The United States played Mexico in the Gold Cup final Saturday night. When I asked my youngest son if he wanted to watch the game on television, his reply? “No. Watching soccer on television is boring.”
Wow. This is a kid who lives and breathes soccer. He began playing when he was five years old. Like his brother, he also played baseball. But, when he was seven or eight, after the first baseball game of the season – the one year, I decided to be “the coach” instead of just an assistant in either sport, baseball or soccer – he told me, as we walked to the car after the game, “Dad, I don’t want to play baseball. I just want to play soccer.” Seventeen games later his baseball career was over. Since then, he has played soccer. Outdoor in the fall. Indoor in the winter and spring. Pickup games whenever he can. Goalie camps at Cosumnes River College and at Sac State. Soccer has become his year-round passion.
Elk Grove is a small city in which thousands of kids play soccer every fall in recreational leagues throughout the area. Hundreds more play competitive and select soccer. At times, local high schools have been nationally ranked. And yet, a 13-year-old kid who lives and dies for the game says it’s too boring to watch on television. Instead, he watched Paul Barth, Mall Cop. Really? What’s wrong with this picture?
When I was a kid, we played baseball whenever we could and lived for the Saturday game of the week on NBC and Monday Night Baseball on ABC. A few games of my beloved Giants were shown on a local station during the course of the season. Now, every game is on television, not just of the local team, but every night there’s a game to watch. Not just baseball, but basketball, football in the Fall, and so many other sports throughout the year. The opportunity to watch sports on the television is pervasive and overwhelming.
I actually had nothing to do with soccer until my oldest son signed up to play when he was five years old. In the eleven years since, a season has not gone by where I haven’t been an assistant coach for one or both of my kids’ teams. By coaching with those who know and love the game, I’ve also come to know and love the game. There is a lot about the game that is similar to baseball. A slow pace that allows a spectator to watch things develop. It takes time for the offense to produce results. There is a rhythm and flow and an art to the sport that is absent from fast-paced, relentless sports like basketball, hockey, and football. Even on television, it can be fascinating to watch the chess match played with a ball.
Here’s my question. Is it a generational difference? Our kids are growing up in a world in which there are no limits, in which they can choose from 500 channels, movies on demand, sports channels that show every sport, and they can instantly connect via their smartphone, IPad, or some other device to virtually any entertainment option of their choosing. Is the ever shortening attention span of our youth a death knell for the kind of game or sport where scoring takes time to develop and where most of the game is played in the muddled middle where “nothing” happens?
Or is it the sport? Is soccer just never going to catch on in this country as a spectator sport – about as interesting to watch as a chess match? With the millions who play it, Major League Soccer struggles to draw fans to stadiums in many cities and struggles even more to entice television viewers. The United States and Mexico in the final of the Gold Cup. When I was a kid that would have been an event to take the time for. Not now. What does it say about a sport that a kid who loves to play the game thinks it’s too boring to watch on television. Is our fast-paced society genetically immune to the charms of soccer?
All I know is that I watched the soccer game. For soccer, it was an offensive powerhouse of a game. Mexico win 4-2, after falling behind 2-0. The good guys lost, but the artistry and movement of the game came through and was a joy to watch. Too bad, more people didn’t watch.