Here’s a pop quiz: What was the biggest news in sports this summer?
If your answer is the LeBron James one-hour, made-for-TV event announcing his decision to play for Miami, you’re wrong.
If you said the changing landscape in major college athletic conferences, you’re still wrong.
From a global perspective, the biggest news in sports this summer was the World Cup.
Having played college soccer at Tabor College decades ago, I have a soft spot in my heart for the sport, so I’m not unbiased. Neither is Tabor soccer coach Grant Brubacher, but I asked him for some observations about playing and coaching the sport.
His dad, Don Brubacher, wasn’t coaching soccer while Grant attended Tabor, but Grant said, “Having a father that was coaching and still playing when I was young was the reason that I began playing. He was the person who taught me the skills and the tactics of soccer when I otherwise did not have access to the sport.”
Although Grant excelled in multiple sports, he said, “I really fell in love with the teamwork and challenge of the game (of soccer). The game requires such immense teamwork to succeed offensively and defensively.
“As an attacking player, I really embraced the challenge of scoring goals. I found the feeling of scoring a goal in an important match to be an emotion that was unmatched on a regular basis in other sports.”
The lack of scoring is seen as a drawback for many American sports fans, but Brubacher doesn’t mind watching a scoreless game.
“I would be opposed to changing the rules to create more scoring,” he said. “For me, part of the game I enjoy is the challenge of scoring. I really believe that opening up the game with new rules could damage the worldwide appeal of the sport, even it if brought some new fans from the U.S.”
Brubacher says soccer’s apparent lack of popularity in America compared to the rest of the world is complex. One reason is that our sports culture is more crowded than most countries. Second, there is a lack of general understanding of soccer.
“Because goals are rare, an understanding of what goes on between goals becomes important if you are to enjoy the entire match,” Brubacher said.
As might be expected, Brubacher watches soccer differently than average sports fans, paying more attention to tactics and formations.
“I try to use the games to continue to learn about the game and see what teams are doing to succeed,” he said.
Soccer can get rough, and while Brubacher doesn’t mind the physical nature of the game, he would prefer the game be physical in a different way.
“The rules of the game allow physical contact in shoulder-to-shoulder challenges and other areas,” Brubacher said. “Allowing these physical confrontations to be executed would lessen the need for so much sliding and physical contact around the ankles and knees.
“It is actually safer to allow more contact with the upper body. For this to occur, referees need to stop rewarding players for diving and throwing themselves to the ground when someone leans on them.”
Coaching soccer requires a different mindset, according to Brubacher.
“The players have more responsibility in soccer than most other sports because of the lack of stoppages. I would say the majority of teaching does take place in practice, and teaching your players to think for themselves is very important. They need to be able to solve their own problems and make their own adjustments during a match.
“Changes are often made at halftime and during the occasional stoppage, but intelligent players are necessary to have a great team.”
According to Brubacher, the biggest difference in playing soccer on turf than grass is that the game tends to be faster on turf.
“I personally prefer a nice grass field, but turf is better than a bad grass field,” he said.
Soccer may never become the most popular sport in America, but there’s a fundamental reason why it will continue as the No. 1 sport worldwide. As Wally Schirra said, “I played English football—soccer—instead of American football, because we couldn’t afford the equipment.”