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Why Americans Don't Get Soccer

monty python foot Why Americans Don't Get Soccer

To most Americans, feet are a very foreign object. Americans use their hands in American football, basketball, baseball and even ice hockey. Those ten toes are good for running, but that’s about it. It’s no wonder that most American children are raised to correlate sporting prowess with the ability to master the use of one’s hands.

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the obvious, but one of the major reasons why soccer hasn’t caught on with the mainstream in the United States is because of this major difference. If you talk to some neanderthal Americans, some of them will raise this difference and will laugh at the notion of using feet instead of hands.

It makes you wonder what Americans use their feet for, other than walking.

Sitting in a waiting room recently, a woman next to me dropped her cellphone. As we both noticed it falling, in what seemed like slow motion, I quickly moved my leg out to cushion the blow and prevented it from smashing to pieces against the stone floor. To me, it was a typical soccer move, bringing the “ball” under control. But if I was American and brought up on a hefty diet of the gridiron, I wouldn’t know what to have done to save it. My feet would have been stuck motionless.

Americans must think that using feet is like a novelty item you’d find in a carnival or circus. They stand in amazement when feet are used to accomplish anything other than walking. Then they laugh about it, and return to normalcy the day after.

Why is it do you think that American sports refrain from using feet other than running? Was this by design or by accident? Click the comments link below and let us know.

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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

30 Responses to Why Americans Don't Get Soccer

  1. patrick says:

    I don't think it has anything to do with feet v hands. But rather the American need to feel separate and evolved. I mean that in a good way. In American football you score a touchdown. Clearly a term from rugby. Baseball is just evolved rounders, basketball netball. Hockey is the only international sport, and yet that holds an audience not that much larger then soccer.

    In the States, football is king, but in urban centers where the next wave of Americans brings with them a love of futbol, you see the baseball diamonds replaced with soccer pitches. But, for soccer to be a major sport, like anything American, it has to evolve in its own organic way.

    This isn't to say that we'll pick up the ball and punch it like the Irish. The traditional way of thinking is for soccer to really evolve in the US is if TV starts showing it more. NASL flirted with the idea of quarters for TV breaks. When the US hosted World Cup, they started the concept of running on screen TV banner ads during matches. Network talking heads openly talked about how they could show matches and make it economically feasible. But clearly with in game banners flashing away, etc. this has become moot. Just look at the EPL, the don't seem to have a problem with ad monies.

    But really, the real way that the US adopts the worlds game is to adopt a world view. We still believe we can go about defeating anyone alone and our views carry the moral high ground. Politics aside, the election of Obama does suggest that the country is at the very least leaning in the direction of at least wanting to listen to the world. And with every child in the country getting his or her introduction to sport with soccer. The ground work is there already.

    Is it Becks and Henry and other past peak world stars coming here that will push the envelope. Or perhaps is it top clubs playing more games here. or just a change in the cultural inclination of Americans… or is it that we have reached our saturation point of sport. Whatever it is, soccer will never be an American sport, and will always have a certain section to provide the blowback. MSL won't be the one to crack it. Perhaps the EPL gets smart and starts a showing games over here live via the internet. live with ads support… That is the sort of thing you have to do to break into a market. and it is the next wave.

  2. jm says:

    I'm not sure I agree with the premise of the article that using one's feet is a novelty to Americans (indeed, your reaction to save the phone seems like the perfectly obvious and natural response to an American like myself). I think it is a novelty within the sporting context, but this is merely a consequence of the fact that soccer is considered a novelty sport.

    As a consequence, I'm not sure it is playing much of a causal role in soccer's unpopularity. I'm not sure people are turned off by the fact that people use their feet, but rather they are turned off for other reasons and diagnose it by pointing to obvious features of the game. It seems silly because the game strikes some people as silly, and thus the individual features seem silly.

    In support of this interpretation I'd point to the steadily growing youth interest in soccer. It has become a very popular sport for kids, who have no cultural hang ups about the game or using one's feet. It's the older generation, and the kids they directly influence, who dislike the sport for whatever reason that harp on silly accusations like “use their feet” or “it's boring.”

  3. NJ says:

    I think feet are a very valuable tool in all American sports. You will see and hear from the great NBA, NFL, Baseball, and NHL, that a key to their abilities is not only their hand eye coordination but their footwork. This is especially evident in basketball, that even though it is a very hand oriented game, you can not be successful without great footwork. Perhaps this is the reason that there is alot of love between soccer and NBA athletes. They understand the need to move your feet.

  4. Stevo says:

    Another smashing article by the Gaffer. Get over yourself. Soccer never caught on in America because we are no good at it. WHy don't other countries play baseball? Because they are too occupied with other sports. America is just now getting into soccer and in maybe 10-15 years we could actually be competitive at it. And anyway, soccer is the ONLY sport that really uses the feet for anyting other than running, so to say that Americans dont use their feet in sports is dumb. Are the feet used in Cricket? No. Are they used in Curling? No. These sports are also unpopluar in America. Honestly, you write some of the worst stuff i have ever read. Please stop.

  5. tyduffy says:

    I don't think there is a natural aversion to foot usage. I think it's more that when the two versions of football came over here, we preferred the one where violently pummeling each other is encouraged. I think that is a more telling about the American psyche.

  6. Gloval says:

    I agree with Stevo to an extent. Football (Soccer) will eventually become a major sport here in the US. Just look at the numbers of people going to and watching MLS games. Every year the number goes up by 10-20%. In time, with a steady growth, it will catch up to and perhaps surpass other sports. I'm not saying that it will one day replace American Football but to say flat out that it won't is myopic and close minded. Wasn't all that long ago we said we would never have a black president.

    As for bringing EPL games to the US, that is already done. With most cable and satellite cable services you can get FoxSoccer which shows about 60% of the games each week. If you have DirectTV you can get Setanta also and get all games almost every week.

    Football is the largest and most watched sport on the planet. It is only a matter of time before we, Americans, get on that band wagon. With Bob Bradly at the US National Team helm we are currently a decent contender on the World Field so only time will tell. Maybe 2010 we can finally get out of the qualifying round of the World Cup.

  7. Phil McThomas says:

    >> “It makes you wonder what Americans use their feet for, other than walking.”

    And let's face it, Americans are not exactly renowned for their love of walking….

  8. Why hasn't handball taken off then?

  9. eplnfl says:

    Gaffer:

    In all the posts over the 3 years I have been following your posts this one is the strangest! Did you eat something strange before you went to bed and had bad dreams about American's and feet, step on a nail, or stub your toe. I have practiced Ju-Jutsu for over twenty years and can choke someone with my feet! True, and proof that American's do not fear use of their feet. The relative lack of interest until recently in America in soccer has nothing to do with feet but everything to do with the American experience. The New World would have it's own sports and until globalization took hold soccer remained basically unknown. Thank cable TV and the internet and leave the feet alone!

  10. Django says:

    Seriously, this is bad. What's the point?

  11. I Me My says:

    An interesting take! Wonder what a Michael Phelps or even a Michael Jordan would have to say about this… Also, why would Beckham want to join 'hands' with a 'foot challenged' nation, hehe

    American lovingly refer to soccer players as 'foot fairies'! They make magic with their feet; …wonder if that means they 'can't' use their hands…

  12. winstongator says:

    I've done that same move to 'catch' a falling object and only played 3 years of soccer growing up, vs 25 years and counting playing baseball. And for the record, a large portion of Latin America plus Japan are rabid baseball areas – just look at a major league roster.

    There is a misconception about the popularity of sports and only looking at TV popularity and not at actual participation. If you look at adult amateur sports I'd wager there's a lot more soccer & baseball than football, and virtually no full-pad football, mostly flag.

    One of my preferences of soccer over football on tv is the continuous action. Football is 5-10 seconds of action out of each minute, while to stay with a soccer match, you need to pay more attention. Football lends itself more to the 'tailgating is more important than the game' much more so than soccer does.

  13. Raza says:

    It's a strange correlation you make which I don't get at all. It's not popular because they've always had their own popular sports and for soccer to make in roads into this nation, will undoubtedly take some time, simple as that really.

  14. Kyle says:

    Patrick wrote:

    “But really, the real way that the US adopts the worlds game is to adopt a world view. We still believe we can go about defeating anyone alone and our views carry the moral high ground. Politics aside, the election of Obama does suggest that the country is at the very least leaning in the direction of at least wanting to listen to the world. And with every child in the country getting his or her introduction to sport with soccer. The ground work is there already.”

    I'm so sick of this nonsense. You know soccer and rugby were different varations on the same types of ball games being developed at the elite boys schools in England, right? (It's called rugby after the set of rules written down by the Rugby School, that allowed for carrying of the ball).

    The folks who came over from England that introduced rugby to the East Coast colleges did a better job organizing and selling their variant than the folks who brought soccer over. And, huge shock, being an ocean away from Europe in the 1800s led to a different evolution of rugby/soccer/etc, just as happened in Australia.

    This all comes down to historical accident. Soccer had it's opportunities but never really organized collegiately as well as American football did, or professionally as well as baseball did.

    We share a border with just two countries, and they're two very large countries, and we're a very large country. And we weren't the dominant power in the world in the 1800s. What cracks me up, is the reason football is the world's game is that Englishmen were carrying it with them as they spread out around the globe. They introduced it to Europe, and South America, and Africa. Patrick displays his ignorance by claiming our imperial nature is what blocks soccer from taking hold in the United States, when it was England's imperial nature that spread it across the globe.

    Focus on 1900s America's sphere of influence, Latin America and Asia sans China, and you'll see where our empire spread the gospel of baseball. It's the most popular sport in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. Seeing as soccer has had a good century's head start, I'd say baseball is doing damn well.

    The second ever baseball world cup is taking place this coming March with 16 nations competing. The Pittsburgh Pirates this week just signed the first two players from India (watch your back, Cricket). Australia and the Netherlands are now producing professionals in MLB, the world's top league (as well as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan).

    And I have no problem calling it soccer. It always cracks me up when the British tabloids make fun of us for using that term, when its not our term, its their term, and was a name for the game when they exported it to us.

    This stuff is all about historical accident and timing, and has a lot to do with how isolated our continent was in the 1800s with the prohibitive time and cost of trans-Atlantic travel, long before there was television or radio. Save the liberal self loathing of American culture.

  15. AtlantaPompey says:

    I use my feet all the time. I used them just yesterday to grab the remote off of the coffee table. No, seriously. My wife says I'm weird. She's right.

  16. David Zachery says:

    I'm a soccer loving American and I appreciate the fact that there's no timeouts in soccer to stop the momentum of an attacking side as there is in Basketball, for example. I wish more Americans would see/appreciate the strategies and subtleties in soccer.

  17. Alex says:

    Stevo – I've got news for you. America is now second-rate at every sport, except those where African-Americans excel such as basketball. Even boxing has declined as kids now go where the easy money is i.e. American football. Baseball is also dominated by Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, and US tennis has gone down the pan. These failures probably explain why football is more popular than ever as it is the one sport the US dominates as they only play against each other yet label themselves World Champions!!

  18. Weston says:

    Interesting post – makes perfect sense.

    What I think a lot of people are missing is that football is actually hugely popular here as a youth sport (especially here in Wisconsin), so the disconnect is not within the youth systems, but rather with a professional league that has yet to fully develop.

    The southern half of the States has the latin/Mexican influence that keeps soccer popular, whereas here in the midwest, the largely German/European heritage has rooted soccer pretty firmly. Now if we just could get the MLS to sprout out to more cities and get more games on national TV, it would only be a matter of time (and good marketing).

  19. Robbie says:

    Americans are closed minded. Need we remember the Roman Empire. It had its glory. Spread from Gibraltar to Judea, from North Africa to Britania. It spread itself to thin and reaped its own demise. Its only a matter of time before we see the global shift turn to China and India. With Premier League teams playing more preseason matches in Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, Torkyo, Beijing and Tokyo, no wonder they have more fans (and it has nothing to do with population). The Japanese back in 1992 were laughing at the prospects of a professional football league (its not called soccer) in Japan, the J-League. Now its the most successful and lucrative football league in Asia. And with back to back Asian Champions League wins by my Urawa Reds and now Ghamba Osaka shows how an open mind can change the view of the world sport. Now in Japan, tv ratings for football have surpassed those of baseball. Luckily I live Toronto ,Canada, (and travel to and from Japan) the most muliticultural city in the world. Football is everywhere. We have everybody from almost every country on the globe and that adds to the public eye of football. I walk in Toronto (not just to my MAN U supporters club) and I can find someone who can name all the teams in the top leagues in Europe. We even have a supporters club for St. Etienne from Ligue1 in France. We have a ton of supporters club and knowledgable people who are encyclopedia's of the worlds game. And for you Americans out there I say remember the Roman the Empire. And just a side bar for you south of the 44, Japan isn't part of Hawaii. Long live the world sport, football. Hey Gaffer I thought neanderthal americans were extinct. lol. Good artcile Gaffer. Cheers m8!

  20. Mustafa says:

    I don't think it's about feet and hands, Americans just don't like soccer, and I don't know why. I call it football because i play it with my foot, so why they call it soccer???

  21. Auslander says:

    We call it soccer, because that is our word for the sport. It's the same thing as calling España Spain or Côte d'Ivoire the Ivory Coast. It isn't derogatory, it's just language. Hopefully Esperanto will catch on so we won't have these differences anymore

  22. todd says:

    I'm an American that loves football (soccer) more than all other sports combined. I can tell you exactly the problem most of my friends that don't love football have with the game – feigning injury. This is something altogether foreign to the American sport psyche. There is certainly diving in American sport, but there is no embellishment in terms of the injury that might or might not have been caused. In fact, it's quite the opposite. American sport fans have a huge issue with this in world football.

  23. John Kosmina says:

    They call it soccer because ENGLISH public school boys in the 19th century shortened its full name which is “Association football”. Go read for yourself:
    http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~pstone/why.html

    It is deliciously ironic that the English get so upset about Americans, Australians and others calling the game soccer when it was they who invented the word. I encourage you to remind an Englishman of this fact at every opportunity. It drives them mad.

  24. Rogery says:

    I’m English and that’s true! It’s just that ‘soccer’ has fallen out of use and football or footie (usually by women) is used in England now. Soccer is an abbreviation of part of the word Association, the assocation of clubs that drew up the first set of rules of the Football Assocation, hence Association Football.

    THe association wanted a single set of rules and banned certain things used in other (many and varied) individual club rules including handling of the ball.

    Those clubs that continued handling developed into Rugby Union Football. A schism developed between amateur and professionalism and the professionals broke way to form the Rugby Football League. It’s this form of football that’s closest to American Football (but not that close!).

    Other forms of football are Gaelic Football and Australian Rules Football. But they’re all descended from football in it’s original form.

    23 todd

    Feigning of injury and rolling around on the floor like they’ve been shot sickens everyone.

  25. Footballer says:

    Auslander: Big difference when you give your other excuses (examples). The USA speaks English (supposedly). So therefore why do you stubbornly refuse to acknowledge football as football. It is the most asinine thing.

    Football haters are understandable when they call football by that ridiculous word. But supposed football fans? You just embarrass yourself when you bow down to the gridiron world and let them claim the name of the world’s oldest and most popular team sport, football.

    I’m sick of Americans’ excuses. The sport is football. If you can’t acknowledge that, then get the hell away from me.

  26. justin tv says:

    I’m sick of Americans’ excuses. The sport is football. If you can’t acknowledge that, then get the hell away from me.

  27. Dave G says:

    Living in the states 19 years….and still call it “football…real football” and am usually asked with a wry smile “so what do you call our sport”…..easy…its American Football
    simpulzzzzz!
    http://www.comparethemeerkat.com

  28. bishop says:

    americans don`t like football because the sport is played by the whole world,meaning they can`t call it a world series just like american football and baseball when its only american teams that compete, also in american football the foot is rarely used and in the proper and apropriatly named by the rest of the world game of football in which the foot is primarely used.
    I find it strange when americans laugh at us and say portray us as weak when rugby players wear helmets minimal protection and the soft ass american football players wear helmaets ,pads and jock straps (who’s the soft ones?)

  29. Jessica says:

    First off…i wan’t to mention the name of the game shouldn’t be a huge issue. I have lived in the states my entire life. I call the game soccer, football and real football depending on who i am talking to. The foot thing is not even worth a comment…but i would also like to mention womens soccer is huge in the U.S….I would also like to mention womens soccer is a lot bigger in the U.S kust look at the womens national team.

    I think the reason soccer (yes i said it) is not as big is many americans have never watched a full game…they don’t understand it so they don’t bother with it. I don’t play soccer. I fell in love with it when i attended a MLS game…Now i am a huge Man U fan and watch football on foxsoccerchannel all the time. When i mention football to others they say its boring people never score. They don’t understand why it’s such a great game…they just don’t understand..Its getting bigger though…footballsoccerrealfootbal is getting bigger and soon we will be able to compete nationally a lot better.

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