The three types of “soccer haters”

With another Woman’s World Cup victory in the American trophy case, with the US Men’s National Team continuing to show well, and with MLS adding more and more teams to the mix (including my new hometown team, Atlanta United) it’s safe to finally say that soccer has arrived in the United States.

That’s not to say that for the diehard among us, it hasn’t already been here, but now it seems that the sport has turned the corner and people who may not have had any involvement in actually playing the game, either themselves are by watching their kids, are starting to tune in.
All that said, there are still a few detractors out there, so this piece is dedicated to those few stubborn souls who remain unwilling to let the joy of the beautiful game wash over them. Through extensive scientific research, which is to say my own personal anecdotal experiences reading a few online sports forums over the last few years,  I have determined that there are three types of “anti-soccer fans”, if it’s possible to be an anti-fan of anything. We might call these people, asoccerists.  Here they are:
1. The Soccer Hater: This is your sports fan who understands the basic rules of soccer, but was most likely humiliated playing it as a kid. They will isolate one negative component of the game (e.g., diving or fan violence) and then extrapolate that to the entire sport. In conversations about soccer, they will try emasculating the sport by using third grade homophobic playground tactics such as calling the sport, “gay” or “unmanly.” And as any one who has taken psychology 101 will attest, they are simply manifesting a response to their own insecurities.  They may also believe soccer to be “communist” or “socialist.” They will use the term “Euro trash” to describe all soccer players, not really knowing what they are describing. These are your typical soccer trolls. Semi-mainstream American sports media has a few: Jim Rome, Chuck Klosterman, Frank Deford, basically shock jock types preaching to their own collective choirs with no real thinking or analysis behind anything. They have an irrational fear of the sport as being “un-American,” without realizing that it’s the most popular participatory sport in the US by a couple of orders of magnitude. They are scared of soccer and its popularity so they lash out at it.
2. The Perplexed Soccer Observer: Unlike the soccer hater, these fans simply don’t understand the game. Through no fault of their own, they have not been exposed to the game either as a player or observer which means they are most likely typical, middle-American, apple pie and NFL, MLB, NBA types. They look at final scores as an indication of match quality and equate high scores with good games (which we know can be mind-numbingly dull in soccer) whereas a 0-0 draw to them is an abomination (and again, we know these matches can leave you without fingernails). They don’t understand positions so they don’t recognize when the players are creating and exploiting space, they don’t see nuance of movement or get the mental acuity required of assessing omni-directional options. They don’t yet appreciate the basics of passing skill, trapping skill, vision, strength on the ball, shooting, heading, multi-step thinking, changing points of attack (unless they played basketball), and so on; therefore, when they flip the TV channel to a match, all they see is a ball being moved from one person to another with “no purpose.” Of course the soccer-literate among us know that the purpose is always to create an opportunity. The perplexed soccer observers are not closed off and they will ask questions. We need to be patient as these people will eventually grow to love the game like the rest of us.
3. The Soccer Agnostic: These are sports fans without an opinion, which is to say that they are extremely rare. They are probably big fans of cycling or bull riding; meaning they could not care less about soccer, football, baseball, basketball, or hockey. They represent .0001% of the sporting world. Again, using my scientific analysis.
Let’s go kick the ball around, shall we?

Sunday morning tea: thoughts on anger

PeaceAnother beautiful Sunday morning in the South ushers in time for some weekly reflection over a cup of hot green tea.

This morning, anger is on my mind.  Not that I’m personally angry, but rather anger as a pervasive emotion.

A case in point. Friday afternoon I was riding with my daughter who is still practicing for her driver’s license, and while leaving her school, we were slowly trying to make our way out of the highly congested school parking lot.  We were attempting to merge in to traffic yet no one seemed interested in sharing the road. In fact, when we did manage to find a whisker of space in which to start our merge, the young man we eased in front of was visibly distraught, shaking his head as if we had just robbed him of his last piece of bread.  Mind you, every vehicle was traveling at somewhere between 0 and 1 mph, so no one was going anywhere any time soon.

Anger. I see it everywhere and I’m wondering if anger is an epidemic in our culture? I see it while driving on the road, at the sports field, on television, in relationships, on the news, at restaurants, at the airport, and just about anywhere two or more people are trying to get somewhere or get something.

The reality of anger is that in almost every case, the anger is being felt by people who are not in control of their situation.

The irony of anger is that they will never be in control.

We get angry at strangers. We get angry at people who are trying to help us. We get angry at people we love. We get angry at animals. We even get angry at inanimate objects! And for what purpose? When does it ever help? Do we get where we are going any faster? Does our machine start working any better? Does our food start tasting more delicious? Does our wife start loving us more? In my experience, with the very rare exception where anger was an emotional response to some grave danger, anger has only ever served to make my own blood pressure rise, my own stomach hurt, and my own heart ache.

Before I started practicing mindfulness meditation, anger was an emotion that sort of creeped up on me and then suddenly enveloped me, like a rogue wave where one minute all is calm, and the next it’s crashing all over me. But now, I see the wave coming. I feel it in my stomach. I brace myself. Now, rather than drowning in the wave and letting it knock me this way and that, I let it break over me, wash off of me, and flow past me.

How can we export this understanding of anger to everyone in our lives? How can we all begin to recognize it for what it is: often simply an emotional response to the realization of our own impotence? I’m not sure.  I do know that the first step is to practice awareness of it in ourselves.

Because while they exist, it is surely the rare person, perhaps only the mentally unhealthy person, who seeks disruption and violence over peace and tranquility. If that’s true, then all of the people – those on the road, in the airport, at the restaurant, at home – should clamor for a cure.

If anger is an epidemic, our own awareness of it might just be the vaccine.