Soccer in the United States is gaining undeniable momentum in American culture. While the progress of the sport in this country has been slow, its impact is becoming more widespread. Through the various parts of this “Manifesto”, I will plead a case for the reasons for the proliferation of the sport and the impacts on the country at large. Physical, social, psychological and philosophical outcomes can be reaped through the more widespread acceptance of soccer as a national force. It may be a difficult argument to the general public because as Tom Weir of USA Today wrote in 1993, “Hating soccer is more American that apple pie.” While this sentiment may be changing, a deep dive into the facets of a transition is in order.
The history of the kicking game has been chronicled at length by others. Therefore my historical narrative will not be about the development of the game in the country but rather a juxtaposition of our historically American sports’ positive impacts on the country at large.
Despite baseball being considered the “National Pass Time”, American football has largely been the dominant sport of the past century. This is due in large part to the sport developing during the emergence of the US as a world power while also sharing the American ethos of progress. Football (American Football)* served the country well in the 20th century as it ingrained ideals that were instrumental during the manufacturing age. The ideals of teamwork, coordination and positional hierarchy ran deep within the factory system and football. Plans and decisions were centralized to management and passed down for execution by the line. Statistics are used to track progress, performance and predict the emergence of talent. The school, industrial and sports models of the 20th century complimented each other in structure and values. Therefore football, baseball and basketball became dominating forces in the sports landscape of the United States. Their appeal was compounded because of the community component and inherent aspiration of the team. Professional sports teams created a sense of belonging to cities or regions. High schools fed players and students into colleges. Colleges fed players into professional leagues and students into jobs. The systems worked almost seamlessly for a long time.
Identity Crisis (My independent film about soccer’s place in the US)
Nostalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. While nostalgia may feel good and there may be good reason to long for times past, the present is the only place where we truly exist. The past cannot be recreated. While this may seem sad due to things that are perceived as “lost”, there are many gains that have come from that passage of time. So where are we now?
As we progress even further into a new century and millennium, several of the rigid systems of the past are crumbling under the pressure of technology and the democratization of information. The old systems are being replaced for the very same reasons that they thrived a century ago. Cheap/efficient labor, mechanization, standardization and a consumer culture brought forth prosperity to the US. Now, cheap labor is found elsewhere or replaced entirely by machines. Standardizing of products has made many of them generic where cost and convenience become the most sought features rather than quality and craftsmanship. The model of consumerism has left many bankrupt financially, depressed emotionally and weighed down physically. The mantra “that’s the way we’ve always done it!” is the calling card of those primed for a fall to irrelevance or extinction.
The new economy of the United States is a connection economy that no longer depends on exclusively on commodity production but rather the unification of resources with opportunity. Entrepreneurship is not a buzzword of the silicon valley. It is an integral component of the new American economy that requires a more nimble approach to business. Bigger is not particularly better. Growth is not particularly the marker of success as people are often creating lifestyle businesses to balance work and life.
The traditional American sports do not fit as effectively into this new economic paradigm. The industrial model of tracking productivity in order to become more efficient in the name of progress does not hold. The measure of a good worker in the new economy is not a mindless cog that produces more than the other cogs. It requires a mixture of technical ability mixed with the emotional intelligence to make decisions based on varying factors. In the traditional American sports, these decisions were made solely by the coach, quarterback or point guard. Most other players were doing their assigned job as a part of an orchestrated unit. Divergence from the rules of the system was not desirable. The new economy needs more decision makers rather than rule followers.
This new system is more in line with the processes of soccer. Eleven people working toward a common goal with principles in mind rather than plays. Each individual must analyze what they see in front of them and decide what to do next. Although there are statistics available in soccer, they do not particularly indicate good or poor performance. The intricacies of the game are human. There is a balance between pushing toward a goal while not overextending to the point of being exposed defensively. While there is a coach with a certain amount of control, the players and their decisions are the key components to the performance of the team.
The individual has greater power to impact the world than ever before in history. Our games, systems and education should be centered around the improvement of the decision making faculty while maintaining an empathetic compass. Realizing how our individual decisions impact the rest of our team, community and world is a skill that needs to be developed in the generations to come. Although soccer is implicitly a sport, there are components to its play that can have a greater societal impact. This is not at the exclusion of the other sports but in addition to them. The 20th century American ethos has a place in the amalgamation of our future as a nation. It is through our diversity that much of our strength comes.
*From here on, I will refer to American Football as Football and International Football as soccer. I’m sure this will upset someone somewhere but it is not my intention to please everyone but be as clear to as many people as possible.