“What is (or isn’t) authentic soccer culture?”

On Twitter, Alexi Lalas asked what is (or isn’t) authentic soccer culture?


Here are a few things I can think of…


  • A high portion of the knowledge and skill of the game is handed down to younger generations informally through family and friends in unorganized, backyard, street and park play.
  • Kids play a bunch of soccer and offshoot (e.g. monkey-in-the middle) without adult direction from the time they start to walk.
  • Street cred is earned with ball mastery.
  • By age 8-10, kids have picked up the sport’s base skills and tactics through the above without really knowing it. The game just seems natural to them and they can’t remember a time when they didn’t have these skills or knowledge.
  • Clubs provide playing opportunities from age 5 to 50 or 60.
  • Supporter groups in small to medium clubs, are people who play in the club at some age. They might play in the club’s U8 league or on the adult over 40 league.
  • Young kids in the club are coached by the teenagers on the first and second teams. These kids want to watch their coaches play on the weekend and work toward being like them.
  • Support and interest in the pro sport would be similar to what we have in football, basketball and baseball — in ticket sales and TV contracts.
  • 1st division teams are independent clubs that earned their way in, and stay in, with their results on the field.


  • Most of the game knowledge and skills are taught formally in organized play by pro or  licensed coaches (and it is believed that’s the only way to do it) or by parent volunteers who have zero guidance.
  • Ball mastery isn’t on the radar as something to strive for (or is believed it just happens with age and coordination).
  • Kids do not follow or discover the sport outside of organized play.
  • Young players don’t try to emulate anyone. They are fine with being the ‘best on their team’ at something (defense, midfield, goalie) and have no real sense of what they should be working toward.
  • The 1st division teams buy their way in and collude with the other teams, via the league, on the belief that close games against mediocre teams (what they call competitive) attract more eyeballs than allowing each team to fight it out.

In his podcast, he points out that authentic soccer culture is the violence and intensity simmering in soccer-crazed countries.

I think that’s just a signal of it. It’s not it.

If you put the elements of authentic culture above into perspective, one outcome may be more violence since folks are even more connected to their clubs than they currently are.

But, beneath that, lies a deep and widespread love for the game that we simply don’t have, yet.



What You Should Do (via Marginal Revolution).

The first link on his list is to Y Combinator’s Request for Startups.

#9 on its list is Education. It reads:

Human brain power is vastly underutilized on this planet because most people lack access to a good education. Strong education systems lead to greater social mobility, better workers, better citizens, and more and better startups. A small increase in the learning output of education systems across the globe would have an enormous impact on human productivity and economic growth.

We are interested in new school models that can develop critical thinking, creativity, citizenship, and job skills at massive scale. We’re looking for ideas that combine technology and person-to-person interactions to deliver highly individualized educational experiences.

We also know that 90% of the human brain develops before age 5 and achievement gaps open up well before kindergarten. We’re interested in ventures that dramatically improve outcomes for children from birth to age five, that reduce inequality, and that have the potential to enhance the future quality of life for those children and their families. Scalable solutions in these areas should now be doable thanks to advances in brain science and technologies such as smart home devices, wearables, and mobile.

Maybe. I like simple things. But, that seems too simple.

Those gaps that open before age five, may just be the first signals of  families that value education differently, rather than some deprivation of resources.

Consider soccer. Some parents/families are into it. Some aren’t.

By age 5, there will be noticeable soccer-playing gaps between the kids from families who are into it and those who are not.

The scalable solution there is soccer culture. Nothing else will live up to that on a sustainable basis.

Likewise, to improve educational outcomes, the scalable solution is a culture that values education.

Oh yeah, and competition. The education system needs more of it.

A good Thanksgiving podcast & book

I highly recommend listening to this week’s EconTalk podcast with guest A.J. Jacobs.

He and host, Russ Roberts, discuss Jacobs’ new book, Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey.

The book is about Jacobs’ experiences in attempting to thank all the folks who make his morning cup of coffee possible.

He starts at his favorite coffee shop and works back to thank the folks who deliver the coffee to the store, roast it, keep the store pest free, grow the coffee and even the folks that create the safe drinking water that makes up over 98% of his morning joe, to name a few.

The book is another take on the economic classic essay, I, Pencil, which explores the amazing coordination among large numbers of people who make something as mundane as pencils.

At the end of the podcast, Jacobs recommends being as creative as possible this Thanksgiving when considering what you are grateful for.

I, for one, am thankful for the price system, which enables the coordination among billions of folks and encourages them to make things that improve my life, like pencils and coffee.

Another good bit of advice that Roberts and Jacobs discuss is looking for the good. Russ recalled a bumper sticker, “Wag more. Bark less.”

Jacobs said he finds he has an inner Larry David and inner Mr. Rogers. Larry David looks for things to be annoyed about it. Mr. Rogers looks for things to be happy about and grateful for. He tries to encourage the inner Mr. Rogers more and good things happen.

Make it fun

When I’ve juggled a soccer ball around beginning soccer players they ask, “What’s the secret?”

My standard answer is, “Lots of practice.”

The look on their face says it all, That doesn’t sound like fun, I guess I won’t be learning to juggle. And, they don’t try.

I wonder if it would better to say, “Make it fun.”

I’ll give that a try and see.

There are lots of ways to make it fun.

The biggest hurdle is getting to 20 juggles consistently. Once you get there, progress speeds up.

It took me about a year of relatively consistent practice to get there. It took my son about 5 months of more consistent practice to make it.

Here are a few ways to help make it fun.

These are just thought starters. Be creative and help your kids come up with their ways.

  1. How many juggles in a row: right vs left.
  2. How many total juggles can you get in a minute? Left only, right only, alternating. Dropping is okay.
  3. How long does it take to get to 100 juggles (dropping okay)? Left, right, alternating.

Also, if you don’t think juggling helps, here I make my case for how it helps make your whole game better.

Here’s a political movement I can support

More than 62 percent of California residents vote YES to have Daylight Savings Time year-round

It just makes a lot sense. I’ll take my daylight in the day, please.

Informal/formal knowledge ratio in sports

When the team of 10-year-old suburban soccer kids that I coached played against teams from Latino neighborhoods in my city, it was clear that their players had better ball mastery and game knowledge than our kids.

I wondered what I was doing wrong, but I wasn’t sure how I could cram all that information into practice.

Soon after, I drove past an all-ages pickup soccer game at a high school field and recognized some of the kids from the teams we played against.

There was my answer. As Tom Byer says, culture matters.

It dawned on me that 90% of what they knew about soccer they learned informally, at pickup games like that, practicing on their own and following their heroes.

This is what I call the informal/formal knowledge ratio: the percent of the skill and knowledge of a sport learned from informal vs. formal play.

For the suburban soccer kids I coached, 95% of what they knew came from the organized setting.

Seems obvious. For our beloved sports, 90% of skills and knowledge comes from informal play — catch and driveway basketball, for example.

The organized parts of those sports are more focused on taking the raw skills and knowledge developed in unorganized settings and refining that last 10% to contribute to team performance.

Organized soccer in the U.S. tries to do the impossible task of making up for the lack of informal play and it simply can’t do it.

It’s like the difference between learning a foreign language in class and going to live in a place where the language is spoken.