College Admissions “Scandal”

The biggest news to me is that this is a scandal.

I think just about everyone figures that a wealthy person can buy admission for their kid with a generous donation to the school.

I’m perplexed as to why these folks didn’t just make a donation to the school.

Maybe they tried but the school’s asking price was too high, so they tried a scalper?

Or, maybe I just have it wrong and rich folks really can’t buy their child’s way in to a school with a generous donation.

If I recall correctly, at my alma mater, we got a brand new basketball arena right paid for by a generous donor right about the time said generous donor’s son was on the school’s D1 basketball team. I don’t recall there be a big hullabaloo about that.



Number games in soccer

In the U.S., there’s more focus on numbers that don’t matter and not enough on numbers that do.

Many people are dumbfounded that a country of over 300 million people with millions of registered soccer players can’t turn out world beating soccer talent, while much smaller nations do better.

To be recognized by U.S. Soccer as a professional soccer league you must adhere to its numbers. Owners must have a minimum net worth, leagues must maintain a minimum number of teams and stadiums must have a minimum number of seats.

The MLS puts a good deal of attention on numbers like team salaries, the number of foreign and US National Team players on each team, to try to keep things fair.

At college and pro combines, there is a lot of attention given to measures of general athleticism like 40 yard dash and shuttle run times.

All these are examples of numbers that don’t matter much in contributing to the level of the top talent.

Here are some numbers that matter more.

One important number is how many kids play soccer and soccer-related games, on their own, with their friends, family and neighbors.

Another is how much they are playing and how many touches are they getting.

Multiply that difference out by how many weeks they play over how many years and that number will tell you why the U.S. doesn’t produce top-level talent.

You will discover that our top players have a fraction of the touches accumulated over their lives as top players from top producing soccer nations.

Doing some rough math, I estimate that the typical American soccer player has accumulated 200,000 – 500,000 touches by the time they turn 18.

That sounds like quite a bit.

But, I estimate that a typical player of the same age from a soccer culture has accumulated between 4 and 6 million touches.

How? They start at younger age, they play more each week, more consistently throughout the year and when they do play, they play in ways that give them more touches on the ball and touches that translate to better game play — most of this through unorganized play.

In soccer cultures, organized play is like the icing on the cake, the cake being the unorganized play the builds the baseline skill and knowledge.

This is the same with basketball in our country. Most of the sport is learned through unorganized play, and organized play is the icing on the cake.

In the U.S., for soccer we mostly just have the icing and no cake. (I heard this recently and thought it was a good description, but I can’t remember where I heard it).

Another theory I hear about the level of U.S. talent is that our top athletes choose other sports. The problem with that is not understanding that by the time a top athlete “chooses” a sport (say between age 10 and 14), it’s too late.

They will not be able to make up for all the missed touches.

The beauty of unorganized play is that we don’t have to wait for top athletes to “choose” a sport. It develops important skills of soccer for them without them knowing it, so that by the time they choose a sport, they have a good foundation to build from.

Tale of two teams: raise the bottom to push up the top

Tweet from Tom Byer:

The following example supports that point.

Setting: Sideline of scrimmage at youth soccer practice where I assisted.

Team One: Academy, top division team.

Team Two: Beginner to intermediate, but a year older.

If you judge the the teams before they scrimmage each other you might expect Team Two to dominate. They are older, bigger and look more athletic. A lot of the Team One players look bookish.

Once scrimmage begins, you quickly learn you are mistaken. Team One dominates and keeps the ball 90% of the time.

When Team Two gets the ball, they are lucky to get three touches before giving it back to Team One.

It’s like watching 6th graders (Team One) compete against 2nd graders (Team Two) in math. Of course, the 6th graders will look like geniuses, if you have nothing else to compare to.

But, Team One isn’t great, even though they are “elite” and win a lot.

They just have the basics down. Algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus are still to come.

Team Two represents the bottom 60-70% in my area and Team One the top 10%.

Comparing to traditional US sports of basketball and baseball, a team with a similar level of proficiency in either of those sports as Team One has in soccer would be low B or C level and Team Two would be in the bottom 10%, if playing at all.

Here are some key differences I noticed between Team One and Two players.

When players wait on the sideline to sub into scrimmage, Team One players work with the ball without being led. They juggle in groups, play 1v1, pass or dribble around backpacks and water bottles. They can all juggle 50 to 100.

Players from Team Two need need adult direction or they goof off. They think the academy players juggle to show off. “You don’t use it in a game,” they reason.

Team Two player have played organized “soccer for years.” They will tell you that, but they also exhibit no interest in discovering the sport on their own. They don’t see the need to touch the ball outside of practice and could barely name a single player on the local pro team. They are a step better than beginners, learning close to 100% of what they know about soccer through the team. They are often the first ones in their family to play soccer.

Team One also played organized soccer for years. But, its players are curious about learning to master the ball and game, learning about 90% of what they know outside of organized soccer through family and/or on their own. Many came from families whose parents played soccer, or have older siblings who play.

That’s what Tom Byer means by raising the bottom to lift the top. If Team Two had basic proficiency, they would push Team One harder to improve.

In non-soccer cultures the mindset is that kids learn soccer in organized settings with qualified professionals at the helm.

Byer’s suggests flipping that by expecting kids to learn the basics before they join a team.

That’s more like how we think of basketball and baseball. That’s part of the reason we start playing catch with kids when they’re toddlers and buy them Fisher-Price basketball hoops.

Parents expect more from soccer coaches than coaches of other sports. If their kid can’t make a basket, they encourage their kid to practice more.

That mindset is flipped in soccer. If their kid can’t score a goal, they ask why the coach hasn’t taught them how, yet, and start to doubt if the coach knows what they’re doing.

US Soccer is the Myspace of soccer

Critics of promotion/relegation for soccer in the U.S. argue that the closed-leagues of the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL work fine and that’s just how things are done in the U.S.

Question: Do these sports also have professional league standards (PLS) like soccer?

I don’t think they do, but I could be wrong.

Soccer PLS started with good intentions. Soccer leagues in the U.S. came and went. The hope was that by setting some standards, like high minimum net worth requirements for owners, the PLS could bring stability to a league to help establish itself and give national team players a consistent place to get better.

But, in the past few years, the intent of PLS have become more sinister. US Soccer now uses it to to create a barrier to entry to competition to its leagues.

It baffles me that in a free country and in a sport that hasn’t established itself, why the the PLS are needed at all.

What if MySpace got to dictate the standards its competition had to meet?

Myspace’s competitors would look and feel like Myspace because Myspace managers would have a hard time imagining and allowing for solutions that looked different than their own.

That wouldn’t have allowed for the mutations from which the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have emerged.

Many mutations failed, including Myspace. Add Friendster, Orkut and Google + to that list.

In business (and many other things) trial-and-error and mutations in those trials is how success is happened upon.

Alexi Lalas likes to challenge critics of MLS to “build a better mousetrap.”

He doesn’t acknowledge that US Soccer’s monopoly on sanctioning professional soccer leagues in the U.S. and the PLS makes that much less likely to happen.

So here we are, stuck with the Myspace of soccer running things.


Pickup sports is full of important and unmistakable feedback

In addition to providing the thrill of victory and agony of defeat, competition gives us feedback. It benchmarks our play against others and exposes us to different ways to play.

One thing I see holding back top level of soccer in the U.S. is that kids in prime development years primarily compete on teams, which provides easily mistakable feedback on their individual performance.

When I started playing adult soccer, we had a superstar on our team. He won us a lot of games. It would have been easy to delude myself into thinking that I was pretty good, too, because, we were winning.

I wasn’t.

Our team wins gave me a mistakable signal on my individual performance.

I see a lot of kids in the same situation on their youth team. A couple rock stars carry the team and the other players lure themselves into complacency by mistaking the team’s results as a reflection of their own ability.

I’ve seen those players lose years of development by being shrouded from the truth of their own performance.

What’s missing in their development is competition where their individual performance is less mistakable.

I wrote about an approach to do this used in Belgium here. They focus less on team competition and more 1v1’s with little ones.

I think that’s on the right path, but still misses something.

Learning basketball in the U.S. also requires a lot of 1-on-1’s, but the bulk of those 1-on-1’s takes place outside of organized play.

Pickup play in driveways, parks, playgrounds, community center gym and churches teaches about 10x more basketball than team ball.

Your individual performance in these venues is close to unmistakable.

In case you do mistake your performance, like making excuses for losing (we all know people like that), your friends will keep you honest.

There’s nothing wrong with playing on soccer teams at young ages or keeping score.

The problem is that if that’s the only place you compete, it’s too easy to hide from your own performance for too long and not realize how far behind you are until it’s too late.

Absent pickup play, Belgium’s approach is better than the standard approach. That teaches 3-4x more soccer than the standard approach, which is not near the 10x pickup can teach.

Why U.S. Soccer is hypocritical for de-sanctioning NASL’s Division II status

U.S. Soccer de-sanctioned NASL’s Division II status because the NASL wasn’t in compliance with U.S. Soccer’s Professional League Standards of minimum number of teams and minimum number of seats in the stadiums, among other things.

I wonder when FIFA will de-sanction U.S. Soccer since it doesn’t comply with FIFA standards of promotion/relegation, training compensation and solidarity payments, among other things?

What is meant by “authenticity” in soccer

In the podcast referenced in the Tweet below, host Daniel Workman talks with NPSL head Kenny Farrell.

In it is a good discussion of what is missing in soccer in the U.S.

I hear the term ‘authenticity’ a lot when discussing soccer in the U.S. and how American soccer lacks it, while other countries have it.

But, what does that mean? Soccer is soccer, right? How can a sport lack authenticity?

I touched on it in this post from 2017 and this follow-up says more.