Natural Born Competitors
The Obradovich brothers, star teen athletes of another era, give some helpful advice to today’s generations.
- Written byStefan Slater
When Jim Obradovich, 61, looks back on his football career, which began at El Segundo High and grew into a nine-year stint with the National Football League (NFL), he notes that it was his love of competing that pushed him to succeed on the field. “You’ve got to love to compete,” says Jim. “What I did, even though its football, I competed against the individual across from me. You absolutely love to compete, and you hate to lose.”
“You’re born with it,” says Steve Obradovich, 60, adding that successful athletes grow up loving to compete and win. Don Lechman, author of Football in the South Bay, notes in his book about the history of South Bay football that Steve “was one of El Segundo High’s greatest football and volleyball players in the 1970s.”
Steve played quarterback at El Segundo, and he helped USC win at the Rose Bowl in 1977. That same year he won a national title in volleyball as well.
That love of competition, mixed with an enthusiastic work ethic and a simple love of the game, is what the Obradovich brothers consider to be the main reason for their athletic successes as teens and young adults. And, they note, if they can pass on any advice to young South Bay athletes, it is to keep that competitive edge sharp through hard work and consistent practice.
The Obradovich brothers grew up in El Segundo near LAX, or as Jim says, “about 500 yards from the runaway.” The two brothers started with competitive sports at a young age, ranging from Little League baseball to flag football. “It’s all we did,” says Jim. “Our favorite sport was whatever was in season at the time.”
Both brothers attended El Segundo High, and both played for the school’s football team. Jim says that he played “every position,” and after high school he eventually went on to play at USC. Then he moved on to the NFL, playing as a tight end.
During his nine years with the league, he spent six with Tampa Bay. Steve went on to play at USC, but volleyball ended up becoming his true passion. In 1976, he won the Manhattan Beach Open, and he went on to win additional tournaments up and down the coast. “He was always better at football,” says Steve about his brother. “And I idolized him.”
The two brothers supported one another with their athletic endeavors, and they encouraged each other when things became tough. “When it came to sports, we always got along,” says Steve.
Their father, Bob, was also tremendously supportive, and they both note that their “biggest hero was our Pop.” All of their sports goals were entirely self-motivated, and working together they both dedicated themselves to excelling at their respective sports.
“I never missed a practice or a game,” says Jim. Steve adds that it’s “all about the 10,000-hour routine”—that if you truly want to be good at something, you have to practice and you have to put the hours in. They both note that luck and decent coaching are crucial over the long run, but patience and dedication are key for young athletes to remember too.
“John Robinson (USC football coach) once said when we were complaining about not winning all the time, ‘There’s a little bit of loser in all of us,’” says Steve. There will be times when the team loses and things don’t go as planned—it happens to everyone. But it’s vital to retain a good attitude, keep pushing and have fun.
“Sometimes parents force kids and push them, and they burn out,” says Steve. But both brothers emphasize that young athletes should compete and win for themselves. At the end of the day, they’re the ones who end up on the field.
Dedication, hard work and a love for competition—the brothers note that as long as young athletes have those three bases covered, they should do just fine. “Otherwise, have fun,” says Steve.
Football in the South Bay by Don Lechman
A noted local author, Don details the history of high
school football in the South Bay from its beginnings
at the turn of the century to the present. Thirty high
schools and two community colleges are featured
with stories, coach profiles, yearly statistics, rankings,
photos and names of more than
3,000 exceptional players.