Being “coachable” key to success
To hear Terrace-native Cam Hundal tell it, his experiences as an up-and-coming soccer player in Victoria and the Lower Mainland have had a lot to do with luck.
And while it was certainly lucky that the first team he approached to practise with in his new home of Surrey just happened to be one of the best teams in the country – it also took guts and confidence to approach the team in the first place.
He was 14 and had just moved to Surrey from Terrace to attend a soccer training academy in Burnaby.
“I walked up to a pitch one day and asked a coach if I could train,” he said. “Luckily he let me train. I didn’t know who he was or who the team was.”
The team was Surrey United and the coach of the team, Spiro Pegios, let Hundal assist him for the next two training sessions, passing the ball and acting as extra support on the sidelines and on the field.
“The coach saw that I had some skill, even though I didn’t have much knowledge of the game, so he let me train with them for about four months. I wasn’t allowed to play in games though because I wasn’t signed,” said Hundal.
But then he had his “Rudy” moment.
One day, near the end of the season in February, he got a chance to play for about 15 minutes in an exhibition game.
“I scored a goal,” he said. “That was the turning point. I got an email a few weeks later that said I’d been selected for next year’s [U16] team.”
Eventually he figured out who was on the team with him, including seven provincial players.
“Just the best players,” he said. “We ended up winning provincials, and then winning nationals. That was really lucky.”
He played another year with Surrey United’s U17 team, and the following year was selected to play for the Whitecaps U18 prospects.
Now 20, he’s in the second year of his scholarship at the University of Victoria (his school team, the Vikes, made it to the championships last year and Hundal was the recipient of a number of year-end awards including rookie of the year).
He also plays for the Whitecaps U23 team.
School league runs from August through April, and Whitecaps starts right away when school season is done, so that means soccer all year round. And with four two-hour practises and one or two games a week, it’s a huge commitment – especially when you factor in full-time classes in a Kinesiology degree.
But that’s what Hundal wanted when he moved to pursue his dream, and he doesn’t have plans to stop anytime soon.
“I can’t even tell you what’s going to happen in the next year,” he said. He would welcome playing for the Whitecaps’ reserve team or giving it a shot in Europe if he could get a proper trial.
“School’s always important, because in the long run your degree is always going to be there, but right now I think it’s kind of crucial that I focus on my soccer. This is the age where you make it, or don’t. So I’m focussing on soccer right now and seeing what I can do with it.”
He says he wouldn’t be where he is now without the trust and support of his parents and his coach, Nick Kollias, who he’s known since he was in kindergarten.
“If there’s one thing I can remember about playing here, I remember his clinics and everything he would stress,” he said, noting that they were always simple things, like how to dribble and how to pass with the side of your foot, but that’s what soccer is about. “And he really stressed communication. The one thing he told me before I left was make sure you’re coachable – listen to everything they say, they’re always right. And I instilled that into my brain, I screwed it in. Whenever I would get criticism, I just took it. And coaches really notice that, it’s the first thing they notice.”
For young players looking to move south to pursue soccer, Hundal says he would give them the same advice.
“You’ve got to be able to listen to criticism, because you’re going to get a lot of it. The level raises once you move to a big city.”
It’s not always easy to take criticism, especially if you don’t agree with it.
“A million times I wanted to say something back, but you suck it up and just take it. And now I’m at the point where I’d rather hear criticism than encouragement or praise because it’s the criticism that you can look at and say, this is what I need to work on.”
It’s also important to realize what a huge commitment it is to relocate.
“It’s hard. I had the attitude and confidence to do it – when I wanted to move, I knew that it was the only thing I wanted to do, and I knew if I did it I’d be fully committed,” he said, noting that its a big financial commitment for a family. “I knew when I moved that I couldn’t screw it up because it was a pretty big deal.”