Feb 11, 2011

Why Soccer is More "American" Than American Football

I came across this post from my other blog Going to the Mat, that is talking about soccer.  It is a bit older and not for a soccer audience, but it is an argument to make about the beautiful game.

Mike Flynn, writing at Big Government.com started talking about Rush Limbaugh's aborted attempt to become a part owner of the St. Louis Rams NFL team. I think Rush got railroaded by political correctness. While you may not like some of the things that Rush says, you cannot with a straight face claim he is not a savvy businessman. But I digress from my point.

Flynn actually pointed something out--American football is decidedly un-American in execution:
Rush took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to address the mau-mauing that scuttled his NFL dreams. Personally, I’m a little mystified why Rush would want to own part of a football team. Oversized, preening and pampered athletes set in strictly defined roles and running elaborately orchestrated “plays” designed by a full bureaucracy of coaches seems, frankly, I dunno…unAmerican. Quite unlike the other football, where there are no plays, few coaches and wide latitude for individual initiative and improvisation. (How did we get stuck with the collectivist top-down heavy sport?) But, to each his own.(emphasis added)
I hadn't really thought of American football in quite that way. I had always decried its lack of fluidity and thinking. Only on a broken play do we see any hint of improvisation and usually it results in a loss or not much of a gain.

But American football is decidedly socialistic in its set up. The plays are controlled not by the players but by the centralized bureaucracy of a whole plethora of coaches. Now, American football teams have 19 coaches.  A starting offense and starting defense in football consists of 22 players--not counting special teams, a punter and a place kicker.

By contrast, Manchester United, one of the biggest football (soccer) clubs in the world has 10 coaches and that includes their director of their youth academy and conditioning coaches.

But it is the rigidity of American football that is so Un-American. Everything is as centrally planned as the former Soviet Union's economy.  American football teams will often script as many as their first 20 or 30 or even more plays before the teams even take the field. The coaches make most of the decisions and the most important decisions even during the game. In fact, while much is made of the role of the quarterback, how many quarterbacks have the knowledge, skill and freedom to call plays from the line of scrimmage (I can think of just two or three who are fully entrusted with that ability) and how many times a game is that freedom exercised.

Soccer on the other hand has very little chance for a coach to do very much during a game.  He may alter tactical formations or direct tactical changes, but he or she has to rely on the players to implement them.  A soccer coach on the professional level cannot make wholesale line-up changes or change to a defensive formation.  A soccer coach has to rely on the intelligence, skill and knowledge of his players.  The soccer player, aside from a few discrete opportunities per game, has to completely improvise each play and has to expect his teammates to anticipate and work with him.  The 11 players on a soccer team have jobs and roles to play, but have to be willing and able to adapt, unlike American football players who are incredibly specialized.  

Thus, despite chuckleheads like Jim Rome berating soccer as "Un-American" it may in fact be the most "American" sport around.  Soccer epitomizes individual and group work ethic.  The beautiful game cherishes individual creative effort and a team environment. Not that I will be able to convince people like Rome and the other sports punditry in this country of this point of view, but there you go. 

Soccer is more American than American football.

No comments:

Post a Comment