Typically, as my U8 team leaves the training session I start with a couple of questions to the team:
“How was everyone’s week at school?”
Usually everyone responds with a “Good!”
“Did anyone play any soccer since last week’s practice or match?”
Here I get three hands up in in a good week (out of seven players).
This week, my third question will be, “What’s everyone’s favorite soccer team?”
I can predict my son will answer with either Manchester City or a club he has embraced from the FIFA franchise.
But I’ll wager that at most, one other player on the team will identify a soccer club either domestically in the United States or overseas.
Why does any of this matter? The sport doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it’s part of a bigger culture that the kids need to learn exists – fans who love their clubs and wear the colors, great rivalries and watching the game.
Watching the game is perhaps one of the best ways to learn the game. In American culture, soccer is much harder to find. While World Cup matches were broadcast on over-the-air television, first division US Soccer rarely sees an over the air broadcast. Last year’s final for the MLS didn’t start on the East coast until after 9 PM.
Beginning to identify with a club, a team, a player – it’s what makes kids dream about continuing in sport and becoming the best.
When I was a young Baseball player in the early 80’s, I collected Baseball cards, read books about Baseball and studied Baseball statistics. I watched my favorite team on television, listened to games on the radio, and attended games every season.
But for young American soccer players – the game at it’s best is more out of reach. TV coverage can be at odd hours or hard to find channels. The best opportunity might be Monday Premier League matches or Champions League that start at 3 PM Eastern – just in time for many kids arriving home from school.
But the teams have foreign names and play in far away cities – without the “touchable” quality of going to see a game in person.
I’d like to think the video game console is helping build the sport in the United States. EA Sports FIFA franchise is a great way to embrace the game’s best clubs and players. In many ways, I liken it what it could do to what Sony’s Gran Turismo franchise did in the 90’s for exotic cars and especially for the Subaru brand. Subaru went from being a brand embraced by people living in the Mountains to being a brand desired by twenty year-old car enthusiasts. Demand from the game helped bring the WRX to the United States.
Playing the game in the vacuum is going to leave the players short on the knowledge and the passion they will need to stay in the game past U10.
What else can we do as coaches to help build a soccer culture with our players?