Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Reflections on the Game of Soccer

I'm no soccer expert, but I must admit I was disappointed in the skill level in the soccer played by the Hickman Mills and Ruskin girls yesterday. I realize, first, that it is hard to judge the state of soccer in the United States by one game, and particularly a game on the distaff side, and a game not in Johnson County, Kansas where I am sure the demographic is more agreeable to soccer. However...

Semi-informed ideas about what makes good soccer: 1. Ball skills--the ability to collect the ball, dribble the ball, and kick the ball accurately. 2. Spacing and smarts. The ability to realize that you don't aways need to be within 10 feet of the ball, especially on offense. 3. Speed and endurance. Not just running fast, but running fast when needed, and all game. Winning loose balls, especially after unforced errors.

The gal with the best ball skills, the best ability to stop a ball and collect it, to pass it and to dribble around opposition was a girl for Ruskin playing fullback, or defender. Interestingly, she was a big girl, much bigger then most of her peers. (OK, she was overweight.) But her ability to intercept a pass, control that ball, and start Ruskin's offense was superior to anyone else on the field. If she was of a normal weight, her skills would have had her playing halfback, the most important position on a soccer team. It also is the position that does the most running, so those of us a little undertall for our weights usually find ourselves playing forward or fullback.

There was also a lack of "soccer smarts". Maybe it's just coaching, but it seemed to me too often the girls were all bunched up around the ball. I can remember from my high school days our coach begging us to keep our positions and not clump around the ball. On offense we were taught to stay around the goal, especially if the ball was on the wing. A good centering pass from the wing often resulted in a score.

It was disappointing to see that it seemed that most players' skill levels hadn't progressed much since my high school days a million years ago, when girl's soccer was just getting started on the high school level. Especially in light of the youth leagues that have developed over the years. Makes a person wonder why. Just a few ideas: 1. Soccer does not keep the top level athletes as they get older. I think this is true for both sexes, but even more for boys. Basketball, baseball/softball and for males, football, snag the fastest and most coordinated in the United States. 2. The games just don't generate enough excitement for the causal fan. Soccer is as much about process as it is result. Internationally, it's call "The Beautiful Game" and the set ups and watching that is just as important as the scoring itself. Sped up versions of soccer, such as indoor soccer, which is almost more like hockey, have been more popular at times then the outdoor version in the US. 3. Pro soccer as a whole just hasn't caught on. When you as a kid see a sport played on the pro level, imitation takes place. When I was a kid, I watched Earl Monroe's spin dribble move on the NBA court with the New York Knicks. "Earl the Pearl" invented that move, and I spent time on the court trying to imitate that move. Generally kids aren't out at the park trying to imitate the local pro soccer players' moves. And we all know, if you want to get good at something, you have to practice and play it. Kids are still playing basketball, pick up baseball and touch football, not soccer, in the United States.

Soccer might someday become a major sport in the US. Since the Major Soccer League season started this spring, they've had some increased attendance. It's not quite there yet, however.

Ruskin and Hickman Mills girls vie for the ball in yesterday's contest. Ruskin, in blue, is on offense in this photo.
Hickman Mills won the game 2-0.

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