Profile – William Kvist – One of football’s great outliers

“Der Däne ist jeden Cent wert” wrote in 2011 when they named William Kvist the best buy of the season in the Bundesliga. The Danish midfielder was bought from FC Copenhagen by VfB Stuttgart for around €3.5 million and has since established himself as one of the first names on Bruno Labbadia’s team sheet.

But William Kvist is no ordinary footballer. In fact he barely even wanted to be one. In a world where a typical footballer’s life equals time spent on the PlayStation, partying at nightclubs and expensive cars, Kvist is an exception to the rule. This is the story about an ambitious and intelligent man who always seeks to maximize his potential, but who also has a plan and a life outside of football.

Mental training, hypnosis and freediving

William Kvist is a true professional and his approach to football is similar to the one you’ll find in individual sportsmen like triathletes or swimmers. He takes responsibility for his own development in a world where players are used to be taken care of and catered to as long as they get themselves to the training ground and to the stadium on match days.

Kvist himself calls it the hunt for perfection and that’s why he has surrounded himself with a team of psychologists, hypnotherapists, dieticians and mental coaches.

“I didn’t become a true professional before I took responsibility for my own development and started to train on my own with the help from my team of practitioners. I had a contract but didn’t behave like a professional. That came when I started to focus on my weaknesses. What I didn’t get at the training ground I worked on myself, and the improvements followed”, says Kvist in an Euroman-interview.

In the team bus on match days you’ll find Kvist at the back with headphones on and closed eyes listening to the voice of his mental coach telling him that he will control the midfield, that he will dominate and own the centre of the field. And in the car on his way to the training ground Kvist will be listening to classical music because the radio commercials are disturbing his concentration.

At one point William Kvist even turned to the freediver Stig Åval Severinsen who has a Guiness World Record for holding his breath for more than 20 minutes under water. After they worked together Kvist had gone from 1 minute and 35 seconds without air to 4 minutes and 42 seconds. It is obviously not about holding your breath during a football match but about searching to improve every detail of your game, physically and psychologically:

“After I got my breathing under control I have had a more confident and secure feeling in my body, and that too is helping me becoming a better player. It’s about being curious and daring to seek inspiration from a lot of different places”, Kvist explains.

This constant aspiration to get one step further and to maximize your own potential by 0.5% is what drives Kvist to be the player he is. And when it all comes together and he gets in the zone in a match, the run of play is like a symbiosis where Kvist feels invincible and one step ahead of his opponents all the time – himself highlighting his first home game against Schalke (Stuttgart won 3-0) as one of these moments.

Kvist has been working with his mental coach since the first year he became a professional player in FC Copenhagen. The coach was doing his thesis and asked some of the players if they wanted to participate for a period of time. While the others dropped out when the thesis was done, Kvist has been hanging around ever since.

Along with the mental coach and the hypnotherapist the Denmark international developed what he today calls William 2.0. The focus got shifted from performance to development and together they laid out a plan for the next five to six years. First Kvist should be Denmark’s best substitute, then a regular at FC Copenhagen followed by becoming a profile in the Superliga. Lastly he should establish himself as a regular at the Danish national team and secure a move to one of the big leagues. The plan has been executed to perfection and Kvist has thus achieved every goal so far.

“Im the only one in Stuttgart who uses protein shakes after training and matches. The teammates are looking, but for me it’s about adjusting all the buttons. The optimal performance is to be playing every time and I have only missed one game as a professional due to a injury. If you take the mental coaching away I would probably have ended up as a mediocre Superliga-player”, Kvist concludes.

William the Academic and about not settling for less

William Kvist is well aware that there is a life besides and beyond football. Thats why he is a university graduate – he even wrote some of his bachelor thesis during the Denmark national camp at the 2010 World Cup when he wasn’t a regular starter in the team yet. During that tournament he decided to get something out of every training session and learn from the best; “While other complained about lack of playing time, I had a fantastic trip”, he explains.

At his Stuttgart-penthouse there isn’t a PlayStation, instead he reads thick books – at least three at the same time – and uses his spare time to evaluate his own performance in matches. Every day he writes down five positive things from training or a match and saves them in a binder.

But football isn’t everything. “There has been periods where I seriously considered stopping. I have an enormous duality in me. On one side I love playing football and having the luxury that comes with it, but at the same time there are a lot of other things I want to do. There has to be a development in my game and my career if I am to continue.”

It is getting obvious that Kvist is not a man who cut corners. Both his former manager Ståle Solbakken and the Danish national coach at some point wanted him to play right back, but Kvist said no to regular playing time and a lot of international caps. Where was the fun in running around in the side of the field not able to guide and decide a game?

“I wouldn’t have been playing football today if I had to be right back because I wouldn’t get much out of it as a person. Socially I’m not the centre of attention but on the field I want to be. Some players love to score, some love to dribble – I’m more for getting things going, taking responsibility and making the killer pass.”

But, what does the future hold for a man who has apparently reached all of his goals? Both Solbakken and his current manager Bruno Labbadia see more potential in the midfielder and want him to be more involved offensively. Kvist is not a player who delivers a ton of goals or assists. Actually he is yet to score for Stuttgart (he has, however, scored an own goal) and only delivered two assists for the club so far.

Labbadia noted in preseason that this year is about getting Kvist to contribute more to the offense (but still from his defensive starting point) and that the Dane should be more confident and rely more on his strengths.

The latest international game versus Italy can perhaps be seen as a sign of things to come. Kvist scored the only Danish goal (and his first in 32 caps) and was more present around the Italian box than usually.

Kvist himself won’t be settling for the status quo; “I might start a little company or take some classes. Where others are polishing boots and cars, I’m polishing my brain”.  Sure enough, if not on the training pitch or at matches, Kvist can be found at the local library in Stuttgart.

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The quotes in this post are taken from an interview of William Kvist in the Danish magazine Euroman from June 2012. 

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Martin Krag is a football writer and analyst living in Denmark. He covers German football for and runs the Danish language Bundesliga blog Follow Martin on twitter @martinkrag

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