me hungry — gave me a desire to work; I was desperate to win every tackle and take every opportunity.

“No player’s pathway is perfect. But experiencing trauma off the field probably helps you to focus and develop that determination to succeed. You can’t expect your coach to awaken that in you, because you can’t control who your coach is going to be. Individual players need to find that motivation themselves.”

Insights on Player Development

Mauk’s journey in youth football is a reminder of both the subjective nature of Talent Identification, and the potential pitfalls of trying to identify talent too early; a nine month period in his teenage years saw him transition from failing to make his state team to being selected amongst the top 10 players in his age group nationwide. But what other lessons can we learn from his story?

“During my time in the A-League, the individual was often forgotten,” Mauk says. “The priority was always the team and results, so I had to focus on my own development.

“But that is the coach’s job too; if you want players to perform at their best on the field, you have to understand what makes them tick, and work with them individually; giving players goals to achieve within the game and specific areas to focus on, and helping them understand what their best performances look like, can really help them improve.”

But while Mauk believes that coaches who individualise their approach can have a profound impact on the development of their players, he remains adamant that players also need to take ownership of their journeys. “Coaches should have an understanding of every player and help them identify two or three areas to rate their individual performances against,” he concludes. “But when coaches don’t do that, players must set themselves targets and monitor their own improvement — no matter what level they’re playing at.

“That’s something I constantly do for myself — in both games and training sessions. I know what my best looks like. And I’m striving for that every game.”

Image Source: Philavert from pixabay

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