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dolcem
Post #1
Monday December 30, 2013 8:30am

Joined Nov 2012
Total Posts: 1,805
I'm a pretty shitty soccer player, but in my travels I've gotten to play pick-up ball in four continents. I think you can tell a lot about a nation's soccer by the way it plays pick-up. Pick-up is, in most countries, the lifeblood of the sport because that is where most soccer games are played. It's also the way kids learn the game, starting at a very young age (they of course practice on their own, as soon as they can walk). Later on, of course, comes playing on an organized team, and then if they're good, eventually playing at a youth academy. The best ones go pro (between the ages of 15-19).

Pick-up soccer is playing the sport in its purest form (without tactics or coaches-the way people naturally play it without instruction), it's the DNA of the soccer culture. It's also the best way to learn the sport. This is obvious because if you look at all of the best players who play the sport, this is how they learned it. In the states, we have a different method. Most of us (not including immigrants, many of whom have the culture of the places from which they immigrated) tend to learn soccer at 5 or 6 by joining a co-ed rec team taught by parents who aren't exactly experts (also, we play 11 v 11 at a much younger age). But even with the largest amount of youth soccer players in the world and great diet and facilities (and athletes), we still haven't been able to produce any truly world class players. When you play pick-up, the result doesn't matter much and you're just trying to learn the game. You get to try out everything you've been practicing on your own without worrying too much about losing the ball, and you get the ball more than you would in an organized game. This is how you're supposed to learn the game-building up a base of naturally acquired talent (ball skills and intelligence) before you play in organized games, where less creativity is allowed.

Anyway, what struck me the most was that it seemed like Americans play the game completely differently than everyone else in the world. There is something about the way we play that really separates us from the others. I don't really understand soccer well enough to articulate it, but it feels like a whole different ball game. Like a different sport.

The biggest difference is the skill level. In terms of technical skill, particularly handling the ball, the American players are the worst, by far. Everyone else has much better touch, they move the ball much more naturally. Their footwork is so much better. And I think most American soccer players would immediately notice this when playing pick-up abroad. And it would be obvious to them that the differences is that what all these foreigners been working on, from a young age, is their footwork and their juggling and their dribbling. As soon as they can walk, that's what they do, that's how they learn it. They're constantly kicking the ball. Of course there are really good Americans who have amazing control of the ball (most of whom are immigrants), but they are the exception rather than the norm.

More importantly, the way the game is played-the style of play, for lack of a better term, is entirely different. It's something I never understood until after I played abroad, and tried this new foreign style for the first time. It's much freer and less organized, for one thing. And the players tend to hog the ball more, it's totally considered OK (perhaps because they are all really good at dribbling). In American soccer, we don't like a ball hog, and that's mostly because no one on our team is actually a good enough dribbler to be one. And usually the fewer touches you allow your players to take, the more likely the team is to win (probably because no one is skilled enough to carry the team on offense). But the foreign players express themselves in ways that American soccer players do not; they display a great deal of creativity, which is also encouraged by the style of play.

The game flows much more differently, too. It is more disorganized than the way Americans play, and feels more natural and organic. The freedom of the individual is valued more (and since the individuals are great with the ball, it works) and you'll get people taking risks and maybe not defending as hard as they are attacking. The other difference is that foreigners do not run nearly as hard and the game isn't nearly as physical (also, during winter, Americans play indoor soccer too, is even more fast and physical than regular play, while foreigners play futsal, which focuses much more on technique)-that's because it is pick-up soccer, after all. American pick-up games are usually much more of a work-out. Of course the pace is really high at first, and then slows down a lot over time as players get tired. And they're much more physical too. So naturally, in a foreign pick-up game, it's easier to take risks and dribble the ball, because you don't have to worry about people sprinting back and shoulder-barging you).

In other words, it feels more like a pick-up game, while playing with Americans feels more like an organized game. But the funny thing is, it always felt like the foreign game was so much more advanced. On average, the foreigners would probably win if pitted in a match (though might lose because of the Americans' fitness and determination), and to me, they seemed to be much better soccer players. It was more natural to them. They had a deeper understanding of the game, since they'd all been playing it together since they could walk. And when the group of guys was playing well together (rather than just ball hogging), the teamwork was better, the movement was better, it felt more complex than the American style. The American style, on the other hand, was boot and root. Use your hustle to outrun the other guy. We approached soccer like hockey or American football, it was viewed as a sport about conditioning, speed, and size, while for the foreigners, football (it almost seems like we should call it something different than soccer, the American version) was all about footwork and dribbling. From a young age, our relative strength has always been in fitness, size, and athleticism, and thus that is how we play at our core. But for foreigners, their strength is their technique and their creativity, and their style of play encourages and teaches that.

In Asia, especially in Korea, the soccer is the most similar to the American style. While they do have that sort of natural knack to the game, having played a lot of pick-up from a young age, it is all about fitness. The strength of the Korean player has always been his fitness-possibly some of it is diet and a lot of it might be cultural (the Koreans are tough and that's one reason they've been able overcome their many struggles). These guys are in great shape and they run hard all game long.

Another thing is that Asians (especially Koreans) love to do things in groups and teams. They all get jerseys with their name on it to play five-a-side. They care about the result more.

One experience I'll never forget is of two Koreans I played one of these five-aside games with a few times. I met them separately but they played for the Real Valladolid youth academy (one was on vacation the other was just recovering from injury). So obviously these guys are some of the best Korean kids of their age. The funny thing was though they didn't even seem to be that good (I play with each of them twice, always separately). Afterwards, both told me the same thing: they were totally ineffective in Korean soccer. Sure they were much more technically gifted than everyone else, but that didn't matter too much in Korean soccer. It's all about who is the fastest, fittest, and strongest. They didn't even have room to really showcase any of this skill or try to play positively.

The Argentines were the best. They play all the time. The poor kids wrap together a bunch of plastic bags and use them as balls to play in the street. It showed when you played pick-up with them. Young kids had skill on the ball that was beyond anything I'd ever seen from good high school American players. The style of play allowed for that kind of creativity, too, even encouraged it. When I played with them I felt compelled to try to play like that, that was what the game expected of me, while in the states, the game told me to run hard in a straight line and outhustle the other guy.

And all of this discouraged risk-taking and "being a ball hog" (or trying to drive the offense) because for one thing, if you lost the ball there was a quick counter-attack and you get scored on, which really sucks because you are trying hard to win. Also, the game was too fast to really give you time on the ball. The movement is different when it is at that pace, and every move forward is a risky one that exposes the team to a counter). There's no room or time for your to really be an individual and dribble the ball (in Argentine Spanish, manejar la pelota-drive the ball).

One thing I noticed was that the leagues and national teams often reflected this style of play. Usually the professional players play generally in the same style as their compatriots do in pick-up. Pick-up seems to be the natural way we play the sport, and the differences between footballing cultures can be obvious at any age and level.

I'm a bit of a soccer novice, so I know what works well for teaching me the game and what doesn't. When I play pick-up, I feel like I'm learning the fundamentals of the game, making it instinct-learning how to naturally move the ball, to sense where your teammates are and pass it to them, taking it on your own when you need to, I'm learning how to be a more technical soccer player. While this is even more the case when playing abroad, when I play the American style I just feel like I'm getting a good workout. I don't get time on the ball so I don't get to improve my ability to dribble it. I also feel like when playing for foreigners, I'm learning better movement, since we're trying to move more slowly, with intelligence, rather than just trying to outrun the other guy.

And which style of play produces better players? The obvious is heavily in support of the rest of the world, especially a few really elite countries that seem to have figured out the best style of play-they produce the best teams, players, and coaches. The American method is good but doesn't seem to produce well considering its size (more registered youth players than anywhere in the world) and resources.

So what does that mean? We don't have to copy anyone's style, but we do need to generally follow their pattern: constantly play it individually and then in pick-up games as soon as you can walk. And play soccer like's it's a pick-up game played with your feet. When that happens on large enough basis, where it becomes standard and accessible for millions of kids to learn the sport like this, we will produce a good soccer culture that is backed with the size, resources, facilities, coaching, and large number of Americans that grace the US. At that point, we will dominate the world the way we do in everything else.
GET A CLUB TEAM
skangles
DC
Post #2
Monday December 30, 2013 2:39pm

Joined Jan 2013
Total Posts: 5,449
How long did this take you to write?

navi8132
New York
Post #3
Monday December 30, 2013 7:36pm

Joined Jul 2012
Total Posts: 3,122
You should just become a journalist...?

blaise213
Post #4
Monday December 30, 2013 7:36pm

Joined Sep 2012
Total Posts: 3,255
@Dolcem

You and 2tone need to stop working for free with your opinions and start a soccer website.

I was actually talking about this the other day to my boy at the gym.

I started playing street soccer with my brothers (2 vs 2) anytime all 4 of us are together. They are not soccer fans but they enjoy the challenge.

I went to my local 24 hour fitness and had the urge to play basketball. After being on the court for 2 minutes, I looked around and said, "Why not have a pick-up soccer game instead?" You can do exactly the same thing in a pick up soccer game as you do a pick up basketball game. All the gym needed was some nets.

We need a serious campaign with celebrity spokespersons to make this type of change. MLS should be all over Chad Ocho Cinco as a spokesperson to push the game onto the african american players.

I think the key in getting these kids into soccer should start with futsal.

You also need to change the infrastructure. We need to start building the indoor size courts at the school yards. Use the tennis court surface.

Hell, one day we might have teams playing at basketball stadiums.

bbakerxyz
Post #5
Monday December 30, 2013 9:47pm

Joined Oct 2012
Total Posts: 237
Your kinda missing the point again. There's no need to "choose" between organized play and disorganized play. Obviously, the more a kid play soccer with his friends on the beach, etc. the better he'll be.

But no matter how good all of those guys at Rucker Park are, only a tiny few make it to the pros - what do you think separates those who make it and those who don't.

skangles
DC
Post #6
Monday December 30, 2013 10:05pm

Joined Jan 2013
Total Posts: 5,449
Original post from bbakerxyz

Your kinda missing the point again. There's no need to "choose" between organized play and disorganized play. Obviously, the more a kid play soccer with his friends on the beach, etc. the better he'll be.

But no matter how good all of those guys at Rucker Park are, only a tiny few make it to the pros - what do you think separates those who make it and those who don't.


Jerry Tarkanian.

Live490
Texas
Post #7
Monday December 30, 2013 10:10pm

Joined Mar 2013
Total Posts: 1,175
Using rocks for goals in the street, hating that you had to stop for cars passing by. Playing for Gatorades. The good old days!

blaise213
Post #8
Monday December 30, 2013 10:33pm

Joined Sep 2012
Total Posts: 3,255
Original post from Live490

Using rocks for goals in the street, hating that you had to stop for cars passing by. Playing for Gatorades. The good old days!


Sad thing is we did that growing up for all sports except soccer:

street football, roller hockey, basketball, baseball (wiffle ball and pickle), a lil boxing on the front lawn.

soccerboy-1983
vicenza, italy
Post #9
Monday December 30, 2013 10:45pm

Joined Nov 2013
Total Posts: 306
Your so right i play for a club team here in germany and these kids come to the games with there parents just so they can play on the practice goals we got on the other side of our goals. Rain snow it doesnt matter. they built a little like soccer field the size of a tennis court its like our skate park for these kids 3vs3 first one to five wins next team up all ages. we have this in the states but not with soccer

skangles
DC
Post #10
Monday December 30, 2013 10:45pm

Joined Jan 2013
Total Posts: 5,449
Original post from blaise213

Sad thing is we did that growing up for all sports except soccer:

street football, roller hockey, basketball, baseball (wiffle ball and pickle), a lil boxing on the front lawn.


Oh man, roller hockey! Now that was a good time!

recycledhumans
DFWTX
Post #11
Monday December 30, 2013 11:45pm

Joined Nov 2012
Total Posts: 1,467
Too true, played just about every sport under the sun out in front of the childhood home but soccer wasn't usually one of them. It wasn't exactly never seen but by far the one we played the least. Well...that and hockey, since not a lot of kids had roller blades.

tylercocinas
Post #12
Tuesday December 31, 2013 12:24am

Joined Aug 2012
Total Posts: 1,151
Original post from blaise213
We need a serious campaign with celebrity spokespersons to make this type of change. MLS should be all over Chad Ocho Cinco as a spokesperson to push the game onto the african american players.


This is simply not real life. You cannot just have a black spokesperson, or spokespersons and expect more kids in "urban" areas to just all of a sudden care about soccer. The sooner we stop even mentioning this as an appropriate solution, the sooner we can actually find effective means to continue making the game more appealing for youths of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

blaise213
Post #13
Tuesday December 31, 2013 12:45am

Joined Sep 2012
Total Posts: 3,255
@ tylercocinas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GYTXzPYb4M

There will be a lot more of this when we get the african american youth involved.

Sorry that your cousin got beasted in mid air !!!! Exactly why the team in green has nobody in the NBA, NFL, MMA, NHL, and barely MLB

CS10
Post #14
Tuesday December 31, 2013 1:59am

Joined Feb 2013
Total Posts: 94
@blaise213 your post is hilarious keep em comin. If we followed your logic an African team would've won the WC already. Arguably the best countries Ghana and Nigeria have yet to even make the finals of the WC. Unless they're from South America (Brazil, Colombia) their are many players of African descent who lack the ball skills to become a real legend in the game, of course there are many exceptions.

@Dolcem your point is Americans lack creativity and technique. The USMNT as a whole has always been like that. Our best players in history have all either come from an immigrant population( Reyna, Ramos, Perez) or were exposed to playing similarly bc of the environment they were in (Donovan and Dempsey both played in areas with a high immigrant pop. Its no surprise if you look at our youth teams they are now displaying skill and vision on the ball never before seen in an American player. When they come of age it will be beautiful to see. Heck I'd even say its currently in the process with our last Olympic team even though they didnt qualify they played attractive football. Almost all players had high technique (minus Shea..ugh) if it wasnt for a bone head play and Porter's tactics we'd still be talking about them in a positive light.

About the pick up thing. Idk about where you live but in my are (Chicago) most pick up games are latino's and they display the kind of skill you'd expect in L.A. even today I played in open turf and it was all Mexicans cept for one white kid who's skills on the ball were suspect at best. Tbf he's an older college kid who I would expect much technique from but I've gone other days and seen a kid around 13, white, and was highly skilled on the ball breaking out stepovers, roulettes, and ankles all over the place. Kid was GOOD. My point is the younger generation now have soccer anywhere they wanna see and exposing them to tricks they can mimick where before it wasnt possible. I think theirs definitely a lot more kids like him else where and with time the US will play beautiful soccer soon enough

blaise213
Post #15
Tuesday December 31, 2013 2:50am

Joined Sep 2012
Total Posts: 3,255
Original post from CS10

@blaise213 your post is hilarious keep em comin. If we followed your logic an African team would've won the WC already.


African americans are different from africans. 300 years of evolution in another country. African Americans are bigger, faster and stronger than their african ancestors.

It's why you don't see any african players in any other american sports.

Look at all the African american NFL players and look at the ghana team.

I grew up playing sports around black people my whole life. Im telling you, these kids will change the game.

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