I just finished reading one of the blogs that I follow and the author was addressing the growth of the sport and the fan base. In his article, he was speaking of the importance of spectators to the future of our sport. He was so on point with everything he wrote about but there is another component that I felt he did not address. In my comments to him I spoke of the ceiling our sport has with the fan base and felt that it existed due in part to a lack of education about the game and the inconsistency the game has here in the United States.
As examples of the inconsistencies, I referenced a recent match the older team played against a very solid opponent. As expected, it was a very physical encounter between two sides wishing to win. In the match, there were 3 distinct moments where there was disruptive contact, one in a play against our keeper where she gained the ball and the attacking player ran into her and ended up on the ground, another where our striker was inside the 6 and was fouled from behind in the play, and in the middle field during a 50/50 ball a player ran into our center midfielder as she was taking a ball in volley. Only 1 of these plays resulted in a kick awarded and that was the play inside the box and we were awarded a kick from the mark. the other two were incidental play and no infraction was called. The point of setting up these events is that the coach for the other side (who also coaches a college side) saw all 3 plays differently than the center ref, sideline refs or myself and was very vocal in his dissent.
So, if in the above example, we have 3 distinct views of events from people who work within the construct of the game, how do we expect the average fan to comprehend and process the nuances of the game? How do we provide a basic understanding that allows those that we rely upon to support and fund our sport in such a manner that it will bring them to the pitch to watch regardless of their personal investment, i.e., their own child? If we truly want to have our sport elevated to the same prominence as other stake holder sports, we must make the game accessible to all, not just those with an insider’s view of the game.
I feel that we have allowed too much inconsistency in what the game is and how we expect it to be played. On my younger side, we struggled last year not because of our talent or our game IQ but simply because we could not move past the moments in play where “she touched me”! We spent a huge amount of time complaining about being pushed, or held or checked instead of just accepting that soccer is a contact sport. You could hear parents on the sidelines talking about how a player was pushing or touching, instead of them admiring how two young athletes were in the middle of contesting a ball, or trying to gain advantage of play. I could not help but feel that if we all came to the game with a more uniform understanding of the game, we all could enjoy it much more. Of course, that being said, I am not a stakeholder in the game beyond coaching, I do not have my child out there being pushed and shoved around anymore.
I have often joked around saying that one of these days, I was going to publish a pamphlet titled ” An Outsider’s Guide to the Beautiful Game-How to Watch Soccer and Not Be Bored to Tears” but so far it has not happened. One of the biggest hurdles to getting such a project off the ground is that no one person has all the answers, if you asked a dozen different people what they just saw on the pitch, you would get at least as many different versions. Everyone brings their own vision and experiences to a match.
Each person watching a match will see the moment that they feel is when things happen ,do we all see when the build up began, or did we see the slight faint to make the opponent bite in that play, or how about the direct attack that seems to just dissolve only to strike as events appear to go soft? Every move and play in a game has its own story, it is how we as individuals interpret those events that provides us with the experiences we take away. The game is ever-changing, we must be willing to grow with it.
till I see you on the pitch