Learning to Love the World’s Favorite Pastime

an-instant-classic-photo-of-robin-van-persies-flying-header-goal-at-the-world-cup

This was the moment that I realized soccer players are basically superhuman.

Last week Ann Coulter wrote a grotesque and loosely humorous column bashing soccer (not going to hyperlink it because I don’t want to associate with her more than necessary. Google it if you want). I read it over once or twice, and realized that, if her reasons were rephrased a little bit and with a better and very different attitude, her column could actually serve as an argument in favor of soccer. And after watching snippets of a few World Cup games – including our unfortunate loss to Belgium yesterday – I’ve come to appreciate the sport quite a bit. So, I thought I’d try to rewrite Ms. Coulter’s essay, and reflect on why America is joining the rest of the world in being obsessed with the sport.

Here we go:

1. Soccer is communal. It’s a team sport where players are constantly aware of everyone on the field. One of the things that I’ve been really impressed and intrigued by while watching the World Cup is how teammates relate to one another and their opponents during the game. These guys are able to pass the ball back and forth to one another across a field, while avoiding opponents, without looking – all in the course of literally a second or two. During gameplay, it’s like team is operating under some sort of collective over-mind. And, rightly so, teams rise and fall together. During those 90+ minutes, it’s not about any individual’s career of failures, but the team’s.

2. Everyone plays soccer. To play, all you need is a ball, some land, and something to mark the goal posts. For the billions of people in the world that don’t have access to lacrosse sticks, football pads, baseball gloves, swimming pools, and other various athletic paraphernalia, it’s the ideal sport. I assume this is why soccer is so wildly popular abroad, and why it has managed to transcend so many borders (geographic, socioeconomic, racial, etc.). I can’t think of any other cultural phenomenon that gets so many different people as riled up as soccer does, and it’s amazing to see them come together in recognition of this diversity.

3. Soccer is fast-paced and exciting to watch. Even in a low scoring or tie game, the ball hardly stops moving. And unlike in football or baseball, the clock rarely stops. Players don’t really pause between plays and regroup, they just keep going. Once a game gains momentum, it just keeps building.

4. America lost. In the Olympics, the economy, and most wars, it’s typically assumed that the U.S. is going to come out on top. Not so in the World Cup. It’s nice to be the underdog for a little bit, in part because it’s fun to root for the underdog, and also because it’s good to be reminded that despite our confidence and patriotism, we’re not actually the best.

5. Players can’t use their hands, which means that they need to engage the rest of their bodies in ways that I find astounding. The level of coordination and bodily awareness that these guys have is incredible, and their ability to make split-second decisions is something that you don’t see very often in any other sport, industry, etc. (at least not to this extent).

I’m looking forward to continuing to catch snippets of World Cup games over the next couple of weeks, and I’m even more excited to cheer on Team USA again in 2018. In the meantime, I hope that America’s enthusiasm for soccer outlives the hype of the World Cup. Caring about this sport brings us into the rest of the world, keeps us humble, and enables us to encounter a truly amazing kind of athleticism.

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