SoccerLifeBalance

I Refuse to Lose Your Race

In high school, I ran track and field. High jump and long jump were my specialties but I also won points for the team in some of the sprints. Track is a completely different animal than most other sports. Although it’s a team competition, most of the events are competed as individuals. Much of a track meet is spent waiting around for your event to take place. So they end up being long affairs because all of the races are run on the same surface.

The longest race that was run in my area was the two mile. It could get time consuming if there were slow runners. So the officials would have the slow 2 milers move to the outside lanes and start the next race. It was pretty easy to tell the difference between someone running a slow 2 mile and the 400 meter relay, so it was an effective way to use the common space. Imagine though that the officials ran every single race at the same time. It would be chaos! Tracking who was leading which event would be difficult if not impossible. Despite this fact, it begins to paint a picture of the challenge that many people have internally and society may have externally.

The metaphor of a track and field competition is a useful one. Although time and distance are the two major measurements used, there are other factors that play heavily into certain events. A javelin thrower cares very little about the time of his run up but very much about his arm mechanics. The fact that all of the athletes are focusing on different components in order to get different results mirrors much of our perception of success in life.

People are gauging their success in different ways and for different reasons. Much like the simultaneous track events, it’s easy to get confused about whether you’re leading or trailing when comparing yourself with others. If you’re focus is on having a spectacular family life, you may feel like a failure when comparing your wealth to someone who is judging themselves only on the monetary metric. It’s a fool’s errand to try to beat someone at a game that you’re not even playing.

So the thing to do is Decide! Decide on the games that you’re playing. For sure you can play the family and monetary game simultaneously but recognizing that your attention is split between the two will keep you from caring about the 30 other games that are going on. Win on your own terms in the things that are important to you. You’re much more likely to enjoy the game when you set up the rules and keep score!

SoccerLifeBalance

If The USMNT Doesn’t Win The WC By/In 2026, It’s My Fault!

There are some things that are just NOT done in polite American society!  You don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant.  You don’t talk politics with your in-laws.  You don’t talk about money in mixed company.  And if you’re an American soccer fan, you don’t agree with Alexi Lalas!  I am about to break that last social norm.  Alexi gave a description of the apples to oranges comparison of US Soccer’s failings to the successes of Croatia and Iceland.  I totally agree.  The component pieces of the soccer landscapes and national culture in each country are so completely disparate that comparison is a fool’s errand that is at best click bate and at worst sophisticated soccer tail chasing.  So let’s take the American soccer “watermelon*” and inspect it on its own merit to see where we’re going.

First of all, let’s take the population discussion completely off the table because it is irrelevant on many levels.  Only 2 countries in the top 20 by population have won a World Cup (Brazil and Germany).  Of that same top 20, nine nations have never qualified for a World Cup.  If more people was the answer, China and India would be in the final every four years.  The fact that the US is larger than another country does not indicate that it should be more likely to win (or perform well) at the World Cup.  So it is much more complicated than that.

The story of the nations that have won at least one or even multiple World Cups comes down to a convergence of many factors but probably the most crucial is a soccer (football) culture.  The nations that have been able to win or compete well at World Cups all have a culture that supports and/or increases their success on the field.  Culture, in very general terms, can be characterized by the statement “People like us, do things like this.”  So in those high performing soccer nations, people do several things that perpetuate the high level of play or induce improvement.  Generally speaking this is not a top down process.  Culture is a product of many little decisions made by thousands or millions of individuals, not a handful of powerful individuals making decisions.  So if World Cup success is in the future for the United States, it will follow the adoption of a soccer culture, not create one.

So even though the size of Iceland does not matter, the fact that so many Icelandic people do the Viking clap does.  It sends a message to every single player on the team and child who is adopting the game.  The message is “This matters to us!”  That message changes the daily actions of people.  Given the choice between extra ball work or not, players in those environments recognize that something important is at stake.

With that understanding well established, I will go back to the title.  If the USMNT doesn’t win the World Cup in/by 2026, it’s my fault!  This statement may seem crazy to some but if you’ve been paying attention it becomes plainly obvious.  Culture is created by individual decisions made by the masses.  It’s on ME!  And YOU!  And everyone else attached to this game in the US.  No longer can we hope that copying Barcelona drills or hiring English trainers or attending foreign friendlies on their summer tours is enough.  Every one of us that considers ourselves a part of soccer in the US needs to up their game.  What does that mean?

pulisicIt means action by the many.  In some ways this endeavor is truly in line with American culture (of the past at least).  It is almost inherently American to identify a challenge and conquer it.  For most of our country’s history, that was almost common place.  We (the people) took on monumental tasks as a collective.  Unfortunately we seem to be at a point in history where we expect other people to do it for us.  We can outsource it or it’s the government, corporation or system’s fault that things aren’t going right.  The problem lies with someone else or it’s just too hard and I can’t be bothered.  FUCK THAT!!!  We need to step up for the next eight years!  Not in some grandiose, out of reach way but in simple ways that can have a cumulative effect.  The main thing that will be required is a long term view.  So here are some of my suggestions based on a variety of perspectives.  It’s by no means a complete list but it’s a start.  Add your own thoughts in the comments.

  • Watch MLS games – More eyes = more dollars = better players = better league = better US player pool.  If you watch the EPL or la Liga but don’t watch MLS, you need to start.  I know that MLS is not as good as the top leagues at the moment.  However if we don’t pay attention now, it won’t have the monetary resources to get better.
  • Focus on players getting better  – If you’re a parent, coach, or associated with youth soccer in any other way; put progress of the player over the result on the day.  This is so extremely difficult for people to embrace because the desire for status is so hardwired into our minds.  One of the reasons that we continue to struggle on the international stage is that we are enamored with being the biggest fish in the small pond.
  • Be active – There are all kinds of ways that the US soccer culture could improve but it needs people to do.  Passivity is only going to perpetuate mediocrity.  Let your voice be heard, your actions be seen and your passion be felt.  You matter in this endeavor.

As you finish up reading this article, I hope that you have a small inkling of the feeling that I have.  It’s only a matter of time before the US wins a World Cup.  Soccer is no longer the game for everyone else but US.  The momentum of the sport in this country is well on its way but now it needs our help to reach escape velocity.  To overcome the inertia of ambivalence and low expectations, WE all must do our small part to reach the highest of heights.  But there are no guarantees.  WE must bet on the fact that together it will be enough.  And if it’s not!  IT’S MY FAULT!

Pete

 

*I’ve chosen a watermelon because it is my favorite fruit.  It’s also large but lacks overpowering flavor and its seeds are possibly potent but they are often discarded or made to disappear before they can materialize.

SoccerLifeBalance, Uncategorized

Oh Captain! My Captain!

captainThe role of a captain can be very important on a soccer team. I say “can be” because on some teams, the captain does nothing more than the coin toss. My perspective is that the captain has a great deal of responsibility and should have certain characteristics that help her to lead.

Job Description: The captain is the liaison between the players and the coach. She is also the “coach on the field”. It is her responsibility to give players direction and keep the team focused on the task at hand. Away from the field, she should represent the team in positive ways. Other players and community members should see the captain as a representative of what all players in the program should strive to be.

Guidelines: There are many ways to lead others. Although I will make several suggestions about how to lead, one key component is that you need to be yourself. You may need to be a better version of yourself, but acting like someone else is not the answer.

  • ·        Arrow to the Action: Inherent to the word leader is the idea of going first. A captain/leader should never ask someone else to do something that they are not willing to do themselves. Captains set the example. If they lead by saying but not doing, they will be found out eventually.
  • ·        We before Me: A captain needs to put the good of the group before the good for herself. The role of captain is one of giving and not receiving. It requires a person who can control their desire for individual recognition. It does not mean that the captain receives no individual attention, but the team comes first and she knows that.
  • ·        The Diplomat: As the liaison between the team and the coach, the captain needs to understand what problems need to be brought to the coach and which need to be handled within the team. She is not a spy or an informant, but a representative that is the voice and ears of the team.

Not all coaches will view the captain in the way that I do, so it will be important to understand the role under your particular coach. It is possible that your coach only wants captains to do the coin toss. If that is the situation, recognize that you can do more. Despite your coach’s view of the role, your teammates may be looking for more from their captain.

If captain is a role that you aspire to hold at some point, look at the leaders that you respect. Take stock of the attributes and actions of those leaders and assimilate the positives into your personality when possible.  Remember something else.  You don’t need the actual title to be a leader.

self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance

America Needs to SOCCER!

pulisicMost of the time soccer is a noun but today I’m going to use it as a verb.  Of course when you are creating a new word, it’s important to define it.  Here is my explanation of the term.

The action of “soccering” is not the act of playing soccer.  We already know how to say and do that.  And NO!  It doesn’t mean acting like you’re injured when no one did anything to you.  The action of soccering is the real life application of the virtues that are possessed within the game.  In soccer, players must make real time decisions about what to do, based on the stimuli that they take in from both teammates and opponents in order to achieve the outcomes of simultaneously reaching a goal while defending their own.  The soccer paradigm puts the impetus of decision onto eleven individuals acting as a collective rather than following the pre-scripted orders of an overseer.  Although positioning and style of play may be directed, principles and judgment are the main directors of decisions.

America needs to soccer!  It needs to take back the very impetus that this country was founded upon.  Regular people doing things as a collective that move us all forward and protect us against failing.   We need regular citizens who want to be self-determining within the existing system and help to influence that system.  At the moment we seem to be overwhelmingly passive and extremely willing to look for someone else to be accountable rather than looking to be responsible ourselves.

We can soccer by trying to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.  We can soccer by changing our perspective from a “they” to “we” mentality.  We can soccer by doing the right thing even if we know that no one else will notice but us.  We can soccer by deciding to take a chance on something that might not work, rather than doing it “the way we’ve always done it.”  There are so many ways to soccer but the thing about soccering is that it has to start with you.  You can’t tell someone else to soccer.  You can only show them how by doing it first and being an example.

Below is a long description of the historical paradigms where this thought came from.  If you are inspired to do something right now, then don’t read the bottom, act now, read later.

Why do I believe that America needs to soccer?  The historical successes of the United States have in large part been attributed to a football paradigm.  Land acquisition and forward progress are the hallmarks of the All-American sport.  In the past, both politically and economically, we have pushed forward in the name of progress and it has served us well.  Manifest Destiny is the perfect example. Presidents and other decision-makers laid out a playbook for the American people to score a touchdown on the Pacific coast.  Americans led the charge across the continent through wars and promised economic success, the way football players might listen to a play called from the sidelines.  The Space Race, the Arms Race, the Cold War and Industrial Revolution were all perfectly suited to the football paradigm.  So why change?

The reason for change is that the football paradigm is fundamentally flawed in a few different areas.  The idea of neverending progress is unrealistic.  At some point stock prices level off, profits decline and progress slows and stops.  In a paradigm that preaches forward motion as the truest indicator of success, it is not surprising that we have: insider trading, big CEO bonuses for bailed out companies and strategic layoffs to protect profits.  Individuals, companies and the government have all pushed toward their given marker of success whether it be money, land, power or prestige.  These success markers are not inherently evil or negative but their acquisition without thought to the human equation has created an imbalance in our perspective on success.

There are also the separations in the football paradigm.  The coach is the one who calls the plays.  The offense scores the points and the defense stops the other team.  Although all are members of the same team, it is easy to point the finger at another individual or group when things go wrong.  In the Industrial Revolution this system was completely acceptable.  Henry Ford brought forth the assembly line.  He took men who were making fifty cents per day and paid them five dollars per day because of his efficiency.  People were more than willing to be a cog in that machine because it was a better life than what they expected.  They were linemen but were happy to be that.  Now with modern technology and globalization that deal doesn’t work anymore.  That deal is being shipped overseas and no one wants to be a lineman anymore.  Everyone thinks they’re a quarterback and expects to be paid like one.

America needs to soccer because you’re part of the problem and part of the solution.  You’re on the field.  The decisions that you make on a daily basis matter.  The President, the senator, the governor, your boss, your wife, your children, your friends, your teachers are part of it all but so are you.  So before you point the finger, point the thumb.  What can you do today to SOCCER?

Thanks!

Pete

self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance, Uncategorized

The Power of a Poor Start

RockyMy soccer career started on a team called the Orange Crushers. I didn’t know what “irony” was at seven years old but our name epitomized it. We crushed nothing and it seemed as though our purpose in the league was for us to be crushed by others. My memories of that season are a complete blur except for one game. In one of our final games of the season, we won and I scored. I was so glad when it happened. The other team from town, Blue Bombers, was filled with friends and classmates and they were undefeated. So that lone victory was important for me because I’d received some ribbing at school.  Perhaps that lone victory kept me hanging on despite the poor start to my soccer career.

As the years went on, there was a slow dance that went on between winning and I. One year my team would be a success. The next we were knocked back down a peg. By the time I reached my senior year in high school, I had figured out who I was as a player. I was one of the kids who wouldn’t quit. That was my first year as a complete “success”. Conference and County Championships were the first two real trophies that any of my teams had ever won. As I thought back to that team, I realized that not one player from the Blue Bombers remained. They had all stopped playing soccer or switched to other sports.

Knowing how to lose and not quit or to persevere through tough times are skills that you acquire from a poor start. These skills are invaluable because no one maintains success forever. Using memories of our failures as stepping-stones is the way we make a staircase toward our success. The examples of poor starts are woven throughout the history of the United States. Lincoln, Ford and Carnegie are three that instantly pop to mind but one of my favorites from the present day is Stallone.

When Sylvester Stallone sold the script of Rocky, the studio wanted to make the film but with someone else playing Rocky. At the time he was completely broke and refused a series of offers from the studio for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He stuck to his guns. He knew how to survive and live with failure but he saw this film as his one ticket to ultimate success. So with very long odds, he bet on himself and won. I used to watch the Rocky films regularly when I was in high school. Later I learned just how much the movies mirror Stallone’s life. In Rocky Balboa, Rocky tells his son that life is about “how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” My guess is Stallone learned this early and never forgot.

A poor start is not something to be embarrassed about. It is something to be embraced. The power of a poor start comes in the fact that you know where you began is not where you’re going to end. The power of a poor start comes from realizing that failure did not put poison inside you, it put fire inside you. The only negative to a poor start is if you quit and make your start, your end.

It’s ok to start poorly, if you finish strong.

Pete

SoccerLifeBalance, Uncategorized

The Sport of the 21st Century

MonroeThe 20th Century of the United States was largely dominated by an industrial economy.  The US rode the wave of the industrial revolution into prominence on the world stage.  Factories flourished thanks to interchangeable parts and largely interchangeable people.  Most workers in the 20th Century were able to earn a substantial living by doing simple repetitive tasks under the orders of their bosses.

In this system, it is no wonder that the sport of the century was Football.  In so many ways, football was representative of the American way.  It was progressive.  Moving forward was success and moving backward was failure.  It mirrored our historical land acquisition with its own “land acquisition”.  The decisions were made by a few bosses and executed by largely  interchangeable people.  The sport was the perfect corollary for the industrial age and both served the country well in their time.

Now that the industrial age has passed and we have moved into what many are calling the “Connection Economy”.  The people who create value in the market place are not interchangeable cogs in a vast machinery.  Cogs can be replaced, automated or outsourced to other countries.  True value in the modern economy is created by an individual whose contributions are irreplaceable and unique.

This change begs for a different representation in sport.  The football model of “run the play” holds little value when the rules of the game change so quickly.  Soccer’s flexibility and subjectivity require that players deal with complex problems and must make individual decisions for the betterment of the collective.  Since each player is a decision maker, principles rather than directives are the dictating forces.  No one person is in control.  Therefore players must learn to control themselves and direct themselves in an uncertain environment.

The beautiful game will become “America’s Game”.  It is just a matter of time.

SoccerLifeBalance, Uncategorized

Can The Next USSF President Undo Trump Damage?

Trump
Make American Soccer Great!

The election of a new USSF President is almost upon us.  Although the holder of this post may not be as recognized as the President of the United States, the impact of soccer on the world is not a thing to be discounted.  It has both started and ended violence.  So with this decision looming in the near future, what impact will the new POTUSSF have on the sport and the country at large?

To the general public, the answer would most definitely be “none”.  It is an absurd thought to give this decision anything more than a passing glance on their newsfeed.  This is an organization that specializes in a sport that garners almost complete indifference from most of its populace.  It’s national power would, to the average citizen, rank somewhere around that of the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America.  Mostly kids and adults running around to get medals and club patches.  While that characterization might be accurate on certain levels, it completely discounts several factors that could have a tsunami type affect based on this relative flap of a butterfly’s wing.

Perception Is Reality

It’s often not pretty but the perception of truth often has greater staying power than the actual truth.  At the moment, the United States has an international perception problem.  Regardless of your personal feelings about Donald Trump, his policies or his impact on the United States; he is projecting many of the characteristics most disliked about Americans.  His overall agenda to “Make America Great Again” seems to come with the postscript, “non-Americans watch out.”  Despite being only one man, the President has the dubious responsibility of being a partial personification of what the United States is.  Mr. Trump’s actions, statements and Tweets may be his own but they also belong to all Americans when viewed from afar.

The Butterfly’s Wing

Eight candidates are being considered with varying degrees of experience, personal motive and leadership potential.  While I’ll keep my personal preference on candidates completely out of this, the worst thing that the voters could do in these circumstances would be to elect on celebrity rather than ability.  The reason being that the perception of the USSF and its new President has very real implications in a short period of time.  The selection of the host for the 2026 World Cup will be made on June 13th.  While the North American Triad of the USA, Mexico and Canada may seem like a sure thing when pitted against Morocco, small nations have dealt us unlikely defeat recently (and I won’t bring up Qatar either).

Winning the bid to host the 2026 World Cup is one of the crucial components to a successful Presidency for any of these candidates.  Failure to secure this bid is not just bad for soccer, it is bad for this country.

In the mind of the general citizen of the United State in 2018, the World Cup is nothing more than a soccer tournament.  It’s a fun diversion at best and non-factor for most.  However in an even more interconnected world of 2026, it is a spotlight shining directly onto the United States.  This event gives us the opportunity to be gracious hosts to the world.  While seemingly trivial from the inside, this role could be crucial to change an international perception of a nation that exports entertainment and soldiers under a leader of singular self-interest.  As news becomes more dependent on the “man on the street”, it is conceivable (if not) probable that brand America’s reputation in the remote corners of the world will depend on the personal experiences of a group of soccer fans supporting their team in egocentric America.

Stirring the Melting Pot

In addition to the World Cup bid, the new President will at the very least have an influence over the involvement of Hispanic communities in US soccer.  The recent loss of Jonathan Gonzalez to the Mexican National Team system is not so much a loss of talent but a loss of contact.  The roots of many Hispanic Americans in this country run deep.  US history is so inextricably intertwined with that of Hispanic heritage that a number of our states and cities have Spanish names (regardless of how we pronounce them).  The involvement of Hispanic players, coaches and fans (or lack thereof) in US soccer will be another key to US soccer counteracting the more pervasive American perceived ethos.

While soccer does not possess the ability to cure all that ails this country, it can be a catalyst for positive change.  The leadership that is selected must realize the importance of this game, not only as a sport but a form of quasi religion that can galvanize the people under its spell.  With this power comes great responsibility, here’s to hoping that the lesser of the two presidents is able to learn from the missteps of the commander in chief.  “Let’s Make American Soccer Great!”

Thanks for reading!

Pete

PS – Historically speaking, host nations seem to have a greater likelihood of winning the World Cup.  With young players like Pulisic and Adams being in their mid twenties in 2026, there’s a fighter’s chance.

SoccerLifeBalance

5 Ways to Win at the United Soccer Coaches Convention

IMG_3094It’s that time of year again where I make my trip to whatever city is hosting the United Soccer Coaches (former NSCAA) Convention.  It is great to spend 4-5 days talking, thinking and learning about soccer.  If this is your first time or you’ve never gone, here are some ideas on how to get the most out of the Convention.

  1. Decide – There’s more than enough going on at the Convention for just about any soccer coach/fan.  Deciding what it is that you want to get out of the Convention will get you much closer to achieving that goal.  It’s fine to spend some time wandering around the exhibit hall but it shouldn’t be your only activity.  Decide on some presenter that you want to see, Bill Beswick is one of my favorites.  Decide on the concepts that would really help your team, club or players.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be a paratrooper – This is my term for showing up to a session and deciding quickly that that topic, presenter or material is not what you were looking for.  Don’t be afraid to move on to another session.  There’s more than enough going on that you can have two or even three worthy sessions in each time slot.  So plan ahead.
  3. Engage – There are thousands of people here with the same passion as you.  The possibility for common ground is immense.  Although it may be more comfortable to only talk to the people that you came with, you’ll probably find that engaging with new people creates new possibilities.  This does not mean stalk Thierry Henry to pick his brain about how to fix your U9 girls team’s finishing problem.  There are more than enough people here who would be eager to talk to you about it though.  So step out of your shell.
  4. Get out of your lane – There are so many facets to this sport on display over the next few days.  Sticking to your own area is a great way to leave with the exact knowledge that you had upon your arrival.  Make a concerted effort to learn about something outside of your personal “wheel house”.  I once attended a panel discussion on club finances.  It gave me an insight into the work that my club’s treasurer was doing and helped us to prepare for some future financial concerns.
  5. Show up – Over the years, I’ve convinced several friends and colleagues to go to their first Convention.  Almost all of them are now yearly attendees.  There are many people in the soccer community that are disappointed in the qualification failure of the USMNT.  That problem will not be solved at this Convention.  However the solutions to American soccer problems will come from many of the people and ideas that are here.  As I hope that we’re beginning to see in many areas of life, a better tomorrow is not dependent upon the chosen few at the top.  It is incumbent on all of us who care to show up early and often to help get things right.

Enjoy the Convention if you’re already going.  If you’re not, get a one day pass and check it out.  Philadelphia is one of my favorite venues for the Convention.  The Market next door, the “Rocky Steps” and the city in general make it a fun time.

Thanks!

Pete