Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson has two roles, dentist and soccer manager. Hallgrimsson represents Iceland, a country with a population of approximately 334,252 people, which is a similar size to Peoria, Illinois per Sports Illustrated. While other coaches play golf or have other hobbies, Hallgrimsson prefers to keep his dentist practice going as a way to unwind.
“I just do it now and again to keep my fingers and brain working in dentistry,” Hallgrimsson explained to Sports Illustrated. “It’s good to take time off [from] football for some time and do something different. Some coaches play golf. I do dentistry.”
It is just one of many unorthodox things Hallgrimsson does in a country that has an approach to soccer that is anything but conventional. Hallgrimsson meets with supporters at a pub on match day to go over the starting lineup, and discuss the team’s strategy. Iceland has used its size as an advantage, making it is easy to organize the soccer program. There is a training system for youth coaches to be trained and paid so young soccer players are learning the game from professionals. The approach has resulted in Iceland’s first World Cup.
Learn more about Hallgrimsson, part coach and part dentist.
1. Hallgrimsson Is a Practicing Dentist
With soccer managers drawing massive salaries, it is not often you see a coach moonlighting. Iceland does things a little differently, so it is no surprise their soccer coach would have one of the most unique stories in the World Cup. Hallgrimsson is a practicing dentist, who continues to see clients even after taking over Iceland’s soccer squad. Hallgrimsson explains it is therapeutic to go into the dentist office.
“It’s a good way to relax,” Hallgrimsson explained to The New York Times. “Some coaches play golf, shoot reindeer, whatever — everybody has something,” he said. “But I really enjoy going back home to my clients.”
It may be the first time someone has ever described the dental chair as relaxing. Hallgrimsson’s clients have to be a bit flexible with his schedule, but I am sure they would enjoy Hallgrimsson being booked for the next month, as it would mean a deep World Cup run for Iceland.
2. The Iceland Coach Meets With Fans at a Pub on Match Day
Iceland’s national program is centered around their fans, and it starts with the coach who tries to incorporate the Iceland supporters as much as possible. Hallgrimsson has a unique gameday tradition, he meets with fans at a nearby pub two hours before the match to explain their strategy, and reveal the starting XI. There are just a few rules like no phones or social media that the Icelandic supporters have to abide by to participate. Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl detailed the routine.
Two hours before every men’s national team home game, Hallgrímsson (who’s now the head coach) arrives at Ölver, a popular soccer bar near Laugardalsvöllur national stadium in Reykjavík. He climbs a wooden stage in front of the members of Tólfan—the 12th Man, Iceland’s raucous supporters group—and asks for the doors to be locked, with no media allowed, nor any sharing of photos, video or information on social media.
Then he attaches his laptop to a video projector and proceeds to do something that would be unimaginable with any other national team coach on the planet, much less one whose team has reached the World Cup for the first time and will meet Lionel Messi’s Argentina in its first game on June 16: He tells the fans which 11 players will be in his starting lineup, which formation he will use and all the secret details of his gameplan. Árni Thór Gunnarsson, a Tólfan member who travels to home and away games, says his favorite part is when Hallgrímsson shows the fans his motivational hype video, the same one the players see, which sends everyone into a drum-beating, chant-singing paroxysm of pure Viking energy.
3. The Iceland Manager Dresses Up Every Christimas as Gryla, an Icelandic Mythical Troll
Not only does his coaching responsibilities get in the way of his dentistry, but this past year it ruined his annual Christmas tradition. According to The New York Times, Hallgrimsson dresses up as Gryla, a mythical Icelandic troll, each year at the Christmas party in his hometown of Heimaey. Hallgrimsson was traveling with the national team this past Christmas season, and missed the party. Hallgrimsson’s nephew Arne Olafsson did not approve of the replacement.
“I don’t know who did it this year, but he was not as aggressive as Heimir,” Olafsson explained to The New York Times.
If you’re wondering who Gryla is, you are not alone. Here’s how Iceland Magazine described the character, and it sounds terrifying.
The Yule lads‘ mother is the ogress Grýla. Grýla is one of the oldest mythical characters in Icelandic folklore. She is mentioned in 13th century manuscripts, and we can also find Grýla‘s in the Faroe Islands and a closely related ogre in Ireland. She is closely related to the fear of hunger: She is always hungry, and she threatens to snatch away children, usually the naughty ones.
4. Hallgrimsson Enjoys Hiking With His Wife
When he is not working on teeth or coaching soccer, Hallgrimsson enjoys hiking with his wife, Iris. Hallgrimsson detailed a hike they took after Euro 2016 was over at Col de la Forclaz, a mountain pass in Switzerland.
“High up, a few thousand feet, fantastic,” Hallgrimsson explained to The Guardian. “It was something I didn’t want to do during the Euros. We came back and enjoyed it in a different way.”
The majority of Hallgrimsson’s time as of late has been spent getting Iceland ready for the World Cup. Hallgrimsson explained to Sports Illustrated that the country has tried to consider their small size a strength rather than a weakness.
We try to use it to our benefit, our size. One thing is our youth development. It’s easy to implement changes around a small country. The connection between the coaches is quite good. When a new thing comes, it quickly spreads around. You know this guy is doing it, this girl is doing it, so I’m going to do that too. We kind of push each other step by step. It’s easy when you have close connection lines between people. You know the supporters, some of them personally. Maybe you’re related to them. And they know each other. Of course, it has its disadvantages to have small numbers of people, but you can use so many things to your benefit, and you should always try to use your strengths.
5. Hallgrimsson Believes There Are Parallels Between Being a Dentist & a Soccer Coach
Hallgrimsson has tried to take his experience as a dentist, and apply it to coaching. The Iceland manager notes there is a lot of similarities between his clients and players.
“You know how it is in the dental chair,” Hallgrimsson explained to The New York Times. “Some are really afraid of going to the dentist. Others don’t mind one way or the other. The third group are sleeping. You have to approach each client in a different way — you have to adjust to his personality — and it’s the same with football players. You can shout at one but you have to be careful with how you approach another one.”
Whether its his interactions with fans, players or clients, Hallgrimsson finds the best approach is to be open and honest. The coach believes it is a big reason the country has supported the soccer team.
“I think you gain respect and trust by being open and honest,” Hallgrimsson explained to Sports Illustrated. “We always say to the supporters how we are planning to play. When you do that, you’re judged just on what you’re trying to achieve. It’s the same with the media here. We like to be really honest with the media. Then you get criticized for the right reasons.”