My Beautiful Game

2 10 2013

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A few weeks ago I posted my thoughts about baseball, and what I missed about the game I loved as a child. This elicited some great responses, and may have caused a blood vessel to burst in the heads of one or two people. I like the conversations my posts create, and find great joy in providing a forum to respectfully share views.

In the interest of fair play, I’ve decided to turn my keen eye to the game I love… soccer. My beautiful game. Don’t worry, I’ll only allow myself to gush for one paragraph. Or two. Maybe three…

When I coached young players I would always say, “It’s a simple game… If the ball is in their end, kick it in. If it’s in your end, kick it out.” Maybe I over simplified, but I believe soccer is the ultimate team game – a choreographed dance where each member has an equal share in the success and failure of the team. There are star players on teams at every level, but they can’t excel alone. Behind every great goal scorer several players who serve the ball. Accordingly, in front of the best goalkeepers are three, four or more players working together to minimize shots. Eleven players, working as one.

No sport in the world requires more athleticism and fitness, and puts more emphasis on playing for your country. Beyond that, I still love the simplicity… forty-five minute halves, no stoppages, no time-outs, no instant replay, only three subs per team, and the unrivaled pure energy that exists in a soccer stadium.

That’s the good stuff… nuff said!

But soccer isn’t without faults. Some are inherent in all sports, some are soccer specific. Things that need to improve…

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  • Faking Injuries – I hear about that more than anything else from soccer skeptics. I’ve lost respect for more than a few talented players because they get hurt when brushed by a feather. Thirty seconds later they are running like nothing happened. I’d love to see referees empowered to caution these players and get this out of the game.
  • Racism / Hooligans – Mostly in Europe, this continues to be a problem and clearly says more about the countries involved than the sport. Nothing makes me cringe more than video of players being subjected to this, or fan violence in the stands. Always newsworthy for soccer detractors, it needs to be dealt with.
  • Corruption – There are increasing stories about corruption in the game, from match fixing to bribery. FIFA has been the subject of numerous questions through the years, and now it looks like a major investigation will be underway about the choice of sites for the 2022 and 2026 World Cups. Obviously, when there is a great deal of money at stake, doors can open for some people to cut corners. Since soccer hasn’t reached a fever pitch here in the states (yet), U.S. Soccer and MLS haven’t been associated with such problems. We could probably learn some lessons from England, arguably one of the most rabid soccer countries in the world and virtually free from this type of scandal.
  • Winning – Yes, believe it or not winning is a problem… but only at the youth level. And this is a problem for all youth sports. Too much emphasis on building winning teams erodes the skill level of all our athletes. Basic fundamental teaching of a sport is giving way to a “win at all cost” mentality, and the players are suffering.  It’s a broken system that needs correcting. It’s not a coincidence that the United States produces the most talented athletes in the world, but doesn’t compete at the highest level in soccer.

I always draw a distinction between the sport and the game. When I spoke about baseball, my commentary mostly concerned what the sport has done to adversely affect the game. Truthfully, I love the game of baseball, of soccer… and also hockey, football, basketball, etc. You have to admire the competition on the field, the pitch, the ice or the court.

I’ll have to keep an eye on these bad things about soccer, and hope they don’t adversely affect what happens between the white lines.  And I’ll continue to love my beautiful game, unless it becomes too much of a sport.

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One response

10 07 2014
JohnnyL

Great article, it’s obvious that you really have a passion not only for soccer but every team sport. I agree that faked injuries is probably the most negative thing on soccer and it’s very obvious during the ongoing world cup. How could you possibly have any respect for a player who is rolling on the ground and crying like five-year-old after a 100 pound opponent barely touched him.

I’ve read somewhere else that this is mainly because faking injuries is all gain and no cost, because players are not properly penalized for faking. This all reminds me of a story I’ve read the other day about old lady that faked slip-and-fall injury for 49 times. What a great player she could have been!

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