In Defense of Soccer
I am a fan of soccer. Not a die-hard, live and breathe it sort of fan. I'm not claiming to be an expert about all the goings on in the world of soccer, so please don't quiz me. I don't even have a favorite team outside of supporting the U.S. national team. I do enjoy the sport though and I've been wanting to write a post "defending" why I like it for quite awhile.
There are better people to write a defense of soccer that understand it much better than I, but because there are not many things more annoying to me than snide remarks from people who talk about soccer as if it is an inferior sport (and because it's my blog and I feel like it), on we go.
I'd like to preface this post by stating that I like sports in general. Although admittedly my love of sports has suffered in recent years and I have my qualms with certain aspects of it, overall I see a lot of value in athletic activities. As an observer, I am a fan particularly of professional football, college basketball, hockey, and even baseball when the mood hits.
First lets address some of the common snide comments made about soccer.
1. "It's not manly."
This statement, in all it's variations, is hardly ever followed by a legitimate reason, but I'll address some possible reasons I've come up with.
If you think it's not masculine because women play it (whereas you rarely see a women playing football or hockey) then my response is pretty simple: I don't think you can say something inherently lacks "manliness" simply because a woman is capable of doing it. Women participate in their own leagues for most other sports including---racing, ultimate fighting, boxing, basketball, olympic sports, and so on. Soccer isn't really any different than the majority of sports on that level. Sports are typically not co-ed because of size/build differences and other concerns not because of the skills needed for the sport itself preclude women from participating.
If you think it's not manly because you are under the illusion that it's "easy" you are just misinformed (see players section below).
If you think it's not manly because it lacks the equipment protection needed by more "physical sports" you are excluding snowboarding, racing, most olympic sports, ultimate fighting, basketball, baseball, and well---most sports. Additionally, you have probably never watched enough soccer or played it enough to realize how physical it really is and WITHOUT all the gear protection---which to me seems to actually make it more "manly."
2. "It's a poor mans sport."
This is sort of a prejudiced comment, but it comes up. It's popular because it's cheap is the concept. There is some truth to that (see community benefits below) but it doesn't work on the whole. Soccer is extremely popular in both developed and undeveloped countries. Europe has some of the most extensive soccer programs and one of the most booming soccer industries in the world and the sport is supported by affluent upper classes just as much as the lower classes.
3. "It's boring."
My initial reaction to this is---how could it be the entire rest of the worlds favorite sport if it's inherently boring?
My guess is that it's boring to some Americans because they don't know enough about it (rules, play, athletes, etc) or lack the strong community ties to a local team needed to get emotionally invested. Whether or not a sport is exciting is fairly subjective. I happen to think golf and baseball are extremely boring to watch on television, but a whole lot of people disagree with me.
I've heard the low scoring referenced in tandem with this statement. Yet, not all sports are high scoring. Hockey is scored very similarly to soccer for instance and regulation time can end with a 0-0 score. Baseball often see's no score for several innings straight (and is a game where they stand around an awful lot) and basically can't end in no score because it is untimed and therefore can't end until someone scores. Even football would be a low scoring game if it was scored differently (a touchdown being 1 point rather than 6 would make for quite a lower score). Personally I feel like the points mean a lot more in soccer. In basketball, a basket barely has meaning until the end of the game. I get that a soccer game, unlike almost all other sports, can end with no score and does so regularly enough to warrant some criticism, but that's certainly not always the case. I feel that if you like and understand the sport the games are rarely boring. I've seen grown men get just as passionate about a soccer game (the bad calls, missed saves, penalties, etc) as a football game.
Next let me tell you some of the reasons I like soccer. Particularly I want to tell you the benefit / good it does for different areas of athletics:
FOR PLAYERS --- Soccer takes a high level of endurance and skill to play.
The misconception that soccer is "easy" is absurd. It's a different skill set then American football where you need to have the physical strength and mental capacity to play in "bursts" that are fast paced and physically intense. In contrast, some of the important skills for soccer are endurance, on-going team communication, and accuracy. You cannot play it without loads of conditioning and skill practice.
The fact is, it's one of the few sports that relies more purely skills than it does stature. Not having the right build or height can exclude you from basketball and football no matter what your work ethic is like. However if you want to play soccer but you're only 5'9 you can work your butt off and excel. Genetics doesn't count you out of the game. Soccer is a great equalizer when it comes to sports. Either your good or your not, you can't blame mom and dad for sucking at this sport or "going undrafted YET AGAIN despite a solid 40 time and GREAT HANDS." (Daniel Tosh)
FOR KIDS --- Coordination and Interpersonal Skills
All the benefits of team sports and exercise is amplified when it can be started at a very young age. Soccer skills and games are some of the best for developing coordination and interpersonal skills in kids. This is one of the reasons why youth soccer camps and community club teams are on the rise. The game is simple enough to start learning very very young and all you need is a ball.
FOR COMMUNITIES --- Soccer is inclusive.
Yes, soccer is more inclusive than football and most other sports. Part of why it is the worlds most popular sport is because it is less expensive than most sports as it doesn't require a ton of equipment. All you really need is a ball---the rest can be thrown together easier and while higher levels can invest a great deal into fields, goals, shoes, arenas, etc. it's not an absolute necessity.
Another reason it's inclusive is that it is diversified. It is a sport that is played by both men and women at high levels. It is played by every ethnicity and your genetic build or height doesn't preclude you from excelling at the sport.
These things do not make the sport easier than other sports---it simply makes it more accessible. And I think that's a positive thing. It means that it can bring communities together, provide opportunity and common ground for people of different backgrounds, ages, races, genders, sizes and so on. It's popularity stems from these extremely positive aspects.
FOR THE INDUSTRY --- Soccer provides a growing pool of new sports industry jobs.
The sport has yet to be watered down by overregulation in the way that football and basketball has started to go in the last few years and since soccer's popularity is on the rise in the U.S. there will be a lot of new soccer-specific jobs for coaches, players, officiators, sports casters, trainers, college program directors, and the variety of jobs that goes into running a city team in business, marketing, retail, and so on.
FOR THE ECONOMY --- Professional soccer teams in the U.S. are on the rise.
Whereas New York is not going to add a fourth Football team anytime soon, NYC is getting it's first major league professional soccer team and other cities will follow the trend. As I mention in the points above, soccer is one of the few sports that is growing. Already established franchises don't have a lot of room to grow, but soccer is just getting started and will positive impact local economies all across the country.
FOR THE U.S. SPECIFICALLY --- Soccer is growing in popularity.
Not only is soccer the world's most popular sport, but it's growing in popularity in the U.S.
Soccer is one of the last major sports left in the U.S. that still has a lot of territory to cover. As such, it is one of the only sports presence that is rapidly on the rise in the U.S. Soccer has been steadily gaining popularity and prominence in the U.S.---the national team is better than ever, Beckham playing in L.A. didn't hurt, and new programs and teams are popping all over. If you have ANY interest in sports as a whole---such as wanting to be an athletic director, sports writer, etc. then you simply can't ignore or write off the sport of soccer. Over time the petty quips will be less and less tolerated.
Also, it's an Olympic sport, which football is not. So it's an opportunity for some national pride during the summer games in an area that most other countries take a LOT of pride in. If the U.S. wants to "prove itself" as being a country of great athletes, then it has to meet the rest of the world on their terms and show themselves to be a worthy contender. Soccer has the farthest reach of any sport where that is concerned. Doesn't it bother you that we're not taken seriously because we're NOT AS GOOD as other countries at this sport?!
Believe it or not you can like both Football and Soccer. There's no legitimate reason to pit them against one another. Soccer is a really great sport. Love it, leave it, present a valid arugment for why you don't like it, but cut it out with all the obnoxious put downs with no basis in reality. It just makes me tempted to judge you as a "dumb jock" without an original thought and blatant ignorance on the subject.