A record 26.7 million American viewers tuned in for the Women’s World Cup final to watch the US Women’s National team beat Japan 5-2 to claim their first championship since 1999. It would seem that, simply based on the numbers, Americans enjoy watching soccer. Perhaps this number was inflated by the fact that the US was a contender in the final. However, other World Cup viewer turnouts suggest otherwise: 26.5 million viewers for the 2014 Men’s World Cup (Germany vs Argentina) and 24.3 million viewers for 2010 final (Spain vs Netherlands).
Yet how many of Americans can answer the following question with conviction: who is your favorite soccer team?
We don’t mean country—we mean club. It’s not a common question you hear around America—let alone the Fargo-Moorhead area where there isn’t a strong soccer culture. Perhaps Manchester United of England, Bayern Munich of Germany, or Barcelona of Spain ring a bell. Perhaps you know some of the player’s names—Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar. Perhaps you have seen these teams play in finals or high steaks games. Perhaps you even have a jersey. But how frequently do you watch games?
If your answer is I catch all of the games I can—Bravo! Unfortunately you are one of the few. Despite the leaps and bounds of soccer in America in the last couple of decades, soccer is still not quite a mainstream sport. Why is that?
There exists article after article that about reasons as to why soccer isn’t watched in America—Among these, cultural differences, divided attention youth, competition between other sports, and even the suggestion that Americans find it “boring” have been cited as reasons. However, while we find this fascinating, we’ll leave these theories to the marketing groups of professional teams. What we’re interested in is the reasons youth soccer players should be watching soccer.
The importance of watching soccer as a player:
Consider first how much time a coach has to teach. Here at TC Storm, teams typically have three training sessions a week. Depending on the team, this only amounts to between 3 and 6 hours a week dedicated to the game. Roni Mansur, a nationally licensed coach in the United States and youth coach since 1999, notes that this is simply not enough to create players of the highest level. But he doesn’t suggest more coaching: “Soccer players take their game to the next level by practicing on their own, by playing soccer with their friends outside the team environment and by watching the game.” (Watching Soccer to Elevate Game Awareness)
If you have an intrinsically motivated player who wants to play all the time, this is easier to do. But what about the player that doesn’t think to go in the backyard to play on their own? Watching soccer can serve as a great motivator for those players. Give them a good game that they get excited about and you’ll see them naturally head outside at half time and after the game to play with the ball.
It’s relatively easy for a youth player to develop a favorite player—usually it’s the one with the coolest tricks or scores the coolest goals. Simply showing a young player YouTube videos of creative players like Ronaldinho or Neymar can make a youth player’s eyes wide. It opens up a whole new world of how the ball can be manipulated and serves to expand their imagination as to what they might be able to do with extra practice. As Mansur notes:
“Who better to demonstrate these skills and techniques than the best players in the world…LeBron James and Kobe Bryant grew up watching Michael Jordan, who in turn watched Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Dominique Wilkins. Tom Brady grew up idolizing Joe Montana. Steven Gerrard, the current Liverpool captain, was an avid Liverpool fan who grew up watching the team play at Anfield whenever he could.”
Imagining one’s self in the shoes of a pro athlete, striking a free-kick into the top corner to win the World Cup for example, is not only commonplace for any fan, but it’s actually a tool of top athletes to perform their best. In the field of sports psychology, the act of visualization—imagining one’s self performing a certain action over and over—is a proven physiological and psychological benefit to the athlete. EEG scans show that when an athlete is visualizing the motions of a specific action, the same part of the brain that controls those specific muscles lights up. In this regard, watching soccer can serve as a form of visualization. Young players, having watched their favorite player score an amazing goal, might spend some time imagining themselves scoring that same goal.
But watching YouTube soccer skills and tricks—while amazing and inspiring—is not enough.
Because soccer is a free flowing sport, one without plays or routine stoppages, there are an infinite number of possibilities of what could happen in a single game. In only 3-6 hours per week, it’s impossible for a coach to cover all the possibilities. Therefore, they can only run practice sessions focused on common and specific tactics and game situations. However, statistically speaking, the likeliness of this situations duplicating exactly in a game is highly improbable. Therefore, we must develop players that can think critically and independently in the midst of a game—being able to recognize the nuances of a game to make thoughtful tactical decisions.
What the best players in the world do is figure out ways to break down these patterns in the game—creative solutions to manipulate the game in their favor. There are countless studies that show real and long lasting learning can occur through observation. If we are to consider our youth players as students of the game, watching soccer provides extra lessons outside of the training session—the game itself becomes the teacher.
Most people that find soccer “boring” struggle to recognize and appreciate these subtleties—how the pros maintain possession, position their body in reference to their teammates and opponents, or break down defensive lines. If payers learn to recognize these substiles, they will be able to not only appreciate the game more, but also apply it to their own game. As the player begins to recognize these patterns in the games they watch, they will start to recognize these same patterns forming in their own game. And soon after that, how to beat these patterns.
The importance of watching soccer as a parent:
Perhaps this is obvious but it can also be easily forgotten—if you want your youth player to watch more soccer, it helps if you watch with them. Like learning soccer from watching the game, children learn a lot from watching you. Therefore, if you want them to be a fan of the game, you as parents need to start becoming fans of the game. Besides, once you educate yourself about the nuances of the game, you yourself might find the game more enjoyable.
Watching Soccer in the F-M area
While watching soccer on TV is often the easier option, watching a game live is the best for multiple reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is for developing a passion for watching soccer. For any sport, really, being in a live atmosphere is far more stimulating and exciting than watching on a TV. The sights of the players up close, the smells of the grass, the sounds of the crowd and the players—it simply cannot be beat.
Unfortunately, the F-M area is void of a pro team. However, there are still plenty of opportunities for youth players to catch good soccer live around town. NDSU and MSUM both have men’s club teams, and NCAA D1 Women’s teams. Concordia has both men’s and women’s NCAA D3 teams that compete in the fall. Not to mention that there is a plethora of high school teams in the area.
If you were willing to travel a little: to the north, WSA Winnipeg is teams that plays in the USL Premier Development League; to the west, the University of Jamestown has both men’s and women’s NAIA teams and University of Mary in Bismarck has both men’s and women’s NCAA D2 teams; to the south-east, there are plenty of college teams to watch in the Twin-Cities as well as the newly-added MLS team, Minnesota United.
Growing appreciation for soccer in America combined with new viewing platforms, it’s becoming increasingly easier to watch. NBC Sports, Fox Soccer Channel, ESPN, beIN Sports, Telemundo, Mun2, GolTV are just some of the providers of soccer games on TV. This isn’t even considering all the games available online too.
The following articles are some guides for the new-soccer fan: