We’ve Won the WWC Again…Let’s build on it

U.S. Women hoist 2015 Women's World Cup

Awesome! Not only did U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) bring home the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but they set records for number of viewers each game from about the round of 16 on…each game had more than the last.

Foxsports.com: Women’s World Cup Final seen by 26.7 million  in U.S.

Now, let’s see if we can keep momentum/interest in the women’s game going this time. The last time they won it, in 1999, the WUSA formed up and failed, followed by a couple more attempts to have a league. The latest league, the NWSL is based on a different structure that should be more sustainable, but it takes fans. It takes fans going to games and campaigning to have the league’s games broadcast on channels that aren’t hidden away in the bowels of the cable-only lineup.

I have high hopes for the growth, the enduring growth of soccer in the USA, especially in the women’s game.

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The Courage of a Referee

For those who aren’t aware, The Women’s World Cup 2015 kicked off yesterday.

This morning I was listening to the repeat of last night’s “World Cup Tonight” and it’s apparent that Alexi Lalas truly has no understanding of how referees call a game. He also marked himself as the kind of idiot who helps turn crowds against referees.

To his questioning of someone labeling that referee courageous:  Of course it took guts for the referee to make that PK call in the Canada/China game. Why?  Because she knew stoppage time was running out and that making that call would likely change the outcome of the game. She also knew that blowhards like Lalas would be jumping out of their chairs complaining.  BUT, she made the call anyway…because it was absolutely a foul and clearly in the box.

Lalas argued that there’s a bigger picture to look at.  There’s really not.  It doesn’t matter if a team sucks all game long, finally manages to get into the opponents penalty area, gets taken down (fouled), scores the PK, and wins the game.  You can argue that they didn’t “deserve” it…that the other team was the better team.  Referees don’t take that into account.  They make the calls based on each situation, each incident, each foul.

The referees for the World Cup have been working their trade for years, assessed over and over, and almost assuredly have more games under their belts than Lalas has TV appearances showing his ass.  These referees have proven themselves over and over to be of the highest quality, and to be afraid to apply the Laws of the Game because “it’s the World Cup” would not only be a disservice to the players in that game, but to the game itself.

Will controversial calls make headlines and give fidiots like Lalas things to talk about to fill air time?  Sure.  Will some players be called offside who weren’t and some offside calls get missed?  I’d bet on it.  Will there be cards shown to players that some will cheer while others boo?  Of course.  Will referees make more favorable calls for the “home team”?  I certainly hope not.  Does it take courage to make the right call that (probably) directly affects the outcome of the game?  Absolutely!

Deflategate: Does the punishment fit the crime?

There are probably not many folks who know me who don’t know that I don’t like Tom Brady, but if I’m being honest, this is a crock of crap.  They found nothing concrete, nothing specific, that said “Tom Brady said to deflate the balls” or “Tom Brady saw the balls being deflated and gave a thumbs up” or anything of the sort.  They inferred from texts, not his, that he likely had a general idea that something wasn’t right…and from this he gets a 4 game suspension.  I have no problem with the fine for the team or the loss of draft picks.  I hope the basis for the suspension was heavily on the side of not cooperating with the investigation and much less due to it being “‘more probable than not’ that Brady was ‘at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities'”.

The article:  Patriots’ Tom Brady suspended 4 games

It’s Not a Hand Ball…or my beef with what coaches teach our young soccer players

I love soccer.  I think we’ve established that through previous posts over the past few years.  I’ve played most of my life, coached for about ten years, and reffed for about eight months now. Recently, I agreed to get back into coaching club (travel/select) soccer.  As you can see, I’ve seen the sport from many perspectives.

Playing and coaching have led to a number of the observations to follow, but reffing has really brought clarity to how widespread some of these are.

The biggest misnomer in the sport has got to be the “hand ball.”  Everytime the ball makes contact with a hand, the players, coaches, and fans of the opposing team cry out “hand ball” and expect the referee to blow the whistle and award them a free kick.  First, the free kick is for “handling”.  This means there’s more to it than hand and ball making contact.  The position of the hand in respect to the body is a big factor, including motion of the hand after contact.  Another factor is the play itself.  Did the player have time, in the opinion of the referee, to move his hand out of the ball’s path.  Intentionally handling the ball, obviously, is a violation.  Yelling “hand ball” isn’t going to make a referee call it.  Play until you hear a whistle.

“I got the/all ball!”  This is another of those cries that’s supposed to make a ref not award a free kick to the fouled player’s team and, hopefully, prevent receiving a caution or send off from the referee.  Whether the player actually gets the ball or makes first contact with the ball may be a factor in the referee’s decision to simply award a free kick or to caution or send off the offending player, but it isn’t the deciding factor.  The direction from which the tackle came, the force used in the tackle, and the follow through weigh heavily on the decision.  The player can make what she thinks is a clean tackle that gets the ball, and then watch the rest of the game from the parking lot if the referee thinks the tackle was reckless.

Another cautionable offense that is actually taught by some coaches is standing in front of the ball to prevent the team awarded a free kick from taking a quick restart.  The Laws of the Game provide a 10 yard radius from the spot of the ball which defenders are to vacate and not enter until the ball is back in play.  Nowhere does it say that the kicking team must ask for the 10 yards.  If a defender plants himself in front of the ball to “direct his teammates” or tie her shoe, the ref can caution the player.  Do yourselves a favor and move back from the ball and coaches, don’t tell your players to get in front of it.  Some refs are real sticklers for this and will caution a player with little or no warning.

There are, of course, other fouls and violations that players and coaches often don’t quite understand.  Maybe I’ll talk about some of them later. For today, though, just remember that the referee is the authority on the pitch and different referees have different aspects of the game that they enforce more tightly than others.  Play within the laws of the game, show good sportsmanship, and respect the referees and their decisions.

Play to the whistle!

Too stupid to stop

I’m a soccer nut, as I’ve written about before.  Play it, coach it, watch it, and now ref it.  And I don’t let minor injuries get in my way.  I strained my hamstring back in March/April.  I might have skipped one or two of the lunchtime games before I was back on the pitch.  I tried to keep my work rate lower.  I didn’t go full speed after balls…mostly.  I didn’t try to explode away from folks or chase them down…mostly.  Gradually, my hammy has gotten better.  It’s still not one hundred percent.  If I hadn’t been too stupid to properly rest it, I’d likely be at full strength by now.

Last week, in the gym, I made the mistake of doing the Nautilus overhead press. Now, I know that my body doesn’t like that machine so I used light weight on it.  Didn’t matter.  Something about that motion on that machine pinches something or forces my muscles to work harder than they should.  Walked away from one set with a pain in my left trapezius.  Because I didn’t push it, though, the pain faded by the end of the day.  Monday, I skipped soccer due to a bruise on the bottom of my foot and hit the gym.  I got into the Nautilus upright bench press and craned my head around to the right when the guy at the desk said something to me. Ow!  Left trap screamed at me.  I wasn’t even pushing anything at that time.  I finished my workout, mostly cardio.  Too stupid to stop…yep.

It’s Wednesday now and the pain is less and I can move my neck more without pain, but here I am, back at the gym.  Not smart enough to stop, but I avoided any exercises that would have any work for the trap…well, except seated rows…and I went light.  Trap actually feels a bit better after the light work and getting warmed up.

Note that I’m composing this from a stationary bike, which means I was smart enough to skip soccer today.

“I Have Faith” – A quote by James Brown

I found the following quote on my Starbucks cup years ago and liked it so much that I copied it down on a little note paper.  The other day, while cleaning out junk in the garage, I found the little piece of paper and decided to share the quote.

I have faith.  Faith in our wondrous capacity for hope and good, love and trust, healing and forgiveness.  Faith in the blessings of our infinite ability to wonder, question, pray, feel, think and learn.  I have faith.  Faith in the infinite possibilities of the human spirit.  -James Brown, sportscaster

I think it’s interesting that I came across this quote again during the Olympics, a world-wide sporting event that brings together nations and their athletes to showcase not just the athletic prowess of the individuals and teams, but also the ability of people who may not get along to behave in a civil manner toward each other, to live and compete respectfully, humanely, for a couple of weeks every four years.

Sporting events provide great insight into the human spirit.  They provide a look at the level of dedication it takes to train, grueling hours spent practicing, perfecting.  They provide a look at perseverance, pushing forward when there is almost no chance of winning, when the first instinct is to quit…yet we continue on with a never say die attitude.  Sports also show us that two or more people can struggle against each other for extended periods, sometimes pounding on one another to try to knock each other out, yet embrace once the final bell rings or whistle blows in mutual respect for each other.

Sometimes we see those who go against the spirit of competition and respect, willfully trying to injure or ridicule others, before, during or after the event.  Frequently, those individuals are called out by others in their sport, sometimes on their team, and told that such behavior is not acceptable.  Unfortunately, in this day and age, as long as the bad behavior makes the event exciting, there are too many fans who turn a blind eye or who cheer the player on, allowing them to continue to feel good about themselves when they really need admonishment.

I too have faith, James Brown.  Faith that the majority of humans still have most of their humanity left.  Faith that we will get through the difficult times facing the world.  Faith that, one day, mankind will decide we are, collectively, more interested in helping our fellow man than we are in advancing our own cause.

Okay…that last one may have been pushing it a little, but you get my point….here’s Get Together by The Youngbloods

Put It All On The Line – Olympic Memories

The 27th Olympic Summer Games officially opens tomorrow night.  That’s almost assuredly going to be a star-studded, grand affair in the competition to see if the host nation, England, can out-celebrate the athletes.

While that’s the official Opening Ceremony, many athletes have already started competing.  For instance, the United States Women’s National [Soccer] Team (USWNT) already beat France 4-2 in their Olympic opener.  I’m hoping they can restart the championship era for US women’s soccer that brought about the best womens professional soccer league in the world.  Let’s bring home the gold, ladies.  We’re behind you.

Thinking back on their gold medals, brings other great summer games olympians, some controversial, most beloved.  [I may be a bit biased so most of these names will be Americans.] Track & Field giants like Jesse Owens, Michael Johnson (and his gold shoes), Bruce JennerCarl Lewis, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos,  diver Greg Louganis, gymnasts Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton, and the “Dream Team” of 1992.

One of the most amazing stories still going is that of Michael Phelps.  Over the past two Summer Games, he has totaled 16 medals, 14 of them gold, and 8 of those coming in the 2008 games, where he won every event in which he competed.  One, by just one one-hundredth of a second.  A win used in one of my favorite Visa ads.  Let’s see if he can increase that gold medal count in London.  Swim hard, Michael!

Now, to my favorite Olympic moment ever.  Maybe it’s because I was sitting on my couch, watching the live broadcast of the women’s gymnastics team all-around competition when it happened, but probably not.  Maybe it was the suspense because the first Team All-around gold for the US Women came down to one last vault…that’s part of it.  Watch the clip, then I’ll tell you the full reason.

What made this moment so special?  Kerri Strug, known really only to those in the gymnastics world and maybe folks who follow Olympic gymnastics, with the pressure of the gold medal riding on her vault, injured her foot in the first vault.  She could have quit there and most people wouldn’t have given her grief.  She had just suffered a legitimate injury.  But Kerri Strug showed us what makes a true champion…it wasn’t that she landed the gold-winning vault on her second vault.  It was that she fought through the pain, sprinted down the mat, potentially doing more damage to herself, and did her second vault.  She put it all on the line!  She showed the heart of a lion.  I had tears in my eyes as she stuck the landing, picking her injured foot up while raising her arms, then collapsing to the mat.  Awesome!!

I could ramble on for another paragraph or so about why that moment was so special, but this clip from Vision Quest sums it up very succinctly.
To all the olympians out there, not just the Americans, whatever your sport, I wish you good luck.  This may be your only “six minutes” so put it all on the line.  You’ve worked hard to get where you are and we’re celebrating you, even as we cheer for your competitors.

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