“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.

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.

Would Messi get discovered in pay-to-play?

I recently watched the movie, Messi, on Amazon Prime. I had not seen that style of documentary before.

I  recommend it.

Seeing how Messi was discovered made me wonder what the chances are Messi’s to be discovered in a pay-to-play model.

I think lower.

Sports clubs like Messi’s first club, Newell’s Old Boys, which was his first step in discovery, do not exist in pay-to-play.

If I’m reading the Newell’s Old Boys website and doing my exchange rates, correctly, belonging to the club costs about $7 per month for a youth and $10/month for an adult.

It looks like these fees grant access to all sorts of sports and facilities, not just soccer.

That type of club is like an amalgamation of a professional team, college team, high school team, youth sports club, rec center and social club.

Even the cheapest soccer clubs in pay-to-play cost about 10x that amount and you get one thing, soccer.

Why can’t kids organize soccer pickup?

In a couple of recent 3Four3 podcasts, Pranjic and guests talked about the inability of American soccer kids to self-organize a pickup game.

I’ve experienced that myself.

They wrote it off as something to do with kids these days.

I don’t think so.

Why? Because, I’ve seen the same kids who couldn’t organize a soccer pickup, organize pickup baseball, football and basketball games.

Why could they organize pickup for these sports, but not for soccer?

I think one reason is because they have more experience playing these sports in informal settings with mixed ages and ability levels and have picked up on the subtle solves for getting the game going and keeping it going.

Most of their experience in soccer has been coach-led.

I think the other reason is that the kids haven’t yet developed the skills to make soccer more fun in anything other than an organized game of kicking the ball into space and running to it.

That game doesn’t translate to smaller areas and smaller numbers, like a 1v1, for example. I wrote more about that here.

Short answer: culture.

Good discussion about true competition on the 3Four3 podcast

Guest Ben Fast and host John Pranjic have a great discussion about the nature true competition that is lacking in soccer in the U.S. and the role of governance in this 3Four3 podcast.

It would make Austrian and George Mason University economists proud.

Yes. Free Play Soccer.

I enjoyed this 3Four3 podcast with Ted Kroeten.

He talks about what he has discovered with free play and soccer for kids, through his Joy of the People, that organizes free play with kids.

Here are some quotables from the pod:

“Play early, learn late.” Sums up that young kids learn more playing with each other than having coaches direct them.

In terms of learning the sport: “The best soccer is closest to home. Playing in your basement is better than your backyard. Play in your backyard is better than your local park. Play in your local park is better than your local club. Play your local club is better than a travel team.”

“I cannot teach better than free play can deliver at the young ages.”

“Some of the things we discovered from free play. Feedback is inappropriate. Feedback between kids on the field is totally appropriate. Feedback from coaches is not. Telling kids to work on things, their weaknesses, is not appropriate. Letting kids understand what they can and cannot do from each other is totally appropriate.

While listening to this last quote, I thought back to the times where I could have been quiet. What kept me from being quiet? Parents expected me to coach, not be quiet. There were games where I was quiet and it wouldn’t be long before I’d hear that I wasn’t coaching.

Ted has thought about free play deeply and sees the complexities of the learning, copying from each other, and subtle forms for feedback that simply can’t be replicated in team practice.

In one spot he mentioned how a kid might learn that if he doesn’t pass to a player, then that player may not put in as much effort on defense later.

Or, when he was left behind on his local hockey team when his buddies moved to a travel team and he selfishly taught the others how to play better hockey so he could have some challenging competition.

The host, John Pranjic, recalled a time at a similar free play experiment that 3Four3 ran where the kids couldn’t solve the simplest things like picking teams or setting out cones because they were so used to adults doing all that for them.

I’ve had similar experiences coaching soccer. I recall a time warming up before a game when we told the players to get into 4v1’s. In one group, every kid had a ball. In another group, nobody had a ball.

Neither group was making any headway to get to one ball.

All stood waiting for us to tell them what to do. The other coach said, “Guys, if we have to tell you how to get one ball per group, we’re in trouble. Solve the problem!”

It wasn’t that these kids couldn’t solve such problems. They just didn’t have the free play experience in soccer and we’re use to doing what adults told them.

Around the same time, I watched these same kids organize free play in baseball, basketball and football. They could pick balanced teams, set up the field or court, and make other equalizing adjustments that selfishly kept everyone playing longer without any adult intervention, all learned from free play in those sports.