I will not defend the game of soccer and the reason games can be thrilling, even when they end 0-0; I will not pontificate about why Americans don’t dominate on the pitch as much as they do in some of the other more ‘domestic’ sports such as basketball or football; I will not impart my opinion on what I believe is an intense and unhealthy division in this country of soccer enthusiasts and soccer detractors; and I won’t blindly and shallowly support the notion that the key to stronger soccer players in the US is to cultivate talent in our ‘inner-cities.’
What I will say, which is not new to some critics of youth sports in the U.S., is that the key to increasing the popularity of the world’s sport is to cultivate passion. I think our role, as adult architects of youth soccer players, is to encourage creativity, ensure fun, and provide minimal instruction until it’s age-appropriate.
Soccer, unlike many sports, is not full of set plays with dictated patterns or incremental targets and statistics that guarantee success. It is a game of sheer teamwork, unpredictability, and creative and inventive skill that occurs in a split second and can be startling to even the executor. To become great, then, is to ‘practice’ just that – creativity, teamwork and ball skills that may seem impossible to master. It is a game that can look and feel different on any given day to any variety of player.
Our need to control the path of the game, its players, or its popularity is stifling. What we need (and here is where I’ll plug DC SCORES) are more opportunities for young people to play – practice their inventiveness and cultivate their passion as they succeed and fail along the way. If a young person loves it, they’ll jump at the chance to play whenever they can – they will long for the next practice, game, sunny day, or summer camp.
I have coached and played in NUMEROUS soccer environments since I was 7 years old, but I have seen few players show as much excitement and sheer joy as when I walk into a DC SCORES school. With varying levels of knowledge about even the hard and fast rules of soccer (of which there aren’t many), players push, strive, and relish the opportunity to control the ball, strike the ball on goal, defend a speedy forward, or make a save.
By boxing their experience in or spreading them too thin, we have the potential to drain the passion. However, by offering something new, which encourages success and processes failure within a fraction of a minute within a game, we are cultivating passion.
The overarching sentiment in the media and varying sports commentary is that for the U.S. to gain ground on the international stage of soccer, we need to cultivate more talent, shake up our developmental system, and embrace the notion that our European and South American counterparts are better than us because everybody is playing in the street from a young age.
At the core, we need to do less managing and more nurturing - kids won’t play in the street if they aren’t passionate about it.
-- Written by Amy Nakamoto, Executive Director