Do your homework, part 2

Two quotes from recent EconTalk podcast episodes that remind me of this post of mine (Do your homework) about how the Rock the Vote culture has encouraged people to think less and act more.

Bill James episode:

Bill James (Mr. Moneyball) speaking:

Self-righteousness is the great problem that afflicts our political culture. And, the problem is that large numbers of people on both ends of the political spectrum are so convinced that they are correct and that failings to see their correctness are moral failings, that we have lost much of our ability to communicate from one end of the spectrum to the other.

And, there’s no justification for it on either end. None of us understand the world. The world is vastly more complicated than the human mind. No one understands whether these policies are going to have the intended effects, or whether the unintended effects are going to be greater than the intended effects. No one knows the answers to those questions.

And the people who are convinced that they know the answers to those questions are just wrong. And it’s become a huge concern, because people are so angry, based on their self-righteousness, that we are: anger repeatedly expressed–anger building on anger, building on anger eventually leads to violence.

And we need to get people to back away from the conviction that they are right and see that they may be wrong not about something but about everything.

Jordan Peterson episode:

Jordan Peterson:

You know, these–we take 18-year-old kids, we put them in Ivy League universities, and we tell them to criticize the system and to act as political activists. And I look at that and I think, ‘God, you kids, you don’t know anything. You’ve never had a job. You’ve never taken care of anyone, including yourself. You can’t organize your own household. You’ve never read anything. You don’t know how to write. You don’t know how to think. But, it’s okay: Your professors can tell you that, now you are in a position to criticize the foundations of Western civilization. It’s like–it’s horrifying.

 

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Is England better than people think in football (soccer)?

I’m a sucker for counter intuitive arguments. The book Soccernomics makes several. Here are couple of my favorites.

The first argument addresses conventional wisdom that England hasn’t fared well in international competition of late because so many internationals play in the English Premier League, taking valuable development time away from England’s top players.

The same type of thinking is behind the MLS limiting international roster spots, with the idea of the  MLS becoming the garden to grow USMNT players.

Here are the authors of Soccernomics regarding England’s situation in their 2014 edition:

You could argue that English players account for “only” 32 percent of starting players in the Premier League. Or you could argue they account for a massive 32 percent of starting players, more than any other nationality in what is now the world’s toughest league.

Indeed, since the Premier League has become more international, England’s performances have improved. [As measured by percentage of times they reached the quarter finals of international tournaments].

I’ll be interested to see if that holds in their most recent edition.

That’s an interesting argument for the MLS to consider.

Pay-to-play in the U.S. vs. “Crowding out the middle class” in the England

Many blame ‘pay-to-play’ for limiting the talent pool in the U.S. to the softies in suburbia.

The authors of Soccernomics contend the reverse is true in England. England’s soccer culture is unwelcoming of middle class players, so many don’t bother. Many of England’s greats have come from the working class.

As England has become more prosperous, its middle class has grown and working class has shrunk. This cultural barrier has limited the talent pool to a shrinking part of the population.

Check your expectations

Another argument made in Soccernomics is that England’s expectations are too high. Anything short of World Cup champs is considered failure.

They lend some credence to this argument by regression. In other words, they controlled for some important factors, like population, experience on the world stage and resources.

They then rank the top countries based their performance after normalizing for these factors. England outperformed and ranked in the top 10.

That means England has something going for it. Likely, that’s the strength of England’s soccer culture compared to the rest of the world.

Why wait for a program? Get started NOW

On Twitter, Tom Byer recently posted a message thanking all the people for the direct messages he has received about starting programs with their local soccer associations.

What program do you need?

Read his book.

If you are a parent of a young one, he says get some small balls in the house. Show your kids how to move the ball in every direction while keeping it close. Play some ‘take the ball’ 1v1 with them, so they learn how to shield it with their body. Discourage just kicking it. Discourage using hands. Keep the ball at their feet and move with it.

Just do that.

If you run a Bitty soccer program, stop doing shooting and passing stations. Start doing the above and teach parents to do it at home.

I’ll add, if your child is older than 6 or 8, it’s not too late! I’ve seen kids of all ages improve once they start practicing with the ball consistently. I’ve improved, myself, at a much more advanced age.

What to expect

Be patient. In my experience, it takes 3-5 years of consistent effort to become decent, no matter what age you are when you start.

That fits Tom’s experience with his own kids and fits with the acquisition time of similar motor skills needed in other sports.

You will see some noticeable improvements in as little as a few weeks and improvements along the way, but don’t lose sight of the 3-5 year time frame.

It’s too easy to get complacent after making some progress and let months or a year go by without touching the ball.

It’s also easy to get frustrated during long plateau periods where you are touching the ball, but the progress isn’t noticeable like during your ‘quickening’ periods. Keep at it.

After the first 3-6 months of improvement, progress gets choppier, but still happens.

What Tom describes above is a soccer equivalent to playing catch with baseballs and footballs or playing OUT and 1-on-1 in driveway basketball.

These basic and fun activities help people of all ages learn basic motor and coordination skills they need to compete in all these sports.

Players in these sports who don’t do these activities outside of team practice will not be playing these sports much past 10 years old, just as Tom says that many kids quit soccer when they realize they don’t have the technical competence to compete.

What is technical competence?

I’d like to put some concrete on that. I’ve seen Twitter posts attacking Tom along the lines of…”How do you measure technical competence??”

If it were baseball, I doubt many people would expect a 10-year-old who can’t catch a ball to make it onto a competitive team. That player’s technical deficiency is obvious to everyone. We all know the cure. Go play catch!

Yet, I’ve seen competitive DIVISIONS of soccer filled with players who can’t trap the ball and few seem to notice.

That’s the cultural problem Tom highlights.

We know baseball well enough to know that catching is a basic skill needed by all players.

We don’t know soccer well enough to know that trapping the ball is a basic skill needed by all players. People who don’t know soccer don’t know what a good trap looks like.

Framing Matters

I came across a news story this week that was reported by a local news station differently on-air than on the story linked to by the same station’s Twitter feed.

On-air, we learn that a franchise of a national restaurant chain closed, at first temporarily, and then permanently, after an incident last weekend where two customers were accused of dining and ditching the previous day.

On-air, viewers learn that the two African American female diners were “racially-profiled” by “at least one of the restaurant’s employees”.

In the written story, from the station, linked to in their Twitter feed, I learned that the restaurant employee was the restaurant’s manager and that there were two others involved, a local police officer and mall security guard.

That made me wonder why the station didn’t report those facts on air.

New US Soccer President

Last weekend, Establishment Candidate B was elected as the new US Soccer’s president, much to the chagrin of folks clamoring for change in soccer.

I think he was the Establishment’s 2nd choice because he is slightly more open to change that could introduce more risk for the Establishment than Choice A was, which may be good.

First…

I think folks who want change might want to be careful what they wish for. Being an armchair critic is easy. There’s no cost to you for being wrong.

Not to say that I disagree with some of the armchair critics. But, I’d just caution that things aren’t always as simple as they seem and they might want to consider that they might be wrong.

Many people have thought they’ve had all the answers and then when they find themselves in charge, they fail spectacularly.

Had one of the change candidates won and made the changes they want and those changes didn’t produce immediate results, what would they do?

What if those changes ended up taking soccer back to the 80s and early 90s when soccer was a fringe sport like ultimate frisbee, lacrosse and rugby is in the U.S. now?

They’d just say “Oops”.

Ron Johnson, former CEO of JC Penney, was confident of the changes he wanted to make when he took over. One of those changes was “Everyday Low Prices.”

Sounds great. That price strategy works in Walmart. But, it nearly sunk JC Penney. Sometimes things that work somewhere else, might not work everywhere.

Second…

Public choice theory says that with centralized processes, decisions are such that not everyone gets what they want.

US Soccer and school-based sports. Neither has good competition in the in the U.S.

Competition is good.

I don’t know exactly what will or won’t work. Nobody does.

What works isn’t always obvious.

Unfortunately, a centralized decision-making body like US Soccer, doesn’t lend itself to finding what works rapidly, because it has a couple of dynamics working against it to try new stuff.

 

First, a single organization has limited capacity to try new things.

Second, there’s a tendency to get locked into trying the conventional-sounding things, because trying crazy ideas that fail get people fired quicker than doing conventional things that fail.

Competition solves these two problems.

Competitors can try the crazy things. Many fail. But, every now and then, one succeeds and fundamentally changes things.

Subway was one of many sub sandwich shops that succeeded and ushered in a ‘fast casual’ concepts that were adopted by the likes of Chipotle and Panera.

Third…

Waiting for US Soccer to solve the problems you think exists in the U.S. is like waiting for the Federal government to find a job for you. You will never be happy.

Don’t wait for US Soccer to solve the problems you think exists. Look for ways to solve it yourself and prove your concepts out.

I’ll hand it to the guys at 3Four3.com. They are loud critics of US Soccer….BUT, they are also doing exactly what I describe here, trying things and proving their methods out.

They sell coach training, coach youth teams, organize ‘pickup’ soccer activity for youth and host a blog and podcast to help spread their beliefs.  They aren’t just sitting back and criticizing.

 

Fourth…

For US Soccer…I’d encourage adopting more of a decentralized approach to moving the game forward in the U.S.

 

More on that in later posts.

 

Tom Byer’s ‘Connector’ Skills

I’ve already written about Tom Byer’s and his thoughts on developing technical skills here, here and here.

After reading the book, the deficiencies he points out are becoming more obvious to me as I watch kids and adults play.

Credit to him. It’s like one of those obvious things you don’t notice until someone points it out.

In his book, he wrote:

Soccer is a passing and shooting game, but passing and shooting has to come after learning how to control the ball. And passing and shooting comes so much easier if you do that.

I watch kids’ teams play soccer and despair sometimes. ‘How can they be so bad?’ I ask myself. Most kids can’t even move the ball from one foot to the other.

What’s the problem?

The problem is people don’t know what the problem is.

The problem is the lack of what I will call connector skills, which are the skills Tom describes in his book:

Passing the ball from one foot to the other. Turns. Pullbacks. Cuts. Moving the ball in any direction with both feet. Starting. Stopping. Protecting the ball. Changing speed.

Why do I call them ‘connector skills?’

Because they connect the moment a player gets the ball (e.g. wins 50/50, intercepts pass or receives from a teammate) and the next pass or shot.

Connector skills are the the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and on touch that players often need to take to move the ball away from an opponent and to find the next pass or shot.

Another thing I notice now, the skills worked on in soccer practices I’ve seen are primary skills — first touch, attack dribbling, passing and shooting.

Connector skills don’t get as much, if any, attention. Players do work on these as a natural part of the small-side games played in most practices, but I don’t think that’s near enough repetition.

Since reading Tom’s book, it has become more apparent to me in games that 30-50% of turnovers result from deficiency in the connector skills, which is big.

Connector skills aren’t about turning players into attacking superstars like Messi.

They’re about giving players the ability to ward off a defender for a few seconds to keep the ball with the team and set the next thing up.

Connector skills are learned through pickup play, small sided-games or practice at home, like Byer describes in his book.

They can also be worked on and demonstrated in practice so kids get ideas on how to work with the ball at home to work on those connector skills.

How are your connector skills?

Mini pitches in Iceland

A piece of info that I didn’t know about Iceland’s rise in the soccer world was the mini-pitches they installed at 111 elementary schools around the country.

From the Men in Blazers, I heard about the high number of UEFA licensed coaches and the large indoor football halls they built so they could play year-round.

I had not heard about the mini-pitches at schools until I read about it in the book, Soccernomics.

Mini-pitches at schools was also part of the German soccer revival.

Germany won the 2014 World Cup. Iceland, a country with the population the size of some U.S. suburbs, qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

In this post, I contrasted the typical U.S. soccer field with street soccer courts in Brazil (which are Brazil’s version of mini-pitches).