Earth Day!

It's Earth Day, so I want to share a thought. The environment is fucked and the future will look different than the present because of it. Weather patterns will be different, coastlines will be gone, and food supplies will be skewed. We all contributed, knowingly or not, and I decided a few years ago that I wanted to do something to make up for it. In lieu of forfeiting everything, I decided four years ago to stop eating land animals. There are other reasons to stop eating meat, but I made mine to decrease my negative impact on the environment. 

The food production process of making food from cows, pigs, and chickens has negative consequences on the Earth. The methane from the poop, the fertilizers used to produce the feed, and the tree clearing to create grazing space all take a toll. I'm not here to convince you of those things; at this point you either know it and believe it or you don't. Rather, I want to mention how easy it's been to stop eating meat. 

When I mention it, everyone says "I really like that I idea but I could never do it." I don't correct them - to each his own. But for what it's worth, in case you are reading this, giving up meat was the easier major life decision I've ever made. 

It goes like this: you just stop doing it. You'll never be at a loss for what to eat or cook. Every restaurant has an option that doesn't include land animals. There are gazillions of incredibly good recipes that don't involve meat. You eat just as many things and just as many delicious meals as before you made the change. Yes, you miss out on some things you used to love. I loved cheeseburgers and miss them. But I've learned dozens of incredible new meals that I never would have. And it turns out that there are some pretty good non-meat burger options. 

Quite simply, you go from being a person who eats meat to a person who doesn't, and you feel a little better about who you are as a person and your contribution to society. Just as long as you aren't a tool about it and bring it up in every conversation (only the occasional blog post).

Anyway, if you've been wanting to do something for the environment, or wanting to do something with your diet, it's not that hard. I promise. I'm weak at almost everything in life but this has been simple. Just make the decision and do it. 

Reframing the Pay-to-Play conversation

American soccer has a lot of decisions to make in the coming years. Perhaps it will decide to stay the course, an act that has become a decision in itself amidst mounting pressure to change. I’m not sure what the right answers will be, but I worry we aren’t approaching them properly. Before we can make intelligent decisions, we need to frame the questions the right way. When we truly grasp the depth of the questions, then we can start to find good answers. One topic that’s on everyone’s mind and that just doesn't feel right to me right is “pay-to-play.”

The present system has clearly failed a large chunk of potential players. The current model that often requires thousands of dollars to play competitive soccer obviously omits a big swath of the American population. We skip over kids who cannot afford the costs. American soccer fans can only wonder how good all of those players could have become.

But we need to remember: those players we missed aren’t commodities, they are kids. We haven’t failed the American soccer system, we have failed the children. We keep talking about how much these kids could help our national team. What about how much we could help these kids? It’s not a missed opportunity to improve American soccer, it’s a missed opportunity to provide a human being with an opportunity to chase a dream.

It's a problem pervasive throughout American society. We don't have an issue unique to soccer. We have an American issue that finally hits many of us in our home because it relates to soccer.

I realize some people only think of change in terms of revenue. Perhaps it's productive to discuss human equality and the American dream in terms of the bottom line and the potential returns on investment. I'd like to think our American soccer society is bigger than those people.

Return of investment is the wrong way to discuss soccer or kids. We shouldn't find a way to change the pay-for-play system in American soccer because it helps US Soccer qualify for a World Cup. We should find a way to change the pay-for-play system because it's at the core of the ethos our country.

When we talk about pay-for-play, let's frame the question to make sure it's about the kids, creating opportunity, and living in a society we believe in, not what the kids can do for us.

I don't have an answer on how to fix the current system. But the way we are approaching it right now feels wrong. We shouldn't talk about the system in relation to our path toward a World Cup victory; we have more at stake than that. 

I'm a sucker for the idea of creating a larger purpose to ideas, but it seems that when we start to think about the questions with a deeper set of intentions we will start to find the true soul of American soccer that we have been searching for. Maybe then the answers will start to become more clear.

Backyard play

A lot will be said in the upcoming days, weeks, and years about how American soccer can improve. It's all a very important conversation, but at the same time, it also all deters from the most important point. The best thing our country can do to develop better players is to create a culture of playing soccer in the backyard. A player can only develop so much on the training field. The truest, deepest forms of connection with a soccer ball come in the moments of random play at recess, on the street, and in the backyard.

As a kid, my brother Andy and I would play a game called one-touch in our backyard. We would put two 5x4 (or something like that) goals about 20 yards apart. We would go to the local supermarket and buy a rubber ball you get in the big container in the paper towel aisle. Each player gets one touch of the ball in a row at all times. If the other player shoots it off you, that's your touch, and the other person gets to kick again. I LOVED playing one-touch with Andy. They are some of the happiest memories of my life, and helped develop my love for the game (and helped hone my technical skills, but I'll save that story for another day).

So I ask, what games did you play as a kid in the backyard? What games do you play with your children? Get in the Comments section and let everyone know.

Share, so other people can then take them into their own lives. The more we get people playing in the yard, the better our soccer culture will become.

UPDATED:

Mike Foss: "We play a lot of 'Sweep the Leg.' My dad let me foul my brother on the backyard 1:1 all the time. He's so much more composed on the ball than I was."

@PhilSoc8: "Wall ball. Very fortunate to have had long side of garage abutting our yard."

Brian Straus: Growing up with a long flat driveway + garage doors with big square windows = years of forfeited allowance."

Andrew Wiebe: "I paid for replacement parts on the grill I used as a crossing/shooting target."

R.P. Kirtland: "I lived out in the country, no real friends around to play with. Used a field to practice hitting long balls in shin high grass."

Alex Rendon: "RIP light fixture above garage door"

John Tzanis: "some fast, one time passing games, you lose a point if your pass is off or can't return with one timer.. and this"

Erichir Por Larryson: "We played Muff. Muff is like HORSE...juggle as a group error = letter. Loser who gets to HORSE first bends over in goal while everyone takes shots from top of box or arc. If you hit or touch loser in goal...move up 5 yards and go again. Goal box was limit thou. Crafty players started with simple pass. Save the blast of a shot when you get to the 6. Letters assigned by vote...no letting ball fall when you could have saved another."

@MaxLegroom: "An incredible concrete retaining wall."

Phil Anaya: "We played a lot on the tennis courts (one side of the court)...made a goal and called it “the cage.” Allowed us to play after dark"

Cosas Buenas: "Wall pass any and everything available. Chimney, Horseshoe backstop, curbs. Having a hyper, ball obsessed dog helped dribbling, speed, megs"

Jordan Rickard: "I do soccer Monday’s with my kids (4 & 7). We play 1v1v1 with one goal you can score on from either side. 1 pt for a goal, 1 pt for a save."

Jason Anderson: "Spent a lot of time on target practice on the basketball court behind my house. Aiming at spots on backboard, trying to lob thru hoop, etc"

David Sansun: "Cuppies. Large group, one in goal, rest pair up, all vs all knockout tournament with last to score dropping out each round."

James: "Play all the time in our living room (call it the cage). 1v1 (w 3rd kid as goalie) using couch as goal. Also play a meg game. Pts for megs."

@FMLogos_rocheyb: "Keep-me-ups - 819 was my record (still is!)"

@Meiji_Q: "Soccer tennis"

Ethan Zombek: "my driveway was steep so it was a lot of kick it up and watch it roll back down"

Braxton King: "We played (still do) a ton of "soccer volleyball." At home it was with a net, but camping we'd use ropes and towels/shirts. Could play everywhere."

Liz: "Spray painted targets on both sides of the inside of the garage to practice passing, receiving, and turning on rainy days. (Sorry Mom and Dad!)

Joel Petterson: "Trampball: one goalie on the trampoline trying to stop everyone else from heading/volleying the ball onto the trampoline mat." editor's note... Joel, this sounds like a horrible idea. Kids, do not try this at home! 

Mike: "Soccer tennis and 2v2 with shirts as goal markers.

Timmy: "2 touch. 1 GK, 1 shooter. GK kicks ball to shooter who has 1 touch to settle and 1 to shoot. Best out of 10. Then switch positions."

Kristan Heneage: "A game called 14-12. One person goes in goal, and the rest of the players go into the field. So everyone who starts the game outfield gets 12 points, and the goalkeeper gets 14. If you miss with a header/volley or its caught, you become the goalkeeper. Every time you are in the goal as goalie and you concede a volley you lose one point from your total, a header you lose two points. Once you lose all of your points, you are eliminated. Whoever is left at the end wins."

Ted Mechtenberg: "1986 - me and my two brothers played “world cup.” Converted old swing set into a goal. It was 1v1 with a goalie so all 3 of us could play."

@bdsmokey: "Barefoot backyard 1v1 with my little bro with a small beach ball. Crazy swerve, but we mastered it. Chain link posts for goals"

Rob Lepley: "We used to play a soccer version of hand ball against the the garage door."

Dan Hales: "No keeper 3v3, circular, flattened pop can as the ball, shopping basket as a net. Headers, vollies n speahies 1pt for head, 2 for volley, 3 for a special GK judges whether spesh or not."