Failing On The Pitch

by Rich on October 16, 2017

Here we are in the middle of October, knee deep in the sweet spot of sports. Multiple leagues are playing and a couple are about to tip off (literally): Major League Baseball, professional and college football, the NHL, and even golf and NASCAR are still going.

So naturally I want to talk about soccer.

This week the U.S. Men’s Team (USMT) failed to qualify for the global tournament known as the FIFA World Cup. It’s the first time since the Reagan administration that we, as a country, have not been in the tournament. On the men’s side. The ladies are doing just fine, thank you very much. They regularly compete and have even won the thing 3 times. But the USMT? Well…not so much.

I am not going to pretend to be an expert on soccer, but I do have a few thoughts about this current development (or lack thereof, as the case may be). Why, you ask? Because this is America. And even though I may not care about a certain sport, when a team represents my country, I want it to do well, or at the very least be present to compete. Whether you like soccer or not, it’s a pretty big part of the sports landscape, and it isn’t going anywhere.

So why can’t we field a men’s team that’s consistently competitive? Especially when our women’s team continues to play at a high level? Here are my thoughts (I told you I had some. You were warned): grassroots, Title IX, and cultural arrogance.

The problem starts at the bottom. Kids play soccer on a pretty level playing field until a certain age, and then, if they show promise, may be offered a tryout for a travel team. That costs a great deal of  money. But if they don’t play on the travel team (which isn’t underwritten by shoe companies), the chances of making their high school team drops to almost nil. And if they do, their opportunities to play at the college level drop off even more since less than half of the Power Five conference schools offer men’s soccer. It’s a matter of incentive. Both for the player and the pipeline.

Ironically, Title IX has created a great demand for women’s soccer programs, and thus both player and pipeline are very motivated to have robust programs. That means that more women have more opportunity, producing better players and coaches. But that doesn’t mean the guys can’t compete as well. Which leads me to the third leg of this stool.

There is a fairly clear line of demarcation in the world of sports fandom when it comes to soccer, and the amount of cultural arrogance on both sides hurt the game’s development. Many hard core American sports fans take great pleasure in deriding soccer as a foreign (read: lesser) game, perfectly fine for the non-cheerleader girls to play, but not for real guys. But soccer fans often don’t do the sport any favors either. Many take equal pleasure in berating those who don’t love the game as neanderthalic buffoons who aren’t smart enough to appreciate it’s nuances. Both positions are equally wrong. Soccer is a great game, and it’s o.k. to either like it or not. It doesn’t make you smarter to love it or a simpleton to not. I can like football and soccer. Those aren’t mutually exclusive positions.

Grassroots development, more opportunity, and a general acceptance of the men’s game will ultimately create a foundation that will produce a USMT that we can all be proud of, fan and nonfan alike.

 

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Funny Sports

by Rich on October 9, 2017

There is a stand-up comedian that I really enjoy named Brian Regan. I’m not going to go into all the reasons why I think he’s brilliant, but I will say that I can, without reservation, recommend you look him up and watch some of his videos. And I recommend you do that with friends, family or coworkers in the room, no matter their age or gender. He’s that good. But that’s not really why I bring him up.

A few days ago I was cruising through my Twitter feed (I follow Regan on the Twitter dot com) and noticed that Brian had sat down at Google for a chat (apparently that’s a thing they do on a regular basis at the Church of Google. Kind of like their own internal TED talks). The format was an interview followed by a Q&A with the audience. In the course of the interview it was revealed that Regan played football in college. Football. Brian Regan. I was blown away.

I’ve been watching Regan’s stuff for years. Not once has he ever mentioned or included in a bit (to my knowledge) the fact that he had played COLLEGIATE FOOTBALL! (He does have a hysterical bit about being at bat in little league baseball, when his coach would yell “Good eye, Brian!” every time he took a pitch that had most likely been a strike.) But no mention of football. As he began talking about it, it was clear that playing the game (and participating in other sports) had been a big part of developing the skills needed to endure the ups and downs of a life on stage, and to persevere and become successful. And that made me think.

How many other people, famous or not, played college sports?

I live in a college town, so it’s not uncommon to see former student athletes around town. But I only recognize the ones that are fairly well known. So I started to ask.

It’s amazing how many people have participated in college sports. I talked to a woman who played volleyball in Virginia that runs an accounting firm. I spoke with a former swimmer from California who works for a high end import custom shop. I met a guy from Chicago who ran track and is now a prominent cardiologist. And that’s just the beginning.

I asked all of them the same thing. How did participating in sports in college prepare them for life after the games where over? some of the answers surprised me.

One answered that the biggest lesson he had taken from the game was that winning wasn’t everything He said that he had always been a very competitive person, but he had learned that the important thing wasn’t winning, it was competing. Being in the arena, as Teddy Roosevelt once said. Another told me that her biggest take-away was figuring out how to deal with overbearing personalities. She was an introvert and not very competitive, by nature, and had learned how to stand up for herself and demand the respect of others on the team, including coaches.

I have to tell you, it was fascinating! These were all very normal people. No superstars or multimillionaires. Just people who had competed.

And that’s the point. Sports does a lot for the spectator, but the real value is reserved for the competitor. It may be a welcome distraction for us, but it implants crucial life lessons in them.

Even if they do become stand up comics. Good eye, Brian.

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Beer And Basketball

October 2, 2017

Well, it’s been quite at week for college basketball and shoe companies, hasn’t it? I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on all that’s happened or continues to happen as this story unfolds, but it certainly doesn’t look good. I know… innocent until proven guilty. I get it. The legal system will play this […]

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Paint And Second Chances

September 25, 2017

I am so lucky that cellphones with cameras didn’t exist thirty years ago. Neither did Facebook or Instagram. I dodged a technological bullet. Because brothers and sisters I am here to tell you, I did some really, really stupid stuff. I mean next level lunacy. Just flat out dumb. And guess what? So did you. […]

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Reality Sets In Weekend

September 18, 2017

Week number three is in the books for the 2017 college football season, and that means it’s time for teams, coaches, and administrators to cinch up their collective belts and take a good, long, hard look in the mirror. We are now a quarter of the way through the season. All of the naive dreams […]

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Routine Football

September 11, 2017

I’m a creature of habit. Some people call it being in a rut, I call it consistency. I eat the same thing for lunch every day, I have my 2 cups of coffee every morning. I do my weekly grocery shopping on the same day every week. Likewise, my weekly laundry, meal prep and  aforementioned […]

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Ten Million Watt

September 4, 2017

Fredric. Opal. Andrew. Ivan. Hugo. Erin. Katrina. Harvey. Such normal sounding names. So nonthreatening. And yet each represents hundreds of lives lost and millions of people affected. Untold billions of dollars and decades to recover. That’s what those names represent. The world of sports was not immune from the battering the gulf region of Texas […]

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Fabulous Football Food

August 28, 2017

With local high schools in action this weekend, we have now officially entered football season! That sound you hear is the collective sigh of relief mixed with a communal, exasperated eye roll. Ok, you can’t actually hear the eye roll. But it’s there. As hard as it may be for some of us to grasp, […]

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Standing (On A Soapbox)

August 21, 2017

I try to steer clear of politics here, but recent events have put some things on my mind and heart, and while I don’t want to offend anyone, I do have this outlet, so…here we go. Lately, my Twitter feed and Facebook timeline look like something I might clean out of a clogged shower drain. […]

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I Hear Voices

August 14, 2017

Let me state, for the record, right off the bat, as a matter of full disclosure, that I have a day job in radio broadcasting. I want to make that clear because I’m going to spend a little time today talking to you about the voices of the sports we consume. So just know, be […]

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