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.