apologies up front for using the term "football" here to refer to "american football", and "soccer" to refer to "association football" as it's officially known in the land of its invention, in order to best serve my american readers, but perhaps you've seen this viral video
over the past few days, whereby the corpus christi texas driscoll middle school schoolboys outfoxed their erstwhile 11, 12 and 13 year old opponents with the help of an inspired bit of shenanigans that has to be seen to be believed. implied in the disciplined way in which the driscoll boys held their stances during the ruse, it's obvious some significant coaching and practice time went into this "success". (more on this later).
i put the word "success" in quotation marks, because i see in this the same sort of parental idiocy that has led one particular pajamas media contributor to conclude that he's solved both schoolboy athletics and world geopolitics by reconfiguring his son's otherwise hapless soccer team
in place of a coach who is given neither opportunity nor grace for an explanation. (nods to the right side of lowell
who nods to instapundit for a pointer to the source). the premise of the soccer story is that a collection of eleven year old boys, losing every game, can be remade by simple adjustment of tactics and psyche into world-beaters in one quick wave of the coach's whistle, thus "proving" that a must-win attitude and the elevation of the "best and the brightest" is at the base of any successful sports team and civilization.
so, first, for my caveats--i neither disagree with the premise that a must-win attitude is at the base of any previously successful civilization, nor deny the possibility that his son's coach may be as ineffective as he is portrayed. history is clear--he with the best (best strategized) army wins, and any set of facts with which one is ignorant is pointless to argue.
as i commented on the right side of lowell's post, "i filled in for my child's coach and the team won" is the worst possible argument in favor of one style of soccer and against another, and it makes crazy to hear it. as i further observed, soccer is a sport that almost no american parent understands, and it is absolutely NOT about the one kid who has matured ahead of his or her peers and can run around them all and poke the ball into the net at age 11, no matter how hard the pajamas media parent thinks he's proved it by re-jiggering his lineup to put his best 11-year old nearest to the opponent's net. (you can read the rest of my comment if you like--it pretty much covers the bases).
in many american sports, like baseball and football, there is ample logic and professional proof that having ones best arm at the starting pitcher and quarterback positions is the key to success. the guy writing the pajamas media piece takes this premise straight to the soccer field and brags about not putting "the terrible kids in at forward or in goal", and further lauds those "terrible kids'" "heroic" efforts on defense to keep the ball out of their own net. i'm sure these must be your classic american little league right fielders right here (hello, nancy drew) and this guy is so full of self-congratulations that he's found a place to hide them on his field that it would border on comedy, if it wasn't so sad.
see, when right fielders grow up, they enjoy the same positional luxuries as they did while 11 year olds, with fewer balls hit in their direction, and the least impact on their team's defense beyond every other position on the field with the possible exception of first base. (curiously enough, unlike at the pro level, first basemen in little league need to be some of the better athletes, because they have to be able to run to the base, turn around and catch a ball with some reliability, which, let's be honest, is something that remains beyond many 11 year olds, and, so, well, welcome back to right field...) however, when "terrible kids" who used to play defense as 11 year old soccer players grow up, they unfortunately find that they are otherwise required to mark some of the fastest and most-capable athletes on the opponent's team, and that there really is no place for them at all on the pitch.
so, back to coaching, what, exactly, is best to do when trying to teach 11 year olds the game of soccer? do you teach them that putting the early-maturing athletes nearest the goal is the soul of the sport, the way that there is no penalty to do in baseball or football, since the quarterback and the starting pitcher are, indeed, the soul of those sports? i'm sorry, but i consider myself rare among parents in this country that i understand how stupid that strategy clearly is when it comes to mature (i.e. not 11-year old) soccer, and i'm hear to tell the pajamas media guy that he may have taught those kids something about how winning feels better than losing, (something, ironically, that those kids already well knew), but he did worse than taught them nothing about the game there were supposedly being taught--he taught them WRONG and did them a huge disservice in the process.
by way of a quick explanation for my reasoning, think about a soccer field, and how infrequently the ball is between the most-forward player (called the "striker", if you must know, and not a "forward") and the opponents' goal where it is he's supposed to put it. simply put, if your best player stands at that position, he will touch the ball fall less frequently than anyone else on the field, and be marginalized to the extreme. or, in other words, (sorry pajamas media guy, but its true), you are writing the script for failure, and not success, whenever this tactic is tried while the sport is played at any reasonable level. much more like a basketball point guard, there is far greater value to be gained by placing ones best player at the center of the field or the court, both for the increased amount of time to be spent with the ball between ones self and the opponents' goal, but also to be spent in closer proximity to your opponents' best players. of course, in basketball the analogy breaks quickly down because of the skewing impact that physiological coincidence (i.e. height) plays on a basketball court. however, in soccer, the truth is absolute--all the best players are midfielders.
now that isn't to say that there isn't star-maker machinery behind the privilege to be the one most likely to place the ball into the opponents' net, and wayne rooney is one of the best-sexed athletes in the world to speak to that truth. but if you look at a list of the top-50 highest-paid soccer players in the world, (wayne is #20), it is led and dominated by midfielders almost without significant exception. simply put, the game is played through the central midfield, and the best-skilled, best-fit and best-performing athletes must be there if their teams are to succeed. (we're still talking about success, right?)
i used the analogy of nfl defensive backs vs wide receivers to make the point in my comment to the RSOL post, and i think it's useful. the fact is that nfl defensive backs are generally better athletes than the wide receivers they cover, while the significant skill possessed by the wide receivers in addition to a modicum of speed is their ability to catch the ball. simply put, defensive backs need speed, as they have to keep up with the wide receivers while running backwards and not knowing where the quarterback is likely to heave the ball, and it's best to have your fastest guy on defense in football rather than the other way around. similarly, in soccer, defenders have to be able to keep up with attackers running backwards and without foresight as to the trajectory of the ball, or their team will lose. attackers can willingly trade speed for their ability to shoot the ball with accuracy (analogous to the catching skill in football) and the best configuration of talent is always to have superior athletes defending. i'll point you back to the pajamas piece to observe that this yahoo, in attempting to "teach" his 11 year old players about winning soccer, got it exactly backwards.
there's good reason that soccer generally end with so few goals scored. (ostensibly, via attention deficit disorder, the reason so few americans make the effort to understand it properly). the game of successful soccer is, paradoxically, to keep the ball out of your own net. i'm appalled to read that there's a father out there somewhere (there are legions, actually) who doesn't care that he doesn't get it, and is confusing 11 year olds into believing that the soccer equivalent of that crazy trick play in the video (you knew i was going to tie it together in the end, right?) is the best way to teach kids how to play.
of course, the driscoll coaches will talk (not necessarily without merit) about how imagination and deception are important football skills, and even if that play won't serve those kids ever again in their lives, the experience of dreaming it up and executing it will, but i'm here to say, for the game of soccer, that the absence of such nonsense at an early age is why brazilians, and not americans, are king of the sport of soccer, and will be for the rest of our lifetimes.
want to know how brazilians learn soccer? first and foremost, they have no idiots "teaching" them idiocy at age 11. 99% of their playing time is without lines, nets or even fields. they play it on the beach. in gymnasiums. (look up "futsal" sometime). anywhere they can touch a ball. and, when they do play it "for real", with grass, lines, nets, officials and coaches, they learn the game from people who understand it.
sometimes i fear for our future as a nation, i truly do.