“Soccer Starts at Home”

according to Tom Byer (HT: Jon Townsend). I could not agree more.

From the article on Byer:

To Byer, it shouldn’t be rocket science that a soccer education would be like a school education: Kids who come from a culture at home that values education will usually be the ones who excel in school.

Bingo! In 2015, I wrote about how not valuing education is THE key problem with education and drew a parallel to my soccer coaching experience — kids from families who don’t value soccer don’t progress as fast.

Here’s more from Byer:

If you go out to many parks throughout the U.S. on any given weekend, you’ll see them filled, usually with parents, and they’re basically kicking the ball back and forth with their 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-year-old. So they’re conditioning them from a young age that it’s a kicking game.

“What I say as a challenge is: Kicking shouldn’t be the first technique you teach a kid,” he continued. “In fact, it’s detrimental to them. If you take a soccer ball and give it to a little Latin kid and try to dispossess the kid by lunging at him to try and take it away, he’ll either pull the ball back or he or she will try to beat you. Now you give that ball to a typical American kid or Canadian kid or Chinese kid and challenge them for the ball, and they’ll either bend over and pick it up or they’ll kick it and chase after it and freeze.”

Or…kick the ball right into the shins of the defender, where it then bounces randomly  until it winds up in a goal and everybody on one side of the field or the other cheers as if something good actually happened.

More from Byer (emphasis added):

…the reality is the majority of kids that play the sport, they’re technically incompetent. Not good enough. They’ve never mastered the skills of a player. Then you’ve got some crazy coach trying to get the kids to play some systemic tactical formation. But they can’t do the math. It’s tantamount to taking a kid and throwing them into geometry or trigonometry or algebra when you’ve never offered the class for adding and subtracting.”

I find this frustrating, too.

That’s why I recommended that kids stick with 5-a-side soccer (or futsal) until they are technically competent. Other countries do this naturally, as 5-a-side is baked into their culture as pickup.

I will add that many families in the U.S. do value soccer, but have no idea what to do at home because they don’t know soccer and don’t know what technical competency looks like.

Actually, ‘technical competency’ makes it sound more sophisticated that it really is. It’s otherwise known as ‘ball control’. How well can you deliberately keep the ball with your team.

If parents actually understood just how bad their kids’ ball control is, they would be mortified. It’s like having a kid on a baseball team who can’t catch. The only saving grace in soccer is that there are plenty of other Bad News Bears teams out there who don’t realize how bad they are either, so there’s still plenty of opportunities for technically incompetent teams to win trophies and think all is well.

It will be interesting to see how the programs Tom Byer has developed in Japan might help that situation in the U.S.


Soccer in the U.S. has a ‘300’ problem

I often hear people say that the U.S. should do fine in soccer because we have so many kids that play it!

Yet, we still lost to Trinidad and Tobago, a country with a total population half that of Greater Cleveland.

This reminds of this scene from the movie 300:

The Spartans were true soldiers.

They were soldiers literally selected from birth and trained/hardened to be tough-as-nail warriors willing to lay down their lives in a fight and honored to lose to a superior opponent.

The Arcadians had numbers, but they were potters, sculptors and blacksmiths, not soldiers. They proved shortly after that numbers was not a reliable predictor of success in battle.

As Leonidas says at the end of the clip, “I brought more soldiers than you did.”

Numbers isn’t a reliable predictor of success in soccer, either.

The U.S. is a great country, but it doesn’t produce soccer players for the world stage. It produces them to earn college scholarships, which on the world stage is about as useful as potters in sword battle.

The problem with communism

Anyone who has been dissatisfied with a group decision on where to eat dinner already knows the problem with communism and other forms of central planning.

Just multiply that dissatisfaction by a few hundred million people and by thousands of decisions we each make annually and you get a few hundred billion reasons why it fails.

Pulisic, McKennie and Sargent: Common Threads


I enjoyed reading this article by Christian Pulisic, about missing out on the World Cup and his thoughts on American soccer.

Here’s a good paragraph:

The second thing I want to say here is that I’m not a prodigy — or a “wonderboy,” as some have put it. I was always, you know, a decent player growing up. And yes, I was born with a certain amount of so-called “natural ability.” But I also worked and sacrificed a lot to try to maximize what I was born with — which I think is important to point out. I think it’s important to make clear, you know, that the problem with American soccer … it isn’t talent. In fact, I’m sure there are kids who are going to be reading this article who are more talented at their age than I ever was.

While he says he came up in the American system, he does say that having a dual citizenship with Croatia got him to a European club 2 years earlier than he would have and he thinks those 2-year, from 16 to 18, are “everything”:

It’s the age where a player’s growth and skill sort of intersect, in just the right way — and where, with the right direction, a player can make their biggest leap in development by far.

I found his thoughts on American soccer a bit contradictory.

First, he addresses a common charge that “he’s barely American” with:

Until I was 16, I came up through the U.S. youth system. I did all of the camps, the academies, the residency programs, the travel teams, and everything else it had to offer. I’ll always be a part of that system, and I’ll always be indebted to it. Second of all, I think that’s just a dangerous attitude in general: Having a closed-minded view of what does or doesn’t constitute being an American. And I hope it’s an attitude that we can keep out of this conversation in the years to come.

But, then highlights a difference between the American and European programs he has experienced:

In the U.S. system, too often the best player on an under-17 team will be treated like a “star” — not having to work for the ball, being the focus of the offense at all times, etc. — at a time when they should be having to fight tooth and nail for their spot. In Europe, on the other hand, the average level of ability around you is just so much higher. It’s a pool of players where everyone has been “the best player,” and everyone is fighting for a spot — truly week in and week out. Which makes the intensity and humility that you need to bring to the field every day — both from a mental and physical perspective — just unlike anything that you can really experience in U.S. developmental soccer.

In this article, I think he oversimplifies his soccer experience. In a story linked in this post, he does credit his time England at age 6-7 for sparking his interest.

I think this is important. At a young age, he saw good soccer, firsthand, which is something most American kids won’t see until much later.

In this post, I point out that among American and European kids, there are those who want to rise to the top of their soccer bubbles, it’s just that the American bubble is so much smaller and insulated (e.g. being the best on your team in its age and competition level) whereas the European soccer bubble is more connected all the way to its first team of their club (e.g. kids see these first teamers from day 1 and work for 10 years to be able to make that first team at age 16 or 17).

Also left out of Pulisic’s piece, frequent trips Mark made with his Dad over the summer to European clubs — again reinforcing in his mind what good soccer looks like.

I think the charge that Pulisic is ‘barely American’ is exaggerated by Pulisic.

I believe the charge is that he was heavily influenced by his time in soccer-playing cultures. And, that’s true. Pulisic and his Dad has admitted as much elsewhere. It was consistent and regular from an early age and something that is not common among American soccer players.

I think he will help soccer in the US more if he continues to drive that point home.


Another rising American start is Weston McKennie, currently playing for Schalke in the Bundesliga.

What’s his story? He spent 3 years between ages 6 and 9 playing soccer in Germany. This provides another example of someone being exposed to soccer playing culture at a young age.


Another up-and-coming soccer star is Josh Sargent.

It’s not clear if he was immersed in a soccer-playing culture early on. But, both his parents, like Pulisic’s, were college players. So, he, at the very least, likely learned basic technical skills before he could form long-term memories.

But, I did enjoy this article, at FourFourTwo.com, which shared his Dad’s view of his making:

“I wish there was a recipe to make a pro soccer player, but I don’t know,” says Jeff Sargent, with a laugh, when asked what he tells others eager to know how his son honed his gifts. “Honestly, what I tell them is, it was Josh. Josh did it. He was born with a lot of talent and developed it. He worked very hard.

“Probably more than I would even want him to – I know some parents push their kids a lot, and I never had to push him. He was always getting me off the couch and making me go out and play with him. He was just that kind of kid. That’s something that was in Josh. I didn’t give that to him. He had that.”

Sargent will be joining a German Bundesliga fixture, Werder Bremen in January.

Common threads

Let’s recap some common threads among these rising stars:

  • Hard work — Yes, they have natural talent, but they all seem to have the innate drive to work hard to get better.
  • Early exposure to soccer culture in their life. They knew what good soccer looked like. They tried to climb to the top of that, rather than just be happy and complacent by being the best on their team.
  • All skipped college and the MLS to join teams in Germany’s top league. They can be as nice and polite about soccer in the U.S. as they want, but this says it all when 3 of the top prospects leave the U.S. soccer system behind.

MiB: “What Happened” podcast about USMNT soccer World Cup disappointment

Men in Blazers have a podcast special of their live show in the New York last week called “What Happened”.

The topic: Why the US Men didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup and what should US Soccer do from here.

It’s entertaining as always and has two guests, Alexi Lalas and Hercules Gomez.

Lalas blames the coach and players and says they were basically not a good team.

My response to that is the same as my response to Davo’s (one of the Men in Blazers) belief that the U.S. just lacked a good center back pairing.

Their views are fine if you just want to squeak into the World Cup and hobble past the group stage. Their views do not hold if you want the U.S. to move from the Top 30 in the world to the Top 5 or 10 and have a shot at winning the World Cup.

I enjoy the ‘how to fix soccer in the U.S.’ discussion because it is the same as economic and political topics that I write about on this blog.

One economist I follow is Russ Roberts. Among many other things, he hosts the podcast, EconTalk. On it, he often uses the prairie analogy to illustrate emergent order.

A prairie looks simple, yet it is a complex, dynamic, emerging and evolving thing.

You can’t just take a patch of your backyard and convert it to prairie. You might be able to get something that looks like a prairie, but it won’t be a prairie and it’s not obvious why. Instead of having 20,000 varieties of plants, for example, you might only have 5 or 10.

The culture of soccer that has emerged in the U.S. is different than countries that occupy the tops of the world table.

Football in those countries are like the prairie, in Roberts’ analogy. Soccer culture in the U.S. is like the prairie knock-off that some guy try to plant in his backyard.

It has a lot of elements that look the same (e.g. the U.S and Top 10 countries all have youth soccer/football clubs) , but it isn’t the same and it’s not obvious why.

In the MiB podcast, they touch on several of the differences between soccer in the U.S. and in the top soccer playing nations.

Here are a few that were mentioned:

  • No Pro/rel (Promotion/relegation) in professional soccer in the U.S. vs. Pro/rel in other countries.
  • ‘Pay for play’ in U.S. youth soccer vs. very low cost soccer in other countries
  • Lukewarm soccer culture in the U.S. vs. the intensity of soccer popularity in the top nations
  • Opportunity costs faced by soft suburban soccer players in the U.S., who can become an accountant if the soccer thing doesn’t work out vs. players scrapping their way off the streets and out of poverty in other countries (Jonathan Vaughters expressed the same thoughts about US cycling vs European countries years ago).
  • Low-density of deep-knowledge-soccer coaches in the U.S. vs. much higher density in soccer-playing countries
  • Wide geographies in the U.S. that make it tough for small clubs to find competition to get off the ground (i.e. travel costs drown them)
  • Popularity of other sports in the U.S.

Here are a other differences I’ve noticed or have heard others mention:

  • Scholastic sports in the U.S. vs. club sports in other countries
  • Low club density in the U.S. vs. high club density in other countries
  • Fragmented soccer experience in U.S. youth soccer vs. more consistent and encompassing experience in other countries
  • Relatively tight control of coaching courses in U.S. vs. more accessible in other countries
  • The common play of 5-a-side in other countries vs. less common in U.S.
  • College athletic scholarships in the U.S. vs. no college athletics in other countries
  • Regular season/post season in US vs champion crowned in regular season in other countries
  • 10 month (Aug-May) youth soccer season in other countries vs. choppy seasons in US (Fall, Winter, Spring).
  • Lots more travel in US youth soccer
  • Multiple game weekends in the U.S. vs. typical 1 game/week in other countries
  • After school pickup play in other countries vs very little in the U.S.
  • Transfer fees and solidarity payment for clubs
  • MLS franchise vs club ownership in other countries
  • Deep network of pro and amateur clubs all connected through the ‘football association’ vs. fragmented club and team structures in the U.S.

I’m sure there are more differences. But above is more than 20 differences that are major and all may contribute to sub-optimizing the environment in the U.S. to produce players capable of competing against top world talent  — and maybe even top 100 teams (yes, that’s a dig at that last loss in Trinidad & Tobago).

No wonder there’s such disagreement on what should change in the U.S., there are a lot of things to pick from and it’s not obvious which things will make that much difference.

Further, each of these differences have more nuances beneath them.

For instance, the marriage of school and sports in the U.S. is an exception in the world. Other countries keep schools focused on education and have clubs that handle sports. I write more about that here.

Thoughtful discussion on these topics is as hard to come by as it is with politics.

In the pod, the topic of  pay-for-play is briefly discussed. Someone asks why it doesn’t cost as much for kids to be a part of a soccer club in other countries. Great question! But Lalas dismissed it by simply saying, ‘Coaches need to get paid.’

Sacha van der Most pointed out that his youth club in the Netherlands costs $250 per year for 10 months of soccer. That club is Quick. That compares with $1,500 – $3,000 in the U.S.

I think it would be interesting to know how a club in Europe can provide a youth soccer experience for 10% of the cost in the U.S.

The discussion of pro/rel was also disappointing.

Note to MiB Roger Bennett, Alexi Lalas knows a lot about soccer, but he doesn’t know a lot about ‘prairie problems’.

You ask great questions that deserve further discussion. Should you explore any of these topics in the future, I recommend that Lalas not be a part of that discussion. His domineering, over-simplification is exactly what is not needed in such discussion.

And, please, go out and find out how Quick can charge $250 a year for soccer. You can see what’s going on at Quick’s pitch anytime, live, on their webcam.

Dumping is good

This post on Cafe Hayek is about how the names of policies don’t often match with what the policy does.

In this particular case, it’s about policies to limit goods produced in other countries being sold here for cheap. It’s often perceived that the goods are being sold for less than they cost to produce, which is unfair to local producers of such goods.

Such policies are called ‘Anti-Dumping’ (against dumping cheap goods on the market) and ‘leveling the playing field’ (making it ‘fair’ for local competitors to those goods).

When I read this post, I recalled the first time I heard about “Dumping,” when I was high school age.

And I recalled thinking, how’s that bad?


Yes, it can hurt the specific producer of competing goods. But, if someone wants to sell me something for less than it costs to produce, well, okay. That’s good for me and it’s also good for the producers of other products that I now have more money to spend on.

Does Don Garber not know that the MLS is the local “hot dog cannon” league?

MLS Commissioner Don Garber thinks there’s too much soccer on TV.

Here’s his quote:

There’s more soccer on [US] television than any other sport by far. You’ve got European soccer. You’ve got Mexican soccer. You’ve got Major League Soccer. There’s way too much soccer on television. I think all of us got to figure out a way to narrow that window so you can get a situation like the NFL has, a couple of days a week, short schedule, something that’s very compelling and very targeted.

That’s like a high school football coach complaining that there’s too much football on TV, with all the college and professional games.

The schedule doesn’t make the league compelling to watch. The quality of the product on the field does.

We watch European and South American football on TV because we like to watch the best in the world play great soccer.

That’s the same reason folks watch the NFL on TV.  There’s not a big market for high school games on TV.

We go to our MLS games for the same reason we go to high school football games. It’s fun to experience the sport live, with friends, drink beer and support the local team, even if it isn’t the best quality. We even have a chance of catching a free hot dog shot from the cannon at halftime.

If the MLS adopted the features of the foreign football leagues, rather than other American pro sports leagues (in sports not widely played elsewhere), I think the value of the MLS would grow exponentially, rather than incrementally, because before long more people inside and outside the U.S. will want to watch it because it will have its share of the world’s top players.

Trump has foreign trade backwards

Donald Trump is widely quoted for saying this during his China trip:

I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.

He has it backwards. I’ve edited below to make it accurate.

I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take taking advantage of another country its citizens for the benefit of its the citizens of another country? I give China great credit.

Bill Gates admits education failure

At the Federalist, Joy Pullman writes that “Bill Gates Tacitly Admits His Common Core Experiment was a Failure.”

From the article:

“If there is one thing I have learned,” Gates says in concluding his speech, “it is that no matter how enthusiastic we might be about one approach or another, the decision to go from pilot to wide-scale usage is ultimately and always something that has to be decided by you and others the field.” If this statement encompasses his Common Core debacle, Gates could have at least the humility to recall that Common Core had no pilot before he took it national. There wasn’t even a draft available to the public before the Obama administration hooked states into contracts, many of which were ghostwritten with Gates funds, pledging they’d buy that pig in a poke.

That reminds me of when Ron Johnson led JC Penney. He, too, had ideas that sounded great, but didn’t work well in the real world.

Bill Gates mistake is common. Start a conversation about education models with anyone. If your experience is like mine, you will hear someone will say something like:

We just need to figure out what works and do that.

If it were that simple, why haven’t we done that already?

It’s not that simple.

But, problem isn’t the education model. It works relatively well for those who value education.

The problem is that we have so many students and parents who don’t value education.

Bill Gates could do well to direct some resources to solving that problem and lot of improvement will follow.

As a soccer coach, I’ve learned that I can teach a lot to a kid who wants to learn.

I can teach some to a kid who isn’t that into soccer, but has a parent who values soccer and is willing to hold their child accountable to putting in the work needed to progress. These kids often blossom after a few seasons as the work they accumulate begins to pay off and the player’s interest level picks up because of it.

I haven’t met a soccer coach yet who can help when the player and parent aren’t into soccer.

This is pretty much a ‘duh’ with so many things — like learning to play sports and musical instruments.

But, when it comes to education, this seems to be in our blind spot.

The Trump Tax Challenge

Pull out the tax form you filed last year.

Find the tax you paid to the Federal government.

Go here and calculate your tax on the proposed plan. It’s easy if you made it past 4th grade math.


Mine would go up, but not materially. How about yours?