Soccer Attitude

How does an American Soccer team end up with a German Coach playing in one of the most important games of American soccer history and playing against Germany? Today is a day that will live forever. America vs Germany.

Jurgen Klinsmann was actually the head coach for Germany in the 2006 World Cup. He is not the only one on the team that has German ties. Jermaine Jones is German and also American as well as Fabian Johnson, Tim Chandler, John Brooks, and Julian Green. Coach Klinsmann is a German citizen and soccer legend who has lived in California for nearly two decades. How did the US team become so internationally diverse. Does that then make us a US team or a team from the US with a hodge-podge mix of players.

Soccer or as the Europeans call it, football, is as popular to the rest of the world as US football is to Americans. So why is soccer just now catching a fever in the US? It seems by watching the news footage of the hundreds of folks hanging out at Chicago’s Grant Park, and the rest of the some odd 25 million viewers in America that this would somehow resemble a BCS championship game. With the fans shouting U. S. A!,  I find it fascinating that America is slowly catching up with the Europeans and making America a soccer nation. I say that with some reserve. American soccer and the Major League Soccer (MLS) is only 17 years old. How can we be a soccer nation as compared to the Europeans? I suppose there is no comparison really, but it is nice to think that the US is finally realizing that soccer (football) is a valid sport.

My only question really and the purpose of this blog is how is America’s attitude toward soccer changed? They say that Soccer is the stuff of dreams. Coaches teach their players why it is important and worthwhile to maintain a positive and optimistic attitude. I can understand that in a way. Being a soccer player takes a lot of physical training, and a lot of endurance training. Think about the game. A player has to ‘run’ or be extremely active for 45 minutes at a time. That is the length of a half. They go take a break for 15 minutes and do it again for 45 minutes. I suppose you can relate soccer training to that of leadership training. As I learned from my friend Mack Story, Leadership is influence. As his coach and mentor John Maxwell put it, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing less. Everything rises and fall on leadership.” Sometimes in leadership people use a term called backward planning. That means that you start with the end in mind, what it is you want, and then plan backwards to get to that end result. In soccer, you also have to backward plan. You have to remember where you are going. Know where you are right now. Plan out what you need to do and then share with the players that this is why I believe we can get there. I love using sports figures and sports analogies in leadership. One quote that I can remember is that of John Wooden, “make every day a masterpiece.” To be competitive, you have to be well coached. Practice is the field where you make your mistakes. Let’s call those mistakes failures if you will. Failures during practice is exactly what you want. That way through your failures, you learn. In John Maxwell’s book, Sometimes you win, Sometimes you learn, he asks “what do you learn when you fail?” Successful people understand that life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses – if they are approached the right way.

Since soccer really hasn’t developed as a National sport yet, Where did this anti-soccer sentiment come from? It surely didn’t materialize out of thin air. On the contrary, many of these argument are recycled year after year. Tony Kornheiser of the Washington Post even tried the same joke in a June, 1994 column that he had used before the 1990 World Cup (“Can the Sweeper perform any domestic chores?”). No other sport is privy to such consistent degradation in the mainstream press. Tom Weir wrote in USA Today in December, 1993, that “hating soccer is more American than apple pie, driving a pickup, or spending Saturday afternoons channel surfing with the remote control.” What is it about soccer that generates this degradation?

In fact, most anti-soccer arguments have little to do with soccer. Whether its Dan Barreiro in the Mpls. Star Tribune inviting foreigners to World Cup in the U.S. with, “Bring us your tired, your poor, your hoodlums!” or Bernie Lincicome from the Chicago Tribune suggesting soccer’s only value in the U.S. is to serve “in junior high gym class as phys ed credit for kids who are free to use their hands to push their glasses up their nose,” what is often called “soccer bashing” is really based on century-old notions that branded football as the manly, American games, while soccer was either a sport for immigrants or a sport for fitness.

Many have suggested that baseball and football are solely American inventions. Yet soccer, football, and baseball evolved in virtually the same way. Just as baseball developed out of modifications made to the British game of rounders (the Abner Doubleday myth has been proven thoroughly unfounded), and football evolved from an unorganized version of English rugby, so soccer grew out of informalized versions of a game that had been played for centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. The same precursor to soccer played in England was recorded in Boston in 1657. The first recorded soccer club formed in the U.S. was the Oneida Football Club, which played on Boston Common from 1862-1865. This predates the formation of the English Football Association in 1863. The idea that soccer is originally less American than baseball and football was invented much later, with little basis in historical fact. (Mark Salisbury, Soccer News)

How do we fix the way that soccer is viewed and becomes an American spectator sport? We must change how the game is perceived. Soccer in the U.S. is as old as baseball and is no more foreign than golf. Moreover, many of America’s greatest players during those early years were born in this country. But to change the “ethnic” tag, we must recognize that all of those so-called “immigrants” are also our fathers and our grandfathers. As Sam Foulds, the late historian for the USSF, like to say, they are “Americans of foreign birth.” Just like each one of them, soccer has always been an American game of foreign birth.

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