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Fluffy Philosophy: The US’ Lack of Offensive Production

June 2, 2010

Opinionated we are here at Fluffing the Lines, but every now and then we like to make an intentional effort to extend beyond the limitations of football discourse, stir the pot and, of course, fluff the lines. Fluffy Philosophy is part of that effort to politically pontificate and poll the populace. Though invalid, or fluffed, arguments will appear, the topics delve deep into the greater football-related issues of our world today. Join us in the conversation…

The United States can compete with any squad in the world, which generally means that they can prevent goals from being scored, at times withstanding massive onslaughts of offensive firepower from opponents – thanks mostly to the athleticism of the players. The US is not known for its fluid movement and passing, its service into the box or its accurate shooting, but rather its answered prayers. In fact, the consensus is that the US traditionally sucks on offense, paling in comparison to the creativity and touch of the Brazilians, the Dutch, or the Spanish – all with their own unique styles, of course.

Last weekend, I watched a couple of youth soccer matches where the children were between four and six years old. Anyone who has watched even one soccer match of this age level has seen them all. Beehive soccer or bunch ball, whatever you call it doesn’t change what it looks like. There is the large group of children running around the ball whacking at it, falling down, laughing…until one child bursts out of the pack with the ball on his way to score a goal, most likely dribbling all the way to the back of the net. Watching a match like this is not interesting for the soccer. In the US, it’s interesting for the coaching. Not only is it comedic, as the coaches try to instruct their attention span-deprived players to “pass the ball,” “spread out” and “control the ball,” it is depressing, as they also demand that their players “don’t lose the ball” and substitute them for doing so.

Whereas our country was founded on competition and free markets, which inherently includes taking risks and incurring losses, our teaching has become far more liberal. I don’t have children, but I do have a dog. A friend of mine recently noted to me that we raise our dogs to be obedient throughout their lives, but we raise our children to grow up and hopefully become responsible adults. He made a clear distinction between the challenges of raising dogs and children. For children, we should not only permit them to make mistakes but also expect them to learn from their mistakes. It is the opportunity to fail that allows for children to learn how to make decisions.

Unfortunately, American children are raised as dogs on the soccer field. We punish them for losing the ball as four year olds, building a foundation of fear – fear of taking chances, fear of being creative, fear of learning. So before our youth soccer players can even feel comfortable with the ball at their feet, they are instilled with the need to meet benchmarks of statistical success. The same parents, who make up the competitive minds of the American workforce, ask their young children, “how many goals did you score?” and “how many turnovers did you have?” instead of more productive questions like, “what did you learn today?” Those parents have forgotten that in addition to hard work, it takes the ability to think – not just follow instructions – and create to compete at the highest levels.

In a country where competition is key, we prevent truly competitive soccer players. To be competitive in soccer is to be creative and continually evolving with the game. I don’t think that Malcolm Gladwell’s argument in his book, Outliers (i.e. 10,000 hours of work in a field leads one to become an expert), is just about doing the same thing for 10,000 hours. It’s about growing in the same area for 10,000 hours. If we squash the desire to grow in our youth soccer players, we are drastically cutting into their ability to become offensive experts.

Food for Thought:

Clint Dempsey is a player that many people love to hate, myself included – I am American, of course. He could be the most turnover prone starter ever to play on the US squad. And yet, he is also a consistent starter for EPL side Fulham. He is on the field because he is creative, always trying something new that rarely (but thankfully often enough) turns into a moment of brilliance. That is hard to grow into later in life, but as we can see with Dempsey, learning to defend later in life is possible. Dempsey no longer frustrates me because he is still a creative force and now, he even hussles back on defense – more often.

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