When David Beckham was 13 and dreaming of playing pro football (soccer to the Americans among us), one of his coaches said the magic words: "You'll never play for England because you're too small and not strong enough."
As Beckham told me, the coach wasn't joking or trying to be ironic. He meant it. And young David was devastated. Temporarily.
It occurred to him, even at 13--or maybe because he was 13, since adolescent rage can carry you far--that he could re-dedicate himself and prove that coach wrong. "As much as I was upset at the time, it made me think, Well, I'm going to prove that I can play football professionally," he says. "Back in those days there were a lot of people who thought to be a player in England you had to have a full-grown beard and be big enough to kick the ball as far as possible. It's changed now."
Beckham helped change the thinking. Even though he wasn't the biggest man on the pitch, his speed and uncanny scoring ability helped him become one of the great players in the history of the game--and one of the most popular athletes in the world. Captain of the British national team for six years, he collected more than 100 "caps," meaning he played for his country more than 100 times, an honor few players have achieved. …