Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Soccer? For sissies!

American culture managed to infect the world with its love of Big Macs, Diet Cokes and Jack Bauer. But when it comes to football, the "real thing" lives on the playing fields of Spain and the Netherlands, Uganda and Nigeria, England and South Africa and Brazil and all of the nations whose soccer talents leave the U.S. in the dust.

American-style football -- with pads and helmets and gigantic men on the front line -- is the ultimate allegory for this nation's love affair with violence. Soccer? For sissies! We want raw meat, not foie gras. Give us the crunch of bones, not the elegance of headers into goals. Why need a whole team to run fast when you can just sack the quarterback with piles of lard?

Soccer is a significantly more civilized sport than American football, requiring more players to be in better shape, more disciplined and more agile on the field. In place of brute force, the game requires muscular quickness and true dexterity. How many Redskins can dribble a ball with their feet, shoulders and head while running downfield, never letting their hands get in the way?

Professional football and basketball (another sport that often relies too much on force and size rather than real skill) make huge amounts of money from television and advertising revenues in the United States, making it highly unlikely that any other sports will displace them any time soon. Professional baseball is still hailed as the "national pastime" because it seems more attuned to family outings on long summer afternoons, though increasingly few games are actually played then.

While most school children in America grow up learning some soccer skills -- and kids' soccer is as brutal a sport among parents as you can find -- by the time college rolls around, the sports world is all about Division I men's football and basketball. Sure, we might have an occasional flirt with women's basketball or men's lacrosse, but those are mere diversions. While many collegiate soccer teams are exceptionally, good, those players know that when they graduate, unlike the football jocks, they're heading to accounting firms or law school, not professional locker rooms.

The United States will hardly be in a position to be a real contender for the World Cup so long as its sports reward system is defined by television and endorsement revenues. Keeping the public's need for blood and gore sated requires that weekly winter emphasis on men trying to kill other men while occasionally putting that funny little ball across the line.

Soccer's elegant skills are interesting, but in the American entertainment system, football's violence sells, and sales -- not trophies -- are the measure of professional sports success.

By Patricia McGuire  |  July 15, 2010; 11:20 AM ET  | Category:  Success and sports Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You have to be heavily protected to play American football (compare that to Rugby or Australian Rule Football). You need gloves to catch a ball in Baseball (compare that to cricket where you catch a ball traveling at 90+ mph with your bare hands rather effortlessly). Now, football (aka soccer) is a seriously physical sports. Calling that a sports for sissies, would mean that you are too afraid to play.

When you are afraid to play it, what are the odds that you will win it?

Posted by: pattr1 | July 20, 2010 4:00 AM
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All you need in America to turn soccer into a national past time is FLARE.

I guarantee you the moment a couple of kids from the Bronx or East LA show up doing some incredible soccer playing that gets INTERNATIONAL PRESS, kids everywhere will be emulating them in droves.

What American soccer needs is to finds its "street flavor" in the way Brazil did.

Posted by: Mighty7 | July 19, 2010 11:26 PM
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I think the US is on the verge of becoming a soccer powerhouse. Here in Washington, there are more than 150 travel soccer teams at every youth age group and that's just here. That wasn't here a generation ago when I played. I see kids all the time playing pick up soccer - including my own. And all the kids in our neighborhood watched the World Cup. I say it's only a matter of time. . .

Posted by: WashngtnSenators | July 19, 2010 9:59 PM
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Golf. Forget soccer. Golf.

Posted by: johnglover66 | July 19, 2010 9:59 PM
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Gridiron is a sport for sissies who need gear to lessen the pain of physical constant. Rugby and Australian football are the real thing. Also, what is up with all those pauses?

Football Association is a beautiful game that demands speed and endurance. It can not be compare with Gridiron, it is as if one compares marathon running with wrestling.

Posted by: indydiaz | July 19, 2010 8:13 PM
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Re: HenryIIX - I have a great picture of the center forward of my high school team doing a near miss bicycle kick strike on goal. That was in Austin, Texas in 1968. Post an email address and I'll send it to you.

Posted by: Henry5 | July 19, 2010 7:24 PM
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America will likely never embrace soccer to the same level of fervor we see in other countries (dare I say ALL other countries) for many reasons but I'll focus on one. Although soccer is the most played sport with American youth, the focus is largely on fun and rarely seeks to elevate the level of competition to that of our foreign peers. Club teams, like that I played on growing up, play at a higher level but generally lack great coaching and year-round attention. Contrast this with programs in Europe who take the best young players into 'youth academies', boarding schools sponsored by professional club teams, where talented young players receive both a world class education and the highest level of 'football' training. At sixteen I traveled through Europe with my club team and learned that playing elite teams of our age group was not unlike playing a semi-pro team. We simply had no chance. If the US is ever going to realistically compete at the highest international levels we will have to adopt similar programs which already exist here in other sports like tennis. Once in high school American soccer players see a dramatic swing of attention and funding to the traditional US sports- football, baseball and basketball. I remember a funding battle in my HS where the Athletic Director, also the head football coach, funded all new equipment, jerseys, weight room gear, etc. to the football team but would not afford twenty soccer balls for us. We had to do car washes. Similar instances go on all the time and this re-channeling helps to kill the momentum built up over years of local rec soccer leagues. Like many former players and avid soccer enthusiasts I hope for the best but will not hold my breath.

Posted by: ewellsian1 | July 19, 2010 5:48 PM
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Good post HENRYIIX....

I have helped coach at the youth level. The other missing element is that kids are not only not playing soccer casually with friends, they don't WATCH ANY QUALITY SOCCER. The average 11 year old has probably watched dozens of football games on TV. I know kids on the team that I coached who had never watched elite level soccer on a regular basis until this years World Cup.

My sons watch Italian Series A and the Premier Leagues every Saturday during the season. They will watch a player do something on the TV and I will see them copy their moves in the yard. Just like we used to watch Magic or Bird and go in the backyard and try and imitate their moves.

Until we get the kids really involved in the sport and a fundamental level

Posted by: keithrjackson | July 19, 2010 5:30 PM
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The US men are pretty well ensconced in the 10-20 ranking stratum. Advancing beyond that will be difficult--and the level of play worldwide at the moment is quite high, complicating matters.

There isn't enough unstructured play for kids today. More unstructured soccer for young kids would be good. I have confidence that Claudio Reyna will do a good job with the organized development program for the male side. Our women don't need any help!

Posted by: featheredge99 | July 19, 2010 5:22 PM
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HENRYIIX, you nailed right on the head, this is the main problem for kids to develop those soccer skills so needed for competitive leagues. While here we send our children to well manicured soccerplexes in the suburbs, somewhere in the world the next stars are probably honing their skills in the streets where nothing is necessarily "by the book" but will help you score the goals you need, just ask the Brazilians, Italians and Argentinians for that matter. The only sport that mimics this freewheeling approach in the U.S.is basketball.

Posted by: eaglestrk01 | July 19, 2010 3:29 PM
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What I do not get is this compulsive need that Soccer Fans have to try and rip Baseball and Football, they complain about it more than any other sports fan group. Hockey fans used to do it a bit, but not as much.

Soccer fans are such haters in the US.

And I would put the overall strategy in Football higher up than any sport except chess. There are 1,000's of plays and techniques in football, and every year new ones are invented.

Posted by: alex35332 | July 19, 2010 3:24 PM
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"Soccer is a significantly more civilized sport than American football, requiring more players to be in better shape, more disciplined and more agile on the field. In place of brute force, the game requires muscular quickness and true dexterity."

Wow. Soccer is "more sophisticated" than American football? Requires "more discipline?" I'm no soccer hater, but this author clearly has no appreciation for just how cerebral American Football strategy - when played at the highest levels - can be. Both soccer and American football require participants to be excellent athletes - but each sport favors different builds and attributes.

And the issue of soccer requiring athletes to be "more disciplined." In American football, all 11 players must execute their duties at precisely the right place and time on every single play, a task which requires an incredible amount of discipline of the entire team. Soccer requires nowhere near the same level of synchrony and discipline.

Posted by: nickvalto | July 19, 2010 2:44 PM
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You can tell when someone doesn't have a clue about their subject when they throw out blanket statements like the US will never win the world cup. Let's review some facts. The USA won it's group with American players. They beat England...perennial power house as the winner of their group. France and Italy, with 4 titles between them, not only did not win their groups, they didn't even make the second round. Spain, a soccer power house for decades just won their first world cup title. To draw conclusions about American soccer as inadequate is ignorant. We can and will win a world cup title.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | July 19, 2010 1:37 PM
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Sister McGuire, the US will not win the men's World Cup in my lifetime (age 55), nor likely in my children's lifetime. The reason is that children don't play soccer.

Oh, I know, you see kids all over playing soccer. There are leagues all around for boys and for girls, for all different skill levels, coached by qualified coaches and with proud parents patroling the touch lines. But when have you ever seen a kid play soccer without adult supervision? Once league play is over, the kids don't play anymore. Kids need to play pick-up games with other kids, and work on their skills and their creativity. When have you ever seen an American player try a bicycle kick? Probably never. Some of the great passing we saw in the WC we'd never seen done by US players. I'm convinced it's because US club level coaches do not allow for that free-wheeling play.

I see US baseball going the same way. Kids don't play the game outside little league. No pick up games of stick-ball, or simply playing catch in the afternoon. I think that is why more and more you see major league baseball (other than pitchers) dominated by Dominicans and others latinos.

As for basketball, kids get the fundamental coaching from their HS coaches, and they get the free wheeling play from pick up games and from AAU. And they dominate the world in that sport

When you start to see kids playing soccer on their own, without an adult within shouting distance, that's when you'll start to see major advances in US men's soccer.

Posted by: HENRYIIX | July 19, 2010 1:11 PM
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A much better post than the counterpart, indeed. I think that soccer actually has caught on in the United States, but it's really only been the aging Baby Boomers and NFL/MLB/NBA/NHL addicts that haven't paid attention. It's like Facebook in 2007 - college and high school kids were well aware of the site, and spending hours a day on it. Some parent with a blog checked it out in 2008 to see what their kids were fussing about, and suddenly every middle-aged adult is talking about Facebook like they had just invented it. Same thing with soccer, especially in the more racially-diverse cities in America, like DC. People took days off work to watch the 2002 and 2006 World Cup matches around here, too - they just didn't have the press coverage like this recent Cup. The sports fields are as likely to have soccer games going as they are baseball. There are a lot of soccer bars in the area, and they're not hurting for business. MLS is not going to replace the NFL anytime soon, but as many people will pack Summers by the Arlington Courthouse for Man City/Everton as they will Vikings/Saints. MLS has stuck around a lot longer than many critics expected, and as more U.S. players go over to the clearly-superior European leagues, more Americans are tuning into the EPL and Bundisliga. Yes, the diving and injury-faking is ridiculous, but watch the American (and Aussie/NZ and Canadian) teams in international competitions - they don't flop as much, and are bringing, slowly, a tougher, rougher edge to the game. Combine that slow evolution with the potential of a lockout/strike taking away the 2011-12 NBA season, a work-stoppage in the NFL looming, and desperate TV programmers will practically shove AC Milan down our throats.

Posted by: telecomic | July 19, 2010 12:41 PM
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Unfortunately violence sells and soccer (football) is not violent enough for those hardcore armchair players/sport analysts who tend to dismiss this game as "effeminate" (??), let alone the low scoring rate due to soccer's unique nature because that's how soccer works, like it or not. Soccer doesn't allow infinite commercial breaks (some fans are more for the commercials than the football/baseball/basketball game itself), another letdown for this demographic clientele who get bored very easily if they are not entertained every single second.

Finally, if the sport was not invented in the U.S., is not worth watching as it belongs to the "third world" (sic)....... excuses and more excuses for those afraid of not being able to be up to the task.

Once this nation overcomes this silliness and accepts soccer as it is: a competitive, both mentally and physically demanding sport, we will ready to join the powerhouses of the world, in the meantime, we have work to do, we have the athletic material and we need to refine our skills.

Posted by: eaglestrk01 | July 19, 2010 11:47 AM
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An interesting post and comparison but I can't fully agree. There is a growing and strengthening movement that embraces the very elegance of soccer/futbol that you speak of. Moreover, more and more players are coming up through the American ranks who will and do electrify the world ranks and, indeed, America. Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy & EPL Everton), newcomer Andy Najar (17 and at DC United), and Giuseppe Rosse (Dual American and Italian citizen who plays in Spain and CHOSE to compete for Italy in world futbol) many others are leading and going to lead the way.

Americans love the winner (what country doesn't?) and in soccer we are competing and winning more and more at the highest levels of the game. Judging by the surge in viewership and packed lunchtime pub crowds nationwide this past World Cup, it is clear that America is seeing, watching and witnessing this.

Posted by: lovinliberty | July 19, 2010 11:32 AM
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