Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

The Comparison Problem (Soccer in the USA)

Women’s Soccer is an American sport. Men’s Soccer isn’t (yet). Therein lies the problem of comparing the two on every level. Although they kick the same ball, they are very different for a variety of reasons. Just in case anyone reading this is waiting for my arguments against equal pay, they’re not coming. I believe the women’s compensation from USSF should be “equal”. (actually fair is the right word because the structures of compensation are vastly different and should be for now) The drum that I’m banging on is the need to separate the men’s game in this country from the women’s game for a while (about 12 years is my guess).

Women’s soccer is an American sport and if that was not obvious before, it should be after the 2019 Women’s World Cup. All American sports have a distinct characteristic: first mover’s advantage. The reason that the best leagues in the world for football, baseball and basketball reside within the United States is that these leagues existed before the rest of the world was overly interested in them. Yes, the players in baseball may now come from a variety of islands to the south but they are playing in the stadiums that were built by the legacy of the Babe, Rose, Clemens, etc.

“But the women’s league in the US has failed multiple times and the NWSL is propped up by National Federations.” Absolutely correct but the institution of Title IX gave women’s soccer a place to breed female talent before any other nation cared. The proof was on full display during this Women’s World Cup. Both coaches in the final played soccer in college and neither were born in the US. Soccer on the women’s side has been growing in the United States for decades. It is only recently that other nations are beginning to invest in the idea of women playing soccer. France and Spain in particular have begun the difficult game of catch-up but they have many obstacles to overcome and many don’t rely on money. Rose Lavelle was a standout performer in this World Cup because of Mia Hamm. A culture of women’s sport does not develop overnight and the rest of the world needs to contend with that issue. Unfortunately a majority of the female soccer stars on the international stage are from one country.

The exact reverse situation exists on the men’s side. Soccer is not an American sport (yet). The heroes that young players in the US idolize are usually not from their country. The best talent from the US is exported rather than imported. The game does not have a “first mover’s advantage”. It is one of the last dogs to get to the feeding bowl and often the traditional American sports have taken the greatest athletic talent before soccer gets a sniff. So the comparison of women’s and men’s soccer in the United States is at best apple to oranges and at worst unfairly skewed. But do not despair comparison people! The playing field will eventually be level, again I’d guess in about 12 years.

To use a phrase from Peter Diamandis’ book “BOLD”, men’s soccer in the United States is in a deceptive phase. Diamandis uses this moniker to describe a period when progress in technology seems to be almost non-existent. Results have looked basically the same for a long time with the USMNT. Win some, lose some but never a sense of dominance like the women enjoy, even in our own region. The reason why this is a deceptive phase is because all of the groundwork for the breakout of the men’s game has been happening for 25 years. Slowly, fathers who played now have sons who play. Soccer is becoming less of an afterthought and more of staple. The professional game is stable in this country and there is more soccer shown on TV in this country than ever before. So while the results of the Gold Cup may be disappointing, it is not truly a representation of where the men’s game is now. It is on the cusp of disruption.

This is where I’ll stick a pin in my argument for not comparing the women’s and men’s soccer programs for a while. Eventually the two will be on a level playing field as the rest of the world catch up to our women and the men disrupt the status quo in American sports culture and world soccer. I’m not sure which will happen first but I’m fully confident that they are both going to happen!

Enjoy the games!

Pete

Uncategorized

Freedom Is Responsibility (Trump and Rapinoe)

The World Cup is always filled with drama. Most of the time it happens on the field. It also usually happens between players, coaches and other people involved in soccer in some way. As the United States Women’s National Team prepares to take on France, host nation and one of the other favorites to win the cup, the biggest drama coming from France has almost nothing to do with France, the World Cup or soccer at all. Many more eyes and ears have become focused on the World Cup because of the comments made by Megan Rapinoe and Donald Trump. Since most news outlets have latched onto the story, I won’t repeat it here. This clash has sprung out of the fact that even though the two seem to have nothing in common, they both like the spotlight. So how can we use all of the light that’s been shone onto this situation? Remember that freedom is responsibility.

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In so many ways, freedom has become fashioned into a thought process that “I can do what I want.” While there is some truth to that statement it glosses over one of the inherent costs of freedom. “I need to let other people do what they want, even when it diametrically opposes what I believe is right.” Embracing freedom is easy when it is your own, it becomes difficult when it belongs to others.

So as the lights are focused on these two characters that represent very different factions of our country, my hope is that one or both of them remembers their responsibility. They both represent this country on an international stage and they have the opportunity to exercise their freedom of speech and action for the betterment of themselves OR the people who are watching. This is not Reagan imploring Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. It is a professional athlete who represents several ideals like equality in compensation, LGTBQ rights and racial equality and a president who has promised to “Make America Great Again”.

During their moment in the spotlight together, what will each of them do? Will they choose the spotlight and the clicks or will they choose the responsibility of their freedom? Rapinoe can turn that light from herself “not going to the White House” and shine it directly onto the people that she represents and their stories/struggles. The President could equally use the bright lights of this situation to address those same people and help “Make America Great” for them because Again excludes them. America was not great for women, LGTBQ or minorities in the past.

Both people have the freedom that this country affords them. My hope is that they take the responsibility seriously and see that it is not about them. It’s about us. The US may win or lose today against France. The question is can we find a way to win as a country in our daily lives? Or have we become so enamored with our own freedom that we no longer recognize the freedom of others? Republican, democrat, black, white, brown, green, woman, man, transgender, gay, straight….. at a certain point we need to figure out how to be neighbors and make America great! Even if it is for the first time for everyone.

Have a great day!

Pete

Uncategorized

The Women’s World Cup (Spoken and Unspoken Messages)

The Women’s World Cup has been a roller coaster ride from the beginning.  Although I support the US Women’s National Team, I am much more interested in the women’s game growing and being accepted in its own right worldwide.  Most of the results have been in line with expectation.  However the results are not all that matters.  Even though there are more games to be played, this World Cup is sending messages.  Some of them need to be heard and emulated, others need to be learned from then possibly forgotten.  Regardless, I thought it was worth the time to recap some of the biggest beats so far.

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Lone voices aren’t loud – The absence of one of the best players in the world has largely gone unnoticed.  Norway has performed relatively well without their Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg.  Her decision to stay out of the Norwegian National Team was a mild source of intrigue but in the end has been overtaken by other story lines.  There is just too much happening in a World Cup that the absence of one person is going to invoke great change.  If the World Cup is the best platform for female athletes to make a statement (and I believe that it is), then it requires a much more evident and pervasive stance.  Perhaps all of the teams deciding, they are not going to play for the first minute of each game because they want to make a statement about inequality.  Instead of kicking of an internationally televised game exactly when the whistle blows, a minute, thirty seconds, ten seconds is taken for all of the players to stand together against a common foe of inequality.

Objectively Subjective – Although it has people behind it, one of the loudest voices of the tournament has no voice at all.  VAR has all but taken over a tournament that is supposed to be about human beings playing and interpreting the beautiful game.  Unfortunately in an effort to “get it right”, it’s all gone wrong.  The games have largely been robbed of the emotion of the moment.  Referees without VAR get things wrong (and obviously with VAR things still go wrong).  Based on what I’ve seen from this World Cup, I’m much less worried about the getting the call “right” as I am the referee doing her/his best to endeavor to make the “right” call.  Human error is part of the process but two minute discussions over earphones about a possible infraction have not improved the game, they’ve cheapened it.  This is largely the reason that I’ve not watched a NFL game in four years.  The game has been taken away from the humans, so they defer, rather than decide.

Entitlement Doesn’t Lead to Titles – As a fan of the USWNT, it pained me to watch the match against Spain.  In an almost Rocky IV type moment, I felt myself almost wanting for Spain to win.  This was not me renouncing my citizenship.  It was the simple fact that I saw more instances of pride producing behavior from the Spanish team.  As a fan, pride is one of the emotions that we rely upon to continue our association with a team.  When we are no longer proud to support our team, there is little point in being a fan.  The Spanish team had a plan and they executed it well.  The US didn’t and didn’t.  At a variety of moments, it seemed as though the US were waiting for Spain to give up.  Rapinoe and Morgan seemed to want the referee to be the one to help them past the defenders.  Expectations of calls for any contact were fully on display.  Although some of Spain’s tackles were reckless, the general feeling that I got was that they were actually trying to win the game through skill and hard work rather than reputation.  My hope is that this was a blip on the radar screen but I am fearful that we are more show than GO!

One last word before she leaves – In one of the most shareable moments of the World Cup, Marta exited the tournament by laying down the gauntlet to the future of the sport.  Although the message was intended toward young Brazilian girls, it is a strong message for anyone.  The heroines or heroes that we esteem so heavily will not always be there for us to adore.  Someone, maybe you, needs to pick up where they left off or possibly challenge for their spot.  It is not going to be easy.  As Marta put it, you need to cry before you can smile.  The picture needs to be painted over and over again that the exceptional do not get there by chance or in born talent.  There is work that no one sees and most people fear but if you want to get to the highest levels, you need to embrace.

So even though it is not over, there is so much to take from the World Cup so far.  It is one of the reasons why I love soccer so much.  The result is only part of the story.  Stats and scores can only tell you so much.  The experience of the 90 (+7 COME ON!  VAR!) minutes is necessary to tell a story about the people that are trying to get that result.  Their stories run parallel to our stories and allow us to live more fervently because it resonates around the world!

Blogpost

Would You Know a Good Ref If You Saw One?

refereeToday my son’s game had an extremely good referee group.  The center referee and his two linesmen called the game very well.  Despite the fact that they did a great job and got the majority of the calls right (even the ones that went against my son’s team), there were still complaints from parents.  Which made me wonder if people really have any idea what makes for a good referee or if they just want calls to go in their team’s favor?  Here are some thoughts to consider.

The level matters – Recognize that the job of a referee changes as the age and the level of play changes.  At the lowest levels, the referee is part of a learning process.  Their job is more about managing the understanding of the game rather than calling “fouls”.  Often the sidelines are complaining about things that are poor body control and not actually a foul.  The higher levels require much more reading of the flow of the game.  A good referee will identify possible problems developing in the play.  Their use of cards, advantage, player discussions and fouls called/not called will depend largely upon their reading of the game and individual’s roles within in it.  So as you are watching a game, give some thought as to the level of soccer being played and what the referee’s role truly is at that level.

Perspective matters – By design, referees are intended to be a neutral third party at the game.  So they are not carrying the bias that most of us bring to the game.  Their decisions are based upon what they see and not what they feel.  This creates another issue for most fans because their vantage point is completely different from that of the referee’s.  So it is not only possible but actually completely accurate to say that fans and referees have seen a different game.  Most of the time this is done with no instant replay, no VAR with different camera angles.  This is done live with twenty two players running in all directions and possibly screening the view.  Despite these major obstacles, perfection is the standard that many expect.

The Laws are the Laws – A good referee will call the game based on the laws of the game, not public perception of what the laws are.  There are many things that are commonly shouted from fans or even coaches about things that do not apply to the Laws of the game.  “Winning the ball” for example does not make a player immune from having a foul called against them.  If the play is deemed to be reckless, then a foul is appropriate regardless of who won the ball.  A large number of players, fans and coaches have only a cursory knowledge of the Laws that are based more on hearsay rather than actual study.

Obviously this is just a small sample but each is worth considering.  The game requires referees and the good ones need to be identified, praised and promoted.  I fear that many people involved in the soccer world would not be able to identify a good referee if they saw one.  That is unfortunate because that means that people are unable to see past their own desires.  Most of the soccer played in this country is youth soccer.  Therefore the majority of children are getting a skewed view of right and wrong.  Right means in my favor and wrong means anything else.  The ability to be objective could be lost.

Blogpost, self-reliance

The World Cup and Learning How to Love Yourself

Best of friends ready to travel together.

In 1998 I spent almost a month in Europe with my best friend, Schaef, attending the World Cup.  When you think of life experiences, it really doesn’t get much better than that.  Spending a month engrossed in the thing that you love the most with one of the people that you love the most.  It truly was an amazing trip but when it was over he and I didn’t speak for almost two months.  The experience of that trip has helped me in a variety of ways, one of which I’ll share here.

The trip was planned extremely well by my friend.  He was the planner and I played the role of translator because I spoke both Spanish and French.  We flew into London and saw the sites there briefly.  Our main focus was the games.  So site seeing was kind of a fast paced game.  We tried to see as much as possible in the smallest amount of time possible.  Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. were all done in a day and at a quick clip.

Then we took trains down to Barcelona where we spent a few days touring and watching games in the afternoon.  Again, the Olympic Village, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s buildings and all were seen but not studied as we had to block out times for the matches which were almost social events along Las Ramblas.  Unfortunately Schaef lost his passport on our second to last day there.  For that story, CLICK HERE.

The LouvreOur next stop was Paris.  There was of course the visit to the US Embassy in Paris to get a new passport which took longer than we would have liked.  After getting it we had to rush to pick up our tickets to the five games that we were going to attend.  Our first match was Germany vs USA.  Despite both being American we were following Germany through the group stage.  The most memorable thing from following Germany for me was the warm-up.  Watching Jurgen Klinsmann get crossed balls for him to side volley from head height was amazing.  He was obviously a world class player honing his craft and I loved seeing it up close.  In addition to that match, we saw the Louvre in less than 2 hours.  Art lovers we are not!  Next was Germany vs Yugoslavia which was in Lens, a much smaller venue and not much around.

We fit in a quick trip to Munich Germany to experience Schaef’s heritage.  This was the first time that I felt like we needed some space.  I didn’t speak German but I felt there was an expectation that I was still on translation duty.  I learned quickly how to say “Zwei biere, zwei pretz” (two beers and two pretzels) which was about all we needed to survive.   That feeling of unnecessary expectation faded quickly because we were back on the road to Montpelier to see our final group stage match, Germany vs Iran, which ended with Germany winning the Group.  Montpelier was also the first place that we were able to kick a soccer ball around.  We met a girl from Chicago who got her brother to lend us a ball.  Her father’s only directions were “don’t pop it”.  Now I’ve never popped a soccer ball before in my life.  But sure enough, the very last kick of the ball took a weird bounce hit this tree with spikes on it and POP!  We felt so bad for the kid, I think we gave him around $140 in Francs to replace it.  At this point, the togetherness was getting difficult.  I even started smoking cigars on a daily basis just to get away for a bit.

Our final day of matches was filled with drama both on and off the field.  We went to the knockout stage match in Lens between France and Paraguay which Les Bleus won in overtime.  This was inconvenient for us because we had another match to attend in Paris that night and OT almost made us late.  On top of that we had to navigate around riot police due to an altercation that happened during the match outside the stadium.  Despite the difficult circumstances we got onto a fully packed train back to Paris.  Denmark beat Nigeria handily that night.

We traveled back to England in order to catch our flight home.  At this point, we have not had one argument or negative word said but we don’t speak much on the flight.  The next day we part ways and don’t talk for about two months.  Eventually we pick right back up in a good spot but we obviously needed some time apart.

This experience taught me so many things about relationships but the two main ones were: most upsets come from a mismatch of expectations and no matter how much you love someone, space is necessary at times.  These both came into play in the best possible circumstances.

On a daily basis, we are not dealing with the best possible circumstances but we are cultivating our most important relationship.  Each and every day we are in the closest possible contact with our key associate: the self.  Although it may seem odd to apply the same concepts to an internal relation as an external but they can be used to good effect.

First the mismatch of expectations with who you think that you are or should be is a common cause of upset.  We have a narrative about who we are inside of our head.  Some of it is conscious and other parts unconscious but when our external environment fails to meet our expectations of who we are, it creates issues.  Those issues can manifest in a variety of ways but the underlying problem is that our life does not match our expectations.  One way to combat this is actually create a definitive description of who you expect yourself to be on a daily basis.  Not the “best case scenario” or “ideal self” but rather standard operating procedure or bare minimums description.  This way you are setting yourself up for success.  Exceeding these expectations will be a gold star to shoot for but at least you have a definition of who you will accept going out into the world each day.

The second is slightly more complicated because getting distance from yourself can seem difficult.  I’m obviously not talking about physical distance but rather psychological distance.  The daily opportunity that we have for this space is sleep.  I truly believe that people who do not sleep well have a more complicated internal life because they are caught up too directly in their own story.  The inability to take a break from being puts additional stress onto the relationship with the self.  Other forms of psychological space from the self are meditation and exercise.  These can both be extremely effective provided that they can be done without intense focus on “results”.  Using these tools to take a mental vacation will have great effects provided that the vacation is not turned into a business trip.

So recognize that you’re on a lifelong trip, living out of a purse sized “bag”, with the same person that you cannot get rid of.  It would make sense for you to make them a friend, possibly your best friend.  In order to make it work though, you’re going to need to set expectations and give each other space.  Otherwise you could end up hating the person inside your head and that seems like a bad way to spend this great trip that you’re on.

Travel well!

Pete

SoccerLifeBalance

Mourinho, Management and More Peter Loge (Author of Soccer Thinking for Management Success)

PeterLogePhotoIn 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

SoccerLifeBalance

It’s Chess, Not Kickball!

US26_LogoIt’s far off in the future but it will be here in a developmental instant.  Although the World Cup of 2026 is almost a decade away, the present is the only place where we can impact the future.  Recognizing that Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams may be the “veterans” of that team gives the extremely realistic picture that while our future could be bright, it is in our best interest to make it brighter.  The loftier heights of the sport world are not reached by the individual but rather by a cultural movement that serves as a base to raise the many.  So the US soccer needs to realize that it’s chess, not kick ball.

The reason is that our soccer culture has gotten extremely effective at creating only pawns.  Christian Pulisic is an anomaly as an American player because of his versatility and vision.  Generally speaking the youth systems of the country are extremely effective at creating players who can make the next pass and not much else.  A slightly dumbed down version of the beautiful game where creativity is superseded by practicality.  Although pawns are necessary in the game of chess, they are unable to win the game on their own.  The major pieces, like rooks and queens, give the best possibility for victory because they are dynamic and possibly game changing.  Opponents must fear them because they are unpredictable.  They are in the right spots because they think five moves ahead from where the play is right now.  And that’s what we all need to do with the game.

The recognition that right now is not the goal.  The goal looms in front of us in the distance but we can’t reach it playing kick ball.  We need to be playing chess, developing rooks, queens, bishops and even knights.  Seeing a path that leads to eventual checkmate will only come if we are developing enough quality pieces, not pawns for our small game.

Check yourself.

Pete

Uncategorized

If Everyone Is Limping, Stop Going for the Knees!

wnn_kerrigan_140106_wgThe 90s had many memorable events and people.  Kurt Cobain, the OJ Simpson trial, Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton were all extremely noteworthy.  Both for their own unique reasons and the media circus that followed them.  It was not just that something happened but that it was perpetuated daily for probably longer than needed.  One of the most ridiculous stories of the decade was the ice skating scandal involving rivals Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.  For those too young to remember, the major event was an attack on Kerrigan’s knee orchestrated at least partially by Harding’s ex-husband.  There was a movie released last year called “I, Tonya” that chronicles the entire episode.

Reality had to happen first in this case because even Hollywood could not have come up with a story as far fetched as this.  It’s easy to look back at a time that was truly “last century” and chuckle.  It’s no surprise that from such a chaotic decade sprang reality television.  A weekly public reminder that even though your life might have problems, you can feel good about yourself in comparison to “those people”.

Seeing the problem is always so much easier when it belongs to someone else.  Each of us has within ourselves the solutions to the problems of our friends and family members.  However we all struggle with our own issues that seem so difficult.  Time and distance both seem to have a clarifying effect on the problems of the world.

I’m sure that if the issue of youth soccer politics were someone else’s, each of us would have a plausible solution.  Since it’s now and it’s close to us, the issues of last decade persist with even higher price tags.  Children are pawns and commodities in a game that has nothing to do with soccer but rather egos and territoriality.  This coming fall, an unknown number of player who want to play soccer will not have a team.  Not due to a lack of resources.  Not due an insurmountable distance to travel.  The deciding factor will be a focus on “our club” rather than the kids.  These players end up being acceptable casualties to a soccer culture that is focused on prizes that are apparent and available now.

In so many ways we are now reaping the rewards of our fast food culture.  Rampant obesity, depression, anxiety and others are all symptoms of the NOW culture that we’ve begun to accept as normal.   Even though many people recognize that the ultimate prizes come from long term commitment to small improvements made over years or decades, it is so much easier to sell the cash grab of today.  Risking that small and almost insignificant prize of the short term seems to be almost unbearable.

US26_LogoSo I implore you.  Yep!  I’m talking directly to you because as I said last week, if the USMNT doesn’t win a World Cup by/in 2026, It’s my fault!  So I need some help.  If you have anything to do with youth soccer in this country.  Take the long term view.  See how more kids playing is better for them and better for “US”.  Understand that letting your best player move on to a more appropriate team may hurt your record slightly but it could also be the opportunity that makes that player’s life better, both on and off the field. Realize that your small pond is not actually a pond.  It’s part of a more expansive body.  Trying to keep it separate is an exercise in futility and may cause its destruction when the wrong current comes along.  BE the first person to do the right thing.  It’s often difficult because there is a culture of short sightedness.  People are so used to being hurt that they are either on attack or defense, rarely in a mode to assess.  And more than ever that’s what needs to happen.

I’m sure if this was someone else’s problem, we’d have it all figured out but it’s not.  It’s ours and it’s close to our hearts.  So we get blinded by the shiny thing that’s right in front of us but I swear the bigger jewels are down the road.  The hardest part is foregoing the prize of now because it feels like everything.

US26

Pete

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Soccer’s Hate Triangle

Huryk-LukeWith the World Cup only a week away, the passion of nations is about to be put on display for the world to see.  The line between ecstasy and exasperation will be measured in moments and inches rather than hours and yards.  Preparations for this spectacle have been going on for years because for most of us, it is just that big of a deal.  Soccer truly is its own religion.  The problem, however, is the same as it is with most religions.  When people care that much about something, they tend to leave their ability to reason at the door.  Passion trumps perspective and people lose sight of what is TRULY important.  This is extremely evident in soccer’s hate triangle*.

HateTriangleThis past weekend at my son’s game, it became evident that there are a lot of negative feelings swirling around the soccer fields these days.  There is obviously plenty of excitement and passion to go around but the negative feelings are also ubiquitous.  Most of the time these feelings are directed at a particular group of people involved.  Every game has the potential to become a powder keg as tempers (both expressed and unexpressed) flare up.  Three groups represent the biggest sources of animosity and project it outward toward one or both of the others.  Coaches, Parents and Referees are the adults surrounding a game.  While stuck in the middle are the young people that the game is supposed to be for.  Obviously not every parent, coach or referee has these negative feelings toward the other groups but it is so ever-present that most kids are affected.

So in the name of the children that we are supposed to be helping navigate this game and life, here are some suggestions on how to break the hate triangle:

Walk a mile – It’s so extremely easy be an expert on something that you’ve never done.  Perspective is a game changer.  So if you’re a parent or coach who regularly finds fault with referees, sign up for a course or volunteer to “referee” a scrimmage game within your club.  These simple actions can give you the perspective of the other party.  Empathy is a key component to breaking down the walls between opposed people.  One of the best ways to cultivate empathy is through a different experience.

Communicate only when emotion is low – Do your best not to say (or scream) what you’re thinking in that heated moment.  Pause and wait for a time when you and the other party are calm to discuss situations.

Remember people – More than likely you’re not dealing with the reincarnation of Genghis Khan.  This person is not a demon.  They are another human that has a family, friends and a job.  It’s easier to judge someone else as bad based on one moment of their life.  While I’m sure that you’ve handled every situation of your life perfectly, it might not be fair or helpful to hold everyone to a standard of perfection.

Be a person you’d like to meet – If the roles were reversed, would you want to deal with you?  Putting the best version of yourself forward gives an example for the other side to live up to.  At bare minimum in these tumultuous times, people might not show you their best side.  You should never lower yourself to become a person that you don’t like.

These are not the only strategies but they’re a start.  In the end we need to remember every single weekend that the World Cup is most likely not at stake in the game that we’re involved with.  Something more important is.  The future of how our young people relate to one another is being formed at every moment.  How many more generations do we want to keep in soccer’s hate* triangle?

Break the cycle!

Pete

*(I use the word hate on purpose.  It is more to describe the depth of feeling rather than pervasiveness of that feeling.)