Every weekend the players line up on the field, the referee blows the whistle and the microscopes come out. I’m speaking figuratively of course. Although a fusion between youth sports and science would be great, I’m talking about the tunnel vision of the fans on the sidelines. It’s actually not their fault. It is in our nature to pay attention to the things that we care most about. So a parent’s focus on their child at a time of high emotion is both normal and expected. Our youth sports culture has definitely swung toward the extreme with cost, intensity and behavior. The thing that we often lack as we go through life is perspective. We tend to think that the way we perceive the world is the way that the world is. It is only our version. There are billions of others and none of them is completely correct either. So it may be valuable to gain a different perspective.
Go to a youth sporting event of someone else’s kid, not a niece or a close friend’s son but two levels of separation. It may just be a different age group at the club that your child plays for. Choose a child that you’re going to “support” for the game. If you’re a cheerer, then cheer. If you’re the quiet pensive fan, then be quiet and pensive. Whatever you would normally do at your own child’s game, do you best to recreate it (bring your spouse to bicker about the coach if need be). I understand this will be uncomfortable and feel odd for most people but here are some things that will probably happen.
You’re probably going to lose focus on “your player” from time to time and watch the overall game. All of the reactions that you would normally have will be slightly muted. You may be able to look at the player and pick up on subtle cues about them. Do they like the sport? Do they play with joy and look like they are having fun? Are they afraid to mess up/of contact/of trying too hard? Are they embarrassed by the stranger cheering for them (keep it under control)? At the end of the game, was success or failure based solely on the score/outcome?
The payoff in this experiment will be different for everyone. If the difference between the fan that you are in the two situations is small, that’s probably a good sign. If the difference between the fan that you are is vast, it might be helpful to consider why. In the grand scheme of the world, both games probably meant about the same amount. Sports bring out some of our best and worst characteristics as humans. The kids are practicing regularly in order to be their best, let’s be at our best as well!
I’ve not watch a NFL game for about four years. I used to love it but now I can’t stomach to sit through a play or two. The exorbitant contracts don’t bother me. Although the blind eye to domestic (or just regular) violence off the field do bother me, that’s not it either. It’s the fact that the people inside the sport no longer want to play the game. They want to play the system. Rather than going for the ball, they go for the call. Games are more about referees than players. The game has become a sad shell of what it was. I’ve got the same complaint about my preferred sport of soccer but it has not reach the point of boycott YET! There are millions of dollars (or whatever currency) on the line, I get it. The problem is that the we’re all being robbed, not just the fans.
The reason why sports are such an ingrained part of our world is that they are a metaphor for what it is like to be alive. Whether it’s football, soccer, badminton or any other athletic endeavor; it is a meeting of body, mind and spirit that is a test on what we are capable of. When you look at sport in this light, it is easy to see that every time that someone tries to dupe the referee and succeeds, we lose. The fans, the players, the coaches and sport itself loses because we are no longer testing what we are capable of, we are finding out what we can get away with. I’m not picking on professional athletes because unfortunately it has become a cultural norm. The reason why I point them out specifically is that they are in the spotlight and have the ability to move the culture. They train for most of their lives to become the best of the best on their field but then become snake oil salesmen when it truly counts. And none of us will ever know!
We’ll never know what they could have done. Had they just played through the foul, the contact or the almost contact of their opponent. It puts the result of the day on the line for sure and I know that everyone loves a winner but at what cost? If gaming the system is the most common way to win, then we need to consider very heavily what it is that we’ve lost. More than likely it is the willingness to put it all on our own shoulders. Until we do that, we’ll never know what we were capable of and that is the point.
So I beg of you, as you go out into your own life today, don’t take the dive. Don’t look for the loophole or the shortcut. Even though you’re not a professional athlete, we all have the opportunity to find the greatness within ourselves. The key to that is that you must demand a higher standard of conduct. Because if you don’t give it your all, you’re just never going to know!
The spring season brings rejuvenation and tryouts. Soccer tryouts, hockey tryouts and I’m sure many others. The constant evaluation of players is now a cultural norm. While it may seem like a necessary evil, it is our job as the adults or forward thinkers to ensure that it doesn’t become pure evil in the mind of a young player. The constant question can go swirling through their head “Am I good?” While it may be a common question, it is probably the wrong question.
Comparison is all around us. There are grades, likes, follows, rankings and so many other ways to compare people and anything else. Some of them are objective and others completely subjective. They are easy to focus upon because they feel real. A sense of power and prestige can be derived from comparison but the opposite is also true. It is often easier to feel powerless and insignificant because we are usually comparing our worst with our projection of other people. Neither of these pictures is completely accurate but the feeling of inequity can be overwhelming. So we often look for validation from others, such as coaches, teachers, parents or others with the question, “Am I good?” The answer is never going to satisfy in the long term. It becomes a button that needs to be hit every so often to keep things in balance. Multiple choice is not your friend in most instances.
Although most people avoided them in school, it is two open ended questions that allow for a more compelling look at one’s self. “How am I better than I used to be?” “How can I progress forward?” Both questions are asked with a leaning toward positive self discovery. Our brains are an amazing piece of machinery that will answer almost any question that we ask of it, even if it needs to make the answer up. Consistently asking “Am I good?” will inevitably lead to plenty of instances where the answer will be “No” because metric and competition change frequently. However by asking the open ended questions, the question sends a subtle signal that in some small way you are better than you were. Also there are ways to progress forward if you’re willing to look for them.
These are obviously not the only questions that can be asked. They are simply two examples that can break the comparison chain. Done consistently, proactive questions like these can be life altering because we are evaluating ourselves and our lives continuously. Wouldn’t it be better to stack the deck in your favor?
In “The Junk Mail” episode of Seinfeld, we are introduced to Frankie Merman. He is Jerry’s childhood friend who has many quirks including digging holes to sit in when he is upset. Despite his eccentricities, George is slightly jealous of Frankie because Frankie and Jerry attended camp together. George ruefully refers to Frankie as the “Summer Me”. He even goes so far as to lie to Jerry about an imaginary summer friend of his own. All of this ridiculousness is par for the course in the world of Seinfeld. As far fetched as it all may be, it got me thinking about the soccer world in which American fans live.
Next weekend marks the end of the Premier League. For those who religiously follow teams from England on Saturday and Sunday mornings, there is hole to be filled. Recognizing this fact, it might just be time to embrace Major League Soccer as your “Summer League”. I can hear the protests now, “MLS sucks!” “There’s no promotion or relegation!” “It’s a retirement league!” I’m well aware of this and all of the other vitriol that comes out whenever someone suggests that our domestic league should be watched by our domestic fans. I understand the thought process. My son and I just took a trip to England to see two matches. The allure of European soccer is not lost on me. The only question is do we want it to be this way? Do we truly want to be thousands of miles away from the best soccer in the world? Americans account for the largest number of ticket buyers at the World Cup, other than the host nation. Which means that we travel to far off lands at great expense to see the best in the world compete. In 2026 when the World Cup is here, will Americans not attend the games because they are here? That would be a ludicrous thought! We want the best games with the best players to be in our backyards. BUT we’re impatient, entitled and shortsighted. Let’s take a look at each.
We’re impatient. Major League Soccer is barely 20 years old. Even the re-branded version of the English first division is older by around 4 years. Comparing MLS to any of the historic first divisions from Europe is at best an apples to oranges comparison. At worst, it ignores all common sense. Teams and leagues are made up by players and their endeavors are supported by fans. European fans have supported their clubs for generations. MLS clubs have not existed for a generation yet. Love for a team or club is not built overnight. It is a slow process and we’re in the thick of both the development of love for clubs and a talent pool. If the desire is that MLS should just buy the best talent in the world, do some research on the Cosmos.
We’re entitled. Other than MLS, the other major sports leagues based in the US are arguably the best in the world. NFL, no competition. MLB, takes whatever talent is produced in other leagues. NBA, second tier talent from the US go to play in the other leagues. NHL, brings in talent from all over the world. Is it really that disheartening to have one league of the top five major sport that is not YET the best? Especially when you consider that with the exception of hockey, the others are “American” sports.
We’re shortsighted. In the 1990’s my knowledge of English soccer was actually pretty limited. At the time, the Italian Serie A was arguably the best league in the world. The ingredients that contribute to the rise or fall of the fortunes of a particular league are multiple. One of the most important parts to a successful league is fan interest. If there are not enough fans, there is not enough money to buy enough talent and the product on the field suffers. The shortsighted thought that, “MLS sucks now. I’ll pay attention when it’s better.” is a recipe for disaster. The league cannot reach a status of world renown without the backing of American soccer fans. If you want the best players in the world, playing in your backyard for your local team, then you need to pay for it now, not then. We never get there if we don’t put down the deposits (both financial and emotional) right now.
So yes! Major League Soccer might be Fragile Frankie Merman. It may have all kinds of eccentricities that may not fit your model of a perfect replacement. BUT if you spend your summer pining for the return of George and don’t pay attention. Frankie will continue to disappoint and your summers will always be George-less.
Our beliefs tend to color or almost define our worlds. The thoughts that we hold most dear are the filters through which we cyphon our experiences and produce meaning. Recognizing this would make one think that people would be deliberate in the creation of their beliefs. Unfortunately this is rarely true. People’s beliefs are often a mismatch of heritage and circumstances. This haphazard approach is bound to lead to disaster more often than not. I’m not here to offer a complete belief system but rather one small sample: Soccer Karma!
I’m a huge believer in soccer karma. It is a term that I may have coined (or stolen, not sure!). The concept is simple. On the soccer field, if you give a good ball, you’re going to get a good ball. Meaning that if you give a quality pass to a teammate, they’re going to give you a quality one back. This is of course, not completely accurate. It’s completely possible that you give a good ball and get a crap one back! This is true. However the belief matters more than the reality. If I believe that my intent is going to have positive returns, I’m more likely to put effort in that direction. That effort will eventually influence those around me, especially if we all believe the same thing. This belief acts a ratchet that brings positive returns.
For years now, I’ve been professing the positives of this belief system. While I know that it has paid dividends for my players and teams on the field, my hope has always been that the metaphors of our sport are not lost on those who play it. The moment that we step off of the field, we are being released out into a larger venue with bigger stakes and uncertain scoring. Regardless of that, the belief system can be applied with equal effectiveness. If enough of us believe in it, then we truly can make life “a beautiful game”.
My son and I returned safely from our trip to see the mighty POSH and another team based in Liverpool. Compared with most of my other trips abroad, it was basically incident free. That was of course by design because while traveling with a 13 year old, it is probably best to play it safe. Despite that lack of crazy happenings, the trip was extremely enjoyable and gave us many things to ponder and remember.
Can’t Buy Me Love!
The Beatles may have been right by saying that love can’t be bought but the purchase of a new jersey of your son’s favorite team does help. Our first stop was in Liverpool for the Everton vs Manchester United match. We had a day to tour around the city a bit but most of our time was spent at the club shop and taking photos near the two stadiums of the city’s rival teams. Despite leaning toward Liverpool in the past, I had to stick with my son in his support of the Toffees. It was not an easy thing to do since the first English player that I ever knew by name was Kevin Keegan. Remember that I was raised in an era before the internet, so VHS instructional videos on soccer were my introduction to international soccer. However keeping with my overall thought process, supporting Everton makes much more sense for me. I tend to choose the road less traveled. Regardless, on match day it seems that I made the right choice. Everton pummeled the Red Devils from start to finish. It seemed as though ManU was expecting the Toffees to roll over and die. My son got the perfect introduction to live football in England, coincidentally 4-0 was the same score to the first POSH match that I ever attended.
We Lose If You Win!
Before and during the trip, I tried to impress upon Luke that football is taken very seriously throughout Europe but especially England. During our train ride to Peterborough, he got an up close look at what I was talking about. I had feared that we might end up seeing a clash between fans of opposing teams at some point. That didn’t happen. However on our trip to Peterborough, three Man United fans were having a heated discussion about who they would prefer to win the league. The two older (around my age) fans were adamant that they would prefer that ManU lose to Man City in order for City to win the title. Their historical hatred for Liverpool was so strong that they could not bare to see them win the title. The younger man was not bothered by who won the title and only cared whether United sorted out their own issues. It never looked like the conversation was going to turn physical but it was just enough of personal experience for Luke to see the gravity of support for one’s team in England. We changed trains in Manchester and headed toward our next destination. In the evening of Easter Sunday, we reached Peterborough.
One of my favorite quotes is “A man can never step into the same river twice because the river is different and so is he.” This quote applies to my return to Peterborough. Whenever I travel, I try to go for a run early in the morning. It’s a great way to see a city before it becomes crowded with people, traffic, etc. My first destination was London Road Stadium (The ABAX). It had been almost exactly twelve years since my last visit. The stadium much like the team seems to have been upgraded in noticeable ways but there is a core to both that have remained and make it seem the same. I often wonder how fans of teams that have been bought and revamped like Man City feel about their club. Having read the book by our chairman, I am quite comfortable with the methodical progress of the POSH over the past decade plus. The success has come with sacrifice and resources that are not limitless which suits me perfectly. The same is true of the city. Peterborough is a small city that is not overwhelming. It’s easy to feel at home there.
When In Rome!
With my young son in tow, I could not take part in everything that football culture has to offer. I did take the time to visit the home of PISA at Eb’s. We didn’t stay long and I only had one beer but I felt like I needed to show up and see what was going on. I really should have coordinated better with some of the people on londonroad.net. It would have been nice to put faces with screen names but this was a last minute decision because I did not know what to expect from the place. It was actually the perfect place to go prior to the match. The food looked and smelled good. The memorabilia around the place was a good retrospective on some of the reasons why I’m a POSH fan now.
Close Enough to Feel a Part!
The match itself was preceded by a “First Time Fan” experience. My son got the chance to sit in the team seats and high five the players on their way out to the warm-up. For me it was an opportunity to be a few feet away from two POSH legends: Aaron Mclean and Darren Ferguson. Although I must admit that I dropped the ball on getting photos with both. As a coach I just couldn’t bring myself to interfere with pregame preparations. Despite that fact, I still enjoyed the experience of getting down on the field level and seeing the players up close.
Our seats were great and the Sunderland fans were definitely up for the game. During the first half, I was a bit worried by our play and support. The team created a few opportunities but there seemed to be a non-committal feeling from the players and the POSH fans. It was as if neither were truly ready to give their all for fear that they might be disappointed. In the second half, that all changed as the players and the fans seemed to be fully invested in challenging a “big club” for the win on the day. Although the Sunderland goal came first, it was at a point in the game where POSH were starting to cause real problems. I knew we could pull level!
Then it happened! Godden’s goal electrified the stadium (other than the Sunderland areas). I don’t know exactly why but the combination of all of the circumstances culminated into so much excitement that I almost fainted. Jumping, cheering and clapping, I could feel myself getting light headed. The only thought that saved me was that if I passed out, my son would have to deal with it. So I calmed myself down. Godden had a chance to make it the perfect occasion but it wasn’t to be.
Prior to the match, the man who lead the “First Time Fan” activities had said to the group, “If we win, you need to come back because we won. If we tie or lose, you need to come back to see a win.” Although the game ended in a draw, it was still a great experience for Luke and I. I would have preferred three points and a dominant performance like I got during my last visit to London Road but this was special in its own way because I was there with Luke. We will will be back at some point and hopefully it won’t take a decade this time!
It’s a regular occurrence to see English Football Teams on TVs across the United States at the moment. The Premier League is arguably the most popular league in the world and many of the most beloved English teams are on display regularly for the American audience. However my team is not! For close to twenty years, I’ve been supporting Peterborough United Football Club. The club is known by the nickname “The POSH”. They do not play in the Premier League. Nor do they play (at the moment) in the Championship. The POSH are a League 1 team which means that they are in the third tier of English Football. Since they are not on the television often, I follow my favorite team weekly through the internet by watching highlights and interviews on Youtube etc. This week I’ll be making my second trip to watch a match at their home, The ABAX Stadium (formerly London Road) and I can’t wait!
My interest in the POSH was completely unexpected. My girlfriend (now wife) bought me the first XBox and the FIFA video game to go along with it. At first I used Liverpool as my team because as a young player I had watched soccer videos with Kevin Keegan. Eventually I got bored with how easy it was to win the league. So I decided to choose a lower league team and get them promoted to the Premier League. As I was searching through the lower league teams, I found Peterborough. Since my name is Pete, it seemed like a fine choice. My POSH teams on the XBox were usually a combination of quality POSH players and a few of my favorite American or English players. Brian McBride and Scot Thompson were regulars in the digital version of the blue and white.
After playing the game with the POSH for a while, I decided to look into how the team was in real life. It was very casual at first but the season they got into a relegation battle really drew me in. After that I followed the team regularly online by reading the match reports and checking Skysports.com. The POSH forum at LondonRoad.net was another way that I got information relevant to the club. The slow burn of my love for POSH got a large log thrown upon it in September of 2006 when Darragh MacAnthony became chairman of the club. He stated that his ambition was to do exactly what I had done in the video game world. If I wasn’t hooked before, I was all in at that point. My newborn son had a full kit and I wore POSH blue (or bright yellow) regularly. In addition to game days, I wore the POSH colors whenever I ran long distance races.
In 2007 I decided that it was time to visit London Road to attend a match. It was possibly the most frugally planned trip that I could arrange. I was in England for three nights including one in a basement room of a one star hotel in London. It was an amazing trip! The main reasons that the trip was amazing were all POSH related. The team beat MK Dons 4-0 despite Shane Blackett getting sent off in the second half. After the match, I waited around for autographs from the players and coaches. Shwan Jalal and Craig Mackail-Smith were particularly nice to me. Unfortunately I did not get to meet the new manager, Darren Ferguson. At that moment, I mainly knew him as Sir Alex’s son. Eventually he would become one of the best POSH managers by putting Darragh’s plan for promotion into effect. By signing ambitious young players and putting them into a system that created boatloads of goals, he has become my favorite manager.
So after a twelve year absence, I finally get to return to Peterborough. Many things have changed but many have not. Darren Ferguson is the manager but he is on his third spell with the club. The club is still ambitious but pragmatic in its approach. On the outside looking in on playoff spots, there is a slim possibility that they’ll make the cutoff. Regardless I am still hopeful that I’ll get the chance to see one of the games culminating in a playoff promotion success. I know that it will be a great atmosphere having watched “Sunderland ’til I die!” recently, it’s obvious they have passionate fans. Regardless, I can’t wait to be there! It may require thousands of miles of travel and over ten years of waiting but I’m proud to be a POSH fan! Supporting Man United would just be too easy!
In this episode, Peter Loge and I have a wide-ranging conversation on soccer’s many uses as a metaphor. Peter is the author of “Soccer Thinking for Management Success.” Throughout the book, he discusses several different ways that soccer overlaps with management concepts. Check out his work at www.soccerthinking.com
Donna Fishter is a Leadership Coach and Team Architect who works with athletes and coaches in order to make their teams better. In this conversation we cover some of the ingredients of good leadership, red flags and remedies for poor team chemistry as well as an assortment of other topics. You can find Big D at www.donnafishter.com
Brian White was the first draft pick taken by the New York Red Bulls in the 2018 MLS Draft. In this conversation we talk about some of the things that set him apart as an athlete and the transition to life as a professional athlete.