Orange Slice Eating Visionaries: A Soccer Story
By John Thomas
Goatees and Minivans
Small town soccer in America has a certain ring of cliché in the American cultural canon. Our children, who gallivant through the town in large multi-person-holding vehicles driven by “moms”, who are brought to football fields and shuffled about by a boisterous goateed parent or former high-school Übermensch type, are a global and local cliché. The exception, a slight handful of those very committed orange-slice eating visionaries continue to forge ahead through small town recreational coaching mayhem and chaos, boisterous goatee coaches and Übermensch alike, into high school playhouses of disarray and talent flux. A fortunate few of, those few visionaries, will at some point stumble into a successful concoction of weak competition, and raw talent to string together a glorious state championship run.
It becomes a cliché not for the intent of insult but with the design of improvement. Maybe. The sentiment is simple and true. Soccer in small town America is, in some households, a backbone of athletic outlet, but not that many. The question is not can we provide a better system, perhaps like the college system that develops college football athletes into the billion-dollar industry that is the NFL, but do we care to do so?
World cup success, the prosperity of the MLS, the advent of a functioning men’s college soccer programs, is all easily possible from such a society that is, for anecdotal example able, as in my home state of Louisiana, to pay to send all graduating high school students of a 2.5 GPA or higher to college. Can this same society not also train athletes to a higher level than the fledgling, seemingly weak-minded and sometimes awe-inspiring Jozy Altidore?
As one of those boisterous coaches who has had time to see young talent careen at full speed into the glass ceiling that hangs over men’s soccer in America and disintegrate into drunken overly aggressive Sunday-soccer-at-the-park players, the answer is strikingly clear. Those young players, from small town America must find a way through the miles thick glass and once again forge ahead. Though there are only 205 NCAA D1 programs available to male soccer players. Of the entire country of 318.9 million people very few of them will be as determined as you, or as a slightly more frustrated person once said, very few of that over 300 million will ever care enough to try. The odds are in your favor.
We've Been Called 'Overly Aggressive'
For those of us failed degenerates who have with heartbroken clarity realized that we will never make it to that national team, and were never even close; it might be time to stop drinking too much and look at this issue we face again. Though we may never find the energy to play as sharply, for as long, or with as much zeal as we were able to last year, forget five years ago, we do have something of a responsibility to our generation. The world sees us as enormous, overly aggressive, bulls in the china shop of soccer, thus the majesty of the NFL, MLB and the NBA, which profits the man with the biggest arm, and the greatest vertical.
The Cart And The Horse
What to do? American athletes are often terrifyingly larger than our opponents, and often more talented. But the cart does not come before the horse, this I know.
The best we can do is glut the system. Use our numbers to our advantage, we must take on the role of the facilitators. We must get kids interested and convince them to forge ahead, we must volunteer our time and study the game more than the half-assed four years spent in high school. We have no choice but to become effective ambassadors of the game, there is nobody else. It’s ours to find a way to spread the good word. I have seen it work, it is alive and well but the system won’t be laid out for you. The scholarship and prize money will doubtfully ever come. Our only hope now is to stop waiting for the miracle of that would-be spontaneous paradigm shift and go out and teach. Bring a ball to the park, let people use it, start conversations. Call your local recreation league, or hell, go get a license and learn how to do it better. For those of you in the Lake Charles region, click here.
The glass here in small town America is miles thick, but we are stubborn overly aggressive brutes, we athletes thrive here.
You young players it’s up to you as well, glut those schools with applications, there are a whopping 205 choices, surely one will also offer a good debate team and philosophy program. GO. DO. The odds could be worse.
Note From the Editor
Hockey > Soccer.
Seriously though, one of the most perplexing traits of Lake Charles is our ability to harbor just enough people to care about a particular hobby (hockey, soccer, LARPing, music, etc.) to make it seem possible, but one caring-person short of making it a reality. We hope that by offering these articles, we can show some obscure reader that he or she is not alone.
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