Paying college athletes is a sign that college education is worthless

As we inch closer to paying college athletes, maybe we can acknowledge that the college education the athletes receive is worthless.

Maybe that’s because they receive a different version of the education other enrolled students receive, or maybe because college education, in general, is worthless.

Or a little of both.


Great soccer analysis and when a win isn’t a win

John Pranjic and Joey Cascio have been providing great, in-depth analysis of the recent USMNT and USYNT matches.

Here’s their latest, The Mirage of CONCACAF, on the USMNT v Cuba.

Listening to them will help you be able to pick up on small details that impact the game.

Just one example, they spend a good deal of time discussing how poor passing keeps the teams from playing out of the back — which is a style of play the coaches are trying to achieve.

But, they go further than just saying ‘poor passing’. They describe what was poor about it. Examples:

  • A defender not receiving the ball across his body, which reduces his options for next pass from 3-4 to 1.
  • A defender that takes too long to decide what to do after receiving the ball, letting pressure collapse leading to a hurried pass.
  • A poorly aimed pass to the receiver’s near foot, which reduces his passing options and forces him to send it long, turning it over.

I don’t hear this level of analysis from announcers or the media.



Soccer is just 3 incentives away from Silicon Valley

This looks pretty cool:

But, I think this is still too top-down.

In my mind, it’s more about the USSF putting the right incentives in place and letting the regional and professional structure emerge from that.

That requires the USSF to see itself as the facilitator of competition rather than architects that believe they know what’s best.

The three basic incentives are:

  • Pro/rel
  • Solidarity payments
  • Training compensation

The first incentive (pro/rel) encourages people to invest in clubs to earn their way to the top by putting the best team on the field.

The second and third incentives encourage people to invest in clubs that will search for, train and gain exposure for all talent, not just the talent that can afford to pay club fees. These clubs aren’t as interested in climbing the pro/rel ladder, as they are in spreading the game and giving kids a chance to learn it.

If you put these incentives in place in soccer in the U.S., you get a soccer landscape that looks more like Silicon Valley and less like Mussolini.

Who taught Christian Pulisic to juggle?

When I juggle the ball, players often ask, “can you teach me that?” Or, a parent might ask, “can you teach my child?”


I can teach games to play that will help you learn, if you play them. Lots. But, there’s only one person that can teach you to juggle: You.

Christian taught himself to juggle.

No amount of instruction on technique will make you any better at juggling. Only practice will.

That’s true of all soccer techniques.

One of my Twitter pals, recently posted:

It’s easy to forget #1 and #2 and overrate the importance of #3-#5.

Jason also posted:

US Soccer isn’t the only one that plays this game. This mirrors a common ploy used by coaches and clubs in pay-to-play soccer. Get enough kids and the law of averages says you will get a few that go on to bigger and better things.

Clubs and coaches claim those kids to attract even more who think the club can turn all their players into those successes.

Clubs can help. But, it’s good to remember that 95% of a player’s potential is determined by #1 and #2.

U.S. Soccer: Exhibit 101 on why monopolies are not good

U.S. Soccer is dysfunctional.

But, that’s not what holds soccer in the U.S, back. Most organizations, even seemingly successful ones, are dysfunctional to some extent. Federations of top soccer countries are also dysfunctional.

The issue with soccer in the U.S. is that US Soccer wants to be the sole solver of the problems of developing talent and finding the best talent for the national team…


…they actively stifle and restrict others from coming up with their own solutions to these problems.

The second part of that statement (after the AND…) is the most debilitating.

As the quote from Rory Sutherland in the previous post points out, a good thing about markets is that they solve the same problem in different ways.

Developing and finding talent are problems best suited to be solved in different ways and letting those solutions compete.

In the markets of products and services, this is good because a number of solutions might work well.

It’s good that we have so many organizations, for example, willing to solve the problem of dining out. That gives us a great variety to choose from, and we don’t have to settle for one organization’s solution to this problem.

We have so many organizations working on dining out because there is financial incentive to do so, even if the risk of failure is also high.

We also don’t have a ‘national restaurant federation’ that actively seeks to shut down restaurants that don’t match what it believes to be the formula for success, like where it thinks the restaurant should be located or how many seats they think it should have.

Rather the attitude is, ‘there really is no formula for success, you have to try and see and maybe you will happen onto something.’

In the market of developing and finding talent for the national soccer team, it’s a little trickier because at some point the selection does need to be narrowed to small set of players.

But, much better to narrow this selection to the top players from the froth of a competitive landscape than an anemic one.

Let’s say you were competing with other nations to see who has the best restaurants and you could select a team of 20 restaurants in the competition.

Would you rather be able to select your field from:

  1. A landscape where a single, dominant restaurant has stifled competition and only advanced it’s idea of a good restaurant.
  2. A landscape like we have now, where anybody can give it a try and the ones that do the best survive and compete against each other to get even better?

I’ll take door #2, please.

It might make my selection tough. How do I narrow the list of 1,000s of top restaurants down to 20. What if I choose poorly?

But, that’s the point. I’d have a much deeper pool to choose from and I could probably pick random lists of 20 restaurants out of the top 1,000 or so and still fare well in the competition.

So, no matter how dysfunctional I am or how poor my taste in restaurants is, even if I end up picking the third best team because of my bad biases, it would still be pretty darned good.

If I were limited to door #1, I’d probably have what we have now: a narrow field at the top that’s 1 or 2 deep at each position. My bad biases might pick poorly at a few positions that ruin us.

Door #2 gives me a field that’s 6 or 7 deep at each position and nearly idiot-proof.

This is why U.S. Soccer should adopt the incentive structures that have worked well in other countries to encourage, much like we have in restaurants, lots more folks to get in the game of helping to solve the problem of finding and developing talent.

These incentives are:

  • Promotion/relegation
  • Solidarity payments and training compensation
  • Sponsoring competitions on the field to discover the best players and best ways of playing the game

These incentives encourage folks to find the best talent, whether they can pay a club fee or not, and field them in competitions to put all ideas about what a good player is and what a good team is to the test.

“Markets solve the same problem for different people in a different way”

(This is my first non-soccer post in awhile, but it will factor into a future post about soccer.)

The title is from Rory Sutherland on this Econtalk podcast (emphasis added):

…one of the things that annoys me about economics is that it likes markets for the wrong reason. Which is, that it likes free markets because they’re notionally efficient, whereas I like markets because they’re inventive. And, the two narratives–you know, it’s a perfectly–you can understand why free market people leapt on this idea of efficiency through competition. In fact, competition seems to be deeply wasteful if you look at it in a short time horizon. What’s magical about markets, of course, is that they solve problems through a process of kind of market-tested innovation.

Trial and error. But it’s a bit more than that too, because I think one of the extraordinary things markets do–which, I think this is one of the reasons I’m uncomfortable about economics trying to model itself on Newtonian physics–is quite often what markets find is more than one solution to the same problem. And I think if you approach business problems with the mentality of someone who is trying to make it look like physics, then one of the dangers is that you’re always trying to optimize something or find the single overarching solution that works for the average. And in many cases, I think markets and business do something much more ingenious than that. They solve the same problem for different people in a different way.

I’ve been trying to find words for this for a long time, but kept falling back on the not-so-compelling “competition is good because trial-and-error and solutions aren’t so obvious” yada.

His last sentence sums up what I’ve been trying to articulate.

Markets and businesses solve the same problem for different people in a different way.

That’s good. That gives more of us what we want.

What I like about McDonald’s, you may not like, and you might prefer Chipotle instead.

We both get more of what works best for us, instead of having to settle for what works for the average of us, which might not even represent real people.

For example, let’s say I’m age 50 and you are 30. Our average age is 40. Someone might solve a problem for a 40 year old, since that’s average.

But, in our small sample of two, a 40 year old doesn’t even exist. So, their solution isn’t good for either of us.

Small soccer world

I had been “coaching” a kid’s soccer team for just over two years when we faced our first true soccer team.

I clearly remember that day. It’s the day I realized there was more to this game.

They killed us. They could trap and pass well. We bunched up and chased the ball. They passed to the open players.

It hurt my players’ egos, since they were an all girls team.

It turns out their coach was a guy I had met at a skills class that I had taken my team to a few months before and he remembered me and our team. He was very gracious not to call me an idiot and tell me that I knew nothing about soccer.

I saw that coach again, tonight. He was the assistant coach on the sideline for the USWNT match against Sweden.

His name is Milan Ivanovich.

As humiliating as that defeat was, it also got me learning.

It’s good to see that I didn’t get run down by just some run-of-the-mill coach. He may have some chops.

I was lucky face him that day. I wish him the best.

The simple way to tell the difference between rec and competitive soccer players

A rec soccer player only does soccer at practice and games.

A competitive soccer player does soccer all the time. That might be working with the ball on their own, playing pickup with friends or learning tactics by following teams and some of all.

Many players, and their parents, believe they are competitive soccer players because they are on a competitive team that’s a part of a competitive club, pay a coach, play on nice fields and have nice uniforms.

But, if the player isn’t learning the sport on their own and going to practice and games to demonstrate to their coaches and teammates their progress, they are playing expensive rec soccer.

Raise the level of competition in the backyard to raise the level of the national team

The title is a take on Tom Byer’s concept to ‘push up the bottom to raise the top.’

After the USYNT’s poor showing at the U17 World Cup some think we need to focus even more on making the elite soccer players better.

Focusing on the elite, after they have already been identified is too late. That might help them get 5-10% better.

Raising the level of competition in the backyard can push the level of play of the elite up by 30%.

It needs to be 30% better to compete with the talent in the top 20 countries who are 20-30% better because the level of competition in their backyard is much, much higher.

That comes down to changing culture and culture isn’t something that’s easily changed.

I wrote about how the U.S. lacks a ball culture here.