Steve over at The News Blog has a great post up about why he loves the game. It got me thinking about my reasons for the love of the game. What about you? What turned you into a soccer fanatic such that you write and/or read blogs about soccer?

My reasons are likely a bit different than most. Growing up, there wasn’t a youth soccer league that I can recall. I played baseball (badly) and that was it. I made it to a few Cosmos matches (still have a pennant somewhere) but that was long ago. We had soccer teams in middle and high school, but I ran track instead (hurdles). I didn’t hate soccer, I just didn’t KNOW it because it simply wasn’t prevalent in my childhood.

Flash forward a few decades…

Married, two kids, third on the way, and our oldest needs some activity. There was a soccer league in a city 20-30 minutes away, but not here. A group of dads talk about putting on a program for 20 or so kids to practice soccer and play scrimmages against each other. Flash forward 5 years. I’m now president of our new soccer league, coaching a U10 team, and my oldest is trying out for a Challenge team this coming week. Professional matches are just as likely to be on our TV as CSI or Dora the Explorer.

Looking back I realized that our involvement in soccer outlined above happened due to a love of the game.

My love of the game has grown out of involvement in youth soccer. As a U6 coach you get a team of 4 and 5 year olds who probably haven’t touched a soccer ball. Despite weeks of practice, your team (and your opponent) chase the ball like greyhounds after the rabbit and that’s ok. Then towards the end of the season something clicks. They start to pass a little or get a little power onto a kick. A throw-in goes over everyones head instead of straight into the ground. If you coach any sport or work to educate kids, it is extremely rewarding to see the younger kids ‘get it’. Soccer is not unique in this. But few sports allow kids as young as 4 to put together the makings of an actual ‘game’ involving all of the players on the field. That’s beautiful.

You’re coaching U8 and your team is playing in the tournament semi-finals. Your team has athletic kids and kids looking to just get some exercise. You see ALL of them playing their hearts out for the game. One of your smallest players realizes she really CAN steal the ball from their biggest player. Your less athletic kids realize they CAN run the opponent into the corner or out of bounds, no matter how fast they are. Even though you’ve played your kids on track to be pretty close to 50% playing time for all – a couple kids on the bench are crying because they want to get back into the game so bad. One of the kids who had a fairly weak kick has suddenly developed a rocket. His corner kick sails right across the goalmouth and everyone’s breath stops when the smallest player on the team swings her foot at the ball in front of a wide open goal.

Flash forward to U10. Your team is a great group of kids, many with good skills, some with speed but little soccer experience, and some who still don’t quite get the game. Your team works very hard all year on core skills and even some advanced concepts for developing offensive opportunities. Most matches end up with a one point difference, but in the end they wind up 2-5-0. Despite their record the kids are still excited about each match and the upcoming tournament. Facing the #2 team in the division, they come out on fire, using all the things they worked so hard on all year, passing, communication, heads-up play, constant pressure. The 5-4 upset surprises everybody.

My love of the game clearly grew out of youth soccer. Watching kids as they progress though the ages learning to play soccer is a wonderful thing. The kids love the game because there is no ‘outfield’. If you’re on the field, you’re going to be playing. You can’t hide on a soccer pitch.

Soccer has a social aspect unlike other sports. It’s hard to explain – maybe because there are usually two seasons a year. Soccer sidelines are the social meeting places in town. It’s fun watching the kids play baseball or basketball, but the parents don’t interact like they do at soccer – maybe it’s the bleachers instead of folding chairs. I chuckle talking with folks who move to our city when they ask ‘Is there anyone in this town who DOESN’T play soccer? It’s all anyone is talking about’

I’ve seen the impact soccer can have on a community and it has been an incredibly positive one. Such a simple game. 17 Laws, a field, a ball, and goals of some kind. You go to have lunch with your kid at school and see other children wearing their soccer uniforms. Call it a club or a community – soccer fans are like no other.

Steve touches on this in his post:

the reason I love soccer is simple: it is the beautiful game.

That’s no hyperbole, either.

You can dig up the old video of Pele making a bicycle kick or the hand of God play of Maradona, but even an average Premiership or La Liga game can have some stunning moments, balls being kicked overhead, someone scoring a goal with their head.

You often hear from people who don’t watch soccer complain that the game is slow and there is too little scoring. Well, it isn’t slow, in fact, there is near constant movement, as each side tries to figure out how to break the defense. It’s more like chess than American football, because there’s always the tension between defending and offense, without the pause and set plays and it can all turn on a single kick.

The other thing about soccer is the passion people feel for the game. There are no anti-Yankee songs, no pro-Cubs chants in the stands. When Manchester United was sold to an American, Tampa Bay Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer, there were protests in the streets, actual marches with banners and screaming. When Browns were moved to Baltimore, there were angry columns and some cursing.

There’s an appeal to that which can’t really be explained.

Because it is so simple, so easy to understand and so very hard to do.

With the World Cup coming up, Americans will have a world class team, light years from the 1990 collegiate team sent to play professionals, just before the massive internationalization of the European leagues, worthy of watching and supporting. It’s too much to expect the US to shut down during World Cup matches, but some bars should be filled.I mean if people are jamming in to see Barca beat Arsenal in the middle of the week, then there should be no small interest in the World Cup.

This time, every game will be on ESPN or ESPN2 or ABC live in English, no small deal. In 2002, most of the games only aired live at 5 AM on Univision, because of the time difference between the US and Japan. And while watching a game in Spanish isn’t horrible, it’s nice to be able to cringe at the poor quality of the American announcers over lunch, not in a sleep deprived haze as the sun rises.

There’s another thing: as the world becomes smaller, it isn’t enough to speak another language, or eat someone else’s food. Soccer is the world’s game, fraught with politics, nationalism and group identity. Understanding and appreciating soccer allows people to understand a part of the world in a way beyond books and travel. In my experience, everyone from ambulance drivers to pizza counter guys can relate when soccer comes up, it’s like belonging to a club, the people who like soccer.

As clubs go, it’s a pretty good one to be in.

I’m as excited about the World Cup as most and love my satellite receiver because it lets our family watch GolTV, FSC, and others. My kids will watch a match on TV with the same attention they’d give a Disney movie. But there is nothing quite like watching kids discover and learn the beautiful game. I’ll never forget the night our U8 team, all wearing their uniforms, went to Duke University to watch the Men’s team and help ball chase. The announcers introduced the team to the crowd before they took up their positions and you should have seen how excited and proud they were. After the game, the players signed autographs and talked with parents and kids alike (there were one or two other teams from area leagues there as well) As we were walking out of the stadium with one of the Duke players, I’ll never forget what he said. "Thanks for bringing the kids out for the game, we really appreciate you all coming." We were the ones who were thankful to have an opportunity for our kids to watch and talk with the Duke team. They spent a good hour after the match, surely exhausted, chatting with the kids and parents. But there we were, fan and player thanking each other because of the love of the game. It really is a club. A club of people who love the beautiful game.

Lets do a little ‘community blogging’ here. If you have a soccer blog, why not write a post about your love of the game? Include a trackback to this post if your software supports it and if not, link to your story in a comment below. If your a fan, tell us why you love the beautiful game. I think it would be neat to have a consolidated collection of posts from soccer bloggers and fans across the globe as to why they love the beautiful game.

TAG! You’re It!