“How a Soccer Star Is Made”
Here`s a good article in the NYT Magazine by Bruce Sokolove about an Amsterdam soccer club that makes huge money selecting and training local little boys to be professional soccer players.
Sokolove reflects on not only why America hasn`t won the World Cup but why there are no really top tier world class American soccer players:
There are two ways to become a world-class soccer player. One is to spend hours and hours in pickup games â€” in parks, streets, alleyways â€” on imperfect surfaces that, if mastered, can give a competitor an advantage when he finally graduates to groomed fields. This is the Brazilian way and also the model in much of the rest of South America, Central America and the soccer hotbeds of Africa. It is like baseball in the Dominican Republic. Children play all the time and on their own.
It helps to grow up dribbling a soccer ball at all times — in other words, it helps if you don`t really go to school too much.
The other way is the Ajax method. Scientific training. Attention to detail. Time spent touching the ball rather than playing a mindless number of organized games.
In the Dutch system, you go to school, but definitely not to college. The Europeans think it`s unhelpful that American kids with soccer potential spend from age 7 to 17 playing a lot of games instead of learning their trade in practice.
A high school friend of mine whose younger brother went on to win the Cy Young Award said something similar about minor league baseball. He thought his brother`s minor league baseball career was pretty useless, with enormous amounts of time spent on buses and playing 100+ games per year and very little time getting coached by anybody who knew anything more than his brother did about pitching, and with little access during the season to competent sports doctors out in the sticks. During one minor league season when he was chronically injured, his manager kept telling him to tough it out and pitch through the pain. Finally, he walked off the team, flew back to LA, had himself operated on by Sandy Koufax`s old surgeon, and sat out the rest of the season recuperating.
And they think it`s nuts that American 18-22 year olds are sitting in the classrooms on college soccer scholarships when they should be training full time.
The more thoughtful people involved in developing U.S. soccer talent know that we conform to neither model. We are a much larger nation, obviously, than the Netherlands. Our youth sports leagues, for the most part, are community-based and run by volunteers rather than professionals. They have grown organically, sending out tendrils that run deep and are difficult to uproot. Change at the elite levels is more possible than at the stubborn grass roots.
But, is it all that important that the U.S. compete for the World Cup or nurture a Wayne Rooney? This Dutch system doesn`t seem all that much fun for all but the handful of superstars.
The current American system largely reflects the values of white, middle class American parents. It`s not designed to win World Cups, it`s designed to get their kids some exercise and let them experience some level of success in a game that African-Americans aren`t interested in.