The American Soccer Culture Problem (3Four3)

Some of you might be familiar with the Kleiban brothers already. Brian is a coach at LA Galaxy’s youth academy and Gary writes about soccer in our country through their blog 3Four3.

They have a reputation for, shall we say, ‘rocking the boat’ and their most recent post definitely hits hard. You might not agree with everything they say below, but their views are worth reading if you’re interested in the broader debate about coaching quality and player development in our country.

I wanted to re-blog their post, but couldn’t figure out how to do that, probably because we’re using different blogging platforms. So I decided to simply paste their post here.

To be clear, full credit for all of the content below goes to Gary @3Four3.

I suggest you first watch this clip and then continue reading Gary’s comments.

First, I want to applaud both Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock for bringing an important truth about the state of American soccer to the masses. It speaks volumes that these sports generalists call it like it is, while entrenched American soccer media doesn’t.

American soccer media, hence its consumers, coddles our players.

You don’t hear much public criticism for a variety of reasons

1) Incumbent American soccer media has been practically curated by the establishment. An establishment that naturally doesn’t want to be critically examined, particularly not at the foundational level. Hence, it neuters its media. How does it accomplish this? Well, it  holds a monopoly over the ecosystem. Anyone who doesn’t align with its foundational narrative, its founding culture, is in danger of losing access.

2) Incumbent culture has a recreational mentality – a property that is the antithesis of the hardcore culture the rest of the world has. The soccer structure we live in has been built of, by, and for a casual soccer demographic. It extends from youth all the way to the pro level being addressed here.

When something is casual, there are no stakes. When there are no stakes, nobody gets too heated over things.

After all, “it’s just a game“. That phrase, right there, is the (convenient) foundation upon which American soccer has been built. It’s no wonder we’re mediocre, anybody with that kind of mentality will not achieve excellence.

Contrast that with the rest of the world, where a portion of people’s very identity and self esteem is hinged on their clubs and national teams.

Now, before you robotically react and think that’s sad, reserve judgement until you understand that clubs and national teams across the world represent people at a social, political, economic, and cultural level. It is their flag.

3) Most soccer-first households (the largest and most critical of demos) in the United States aren’t paying attention to American soccer. Because well, it’s low level, inauthentic, and most importantly has historically discriminated against them – preferring instead to cater to the soft suburban soccer-mom demo.

As a consequence, it’s that soft culture that both dominates the narrative and creates policy when it comes to the American game – it has inculcated that softness into the very fabric of American soccer.

Yes, the soccer-first demographic, like 3four3, does call it like it is (e.g. as Colin put it in the above clip, “Michael Bradley is completely pedestrian”) but that has historically, and to this day, primarily occurred in relative isolation – as anyone from this demographic is not hired and graced with a large media platform. If one is hired, they are systematically neutered.

But there is someone with a heavyweight platform that has dipped his toe in the culture challenge.

Jurgen Klinsmann

Jurgen has criticized the players, and has been trying to send the message of “not good enough”, and lists reasons.

The result of his action and criticism?

The soft soccer-mom media turned on him and (at the behest of its master, MLS) launched a smear campaign against him that continues to date.

  • Prior to the World Cup, he stated the US can not win it. In other words, he told the unvarnished truth. He was real.
  • He deemed Landon Donovan not a good fit for the 2014 World Cup squad. (Note: Assessment of a player goes beyond his ability on the field, there are other critical factors a coach considers in making selections. This is a team game, after all. It’s not about 1 player.)
  • Players should go overseas to challenge themselves. This was an indictment of MLS, and the domestic culture.
  • He transmitted disappointment when he saw some of his key pieces coming back to MLS (e.g. Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore).
  • He said many moons ago, and continues to say, that our players are naive and “need to be nastier”.

There have been a variety of other incidents where the soccer-mom culture looked at him as “throwing players under the bus”.

They were also pissed when he suggested the media needed to further educate themselves in the game.

See, the culture here is precisely as Cowherd observes. The culture is soft. Even the words and phrases we use are soft.

If you look at what incumbent soccer media’s reactions/responses to Cowherd & Whitlock’s comments were, you a hard-pressed to find support for their observations.

Quite the contrary, most that’s been published whether on established media outlets, or social media commentary, was crafted to undermine these observations and uphold the soccer-mom status quo.

“We need to tell US soccer players, coaches, and fans the truth” – @WhitlockJason

“We’re not catching up with the rest of the world as long as soccer’s a sport for the upper class.” – @WhitlockJason

Alexi Lalas represents the establishment’s (convenient) myths

Jason Whitlock hits the truth, again.

Absolutely. Absolutely that certain cultures are a better fit to becoming great at soccer than others. Those coming from an affluent suburban American culture, in general, just don’t “have it”.

Those coming from a socio-economic strata below affluence, in general, are better suited. There’s a particular mentality and set of values the latter has, and the former does not.

Some of the biggest inhibitors the suburban players face are:

  • The “it’s just a game” mentality. The other demo treats it as an arena to “best” others, since from a societal perspective they are looked as ‘lower class’. It’s personal.
  • The suburban players are brought up in an environment where ‘following the rules’ of the traditional American industrial complex is sacred, where self expression is only ok within narrow boundaries. In other words, being robot-like automatons vs flavorful full-range humans. Top level “creativity” isn’t being stifled by coaches on the field, their cultural upbringing is doing that job.
  • The suburban player derives his self-esteem from things other than how good he is in sport. For instance, getting good grades on some standardized test. They measure themselves on how good they are at following societal norms. They don’t need to be great at soccer.

“The people in our stands, at the MLS games, they’re wondering where their next glass of wine is coming from.” – @WhitlockJason

Alexi has it totally wrong about pretty much everything. And he really goes off the rails at the end of the video when he tries to defend the absurdity of expecting the US to beat Argentina. It’s completely disingenuous, derived from the campaign to fire Jurgen Klinsmann, and frankly condescending to all US Soccer fans.

“And I saw the 3 American [analysts] pick us to win [vs Argentina], I was like … ‘nah man, don’t lie to us’” – @WhitlockJason

When an admitted soccer layman like Jason Whitlock can sniff out the bull shit, you know we have a serious problem.

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

2 thoughts on “The American Soccer Culture Problem (3Four3)

  1. Fully agree, James & Andrew. And I think this hurts most our skilled players. My example is the striker on my kid’s team. He’s good, he scores goals, he has been scoring goals since he was a little kid. But he isn’t really getting better, and (the coach says) isn’t training very hard during the week (at the practices he can attend–another issue). His parents think he’s a superstar, but more seasoned observers see an early-achieving kid who has hit the wall at 13. What he’s needed is an experienced coach who can tell it like it is–but the clubs discourage this as it makes the parents unhappy. Without that formal club, top-to-bottom structure from kids-academy-pros, the players and parents can’t visualize the path. I don’t know if we will get that in my lifetime, but I think it’s absolutely vital to any kid who dreams of playing professionally.

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  2. Love this post and love those commentators.

    Here’s the deal as I see it, as a U.K. Immigrant, father of two
    “Comp” soccer players and former board member of a comp club:
    1. “Wealthy” kids have too many other options during the day. Baseball, lacross, football, band, xcountry, video games, etc. Too many options =less time on soccer, even if they love soccer
    2. Kids with wealthy parents want the same wealth. So do their parents. So as you say, they are motivated by grades and advanced placement classes, and not by getting better at soccer.
    3. Parents are uneducated about soccer, about how much skill and knowledge is required, about how small scholarships are, about how irrelevant college soccer is for developing their player, about how crap MLS players are vs the world. So they are easily conned by soccer clubs selling them a “comp” soccer experience that spends no time on technical aspects and all it’s time on tactical aspects, endurance, speed, strength, etc. They are sucked in by “playing to win”, get excited at winning tournaments at the bronze, copper, silver and gold levels, love how their 10 year old gets to play forward all the time and play 100% of the time, etc. Just go look at any bay are soccer clubs web site – it’s all postings about which team won 2nd or
    1st in a tournament or won their division in state cup. With no mention that 20 other teams “won” state cup too, or that their tournament was a bronze/copper level. Where are all the postings on what development is going on. Which kids got promoted up. What coaches are doing on the field. They’re not there.
    4. There’s no player movement, up-and-down across teams. Based on effort and ability. So you end up with teams that are fixed for 12 months, with kids on those teams who aren’t rewarded for their effort or their expertise, and as a result back off.

    In General all these competitive club need to admit to themselves and their parents, that they are a recreational soccer experience. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to produce a good product, or teach kids to play good soccer. What it does mean is that they need to stop conning themselves, and their customers, that it’s all about the top few kids. They should be teaching life lessons and love of soccer do all 100% of the kids in their program. Instead of focusing on the top few who aren’t really “top” at all.

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