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.
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.