I had an amazing couple of days at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention in Baltimore.
Baltimore is like soccer in America – it is in transition and it’s heading the right way. A few shady spots here and there, but new waterfront development and a strong convention center are rebuilding the city.
In a country where about 25 million kids play soccer, and close to 5 million play at the club level, it still amazes me that we have not discovered our own Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi. When I talk to the guys around here, they feel that it’s coming. Soccer is a craze in the USA. We get to see it practically every day on primetime TV at the highest level and it is the longest season of any sport in the world. Ironically through the advance of video soccer games like FIFA (unlike the real institution that governs soccer, the video game is not corrupted) kids now know all of the stars, all of the leagues, and are getting into the rhythm of this great game.
Soccer is a great deal more complicated than any of us think. I got to talk with a lot of coaches and a scattering of stars during my two days there. The amazingly charismatic Uruguayan International, Ruben Sosa, who played for Inter and Lazio, was one of the great highlights of the convention. I spent some time chatting with him about his coaching schools down in Uruguay. Alegre he said is the key to unlocking the talent. Getting kids to enjoy the game and developing skills. Using the brain and ballet to perform beautiful moves and work always as a team. As one guy said, “Winning games is not what we are here to do. We are here to develop a love for the game so that kids will want to continue playing past the drop off age of 14. The talent will emerge. Teaching teamwork and ball skills. That’s our goal and much more important than an actual goal scored in an 11 vs. 11 game with 13 year olds.” We even got a little feature on Sirius Radio through our beloved John Kerr, ex-USA and International and now head coach at Duke.
For me, I am a soccer addict and always have been.
I see as much pleasure in 0-0 as a 5-4 result. Soccer, unlike all of the other American sports, is truly an international phenomenon. The crowds are crazy, they sing inappropriate songs with tons of swear words aimed at their idols or not, and one day Major League Soccer will provide us with a league worthy of the world stage. Yes, soccer breeds superstars but ultimately a coach’s configuration is no different than setting up a team project in the office, developing a strategy and working together. Team.
One of my greatest heroes in soccer, George Best, was the first modern, sporty, good-looking superstar – the fifth Beatle. He was reckless, talented, brilliant, and had a career that was extraordinary and far too short for a man with such talent. I first saw him play against Chelsea in 1965. He was quite simply the most amazing player I had ever seen, and will probably ever see. A la Pele, a Maradonna, a Leo Messi. When asked where he spent his money, and he made a lot in the early days, he said, “I spent my money on birds, booze, and fast cars…The rest I squandered.” A life too short, a talent too wasted on mere mortals. All the Georgie.