Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I've got a theory

With the defeat of the US National Team by the Brazilians people are wondering, is the rest of the world catching up? is US women's soccer slipping from its spot of dominance?

Before I issue a solid "yes" on this, I have to say that although the US has always been a top or the top team, it is not as if they have won every World Cup or every Olympic gold. There is far more parity in international women's soccer than say in softball where the US has only recently been a little bit challenged by Japan.

But anyway, Yes. A columnist at The Harvard Crimson blames it on the youth and collegiate systems which have a model of the ideal soccer player (strong and fast) that leaves out a lot of talented players. Good points, certainly.

Because we have to wonder how it is that a team that comes together only for the big events so soundly dominated a team whose image is one of togetherness which includes extensive training before international tournaments. A team that gets excellent funding, comparatively, to the other teams in the World Cup, including Brazil, whose president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has promised more attention and support for the women's game after seeing their efforts these past two weeks.

No money, no extensive training, little fan support (OK that's the same situation as we face in the US)--and yet Brazil managed to be the talked-about team of this world cup despite losing to Germany. What's the deal?

Well like Mr. Cruz at Harvard I think the system has something to do with this. But I put more blame on the youth sport system in general. We have overscheduled and overstructured youth sports in the United States. Marta and Daniela didn't learn that fancy footwork in a youth league, I'll bet. They watched (men doing) it on television or in local club teams and emulated it on their own. Does any kid in this country really go out to just kick a soccer ball around and try out some fancy footwork? Are there neighborhood pick-up games at the park or even in someone's back yard? No. And this is true for most sports except maybe basketball. But today kids who want to (and can afford to, an issue that is becoming more and more of a factor) get "put into" sports. I am not pooh-poohing organized sports, but I think that their hegemony has lead to situations like the one in women's soccer. Following the rules of the game is good but there is something to be said for allowing kids to work it out themselves. There is a certain amount of creativity involved in self-organized youth sports and games that kids have no access to or no outlet for when they play in adult-run leagues.

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