The “American Style” of Soccer

Posted: February 17, 2012 in US Soccer
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With the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann as the head men’s coach of the US National Team there has been a lot of talk the last six months about finding the “American Style” of soccer.  It’s been a debate for decades in the United States, but has been something that Jurgen has raised to the forefront of the soccer community in the USA again most recently.  It’s an issue that I keep going back and forth on, and now with the announcement of the US Development Academy moving to a 10 month season we see more of a push for our youth to conform to our European counterparts.

What is this elusive “American Style” of soccer?  One side says it needs to have a Latin presence, another says it needs to be a counter attacking style, and with the recent hiring of Klinsmann we’re seeing a push for us to become a more attack minded nation.

First, let me preface this with a comment; US soccer as it is right now is not competitive enough at an international level.  Considering we are one of the most advanced nations in athletics as a whole with our progressive training, nutrition science, facilities, resources, and the social importance we place on athletics it is a wonder that we can’t be more competitive at this sport.  Our society is a ripe environment to foster progressive athletics, but we seem to have missed something in soccer.  Thus the continual debate over what exactly is missing and what we can do to catch up to the rest of the world.

Right now I am sitting in on a Sports in Society class that studies the sociology of sports, specifically in US society.  The arena of sports is not exclusive to the United States, but it is clear that our country has helped revolutionize athletics as a business and elevated the entertainment value of these games.  The professionalization of athletes to the multimillion dollar enterprise it has become was spearheaded by the US social structure.  Athletics, and athletes, have always been a major social structure in the world history, but never have we seen so many resources poured into games that are expressly for the entertainment of the masses.  Not only are athletes making a living off of this industry, but sports scientists, fitness trainers, nutritionist, sport psychologist, coaches, advertisers, agents, and even grounds keepers have full time jobs to keep this industry moving forward.  This is the world we live in, and yet we trail behind the rest of the world in this beautiful game.

Growing up in a country outside the United States I had the opportunity to see how the rest of the world views athletics.  In the European culture sports has become just as much of an industry as it has in the United States, but it has developed much differently than in the US.  During the industrial revolution we saw the development of sports clubs in each town that provided facilities and sometimes coaching for local residents.  They would pay their fees and participate in these sports clubs and would challenge neighboring towns.  As athletics developed these sports clubs became professional businesses and started paying athletes to come represent their club.  When sports leagues were officially organized they were structured around these sports clubs.

In the United States we had sports clubs at one time too, but the evolution of sports took a much different route in the USA.  With the importance of education and the role it played in our society we see colleges take the role the “sports clubs.”  The collegial environment of scholastic sports developed at the same time as our sports clubs for amateurs, and thus it has become a very important part of the fabric of our athletic culture.  No where else in the world can you find 20,000+ people paying top dollar for seats at a secondary school sporting event like you can in Texas on a Friday night.  It’s absolutely unheard of, and yet in our society there is something about the identification of a scholastic institution with their sports teams.

So how does soccer fit into all of this.  With the rise of soccer in the United States we’ve begun to see a shift in the direction our governing body, USSF, wants to take the development of athletes.  And, as mentioned earlier, there is a huge need for us to catch up with our counter parts in Europe and South America.  But my question comes down to this; is it right for us to sacrifice our culture for the sake of winning?  If we are trying to find a way to rival the world with an “American Style” shouldn’t we try and find the “American Way?”

Maybe playing for your high school or college team plays an important role in the development of competition and team spirit that playing for a club can’t give us?  The one thing I love about watching the US Men’s National Team is the confidence that we will never give up and we will fight to the last whistle.  We have that will to win, and that spirit to fight for our team and country.  Is this an important piece of the “American Style” that we might be cutting out by eliminating scholastic sports from the development of our youth?

Growing up overseas I didn’t see a lot of countries trying to change their development of basketball and track athletes to mimic our scholastic development system.  Even though I would say that we have been a forerunner in these events we don’t see a lot of European countries trying to adapt their sports culture to be more like the USA.  So do we lose something when we ask our youth to sacrifice this important cultural event so that they can be trained by the same coach for 20 of the next 24 months?  Is it right for us to force a social shift in this one sport?

And I speak from a limited point of view.  I’m sure there are other sports that I’m not aware of that have to got through something similar here in the United States.  But I see this debate raging back and forth all the time about the US Style and System, and what I’m really seeing is a push to be more like someone else rather than a push to discover what it is we can be.

Is there a way for us to play on the strengths of the US sports culture and incorporate the best of what we see happening around the world?  Do we need to sacrifice who we are and how approach athletics that has made us so competitive in other areas, because we feel at such a disadvantage right now?  Is there a way to find our true American Style in the way we have become so dominant in the other arenas?

Not sure I have all the answers, but I do feel like we are going to look back on these couple of decades in the development of this sport I love and wonder why we gave up our American way.  Maybe the best thing isn’t to keep sending our youth overseas and disconnect them from this great country and the social structure we have for athletes?

Something does need to change, but I’m not sure we’re going about it the American way.

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