Inside Soccer Playing Culture

One thing that gets overlooked in the discussion about how to improve the state of soccer in the U.S. is how much soccer is not a part of American culture.

I got to see first hand what a difference that makes when I attended a backyard quinceanara on my wife’s side of the family, last year.

I snapped this photo at the party:

kids playing soccer

The family is Mexican and Honduran, which are heavy soccer-playing cultures.

There was up to 12 kids out there kicking the ball around and they ranged in age from 3 to 20.

They didn’t play a soccer game like we know it, with goals and teams.

In this photo they were playing keep away. The guy with the ball would try to keep it, make a few moves to beat the defender and the closest guy to him would try to put pressure on him to stop him and try to get the ball.

A player possessed the ball for about 5 – 10 seconds, on average, then they’d pass it on to someone else and that pair would do the same thing.

Every now and then they’d do a 2-3 pass combo to attack an imaginary goal and shoot, but that wasn’t the main purpose of the game.

Notice the young kid with ball. He’s using the inside of his foot to control the ball and keeping it under his shoulders. He has basic technique down at a young age.

Another game they played was a simple 1v1. One guy had the ball, the other defended. The attacker tried to control the ball past the defender. The defender tried to keep the attacker from beating him and tried to get the ball.

After the attacker got past the defender or when the defender got the ball, they’d switch roles. I believe they kept score. A point for beating the defender. A point for getting the ball. They played best 2 out of 3 or 3 out of 5.

A few weeks later, my adult indoor team played against a Hispanic team. Before and after the game, their team spread across the field, paired off and played this simple 1v1 game.

These games worked well with the age differences while working on key fundamentals. The games were like simple versions of sports in our culture like 1-on-1 or 21 in basketball or ‘catch’ with a baseball or football.

All these games are fun and increase reps on fundamentals to where they become second nature.

I tried the first game with the 10 year soccer team that I coached. Here are some of the differences I saw.

Birthday party kids: Maintained their spacing well. Allowed them to move the ball around and have passing options available when the attacker’s dribbling options ran out.

American kids:  A herd of 3-4 chasing after the ball, knocking each other down to get it and often clogging up the attacker’s passing lanes.

Birthday party: Even the youngest kids had a fine 1st touch and played it away from pressure, kept the ball under their shoulders and stayed in an athletic position (shoulders over toes).

American kids: Many of the kids had a heavy first touch and often played the ball right to a defender. When they kept the ball, their next touch created a 50/50 when they kicked the ball out from under their shoulders and chased it. They too often reached for the ball with their foot, getting out of the athletic position and becoming unbalanced.

Birthday party: The closest guy naturally became the defender and started pressing to contain the attacker and wait for the mistake to tackle. It was almost like they were being switched on. As soon as the guy near them got the ball, they changed their stance to become more defensive and closed space to pressure.

American kids: The closest guy often avoided defending, moving away from the ball leaving a big gap for the attacker to play into and causing confusion among other players on who was going to defend. They wanted to be on offense only or wanted to be on the ‘good players’ team, so didn’t want to defend when the good players had the ball.  When they did defend, they dived-in for the ball, becoming unbalanced, and got beat.

Birthday party: The kids communicated passes, where to play the ball and moved around to be open for a pass.

American kids: Silent, staring at each other, standing like statues instead of moving around to get create open passing lanes.

The American kids aren’t beginners. Many have played for years.

But, they’ve played only in adult-led settings with kids in their 1 year age group and similar skill level, so they can feel competitive and successful. They haven’t discovered the game on their own they’ve had enough success with ‘boom and zoom’ soccer that they’ve had a difficult time understanding why they would want to play any differently.

I often hear these 10-year-olds brag about how many seasons they have played soccer, yet many don’t have the technical skill of the 6 year-old kids at the birthday party, because they haven’t put the reps in on their own.

Back to the party: After 20 minutes of soccer, the older kids moved on to running American football plays. Meanwhile, the younger kids got the soccer ball and kept trying to emulate the moves they saw the older kids doing a few minutes before, building their skills up.

I witnessed, firsthand, soccer being handed down through culture, without adults on the sidelines coaching every step and acting like every mistake is career-ending.

Their culture puts more focus in the early years on 1v1 skills. What little soccer is in our culture puts more focus in early years on big kicks and athleticism.

In their culture, they have refined their 1v1 skills by the time they turn 10. Most don’t even remember a time when they didn’t have those skills because they learned much of it from ages 2 – 7 by emulating their older family members and neighbors.

In our culture, that type of skill development often starts about age 10.


More education is ALWAYS good…not

According to this Bloomberg article, teen labor force participation in the summer has dropped from 70% in the late 80s to 43% last year.

They offer a variety of reasons why. One reason they provide is that they’re studying more:

Over the last few decades, education has taken up more and more of teenagers’ time, as school districts lengthen both the school day and the academic year. During the school year, academic loads have gotten heavier. Education is also eating up teenagers’ summers. Teens aren’t going to summer school just because they failed a class and need to catch up. They’re also enrolling in enrichment courses and taking courses for college credit.

In July of last year, more than two in five 16- to 19-year-olds were enrolled in school. That’s four times times as many as were enrolled in 1985, BLS data show.

That’s a big shift in one generation.

I think there might be a few reasons whys.

Parents are wealthier now, so kids don’t have to earn as much of their spending/college money on their own.

Minimum wage is higher, so there might be more ‘off the books’ employment of students.

Lots of folks have bought into the ‘more is ALWAYS better’ maxim of education. As a society, we find it hard to rationalize diminishing returns on things that sound really good.

Last decade, more home ownership was ALWAYS better. Through financial market distortions, we pushed well past the diminishing return curve to the point where many decisions simply didn’t make economic sense, until it blew up. It turns out it’s not a good idea to ‘own a home’ if you can’t actually afford to pay the mortgage.

Now we are doing the same thing with education. The result is college graduates with mountains of student loan debt with degrees that don’t have the earnings potential to pay that debt off.

The dynamics of real estate and education bubbles are similar.

Can’t afford to pay your mortgage? Don’t let that stop you. Being a home owner is a good thing! It will all work out. 

Want a degree in neolithic cultural approbation even though you will have no marketable skills? Don’t let that stop you. Having a college degree is a great thing!

In the real estate bubble, there were many distortions. A big one was government backing loans for ‘non-traditional’ (i.e. people who had not yet demonstrated the ability responsibly manage their finances) borrowers.

Oddly enough, in the education bubble, we have the same thing — government backing student loans with no tie to whether the degree provides the student with the earning potential to pay that loan off.

Let me be clear. I have nothing against home ownership, helping people buy homes, education or helping people get college degrees.

It’s just that I believe that ‘helping people buy homes’, means teaching them responsible personal finance.

With college degrees, it means teaching them to evaluate job market and earnings potential of their degree so they can make choices that make sense.

It’s all about rationalizing on the diminishing returns.

A couple good anti-bullying tactics

  1. Learning this old phrase: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
  2. Don’t give bullies the reaction they want.

Recent efforts are more focused on stopping bullying altogether.

When I was a kid, there was more emphasis on equipping kids on how to deal with bullies. The two tactics above worked well. I dare say, that on occasion, standing up to the bullies also worked.

News stories of kids who injure themselves, or worse, because of bullies, seem to subtly accept that bullying could result in such things.

Bullying should not result in such things.

Accidentally getting cause and effect backwards

I heard a sound clip from a comedy act on the radio recently.

It went something like this:

Incarceration rates in the U.S., the freest country in the world, is higher than many other not-so-free countries. It’s double what it is in South Africa and South Africa is pretty f’d up.

So, isn’t it strange that the freest country in the world actually has the lowest number of free people?

The comedian doesn’t seem to consider that perhaps the U.S.’s higher incarceration rate contributes to why the U.S. isn’t as “f’d up” as South Africa.

He also made an error in the last paragraph. He should have said lowest percentage of free people, rather than lower “number.”



Maybe valedictorians are successful

I think there are some good points in this Time article about how successful valedictorians are later in life.

It turns out they do fine, but the article concludes they don’t ‘change the world.’

They speculate as to why:

So why are the number ones in high school so rarely the number ones in real life? There are two reasons. First, schools reward students who consistently do what they are told. Academic grades correlate only loosely with intelligence (standardized tests are better at measuring IQ). Grades are, however, an excellent predictor of self-discipline, conscientiousness, and the ability to comply with rules.

The second reason is that schools reward being a generalist. There is little recognition of student passion or expertise. The real world, however, does the reverse.

I think these are interesting and reasonable sounding explanations, but too simplistic.

I don’t believe the authors give due consideration to how uncommon and how much luck goes into ‘changing the world’. It’s like concluding that no valedictorians have won the Powerball. That’s comparing something with a 1 in 400 chance (being a valedictorian) to something with a 1 in 292 million chance. It isn’t likely to happen mainly due to the odds of the second event (Powerball), not the odds of the first . It certainly isn’t likely to happen in a pool of 81 candidates that they followed.

Most world changers are what Nassim Taleb call Black Swans, which are low probability events that have more to do with luck than anything.

I know it’s tough for folks to believe. We see the successful people and forget about the odds they overcame to get there. We don’t think about the millions of other people that are very similar to the successful ones that haven’t made it.

Imagine if there were a TV show that followed the lives of lottery winners. That would probably lead us to forget those immense 1 in 292 million odds because, well, ‘it happened to them.’

That’s called survivorship bias. We don’t see the thousands or millions that were similar to the successful folks, so we can’t gauge how rare their success.

Also, I think the whole ‘change the world’ mantra is BS anyway. It has led generations of folks into narcissistic and self-destructive pursuits.

When I got close to success, I’ve seen what others had to sacrifice to have a chance of making it and I wasn’t willing to do that. I imagine there are many like me.

For example, I was a fair bicycle racer in my day. To get to the next level, I would have had to give up many things like hanging out with family and friends and have a single-minded focus on training (which, admittedly is the second reason the authors of the Time article gave–perhaps I was too much of a generalist to have a single-minded focus on training).

But, it was what I saw to get to the level after that that turned me off. I would have likely needed to sacrifice my morals and take performance enhancing drugs. I simply wasn’t willing to do that.

School brainwashes us to think of success as being world changing or making a big splash. You must be important, rich and famous, make it big! We envision getting there in meritocratic ways through hard work and persistence.

But, many find out, like I did, there’s often a dark side to achieving that success. To have a chance of that type of success often means being extremely selfish, making questionable sacrifices and perhaps, taking some moral shortcuts. I’d love to know what percentage of Hollywood super stars achieved their fame without providing a few questionable sexual favors to people who could give them a break along the way.

Perhaps valedictorians are simply smart enough to figure that out and come to believe that success isn’t about changing the whole world, but rather changing the part of world around you in, perhaps, smaller, but still important ways.

That might mean being a good and involved parent, volunteering to help others out in formal and informal ways, being a good friend and living by a good set of morals.

I wrote about this idea back in 2011 in the second part of this post.

Different soccer models emerging (or at least being tried)

No doubt, pickup play is a key driver to developing sports skills and game IQ.

The following two efforts will try to emulate pickup play for soccer, since it is sorely lacking in the U.S.

The guys from the 3four3 soccer blog are starting the 3four3 Player’s Club.


  • 25 weeks
  • Personal Training from proven, yes proven, coaches operating at the cutting edge of youth development
  • 75 hours – of available pickup games
  • Consistent exposure to proper pickup culture
  • Under the eyes of 3four3 staff on a weekly basis

Some folks affiliated with pro soccer teams in the Kansas City area are starting the Zone 1 Academy program.


  • 4 practices will be offered each week. Players may attend as many as they wish.
  • The daily training atmosphere will be a point of emphasis.
  • Individual and small group play will be emphasized.
  • Freedom of expression will be encouraged.

These seem like steps in the right direction.

I wish them the best of luck.

Conspiracy theory when we say so

I just saw an ABC Evening News piece about Fox News retracting a story about Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was murdered during the election campaign last year, possibly being the person who leaked the DNC emails during last year’s campaign.

What I found ironic about the story is that ABC News reported how there’s been no evidence of this and that’s why the story had to be retracted. They presented the Seth Rich story as a ‘Conspiracy Theory’.

Yet, they opened the story with the idea that the Russians hacked the DNC emails, as in ‘Of course, it wasn’t Seth Rich, it was the Russians!’

I’m still waiting on the evidence of that one.

The only thing I’ve seen (and the footage included in this ABC News story) is Senators Pelosi and Feinstein saying that “based on what they have been shown’ they ‘believe’ Russia hacked the DNC.

Forgive me for not trusting two extreme-partisan Senators using back-pedal language (‘Well, I believed based on what I was shown. I can’t help that what I was shown was wrong.’)

If lack of known evidence makes the Seth Rich story a Conspiracy Theory, it seems that the Russian hacking story should also be considered Conspiracy Theory until there’s evidence to prove otherwise.

Addendum: The last time the ‘no evidence’ claim was made by the media was about Trump’s ‘Obama wiretapped me’ tweet. For weeks the media pounded ‘NO EVIDENCE’ (which sounds a lot like Lance Armstrong’s canned response when asked if he doped, ‘I’ve never failed a drug test.’)

Then we start to learn the details of ‘unmasking’ and that story seemed to slip out of the media rotation overnight.