*Thanksgiving Power up
“Ref! Are you kidding me? This is a joke.” Tensions were high at the University of Michigan Men’s Club Soccer game against Grand Valley State University (GVSU). The game was deadlocked as both teams made a push in the final minutes to win the game. Several times, fouls were committed to prevent a quick scoring opportunity for the opposing team. During one particular counter-attack, a GVSU defender tripped a Michigan forward just outside of the eighteen yard box. The forward was just about to rip a shot after slipping past a seam in the back line before being fouled. Michigan players immediately circled the ref, pleading their case for a penalty shot. The ref, however, placed the free kick outside of the box. Players were enraged, criticizing the ref for his decision. In the United States, competitive amateur sports are prominent in the athletic development and recognition of the athlete. However, in countries such as Great Britain, a strong division has been created between amateur and “club” level athletes.
Over the summer, I attended the Manchester United – Real Madrid match at Michigan Stadium. “Michigan Stadium has claimed another attendance mark, setting a United States record with an announced crowd of 109,318 watching Manchester United beat Real Madrid, 3-1, in the International Champions Cup on Saturday.” The game was fantastic. There was a quiet intensity on the field throughout the entire match. In addition, the level of play was extraordinary. Every player’s touch on the ball was flawless as teams moved down the field in coordinated unison, using different strategies to link with the forward and break down the opposing team’s defense. After watching the game, I began to think about the skill the players exhibited on the field. Their technical skills on the ball were far and away the best I’ve ever seen. I knew soccer was more popular in Europe; however, I struggled to understand why there seems to be such a stark contrast in quality of play between U.S. soccer and European Fútbol.
Recently, my questions were answered. In the semester-themed lecture, Positive Psychology and Sports, a student from the U.K. explained the differences between U.S. and European sports culture. In the lecture, I leaned that the U.S has many “grassroots’ sports programs. These programs allow children to develop in order to compete at the high school level. Success at the high school level has proven to be a gateway to recruitment opportunities by college coaches. In this case, sports gives student-athletes the ability to continue their careers at the collegiate level while providing these students with sports-related scholarships to make college more affordable. Sports, thus, have been wrongfully associated with success because of its link to educational opportunity. Instead, sports in the U.S. only encourages young adults to only focus on their athletic abilities, allowing sports commercialization to flourish. “One characteristic of creeping sports commercialization among young athletes is that it distorts, or even destroys, people and institutions it touches. College admission programs select poorly educated athletes who stay in college for 1-2 years, instead of highly qualified students who could help us overcome our global competitiveness gaps in science, business, and education.”
“As a result, according to another N.C.A.A. report, the graduation rate (given six years to complete the degree) for football players is 16 percent below the college average, and the rate for men’s basketball players is 25 percent below.”
High school football.
On the other hand, the European system truly upholds the “amateur” aspect of school sponsored athletics. Amateur sports in Europe are viewed as a positive way to keep young people healthy and social. Many high school teams find themselves scrambling, minutes before the starting time, to find someone to fill the roster. However, the U.K. also has many “club” sports teams. These “clubs” or organizations serve as direct feeders to the professional level. For example, talented fútbolers are often recruited by academies by the age of fifteen where they are trained while receiving an education.
The privatization of sports in the U.K. could be a possible explanation for their superior skills in sports such as soccer. Division of amateur and “club” sport is also a fascinating trait unique to Europe. Not only are players provided a better opportunity to pursue a career in professional athletics, but the boundary between amateur and private allows for a truer appreciation for amateur athletics. This boundary could also help revive the American educational system, in turn, increasing graduation rates and the number of citizens with college degrees.