Coach: Soccer: Time for my best sales job ever?
This week I take on a good journalistic challenge, while fully understanding the resistance may be strong.
After all, it has been a many-year battle here in America, (for the most part a largely losing battle) to promote what the rest of the world calls "the beautiful game," soccer. Nevertheless, and with a fearlessness born of the written word, I stand ready to take on this near herculean task.
This may be my toughest sell job yet, but the World Cup, soccer's grandest of all events, is finally upon us, so time to give it my best shot.
Fully understanding that old habits are hard to change, and when you talk about people's sports viewing habits? They are about as hard to change as a baby with a stomach virus. But "futbol," as it is known just about everywhere in the world except here in America, has so much going for it that maybe it is time for us here in the States to go all in.
On a positive note, the game has gained in popularity recently. But sadly, for way too many, the game is but a mere afterthought, not really on the radar of most basketball, football, baseball, or even X Games-entrenched sports minds.
Why the hesitancy for so many here in this country?
The responses I hear are usually some versions of: "The game is too slow." "There is not enough scoring." "Just not enough action." And, my personal favorite, "I really don't understand all the rules."
My responses to the above would be, in order: "Not really, please try watching some of these games!" "Yes, you are right, but it is getting better." "Actually, sometimes in pressure-packed World Cup games you are right." And, "Well then you just need to watch it a bit more."
For myself, in recent years I have been a slow, steady but now fully converted fan to the world's most popular sport. The seeds were probably planted in my early years, when I spent two years as an extremely nondescript player for the once proud New Trier West Cowboys. (Yep, back in the stone ages there were two New Triers, East and West. East was the Indians; West was the Cowboys.)
My playing time as a high school player could gently be described as minuscule at best, or maybe not so gently stated as, "Kid, the only time you are going in the game is if we get a 4 goal lead!"
After that semi devastation, I joined the rest of America (or at least most) and took a long break from soccer before finally rediscovering the love when coaching and watching my kids play in our local AYSO soccer programs.
I thoroughly enjoyed those nearly 10 years of Sunday afternoon games at the Old Rugen Community Center, Flick Park, or more recently behind Attea Junior High on the Gallery Park fields.
From there, simply by watching junior high, high school, and college soccer matches, or going to a few Chicago Fire games, I have become completely hooked.
Soccer has rapidly moved up my rankings of favorite sports to watch, rocketing up into the coveted number two position right behind longtime No. 1 basketball, shockingly passing baseball, hockey, football and roller derby along the way.
But now back to the challenge, and the reason for this column.
To convince the nonbelievers out there ... the doubters, the skeptics, the American sports traditionalist, that if you give it a chance -- if you just dip your foot into the soccer waters just a little bit -- you might find it to be more than well worth the effort, and maybe get a little hooked on the "beautiful game" as so many others have.
The World Cup is a sporting event like none other.
First and foremost is the incredible intensity of the soccer fans and players. It is not matched by anything here in our more traditional American sports. Even the rabidness of college football fans, or NFL fans, or the WWF if you want to go that route -- none of them can match the allegiance and intensity of World Cup fans, or soccer fans in general.
Simply put, it just means more to them. You can see it in their body language, you can hear it in their constant cheers and chants, and, maybe most important, you can feel it. The importance of the game to the players, coaches and fans is literally tangible.
Secondly, is the skill level of the players. Truly amazing. The technical skill, the coordination, the creativity, the athleticism, the power, all of the above and more, shown in full display with the world's best players competing against each other.
Three, the physicality of the game. The labeling of the game of soccer as "noncontact" might be the most egregious mislabeling of a product since the Hostess company tried to tell us the Twinkie was "a good nutritious snack for the whole family!"
The fact is soccer players take an absolute beating over the course of a game. There is constant contact in the game with pushing, shoving, jostling, diving, tripping and enough head-to-head collisions and stretcher-inducing injuries to appeal to even the most Neanderthal of sports fans.
Fourth, the importance of each goal. Yes, there is less scoring than our typical fan sports, but that adds to the significance of every shot attempt and every scoring opportunity. When a goal is scored the celebration is like none other. Pure joy. Pure exhilaration. So cool to watch, even if you are not a fan of either of the teams playing.
Fifthly (is fifthly even a word?), our United States team is getting better and better. The local talent, our soccer academies, our youth programs, our competitive travel teams continue to improve. Many of the top U.S. players now play in some of the premier leagues overseas, where the best of the best in the game of futbol is played.
Because of all this, our country now has a chance to compete. To maybe make the round of 16, the quarterfinals, or who knows? If we really put it together at the right time, even challenge for a spot in the final four.
Sixthly (hey, if I got away with fifthly, might as well keep rolling), and this may be the Big One! The bestselling point of them all. No commercials! And, no timeouts! Yes, indeed folks, 45 minutes of straight sports action uninterrupted. A sports viewer's delight in this day and age of breaks, interruptions and stoppages ad nauseam
There is more, but the above is the meat and potatoes. The gist, if you will, of what is so great about this event. That is my best sales job. My plea to the reader out there is to check out the World Cup and give it every opportunity to get you hooked on the game as it has for so many others around the world.
One note: The games will be in Qatar this year so they will be seen here in the States at a variety of odd times.
Thus, consider yourself forewarned. If you hear a strange loud noise at, say, around 3 a.m.? And that noise sounds something like, "Goooooooooooal!"? Don't panic. It is probably just a neighbor or nearby house celebrating the excitement of another thrilling World Cup moment.
And now, let the games begin.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org.