A guest article by Jon Townsend from These Football Times and founder of yearzerosoccer.org
The first civilizations required a few elements to ensure their survival and hopeful advancement. Some of these “elements” included: communication, education, and technology. Other elements, however, were more basic. Things like food, water, protection, a means of travel, all played a role in the existence of humanity. Take something like fire – it was something thought to be stolen from the Greek gods, something magical, mysterious, a tool for survival, and a weapon for destruction. All of these have one thing in common – they must be passed along.
The concept of passing is the lifeblood of the function of community. So, what does this have to do with soccer?
Go watch kids play pickup soccer at the park. What you’ll see is smiles and what you’ll hear is laughter. At that age, the game is raw and fun. Now, think about what do you see when you watch a soccer game at the older levels? Players run up and down the pitch, the ebb and flow of the play draws us in and before we know it, the tide has taken us out to sea. A fascinating element of a game like soccer is its connective and divisive power. The game connects sport to culture, but is capable of dividing families, cities, countries, and even continents. Such is the power of the world’s game.
I pose another question: what do you look for when you watch a soccer game? The obvious answer is the product on the pitch. Perhaps the madness in the stadium captivates you if only for a moment, but we faithfully attend soccer’s temples and gladiatorial arenas for the product on the pitch. Both watching and actively looking for something in the game are require something innate – a bond with everything the game represents for you.
The Players All Start Small (P.A.S.S.) initiative is simple. Set an objective within the constructs of the game that is age and level-appropriate, designate an outreach program or charity you want to help, and achieve that objective. Soccer is a results-based game. The teams who have a clear sense of their objectives are often the ones who are most successful – and that means successful both on the field, in the community, and away from the game. The good teams are known for winning. The great teams are known for more than that – they are known for the product on the pitch. How a team wins, loses, or draws is important.
Soccer is really a simple game – it’s the people who make it complicated. What that means is when we strip away the major transfer fees, the politics, and the complex elements of it, we are left with the game we all fell in love with at the start. To fully understand and celebrate the game, communities must begin to appreciate the game to the point the older generations can pass on knowledge to the younger ones. The concept of passing is both metaphorical and literal in soccer. For too long soccer has been overlooked in North America. Perhaps this is due to a sense of submissiveness in a complex continental populous, a hyper-competitive sporting landscape, or a myriad of other reasons, one thing is certain – soccer cannot grow without passing on knowledge, values, and changing the dialogue for the brighter future.
As a large, complex, and passionate soccer community we often ask the question, “When will soccer arrive in North America?” The cynic in everyone can be dismissive as that takes no skill. But the optimist, the educative side of the soccer community can do something about it. It’s called accountability. To create a better place for people to enjoy soccer, we must first hold ourselves accountable. Part of this process is identifying where the learning fractures lie and where people can have the most impact.
All of this sounds monumental – and it is – but it’s also simple. To change the dialogue and positively affect he game currently and in the future our soccer community must be accountable for the education, the execution of initiatives, and oversight of the game from the grassroots to the top levels. Top-down methodologies look great on paper. The thing is, however, the game isn’t played on paper.
To ensure a culture of accountability can be of benefit to everyone, we must begin to think in terms of incentivizing the game. At the basic level, we play, watch, and coach the game because we love it. The game is the carrot at the end of the line for us. But what about the kids, the casual fans, the newbies, and even those who’ve grown jaded about this wonderful game? How do we ensure they understand the connective power of the game? How can we best demonstrate that there is indeed a common language, a common currency, and connection between the game and their culture?
Think of what we want people to value in the game. The beautiful thing about the beautiful game is everyone has the chance to make a difference, to tell part of the story, to build a culture. Our children look up to us – instead of looking down to them, let’s look out for them.
It’s time to create a cohesive, self-sacrificing, and productive North American soccer culture. The game is simple. It’s time for us, as the torchbearers, to pass that fire onto the next generation. The future of the game depends on our willingness to PASS.
P.S. Want to add some fun, accountability, and holistic player development to your youth team? Sign up now at www.goplaybetter.com