Rescuing a Point

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Psychologist Michael Hurd, a favorite commentator of mine, titles a blog post about soccer with two questions: "Is Soccer Anti-Individualist? Or Just Dull?"  His answers appear to be, "'Probably' and 'Yes'". Regulars here will know that I strongly disagree with the good doctor on both counts: My answers are, "'Almost certainly not', and 'Absolutely not'".

Hurd does admit to not not knowing much about either soccer or football, so I'll kill off the second, less interesting question now, by referring to my view of baseball, a sport I know little about, but whose merits I came to see:

Until the year Rice won the College World Series and I had the opportunity to watch several very good baseball games narrated by a very talented commentator, I had zero appreciation for all the strategy that goes into that game. I used to see (before switching channels): nine men standing around on a field, scratching themselves and spitting while some guy with a beer belly swung a stick at a ball.
Likewise, to the uninitiated, soccer will look like a bunch of people running around on a field kicking a ball for no particular reason. Since Hurd takes an Ann Coulter column as his point of departure, I must tackle a further, factual error that he ends up propagating from among her many errors and evasions: Yes, goals are rare, but they normally can be anything from a team to an individual accomplishment. In addition, Hurd and Coulter to the contrary, goals are the "equivalent of the home run, the touchdown or the slam dunk" they can't appreciate in soccer. In tight games, they can be all of these at once. (Watching such a game is not for the faint-hearted, much less anyone for whom fear is a "dominant attitude".)

Having said that, Hurd and, I must admit, Coulter do raise interesting cultural issues that have coincided with the rise of soccer as youth sport, and that pertain to the first question ("Is soccer anti-individualist?"). I think I have partially answered this question already: Consider a winning touchdown, thrown by a scrambling quarterback to a crafty receiver who evades coverage and then sprints through a hole in the opposing team's defense  -- a hole created by another team-mate's block. The multiple contributions to this score -- or even good, bone-crunching defensive play that scores zero points for that matter -- are good examples of team efforts with good individual contributions. The fact that several people contributed makes a touchdown (or a goal-line stand) no more anti-individualistic than the multiple passes and thinking-on-the-feet seen in many goals. Too much commentary on soccer is hung up on the quantity of goals (as if, say, 1-0 baseball games are unheard of) and the invisibility of individual contributions -- at least to those who don't understand what is going on.)

But Hurd and Coulter raise the following point, which deserves to be addressed:
Baseball and basketball present a constant threat of personal disgrace. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game -- and it's not a stroll on beach to be on ice with a puck flying around at 100 miles per hour. After a football game, ambulances carry off the wounded. After a soccer game, every player gets a ribbon and a juice box. [bold added]
Really? I have no idea about now, but if such is the case, it hasn't always been that way.

I played soccer from junior high until college, back in the eighties, before egalitarianism ruined (or started attacking) youth sports. All the ribbons -- medals and trophies, actually -- went to my brothers, who were both excellent players and whose teams won state championships. We did get drinks -- water, Gatorade, and the like -- at the half and after the game. Playing non-stop for 30-45 minutes (depending on age) will make you need water.

Oh, and I encountered only three girls -- all exceptionally good players at a time when the overall skill level in the American game was low -- who were members of boys' teams over the decade I played or refereed. Why? Common sense was more prevalent back then. In soccer, it is legal to bump another player with the shoulder when going after the ball. This alone gives men, who are generally larger and have superior upper body strength, a huge advantage over women. Women have other physical limitations relative to men that make mixed competitive teams beyond perhaps elementary ages a dubious proposition at best. We did play mixed -- for fun with a few other families -- occasionally on Sundays. I don't know how common mixed teams are in youth competitions nowadays, but if Coulter is right, the egalitarians are running up a score.

And whatever the merit of injuries, those happen in soccer as well. (Search "As for her assertion that personal humiliation or injury are required to count as sport".) I have a shoulder injury that occasionally acts up to this day.

Hurd is right to be alarmed at the idea that everyone in a youth soccer game is getting a ribbon and a juice box. But that's egalitarianism, and not soccer.

Hurd closes by saying, "The triumph of soccer as the activity of choice for school-aged children is probably no accident." If so, it's despite the efforts of leftists pushing it just because they see it as non-American and those of obnoxious evangelists who insist on calling it futbol. It's because soccer is fun and people of any size and build can play it, if they apply themselves and learn to think on their feet.

-- CAV

P.S. Regarding the title: In European soccer league competitions, a team that comes from behind to draw (and thus secures a point in the standings as in hockey), is often said to have "rescued a point".


Roger said...

Well, maybe Dr. Hurd and Ms. Coulter have a point, but I always thought soccer grew in popularity because it's much cheaper than all the other sports. No special gear required, except a good pair of sneakers

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write, "The fact that several people contributed makes a touchdown (or a goal-line stand) no more anti-individualistic than the multiple passes and thinking-on-the-feet seen in many goals. Too much commentary on soccer is hung up on the quantity of goals (as if, say, 1-0 baseball games are unheard of) and the invisibility of individual contributions -- at least to those who don't understand what is going on.)"

Precisely; that's a bit like the leftist canard that because entrepreneurs live in society, they didn't build that, but instead saying, "Finance is truly individualist--construction is collectivist" or whatever nonsense you might come up with. (And to skew the example further to cohere with the point you make, if construction is more collectivist, that's because of the incursions of labor unions, not the fact that it requires a broad division of labor on a team.

More generally, the claim that soccer is anti-individualist, or more generally that team spots are collectivist, is a puzzling stretch to me. On the one hand, since I'm blind in one eye I've never been suited to team sports or anything requiring swift perception of distance (though I got surprisingly good at making baskets), so I most enjoy individual sports like running and judo; on the other hand, that's merely a preference that hardly reflects an underlying view of the respective individualist merits of the sports. It's remarkably similar in negative form to the collectivist claims that an orchestra shows the inherent superiority of state planning and collectivism.

In any case, it makes me wonder--just how collectivist is 43-Man Squamish?

Gus Van Horn said...

Low equipment costs do make it attractive to some parents. Ticket prices to professional games compare favorably to other sports, too.

Steve D said...

I read the Hurd column and your blog not Coulter. Of the main conservative writers; I think she’s wrong most often (which means very often). A deeper question might be: Is there something about soccer which makes it more susceptible to multiculturalism? Interestingly, Canada probably has the lowest overall interest in soccer of any country in the world. It could be because we’re hockey fanatics. When I first came to the US, I noticed how much more popular soccer was here than in Canada.

Gus Van Horn said...


That's a good parallel. One variant that sort of defies it is the complaint that the action is "diffuse" (and less focused on individuals) on the pitch -- but you could make a similar complaint that the concealment of football players behind masks and equipment does the same thing.

Jumbotrons do a lot to help more people appreciate the game at the event, as do the selective views afforded by television coverage away.

Gus Van Horn said...


I'm not sure there is anything inherent to the sport that does so, but its newness does make it less tradition-bound here, and so, perhaps easier for leftists to try to mold.


Steve D said...

It's possible that because of the low cost and high accessibility of soccer, collectivists have pegged it as the game of the masses.

Gus Van Horn said...

If those aren't major reasons, they almost certainly contribute.