Putting the cart before the horse: a ‘signal or cause’ saying

Have you ever heard someone say, “I need to buy a treadmill so I can get in shape.”

After a few months, these treadmills go unused and collect dust.

“But, I know people who stay fit and they have treadmills.”

Those people stay in shape because they have made exercise a priority. The treadmill is a signal of their priority, not the cause of it.

If you want to get in shape, you first have to make exercise a priority. That can be done without a treadmill.

Buying the treadmill first is putting the cart before the horse.

The consistently fit buy the treadmill as a supplement to their exercise routine — not as the centerpiece of it. It’s used on rainy or busy days to keep their priority.

I saw a tweet recently calling for building 600,000 futsal courts in the U.S. to give kids more places to play pickup soccer.

I agree that lack of pickup soccer is a key problem with soccer in the U.S., but building the courts before soccer is being widely played, informally, is putting the cart before horse.

The tweeter sees futsal courts in soccer-playing countries and thinks that’s the key to getting more kids playing.

Those futsal courts are a signal of a soccer-playing culture, not the cause of it.

My town has two street hockey courts that haven’t seen action since the 90s when that fad faded away. Simply having the courts doesn’t motivate anyone to play street hockey.

They sit there unused like the treadmill collecting dust.

More futsal courts will come when parks and rec directors see kids all over their town playing soccer in driveways, backyards and parks.

In fact, two areas in my metro area have futsal courts where a lot of pickup soccer is played. Those areas are rich in soccer-playing cultures from soccer-playing countries.

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Signal or cause?

I heard about this study about how attaining the American Dream may be influenced by your neighborhood in the news.

This part caught my attention:

Chetty found, according to NPR’s Morning Edition, that if a person moves out of a neighborhood with worse prospects into to a neighborhood with better outlooks, that move increases lifetime earnings for low-income children by an average of $200,000. But moving a lot of people is impractical, so researchers instead are trying to help low-performing areas improve, according to Morning Edition.

I find it surprising that the suggestion to move a lot of people is discounted for being impractical.

It should be discounted for confusing a signal with a cause.

I heard a good analogy on an episode of EconTalk podcast once (I believe) that illustrates the slip up:

Since wealthy people vacation in Monaco, you should vacation in Monaco if you want to become wealthy.

Vacationing is Monaco is the signal of being wealthy, not the cause, vacationing there isn’t likely to make you wealthy.

Likewise, parents moving to neighborhoods with better outlooks may be a signal of what produces those better outlooks, not the cause.

A hypothesis to consider is that the values parents instill in their children is the biggest contributor to producing better outlooks.

That may show up at the neighborhood level because parents tend to move to neighborhoods where other parents share their values.

If true, then moving folks to better outlook neighborhoods or recreating other signals of those neighborhoods in worse prospect neighborhoods may not be effective ways to produce better outlooks.

Personal Preference Bias

The researchers of this study say that the kids picked last in gym class do not exercise as much as adults, possibly due to the emotional scars of being left out.

Maybe they were picked last in gym class because they, and their families, were not interested in physical activity and sports to begin with.

They experienced less volume of physical activity outside of gym class and hadn’t built as much competency as others who had been more active.

I’m guessing it’s that lack of interest for physical activity that carried into adulthood.

I doubt being more inclusive in gym class will change how active they are as adults.

I’m also guessing the emotional scars of being picked last aren’t as big as the researchers are making out. Most of us have experienced at some point.

If you are interested in the sport, that might be the feedback you need to work harder.

If you’re not interested, you tend not to care much.

Think that’s a stretch? Consider a a topic that doesn’t interest you, like the accordion.

Would you be scarred if you got last chair in accordion band? No.

Would you be more likely to play the accordion as an adult if you had been given a higher chair over someone who was better at the accordion than you?

Not likely. You’d see through the farce.

Folks are drawn to the accordion or not.

If you were forced to take an accordion class, you’d do the minimum to get through it.

The problem with studies like the gym class study above is that the researchers value physical activity, themselves, and they project their preference on everyone else.

I call that personal preference bias.

If you aren’t active, researchers assume it must be for some fixable reason.

Maybe you just don’t share their preferences.

Maybe the better answer is to let the kids who aren’t interested in gym do something else, if they’d like to.

Personal preference bias is common in public policy. Studies on education, for example, suffer from it and it clouds their judgement just like above.

The biggest problem in education isn’t schools or funding or teaching methods. Those things have long not been obstacles.

The biggest problem is some folks simply do not value education (or at least, one-size-fits-all, K-12 college prep + sports life education) as much as others do.

To them, school is like that accordion class that you don’t want to take. They just want to do the minimum to get through it and then get on with life.

The case for juggling (a soccer ball)

I run into a surprising number of soccer folks who don’t think juggling helps you become a better soccer player.

Their logic is pretty much: “You don’t juggle in a game, so you’ll be better off practicing the stuff you use.”

That’s too simple. Though juggling isn’t used in the game, it has lots of benefits.

Juggling trains you to use your whole body to control the ball and improves your ability to read and react to it. It also reduces your chance of injury*.

Engaging your whole body and enhancing your ability to read and react to the ball improves all aspects of ball control — 1st touch, passing, dribbling, shooting, winning 50/50s and tackling.

It trains you to use your whole body by training you to stay in the athletic position and light on your toes.

The athletic position is when you could snap a photo from the front of the player and draw a rectangle that intersects shoulders, hips, knees and toes.

This position helps reduce injuries by more evenly distributing game forces across your whole body.

Extending outside the athletic position concentrates forces into small areas of your body, like knees, ankles, hips or hamstrings. Play the tape back on many injuries and you will see the injured player was reaching a leg outside the athletic position.

The athletic position also helps you leverage your body weight and core strength, which improves ball control, strength of tackles and power on shots. Pay close attention to a  well executed bicycle kick. You will see the player did a back flip in the athletic position, driving all of his or her body weight and core strength into the ball.

Juggling has all these benefits, plus once you get half way decent at it, juggling is a fun way to pass the time and it can be done just about anytime and anywhere.

Juggling is not the only thing a player needs to work on to become a complete player. But, players who don’t juggle won’t reach their potential and increase their chances of injury.

Juggling can be learned at any age.

In soccer-playing cultures, it’s common for players learn before age 8 and not remember when they couldn’t juggle.

I learned in my 40s. In a way I’m lucky for that because I got to experience all the improvements I listed above as my juggling improved, so I could tell you about it. Had I learned it when I was 8, I may never had made those connections.

*A side note on injuries: I recall reading years ago about a study that showed that the ‘quickest’ (over short distance) players tended not to make it to the top of the game due to their propensity of getting injury. The hypothesis was that fast twitch muscles are more susceptible to injury than slow twitch muscles.

I have another theory. The quickest players tended to rely on their speed and not develop their skills and athletic position as much through practice like juggling. It could be that is what really causes more injuries.

It seems like there are more and more quick and skilled players coming in the top levels of the game like Vardy, Mbappe and Pulisic. Perhaps the skill work they’ve put in, including juggling, has helped them stay in the athletic position more and stay healthy.

The answer is both: parents and USSF

I enjoyed reading this Twitter thread between Alexi Lalas and soccer fans regarding the role of parents and USSF. This is one of the gems from that thread.

I agree with Alexi. Parents should take more ownership.

But, I also think the USSF is missing out on easy ways to help.

Many parents who spend so much time finding ‘the right’ club and coach to help their child ‘reach their max potential’, miss the lowest hanging fruit — what their child does at home.

As Josh Sargent’s Dad points out about his success, “It was Josh.” I’m sure Josh’s club helped. But, it doesn’t develop all players into a Josh. As his Dad points out, Josh was always working with the soccer ball on his own. Same with Pulisic.

So, if your kid is doing that, then by all means, spend more time finding the best club and coach.

If not, start there. Also, read Tom Byer’s book, Soccer Starts at Home (I didn’t realize there’s Kindle edition!).

What can the USSF do?

This, by no means, lets USSF off the hook.

When I was a know-nothing soccer parent/coach, I visited the US Soccer site in search of answers to basic questions…

What can I do as a parent, at home, with my child to help develop basic soccer skills?

What should I be teaching a group of 6 and 7-year-old’s at practice? (Then later, 8-9 year-old’s, and so on).

I didn’t find the development handbook adequately answered these questions.

Two years into coaching, I joined my independent team to a club.

On day one, the club’s director pulled me aside for 10 minutes and showed me how to teach proper technique on a few soccer basics: inside-of-foot receiving and passing, outside-of-foot dribbling and basic changes of direction.

He said, “We teach them how to keep the ball, then we teach them to shoot. It takes time, but you have to work on this stuff every training. The first step to success is proper technique.”

Direct and simple!

It worked, too. We didn’t win state cups, but the players finally began their journey toward playing real soccer and their improvement was noticeable. Now, several years later, they keep getting better.

I remember thinking, Wow, why didn’t I find that on the Internet? Why isn’t that on the USSF website?

It should be.

Misplaced animosity

Ads for the Tru TV channel’s show, Paid Off (where winners get their student loans paid off) ends by asking a contestant what they would like to say to their creditors.

They usually answer with something like, ‘F you! I don’t want to pay you!’

I understand the point is to be funny, but I find it just plain dumb. Seems like a strange attitude to have toward folks who helped you out.

What’s next? A show where charity recipients punch the donors in the gut?

Strange Headline on Bloomberg

Headline

You might think from that headline that someone took Jack Ma’s stuff and kicked him to the ground or something.

Alas, from the second paragraph:

The chairman of India’s refining-to-telecoms conglomerate, Ambani was estimated to be worth $44.3 billion on Friday…

Ma’s wealth stood at $44 billion…

It turns out, Ma wasn’t actually hurt in the ‘toppling’ and none of his stuff was taken. He’s doing just fine. Just another example of clickbait journalism.

It turns out the economy is not a zero sum game. Jack Ma and this other guy can both be doing well at the same time without taking away from each other.

And, by the way, the customers of their companies probably come out ahead, too.

Positive sum is good.