Watching The Game of Soccer

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As a youth soccer player my coaches would often ask, did anyone watch the game last night?! I would sheepishly remain as still as possible, hoping they would not notice that I had zero clue what game they were talking about. The truth is, I did not start watching soccer until age 14. I grew up with non-soccer playing parents and the weekends were meant for watching the Patriots, not Manchester United. It was not until I decided on my goals of playing soccer in college that I ever really thought about watching the game. I can honestly say, that decision changed the trajectory of my career for the better. 

In America, we grow up watching basketball, baseball, hockey, American football. Culturally those are our go-to sports for entertainment. While there certainly has been a recent wave of soccer watching fans, the majority of Americans still choose to watch other sports. In contrast, Europeans are born watching soccer. While that is a bit of an exaggeration, my experiences playing abroad confirm that Europeans watch the game much more than Americans do. Each person has their team, perhaps it was chosen for them by their family or perhaps they chose the team themselves. Regardless, they support their team with great passion and tribalism. My teammates overseas knew every single player in the league, nevermind just their favored team! While a preference in entertainment seemed like a small difference, I began to notice differences on the pitch as well. My teammates were gaining a huge advantage simply by watching the game. 

It is without a doubt that we have all been told to watch the game, but have we ever really been told the “why”? While there are many reasons to watch, I have boiled it down to three Ideas, Patterns, and Passion. When we watch others play soccer, we gather new ideas. When I would watch Tobin Heath play, I would learn about three new 1v1 moves per game! When I would watch Kim Little play, I would learn new runs out of the midfield. Even now I am learning new ideas on defensive positioning from players like Lena Oberdorf. To watch the game is to gain more ideas to be used on the pitch. Another benefit to watching the game is recognizing patterns of play. When we are on the pitch ourselves, we often have a very narrow view of the game. Essentially, we think about ourselves. While watching the game from your couch, you are able to see an expanded version of the game. You can identify formations, the movement of players, as well as successful passing patterns. Watching the game expands our view so when we step on the pitch, we can bring that vision with us. Lastly, watching the game brings us passion that can be used on the pitch. Some days, you might not have the energy to give it your all. When you watch the game, when you fervently support a team, you can tap into that energy and use it to support you. When I am in the late stages of a game and my legs are crying out, I remember Abby Wambach’s overtime goal in the 2011 World Cup. Although it was not me scoring that goal, the memory of watching it and the emotions I felt, give me the energy to finish off my match with intensity. Watching the game gives you a significant advantage on the pitch in terms of your ideas, your vision, and your energy.

To begin reaping the benefits of watching soccer, it is very simple- pick a team, learn the players’ names and plop yourself down on the couch for game time. There are, however, some tricks to really get the most out of watching a match. Look for formations throughout the match. Is your team playing a 4-3-3 to start? Do they change throughout the match? What formation is the other team playing? Watch a player who plays in your position. What are they doing when they do not have the ball? In what area of the pitch are they receiving most of their passes? There are so many details that we can pick up from watching the game and it is something I wish I started doing much earlier in my career. Happy watching!

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