Overcoming Destination Addiction Guideline #5: Try a new sport
Soccer is a social phenomenon that conjures up quite a bit of imagery when thinking about it on a global scale. Tall, lean, chiseled men gracefully running down an open field, stadiums packed to the rim with thousands of cheering spectators, the tear streaked faces of the disheartened fans of the losing team, the flamboyant faking of injuries to warrant a penalty against the opponent, and don’t forget the bromance! All of the love taps and group hugs amongst players as the winning goal is scored. Needless to say, soccer is dramatic. And for most of the world, soccer is revered just as dramatically. It’s not just a game, it’s an essential part of life. A necessity that cuts across race and class, from the elite to the poorest of the poor. Just stumble into any favela in Brazil, while they may not have a running toilet they sure as hell have a small outdated TV to watch the latest match. So what’s all the fuss about?
Soccer ties into a deep sense of pride for one’s country or region. To some, the soccer field is a modern day battle field, the duking out of past grievances, especially among countries with long and complicated histories. If the rivalries of England vs. Scotland or Argentina vs. Brazil are any indication, there’s definitely more to it than just sport. Soccer also represents a sense of hope now that professional players have reached rock star status (i.e. Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar). Making it big as a soccer player maybe the only chance some kids have from escaping poverty. And now thanks to globalization, soccer has become a bonding force, a launching pad for human comradery that transcends boarders. Nowadays you can see a Manchester United jersey in a village in Ethiopia and a Brazilian jersey on a Subway in Tokyo. You can go to any corner of the world and instantly bond with someone over the shared love for a team. Soccer connects the world in a way that it is unparalleled to any other social activity. Soccer is a social phenomenon that will help define our modern culture, or as the French writer Albert Camus put it, “After many years in which the world has afforded me many experiences, what I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”
However, this isn’t quite the case in the United States. From the country that coined the term “soccer mom,” images of station wagons, grass stains and juice boxes replace the more glorified images of soccer. And although soccer had a brief wave of popularity in the immigrant communities of the 1930’s, it has since shifted to the grassy fields of the suburbs. It is more thought of as child’s play, something to grow out of like girl scouts or action figures, rather than a professional sport. But how come? Why does the U.S. reject a sport that the rest of the world is so passionate about? There are several theories.
- America’s idealism may be to blame. America puts a high emphasis on individualism whereas other countries value collectivism. In other words, we like a clear winner. Therefore, a sport like soccer where a good portion of the games end in a tie, just won’t fly in the U.S. Americans also have an innate need to be different, to stand out from the crowd and distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world. (i.e. the U.S. refuses to switch to the metric system). Who needs futbol when we’ve got American football?
- The professional clubs in America are going about things all wrong. In order to build a bigger fan base domestically, America recruiters have sought out foreign talent in an attempt to use big names like Beckham and Kaka to draw in crowds. However, the problem is that they are getting these players past their prime, when they are overaged, slower and injured. It’s as if these players have already retired, they are done playing with the big boys and are now playing in the U.S. as a side job, a transition into full-time retirement. With this strategy, the rest of the world won’t take American soccer seriously and without global support, Americans will stick to what they know, American football.
3. America suffers from “nerdy acquaintance syndrome”. America is like that nerdy guy at your office whose up-to-date on all the latest technological advances but is the last one to catch onto anything “cool”. For example, house music was popular in Europe way before it was ever ‘”a thing” in the States. So like house music and edgy fashion trends, maybe soccer is just something that hasn’t caught on yet.
So whatever the reason is for soccer’s lack of popularity in the United States, things are slowly starting to change. Millennials are more globally connected than any other generation and soccer is on the rise. However, for now, soccer is still predominately seen as a foreign sport (and for those of us dealing with destination addiction, we can use this to our advantage). Like a visa that gives you a temporary pass into another country, a soccer game can serve as a temporary pass into another culture, right there in your current city.
How to utilize soccer for cultural immersion
- Be a spectator and watch a professional match
- Actually go to a game. If your current city has its own soccer team, go sit your butt in a seat, yell, scream and cheer on your team. Physically being there will allow you to mentally transport to just about anywhere in the world. The fan culture of drinking beer and yelling out profanities spans across all continents.
It’s even better if you can go with a group of people who are passionate about the sport (and who also happen to be members of an ethnic community within your city). I’m married to a Brazilian so by default I have a pass into the Brazilian community of Jacksonville. Trust me, nobody does soccer like Brazilians.
- If your city doesn’t have its own soccer team, then check the schedule for your current city and other surrounding cities to see if any major teams will be passing through on tour. For example, on September 6, Jacksonville will be hosting a World Cup qualifier game between the U.S. vs. Trinidad and Tobago.
- Go to a pub and watch a match on the big screen. Most European style pubs will typically show major soccer games and drinking with a rowdy crowd is great for cultural immersion. Lynch’s Irish Pub in Jax Beach typically shows big games.
2. Get up and Play!
While soccer may not be mainstream in the U.S., it’s still very popular among ethnic communities (especially Hispanic communities). Seek out cultural clubs and associations who might have recreational teams. A good place to start is the Jacksonville Sportsplex on Phillips Highway, they offer pick up games for indoor soccer.