"When Will The Game of Soccer Really Catch On In This Country"
Gordon and I rode to many of the meetings together since we lived only a few minutes away from each other. We talked all the time about the problem of developing American soccer. One time he asked me, "When will the game of soccer really catch on in this country?" (The title of this item! But you knew that it was coming.)
One of Gordon's concerns was the game of lacrosse. We discussed this one day in front of a soccer player who is now a medical doctor in Denver, (Dr. Edwin Kuffner), and Edwin's eyes lighted up with the thought of playing a game with football equipment and a stick with which one could hit people. Gordon thought it was the ultimate American game. Protective gear, a helmet and the stick. That is why he asked me the question.
I gave him an answer. I told Gordon that soccer would make it when the youth players played soccer in the streets alone without adult supervision. This would put soccer on equal footing with basketball and hockey. After some discussion we were in agreement. That was in the early 70's.
As we near the end of the century we have not advanced any further along that long road of having players play by themselves. What is the problem? I would like to give several examples.
There is a field near my house that I pass frequently. Soccer teams practice there all the time. On one occasion I passed and saw a team of young girls. The girls were sitting on the grass in an arc facing the standing coach. He had one ball under his arm holding it like a loaf of bread. His foot rested on a second ball, and all the other balls were lined up against the link chain fence behind the girls. He was lecturing to them as I drove by. I returned from my errand about twenty minutes later and all were in the same position. Except for the fact that the girls kept looking over their shoulders at the fence. More correctly, they were looking at the balls ... waiting to be used. I resisted getting out of the car to talk to the coach.
On the same field I saw a coach line up the team in a single file facing the goal. The first player dribbled at the empty goal, tok a shot, collected the ball, gave the ball to the coach and got on the end of the line. I had my grand daughter time this movement for one player. The average was seventy seconds. More than a minute. My grand daughter was eleven at the time. The severe waste of energy made a lasting impression on her. But not the coach. Imagine a team of sixteen players. How many times do they get to shoot in half an hour? There are many variations of this nonsense. The coach can play the role of a goal keeper and intimidate a six or seven year old. Or the coach can stand to the side and wall pass with each player. Then the coach is the one getting all the practice.
I mention these because the coach is the dominant feature in both cases. He has total control of all that is happening or not happening on the practice field. The same kind of control Is demanded at games. (This Memorial Day Weekend I went to a soccer field and heard a coach say, "I want to you to listen to the sound of my voice and only my voice during the game; do not listen to anyone else, just me!" Can they listen to each other?) The coach is the one one who sets the tone. And what is the result? Children wait, ball in hand, and do nothing until told what to do by the coach. I coach a high school team. I specialize in training goal keepers. In less than a week the keepers start practice on their own, warming up, stretching and working on technique. I need not look or say anything. They just do it. I learned this technique more than forty years ago in a Montessori school. Children in a Montessorl school start the day's routine with or without the teacher. How about that?
The soccer players in this country are not self starters. Also we have given them no lore of little games that can be played anywhere and any time. They just do not know what to do on their own. Soccer is warm-up, drills, a short game and go home. Or it is all drills and go home. Or a scrimmage with the coach running up and down yelling, "No, too late, pass the ball, get rid of the ball, keep going, give him the ball!" So the coach is the dominant force and nothing ever takes place without the coach. But that is not the only problem.
Equipment is a problem in this country. I am serious. Most players that I know get excellent soccer balls for a birthday, or Christmas or some other special occasion. A name brand ball for $35 to perhaps $75. 1 can hear a mother saying, "Don't you dare use that ball in the street! We paid far too much money to have it destroyed in the street." When our local soccer club was started in the early 70's we sold rubber coated balls, at cost, for either $2 or $4 to as many players as we could. We encouraged the players to play in the street, wear out the ball and buy another one. It was a smart move by the club. We need more cheap balls, not good ones. A round ball is a round ball, is a round ball, as Gertrude might say.
The final problem is fields. Many areas of the country restrict the use of fields to games only. This country needs more practice fields. Quiet streets? Closed military bases? Anything.
Summary: We must encourage players to play without the supervision of a coach. We must give them a lore of small games that can be played. When the number of players is odd, not even, one or more can play as a neutral player. I wrote a whole book on that single concept. Karl Dewazien has written several books about games.
We need practice space and lots of it. And we need cheap balls that can be worn out and thrown out.
We are not the only ones with this problem. In Holland Rinus Michels has written about the need to return the game to the streets. This is the new stress by the K.N.V.B. in Zeist.
So, no Gordon Bradley, we are not there yet, and no, Rinus Michels, we have not reached the streets for the first time, much less returned to the streets. But if we know where the problem is, we should be able to find a solution. Soon? For the sake of the players, yes!
Ask him about his manual (with many 'new' games) called,