Basketball vs Soccer in the US

What makes the US so dominant in Basketball? Why is Spain dominant in soccer? Why do certain countries seem to dominate a particular sport, why others seem to struggle at the world level. It has everything to do with the environment (culture) and expectations (belief). I was talking to a soccer coach that works with a professional club’s developmental program here in the US about this topic, and what he said nailed it.

He mentioned that when he had visited other countries (who are dominant at the world level in soccer) the young players in the professional club’s developmental system “believe that they are going to play professionally.” While in the US, although some players may hope to play professionally, very few have this belief, passion or drive.

“It’s just kind of there, in the back of their mind, this thought that it would be great if they could make it to the professional level, but it is not really a believable reality,” he commented.

How do players get this belief or expectation that playing professionally could actually be a reality? It’s the culture or the environment in which they have been raised. In the US, many inner city kids have seen, or heard stories about, the player who came from nothing and now is playing in the NBA. The NBA is full of these stories. Kids see it as a way out, a way to a better life. The passion and inner drive to make it to the NBA drives them, continually fanning the flame, keeping the fire lit. It’s not about going to skills camps, or working with a shooting coach. It’s about staying on the playground until its too dark to see the rim, shooting jump shots and visualizing the dream.

The type of basketball we play in the US is different, creative and imaginative. It has been developed by thousands of young players, playing on their own, mimicking the skills of their hero’s in the NBA. This is what has been going on with soccer for generations in other countries. Not only does this cultural change need to happen for the US to be dominant in soccer, but the US also needs more success stories for it’s young players to relate to and emulate. Until this happens, it will be hard for young players to believe in the possibility.

 

Comments

3 Comments
  1. This article makes me ponder on what makes kids in other countries believe so whole heartedly that they will be a professional athlete one day. That thought brings me to how can we get kids in the U.S. to have that same kind of mindset? Also how do we provide the type of environment where the kids’ will to succeed trumps everything else?

  2. I like your question, Shon. Some possible answers:

    In many developing nations, everyone is just looking for a way out of hardship. That very mindset is prevalent and might make for a higher percentage of kids who see what they already do well as a path to being liberated.

    Here, we have a lot of pickup basketball and no pickup soccer. Our inner city courts have no coaches standing in the way to limit your playing time or harness your tendency to experiment and be stylish. Our organized soccer, especially at the travel level is only affordable to the minority, it’s hyper-structured, and it trains kids to be very mission oriented, almost like sharp shooters or assassins, looking for goals. Rarely do we see stylish play, risk-oriented play, possession savvy play, and most of all, we rarely see kids smiling with a love for the journey.

    In my view, these things do not engender greatness.

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