Professional Athletes Who Played Soccer

Soccer as a vehicle to become a star in another sport: How does soccer make you a better athlete? How does soccer help you improve your abilities in other sports? For one, soccer helps you with your side to side movements, helps you move your feet quicker.

Which is good for basketball in particular. And soccer also gives you better balance and the ability to adjust your body when you’re under pressure. Also good for basketball players. But soccer can help you see the field or court better and show you have to have a change of pace and beat players too.

NBA Players Influenced by Soccer

Look no further than Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash of the NBA, both stars that grew up playing soccer. And surely Nash could have had a second career playing pro soccer if he wanted to.

Steve Nash

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Nash blended right into the Red Bulls’ usual practice on the freshly laid sod at Giants Stadium.

Born in South Africa, Nash played youth soccer in Vancouver but switched to basketball in eighth grade. He was swayed by childhood friends and the mystique of Michael Jordan, whose shoe commercials were constantly on television. Yet Nash, who also played prep soccer, said winning the provincial championship is “one of my fondest memories in sports.” He’d hoped to play both sports at Santa Clara University, but that idea was quickly nixed by the basketball coach.

Nash’s father, John, played professional soccer in South Africa and England. His brother, Martin, a former midfielder for the Canadian national team, is currently with the Vancouver Whitecaps in the United Soccer Leagues’ first division, who just won the league championship.

“Technically, he’s good,” Arena said, joking that Nash could afford to sign a MLS developmental contract and stay with the Red Bulls. “The thing he has, which he also has in basketball, is a brain. He’s a very sharp and alert guy. It’s a pleasure to see.”

Kobe Bryant

When Kobe Bryant’s father moved his family to Italy where he was playing pro basketball, then 6-year-old Kobe was introduced to soccer and the culture that came with it. Bryant often went to the parks in Italy to play basketball and would jump in on a game of soccer before hitting the basketball court.

“I wasn’t anything spectacular,” Bryant said. “I would have moments of doing something crazy that really wasn’t done on purpose. I’d pull off a nice move that was unintentional.

“I started out at goalkeeper because my arms were so long and I didn’t really have a good feel at handling the ball. As I practiced and progressed, they moved me to midfield.”

Bryant never played high school soccer, but he credits his playing days in Italy for helping his basketball game.

“I’m comfortable (with basketball) footwork because I played soccer,” said Bryant. “From changing up rhythms to foot speed, to being comfortable with having my right foot as my pivot foot and my left foot as my pivot foot.”

On Saturday, Bryant emceed Nike’s pep rally for FC Barcelona in Los Angeles. Bryant was unable to participate in the event’s soccer activities because of a recent knee surgery, but he insists he can “still put it in the net.”

Bryant and Barcelona star Ronaldinho met for the first time on stage at the event and exchanged phone numbers.

Imagine if Bryant met Ronaldinho under different circumstances this summer. Not on a stage in Hollywood, but on the world’s biggest soccer stage in Germany.

“If myself, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James had a soccer ball at our feet instead of a basketball at 2 years old, with our size, it could have been something,” Bryant said. “If we had played soccer all our lives, I think (the U.S. soccer team) would have been pretty potent.”