Ignorance Is Ruining America, Not Soccer

I’ve had the edit screen for this post open in my browser for a few days now. I just couldn’t bring myself to write coherently about it. Still may not, but here goes.

Youth soccer has exploded in the United States. Kids from all walks of life are playing soccer on any available space they can find. From the youngest recreational team chasing a soccer ball on a church field to elite teenagers playing in national development leagues – millions of kids play soccer. But that doesn’t mean everyone likes it, and there are certainly things that can be improved about youth soccer. So when someone publishes a rant about youth soccer, I usually pass it off as “Oh well – their loss” because they usually aren’t soccer parents. Yet every once in a while, someone will go on a rant the likes of which you can’t pass up.

Such is the case of Stephen Webb, who insists that Soccer Is Ruining America:

Soccer is running America into the ground, and there is very little anyone can do about it. Social critics have long observed that we live in a therapeutic society that treats young people as if they can do no wrong. Every kid is a winner, and nobody is ever left behind, no matter how many times they watch the ball going the other way. Whether the dumbing down of America or soccer came first is hard to say, but soccer is clearly an important means by which American energy, drive, and competitiveness is being undermined to the point of no return.

OK, you say, sounds like your typical parent who has never had a kid play soccer. Big deal. Except this guy has three kids who play soccer including a daughter who plays competitive soccer! Sure, when kids are 4-8 years old, the focus in on fun, no standings, etc. so kids can develop ball skills and get comfortable with the ball. But what kind of travel team does this guy’s daughter play on where he believes ‘nobody is left behind’. His daughter had to tryout for her team and most travel teams play a VERY competitive form of soccer.

But it gets worse:

What other game, to put it bluntly, is so boring to watch? (Bowling and golf come to mind, but the sound of crashing pins and the sight of the well-attired strolling on perfectly kept greens are at least inherently pleasurable activities.) The linear, two-dimensional action of soccer is like the rocking of a boat but without any storm and while the boat has not even left the dock. Think of two posses pursuing their prey in opposite directions without any bullets in their guns. 

I think this guy needs to find his daughter a different team, because most soccer matches I’ve seen for kids 10 yrs on up involve lots of action and excitement. How exciting is it to see a 12 year old rocket a shot from 20 yds out? Kids going up together after a free ball, battling every inch up in the air. Then tension of a break away and what will the keeper do or can the defense catch up and save the day? The goose bumps you get when a kid pulls off a soccer move in a match and burns an opponent. If he sees soccer as two-dimensional, then he’s watching kick and run.

Still – it’s a matter of opinion. I get that. But then he moves on to how we should ‘break kids down’ before we ‘build them back up’. The hell? This isn’t the Marines!

Sporting should be about breaking kids down before you start building them up. Take baseball, for example. When I was a kid, baseball was the most popular sport precisely because it was so demanding. Even its language was intimidating, with bases, bats, strikes, and outs. Striding up to the plate gave each of us a chance to act like we were starring in a Western movie, and tapping the bat to the plate gave us our first experience with inventing self-indulgent personal rituals. The boy chosen to be the pitcher was inevitably the first kid on the team to reach puberty, and he threw a hard ball right at you.

Thus, you had to face the fear of disfigurement as well as the statistical probability of striking out. The spectacle of your failure was so public that it was like having all of your friends invited to your home to watch your dad forcing you to eat your vegetables. 

OK wait – he says soccer is boring and then uses kids baseball as one of his first comparison points? Sure, in baseball, you might get hit with a ball. In soccer, you get hit with other kids as they come in to steal the ball. Soccer is a contact sport, and any soccer parent who has watched it, knows this. The pitching thing? Yeah, lets talk about the last defender or the keeper as they see someone coming at them full speed wanting to kick the soccer ball 40+ MPH into the net behind them with the score tied. I’ve seen keepers or defenders in tears after a match because they felt they let their team down. Public failure? Yeah got that.

And then there is the question of gender. I know my daughter will kick me when she reads this, but soccer is a game for girls. Girls are too smart to waste an entire day playing baseball, and they do not have the bloodlust for football. Soccer penalizes shoving and burns countless calories, and the margins of victory are almost always too narrow to afford any gloating. As a display of nearly death-defying stamina, soccer mimics the paradigmatic feminine experience of childbirth more than the masculine business of destroying your opponent with insurmountable power.

At this point you have to think this is a joke. First, I’ve seen a lot of girls soccer matches and if you think they lack bloodlust or whatever, you haven’t been watching. I’ve seen 11 year old girls make bone crushing hits on other girls going for a free ball, while others are spitting grass out of their teeth after a tackle. As for margins of victory, hmmm. I hear more complaints about lopsided scores of 8-10 goals in youth soccer than I do about 0-0 draws, which are actually quite rare. This is especially true with small sided soccer, which is designed to increase scoring. And let’s not forget, a 3-1 soccer game is a 21-7 football game. I love football fans who razz soccer about being low scoring. You’re joking right?

Soccer is a self-inflicted wound. Americans have nobody to blame but themselves. Conservative suburban families, the backbone of America, have turned to soccer in droves. Baseball is too intimidating, football too brutal, and basketball takes too much time to develop the required skills. American parents in the past several decades are overworked and exhausted, but their children are overweight and neglected. Soccer is the perfect antidote to television and video games. It forces kids to run and run, and everyone can play their role, no matter how minor or irrelevant to the game. Soccer and relevision are the peanut butter and jelly of parenting.

Anybody can play soccer just like anyone can grab a basketball, dribble, and play basketball. But neither are easy. But unless you’ve actually tried to play soccer, you have no idea how hard it is to control a ball on a flat surface of close cut grass. It takes years of practice just to be able to move the ball in more than one direction. Baseball and football follow predestined sequences or plays. Soccer is the beautiful game because it’s so unpredictable. Anything can happen, and it’s that creativity that makes soccer so exciting.  Sure, a lot of parents have their kids play rec soccer for exercise. Nothing wrong with that. But as you move out of rec and into the world of competitive soccer, the game becomes much more difficult, intimidating, and brutal.

Like I said before – this all sounds like the rant of a parent with no kids who play, but it’s not. This guy is well immersed in youth soccer:

I should know. I am an overworked teacher, with books to read and books to write, and before I put in a video for the kids to watch while I work in the evenings, they need to have spent some of their energy. Otherwise, they want to play with me! Last year all three of my kids were on three different soccer teams at the same time. My daughter is on a traveling team, and she is quite good. I had to sign a form that said, among other things, I would not do anything embarrassing to her or the team during the game. I told the coach I could not sign it. She was perplexed and worried. “Why not,” she asked? “Are you one of those parents who yells at their kids? “Not at all,” I replied, “I read books on the sidelines during the game, and this embarrasses my daughter to no end.” 

Well, if she really is that good, then you need to get your nose out of your books and actually watch the games when she plays. Then you might know that everything you wrote is utter fantasy. Especially when you end your rant with this:

That is my one way of protesting the rise of this pitiful sport. Nonetheless, I must say that my kids and I come home from a soccer game a very happy family.

The mind just boggles. All this guy does is show how ignorant he is about kids, this country, and youth soccer. I hate it for his daughter, busting her butt on a travel team, playing a sport she loves, while knowing her Dad thinks its ruining her country. Sad.

Alex Massie has some thoughts on this rant as well.

UPDATE: Commenter claims it was all in good fun and ‘tongue-in-cheek‘. Though he’s not listed on the First Things masthead, so not clear what his involvement with the site is. Honestly, even if it was tongue-in-cheek, the things Dr Webb raised hit a bit close to home for a lot of people, as Molly points out.

UPDATE 2: I call BS on the tongue-in-cheek claim when this guy agrees to have his piece published in the Wall Street Journal. This guy’s daughter has to be mortified to have her Dad hating on the sport she and her siblings play in a national publication.

Leave a Reply

  1. I honestly think this article was written tongue in cheek, poorly written, more like foot in mouth, but intended as sarcasm, not an actual view.

  2. I agree, doesn’t sound like sarcasm. Found this from twitter and too annoyed to read the whole thing, but read some “funny” parts to my husband, soccer coach for like 30 years. Have you heard the comparison of baseball vs football terms by George Carlin – hilariuos, although the word “base” – quite intimidating.

    Admit before I met my husband I thought of soccer as great for my kids since you couldn’t really get hurt. Been eating those words ever since.

  3. This “overworked teacher” that is forced to use soccer (or a video) to avoid playing with his kids truly disturbs me. Yes, I am an educator (though I call myself a professor, not a teacher, so there may be a significant shift in the age being taught), but I absolutely love getting out on the pitch with my children at the end of a long, busy day. If he can’t be bothered to actually *watch* the highly competitive games his children are playing (and if he sees the games in two dimensions), he’s probably beyond help. Let him plug in the videos to dumb down his own children, but give me the pitch and the joy of watching my kids when they put a devastating move on an opponent and score a breakaway goal…I live for that as much as they do!

    If he dislikes children that much, why IS he a teacher?

  4. Pingback: Is soccer ruining America? | Sideline Soccer

  5. Wow. I was expecting some right-wing redneck rant about soccer is sissy-fying our boys. Oh wait, he did say that, didn’t he? Most HS football players I know wouldn’t last 10 minutes on the pitch with their girls’ soccer team.

    The mind boggles.

  6. The ruining America rant was pathetic. It seems to me like the ranting parent lives deep in his/her own brain, not in the real world. However I wonder if this was just a too-subtle farce:

    “hey need to have spent some of their energy. Otherwise, they want to play with me!”

    Surely that part can’t be for real, can it?

    Thinking about the “facing down the pitch”, quick story:

    My son at 13 is shagging balls at the end of practice and the middle age buff professional coach is inviting him to shoot at him in goal, which he does one by one as he gets to each stray ball. Son is lean and short, but has been working on his technique a bit. Shoots on goal, the coach parries it away, then coach decides to say something to a parent and loses his focus. The next shot comes at him BAM under the ribcage and the coach falls, buckles over into a little ball on the ground. Long story short the coach is medically fine, though beyond livid in such pain. 15 minutes later he raises his shirt to show the parents he has big red hexagons imprinted on his skin from the ball, deep enough they were not fading away until his drive home.

    Once we knew the coach was going to be OK I told my son “Now THAT’s how you strike the ball”


  7. Easy there Mike, easy. Who knows what the real motivations of the author are, sarcasm? provocation? an honest dislike for a sport that all of his kids play? Who cares, frankly, the writing is borderline incoherent and his thesis should be dismissed as nonsensical. Clearly someone with too much time on his hands; maybe he should stop typing turn off the TV and play goalie for a while his his kids.

    Eric, great story, sometimes blasts from my son leave redmarks and bruises on my forearms for days; a badge of honor from my perspective. Now the one I took in the groin . . . . ouch!

  8. The article was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. It was making fun of the “X is Ruining America” type of self-serious articles as much as it was poking fun at soccer. The fact that so many self-serious soccer fans are outraged about it is funnier than anything in the article. ; )

  9. Joe, Well clearly if it was tongue in cheek – it wasn’t written very well. Besides that – the outrage the article has generated (and it has, as I’m sure your trackbacks and traffic attest to if you’re involved with First Things like your URL indicates) is a sign of the types of things people are told about soccer all the time. Soccer programs battle constantly in high schools and communities to get field time, enough money to buy uniforms, etc while football programs are showered with coaches, money, and facilities.

    So folks do get a tad sensitive about it. Yes, the whole ‘X is ruining America’ thing is overblown and making fun of it is a welcome thing, but this article in particular probably hit a bit too close to home for a lot of people.

  10. Ok, a few things-did he actually say “Sporting should be about breaking kids down before you start building them up. “-wow he did.

    I guess he doesn’t watch the new much or pay attention to youth sports across the board, because right now, here in KY we have a HS Football coach facing CRIMINAL CHARGES for breaking his players down, before he built them up…cause during that “team building exercise” two kids went to the ER and only one came home. It is youth sports, not the Military-we are not raising warriors at best, our kids MAY get a scholarship out of the deal.

    My son has several friends who play middle school football and have for years. One of them tried out for the soccer team on a bet (because he thought it a sissy sport) he made it ONE DAY. He doesn’t call it a sissy sport anymore, none of the other athletes who have actually watched an entire game or participated in a practice have.

  11. I read it when it was first tweeted to me (can’t remember by whom), but quickly moved on. It never came across as satire to me, especially due to the religiously-based points and the author’s background. Felt it was too ignorant to respond to, and it didn’t particularly rile me up. I agree that the soccer community is a little too sensitive, but it’s a function of the abuse that we get for loving a game that’s not mainstream in the U.S.

  12. In the defense of all the soccer fans, I’ll admit that it could have been written more clearly. I don’t think Dr. Webb realized it would be picked up by other blogs and not just read by FT readers. Those who know him recognize that he isn’t a xenophobic, chauvinistic, soccer-hater. ; zzz0

    The problem is that on the interwebs, you really do have people–even serious people–who would make such an argument and be completely serious. I don’t think he kept that in mind when he published the piece. He knows, of course, that Americans have a weird anti-soccer bias. But I don’t think he recognizes just how deep it runs. For example, just yesterday I stumbled on this strange beer commerical made by famed documentarian Errol Morris. Stick with it to the end to see what I mean: http://www.errolmorris.com/commercials/miller/miller_brokenwindow.html

  13. I am a 16 year old soccer player and I get picked on quite a bit for playing soccer. This post is just the normal stuff i hear daily, but the normally its other teenagers. The man that said all those things about soccer being a girls sport and that it is just people kicking a ball up and down a field they are totally wrong. I have tried out for the state ODP team this past week and I can tell anyone that soccer isn’t just people kicking a ball up and down the field. The other thing that really bothered me about this post is that he is a father that sits on the sidelines and reads while his daughter plays. Your paying the money for your daughter to play a sport she loves and you sit on the sideline and read. To me that sounds like an expensive way to read a book outside. Back to the soccer is for girls comment, I’m sure that all of the girls that do play soccer are in better shape than any football player. I also still don’t understand why a father can’t watch his child play a sport they love.

  14. If the column truly was intended as satire, then what it reveals is that Dr. Webb is in fact not very well read. Because the arguments he presents are very common, or are similar to arguments that are very common.

    Whether he intended the thing to be obvious or subtle, the bottom line is that for most readers, his “satirical” arguments look just like EARNEST arguments that have been made ad nauseam elsewhere. Webb clearly isn’t familiar enough with the American conversation circa 2009 to recognize that his points aren’t unusual, and thus won’t be instinctively identified as satire.

    It would be like me writing a column satirically arguing that, say, bank bailouts are good for the country, unaware that this is actually a REAL argument commonly made by many others. Expecting people to grasp that this was satire would merely be cluelessness on my part.

  15. So, you’re saying that the WSJ never runs satire?

    I really can’t believe so many people think its serious. How closely did you read it? Did you miss this line?

    “Soccer and television are the peanut butter and jelly of parenting.

    I should know. I am an overworked teacher, with books to read and books to write, and before I put in a video for the kids to watch while I work in the evenings, they need to have spent some of their energy. Otherwise, they want to play with me!”

  16. I think most of what the opinion pieces the WSJ runs are satire – but that’s not the point. Publishing an article like that as an opinion piece is not going to come across as satire and it unfortunately furthers stupid stereotypes that many parents and players are just tired of. As many have posted, the article is poorly written and even more so as satire. Sorry – you can jumpup and down saying it is all you want, but nobody I’ve spoken with who read it thought that it was. The line you reference? You’re joking right? That’s not satire – that’s reality in a lot of households with two parents working and doing everything they can to keep all the balls in the air. Every one of us has slapped a DVD in to keep the kids occupied when something needs to get done around the house. As so many have said, much of the article strikes much to close to home for many to be satire.

  17. Reading this thread reminded me of Poe’s Law:



    Poe’s Law states:

    “ Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.[1] ”

    Poe’s Law relates to fundamentalism, and the difficulty of identifying actual parodies thereof. It suggests that, in general, it is hard to tell fake fundamentalism from the real thing, since they may both espouse equally extreme beliefs. Poe’s law also works in reverse: real fundamentalism can also be indistinguishable from parody fundamentalism. For example, some conservatives consider noted homophobe Fred Phelps to be so over-the-top that they think he’s a “deep cover liberal” trying to discredit more mainstream homophobes.


    In other words, as noted above, if there are lots of ordinary people out there making the exact same arguments as this writer is making against soccer, who’s to say it was intended as satire, if the writer does not give us a hint? And no, he isn’t giving us any hints, in spite of what some of you think, because you are assuming things to be “hints” that are quite ordinary and could be the actual views of many quite ordinary people.

    Given this writer’s entire history and mindset (read his wiki page) and that his entire line of thinking has always been “we must stop X from ruining America” or “the presence of X or the absence of Y proves that America is in God’s Grace/or has lost God’s Grace”, etc., who’s to say he was joking about soccer, if he does not tell us? Given his track record, he’s spent most of his career looking for political/spiritual scapegoats. Why shouldn’t he be serious about “soccer ruining America”?

    Poe’s Law says we can’t know, unless the writer makes it EXTREMELY obvious and basically admits the joke. Which he has not done yet.

  18. The line of the year so far from Mike has to be:

    “And let’s not forget, a 3-1 soccer game is a 21-7 football game.”


  19. Steve Webb’s an evangelical who has made intelligent design arguments. He’s crazy enough to believe in what he wrote re: soccer, sarcasm or not

  20. What planet is the writer who denigrates soccer from? He could see black and call it white. His poor soccer playing daughters.