Samuel Weller is a soccer freestyler and will perform as a show act at the European Championships. On Saturday and Sunday Samuel will be at the Beach Volleyball Finals. There he will show his spectacular tricks with the soccer ball. In addition to his performances, the 22-year-old is studying sports science at the Technical University of Munich and plays volleyball in the 2nd division at ASV Dachau. He has taken part in numerous national as well as international competitions in recent years. Most recently, he won the 2022 German Freestyle Championship. We met him.
Samuel, you play high class volleyball and are a freestyler. In addition, you are studying. How do you reconcile all that?
Samuel Weller: "It's relatively stressful. In the past, I definitely focused on freestyle and trained for two hours a day. In the meantime, the freestyle training is no longer as intensive, only two or three times a week. But now I do more shows, which I do on the weekends. The volleyball season doesn't start until October, so I have a lot of time in the summer to do the shows on the weekends. But now the volleyball preparation starts again, which means volleyball training four times a week and then a little bit with soccer. With freestyle, however, the focus is now more on maintaining my level than on expanding it even more. I used to compete in a lot of international competitions, but right now I'm just doing the German championship and focusing more on shows."
Did you learn freestyle in the club or did you teach yourself all that?
Samuel Weller: "I taught myself everything. I used to watch videos of the first freestylers who did it independently of soccer. Because freestyle actually has nothing to do with soccer these days. It's become a sport all of its own, with influences from gymnastics or breakdancing, for example. Then I tried it out myself and somehow got hooked on it. For four to five years, I did that as my main sport and now volleyball in addition."
Did you play soccer before that?
Samuel Weller: "I started at the age of ten and played soccer until I was 15, 16. Then I stopped because I started freestyle when I was 13. At some point the two sports in parallel just became too much, then I had to make a decision. Because it was so special and had advantages over classic soccer, I decided on freestyle. In return, however, I started playing volleyball when I was 16 or 17, because I love team sports and somehow got into it through friends."
What fascinates you about freestyle?
Samuel Weller: "Just the challenge and challenge with yourself. Because it's an individual sport, you can influence everything yourself. You can train as much as you want, so you are responsible for success or defeat yourself. It is simply a constant striving for improvement and better ball control. But the whole thing also requires a lot of self-motivation and self-discipline because you have to organize everything yourself, both trainings and competitions, appearances and so on."
What are your top 3 events you've been a part of so far?
Samuel Weller: "Now it's only about half time of the European Championships, but by the fact that this is in Munich, where I grew up, it's definitely already in the top 3. Second was in Hamburg last year 'King of the Court' in beach volleyball. Not so many spectators could be there because of the pandemic, but that was still very cool. Also, UEFA EURO 2020 in Munich, where I performed, is definitely part of it as well."
What was EURO 2020 like for you overall? Did you meet people you've always looked up to?
Samuel Weller: "Yes, definitely. We worked with Phillip Lahm, who was an ambassador and organizer of the EURO. That was very nice because he helped us a lot and encouraged us. At the games, we only performed in lounges because no one was allowed on the pitch yet due to the pandemic. There were 'only' 10,000 or 14,000 spectators, but it was relatively cool in the lounges, because you saw and met a lot of people who you otherwise only know from TV or the newspapers. For example, Uli Hoeneß, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, some FC Bayern players or politicians like Markus Söder and Joachim Herrmann."
Do you have any role models in freestyle?
Samuel Weller: "The Norwegian Erlend Fagerli, who became world champion again last week. He pushes the sport very far. That's also the cool thing about freestyle: it's always evolving. It's not like the classic sports that have already reached a high limit. That being said, there used to be a few freestylers in Germany who are no longer active now, who also pushed the sport very far."
Can you imagine that freestyle will have a chance in an event like the European Championships or is that still a long way off?
Samuel Weller: "I think that is still a long way off. That is simply due to the fact that there are still too few of us. There are maybe 5,000 to 10,000 freestylers worldwide who really do this actively, and in Germany there are only about 100 to 200. But the sport is always developing. In competitions, there is always a jury. In the past, however, they were very subjective and simply pointed to the right or left, depending on who they personally thought was better. Today, there are categories like Style, Control, Excecution and Difficulty, which are used to evaluate the performance. Nevertheless, there is still some development needed here to make the evaluation even more transparent - also for the viewers who don't know all the tricks. That's why I think it probably won't become Olympic, but I'm trying to spread freestyle in Germany more and more."
Are you networked among yourselves as a freestyle community?
Samuel Weller: "Yes, absolutely. Especially through Instagram, you're actually networked all over Europe, including Germany. You get to know each other at all the international competitions and then you see each other about two or three times a year at the big events. I've probably had ten to 15 freestylers with me in Munich, for example, who were passing through or wanted to see the city. So of course I also have the possibility, when I am traveling, to ask acquaintances from freestyle for a place to sleep. We're all very open and helpful because there are so few of us, and that creates a strong bond."
How did it come about that you are representing the freestylers at the European Championships?
Samuel Weller: "On the one hand through my sponsor Powerbar, who is also sponsor of the event. On the other hand, some of the same people are sitting in the management as in last year's beach volleyball event where I was present and they had the idea that I could be there again. I'm very happy now that I can perform in front of a big and probably full stage on Saturday and Sunday before the finals."
Are you nervous before a performance with so many spectators?
Samuel Weller: "You do get excited then, especially when you hear the people. But I find that a little nervousness helps to deliver a top performance. In the meantime, however, I have gained a lot of experience that I can handle it quite well. The best training is simply to go out on the street in the city center and perform there as a street artist. There you always have some audience that doesn't know you and you have to show what you can do. That's what I did on the weekends for a long time. That's how I learned how to deal with the pressure."
Do you think that when you're in the stadium you'll notice something of the atmosphere or are you completely focused?
Samuel Weller: "I am already in focus, but I also get relatively much. So it's not like I'm in the tunnel and don't notice anything, but I try to soak it up a little bit. Many tricks are also coordinated with the music, so you have to pay a bit of attention to the music and then of course you also interact with the audience. That's why I think you have to entertain the audience as well as perform."
Will your performance actually be broadcast on television?
Samuel Weller: "I'm not sure about that, so I could imagine it. I'm on just before the third place game. There are one or two other acts, so I don't know what exactly they'll show from that. Maybe they'll show a little snippet."
The European Championships bring together nine different sports under one roof. How do you rate this multi-sport event?
Samuel Weller: "I think it's mega because I'm just not only a volleyball player and freestyler, but also very open to other sports. For example, I also like to watch gymnastics, because I have adopted many elements into my freestyle - handstands, for example. That fascinates me a lot and is also an inspiration for me. I'm very broadly positioned in terms of sports that interest me, and that's why I think it's great that you can go to track and field, then beach volleyball, and then watch triathlon on a single day. That's why I'm hoping it's going to be a bid for the Olympics as well."
What is your favorite skill and what has been the most difficult one you've learned so far?
Samuel Weller: "Well my favorite tricks are definitely sole tricks. Those are all the tricks where I'm on the ground balancing the ball on my sole. There are a lot of variations of that. I started doing this kind of tricks five or six years ago and invented a lot of my own tricks. I was able to raise the level a bit worldwide. Nowadays, of course, there are some who make it even more difficult and sophisticated, but back then I was one of the best. The most difficult trick is a transition, where you change from one position to the next. In that, I trap the ball on my foot, throw it up, and then catch it in a handstand where I balance the ball on my sole. That was definitely the hardest one to learn."
What Championships have you been to so far?
Samuel Weller: "Last year there was a German championship in the online format and I won that. The years before that, 2018 and 2019, there were also German championships. I took second and third place there."
Will there be more international competition after the German Championship?
Samuel Weller: "There are European Championships, World Championships and, above all, there is the SuperBall. This competition was last week. It's an open world championship in Prague that anyone can participate in. I also made it into the top 50 there in 2018. Otherwise, I have participated in German championships, European championships, world championships everywhere. Many of them are open and in others you qualify for the next round. Then last year, unfortunately, I didn't make it to the top 16 worldwide."
Interview: Lina Lässer & Michelle Brey
Photo: Michelle Brey