I blame soccer (teamwork) | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

A Pragmatist's Take

By Douglas Moran

E-mail Douglas Moran

About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

View all posts from Douglas Moran

I blame soccer (teamwork)

Uploaded: Mar 28, 2015
A society's values can be seen in the games its children play (to a lesser extent for adults). Games embody values?what skills and knowledge are important?and make learning and improvement fun. This ancient principle has recently acquired a name, "gamification". The games that children are encouraged to play not only reflect a society's values, but reinforced them: The children most successful at the games acquire status, becoming more likely to become the next generation of leaders, in which role they will promote the games that emphasize their values?

"Russians play chess; Americans play checkers" is a saying that probably dates back to the early years of the Cold War, but is still in use. The analogy was to point out the Russian leadership had been trained to think many moves ahead, and to consider the complex interactions of game pieces that had different capabilities and strengths. And that the US leadership routinely failed badly in this regard.(foot#1) But an routinely overlooked consequence of this analogy is that the Russian populace expects this of their leaders, and the US populace doesn't.(foot#2)

Although it will only slowly emerge, this blog entry is a follow-up to an earlier one on Neighborhood Associations, and more generally on what it means to be a community. This will not be a discussion of the pros-and-cons and relative merits of specific games: pointless and over-discussed elsewhere. Nor is it about games as played at "elite" or otherwise "selective" levels (such as varsity for major high school athletics). Nor watching games. This is to spur parents to think about the cumulative effects of the range of games that their children are playing.

So, why I am "picking on" soccer in my title that I intend to be an attention-grabber? Because when I talk to parents?neighbors and relatives and friends both here and elsewhere?what they see as the primary benefit of soccer is "exercise", and unquestionably it is superior to many of the other traditional childhood sports in that area. I don't remember a single parent mentioning "teamwork" in conjunction with soccer. In my experience when I got pulled in to help friends-and-family with practices, almost all the time was spent on individual skills. The teamwork was trivial, and what they would have encountered and mastered years younger if playing a sport such as basketball, football, or volleyball. Most kids I know have moved on from soccer before reaching the level where non-trivial teamwork becomes a factor. (And soccer is hardly alone in this)

Let me propose what I will call "The Picnic Tests" for sports as played by the typical child. You are at a large scale picnic or similar outing, and the decision is made to play one of these sports.
? Test 1 is how are teams formed: Is it enough to simply try to balance individual skill levels, or do the players try to team up with those they have experience playing with?
My experience: soccer is the former, and the basketball-football-volleyball sports are the later.
? Test 2: For an adult unfamiliar with many of the children playing, can s/he spot those that have history?
? Test 3: Does teamwork contribute to the effectiveness or success of the teams?

Although you can learn about the principles of teamwork from books, seminars and the like, that won't make you an effective teamplayer. Teamwork is about a lot of "micro-transactions"?it needs to be so well practiced that it is a reflex and ingrained in your personality/character. Most of the time, you don't have time to think about what to do. In many ways, its like learning to throw a ball overhand. Games?athletic and otherwise?tend to be your only opportunity to get the amount of practice needed to acquire these abilities.

Let me begin with examples from basketball, since we are in its tournament season. And rather than discuss it in the manner that kids are coached, I will use the perspective of a Silicon Valley adult. When a team is on offense, the top priority of the players who don't have the ball is to support the ball-handler in taking the risks needed to score, or at least get the team in a better position to score. This risk mitigation starts with providing him with a safe alternative should the risks get too high, that is, someone to pass to should he be too well defended. The next part is failure mitigation: If he shoots and misses, be prepared for the rebound, and should the other team get the ball, be positioned to prevent the easy score. The second priority is to improve the ball-handler's chances of success, using various techniques to weaken the defense. The lowest priority is to put yourself in a position to become the next ball-handler, and thus potential scorer. Again, players don't think in these terms?they don't have the time. Rather, these judgments and values are embedded at a much lower level of their thinking.

Similarly for risk/failure mitigation when a team is on defense: A player can take high-payoff risks if he has confidence in his teammates reactions.

One of the bizarre experiences of living in Silicon Valley is all the shills for "entrepreneurship" who preach taking risks as purely positive. Do these shills come from such privileged backgrounds that they are shielded from negative consequences and so far removed from mitigation measures that they are oblivious to them? Regardless, games have long provided children with opportunities to experiment with coping.

--Netscape Implosion--
When Netscape Communications imploded in the late 1990s, a common diagnosis was that Microsoft didn't kill it, but rather that it was at most an assisted suicide. But it wasn't until those former Netscape employees landed in a range of other tech startups that there was a broader sense of how toxic its culture must have been. A common complaint was that these were people for whom "the enemy/competition" were those in the surrounding cubicles rather than their company's competitors. Example expressions of exasperation: "He would rather be the high-scorer on a team that is badly beaten than be on a winning team" and "He is more likely to take the ball/puck away from a teammate than an opponent."(foot#3)

--CEO is not an entry-level position!--
Many of the private responses to my blog on Neighborhood Associations commented that those problems were part of a more general problem with civic activities, that of the difficulty of creating the necessary teams. There were comments about the series of meetings that never got anything done because too many of the participants were unwilling to stay on topic, much less focus on what was important, and there were too few with any passion for driving the discussions to a decision, much less taking action. There were even comments that too many Palo Altans no longer seem to even understand the concept of having a disciplined, purposeful discussion. I anticipate that this phenomenon will be reflected in the comments, for example, seeing a comment based upon disregarding the word "example".

I have "been there" so often that I am thinking maybe it is time to replace the characterization "Herding cats" with "Herding jackrabbits". But for all the appearance of motion from jackrabbits, on the larger time scale there really is little: Despite their speed and quick zigs and zags, hares usually wind up roughly where they started from. So when you take that step back, it isn't all that different from "Herding tortoises".

I hear a related observation from people who have walked away from such activities in utter frustration. A substantial portion of the participants, sometimes a significant majority, were so ill-behaved that they couldn't have been more destructive if they were intentionally trying to sabotage the meeting/activity. While sometimes this is cluelessness, it sometimes seems the participant's primary goal is to establish dominance. And this is not just men, but women as well (sometimes more so).

There were comments about potential volunteers who were willing to lead an activity that they would create, but who were unwilling to join a related activity. So the former never happened and the latter died, both from the inability to reach critical mass. Another type of non-contributing volunteer is the "individual contributor": He creates work for others, but refuses to direct his efforts into something others can readily use.

Symptomatic of this insistence on being "the leader" is the bastardization of the term "CEO", which has a very specific meaning, to apply to the head of even trivial efforts. When someone identifies him/herself as "the CEO" of a group of three part-timers? This seems to be a combination of puffery, vanity/hubris, and simple ignorance. Just an aside?it is off-topic here.

A related metaphor commonly heard, especially from males, is about being "the sharp tip of the spear". This often involves a dismissive attitude about the rest of the metaphorical spear, sometimes openly expressed as "Without the tip, a spear is nothing but a blunt stick." Yes, but without that "blunt stick", that sharp tip is pretty useless, little more than a sharp edge on a modest piece of metal, bone or stone. For a thrown spear, that "blunt stick" causes the "sharp tip" to strike at an optimal angle and provides the momentum needed for it to penetrate. For a thrusting spear, it is the handle that allows force to be applied while providing its wielder the limited protection afforded by separation distance. Belaboring the point in (foot#4)

Note: The childhoods of many of these people described above pre-dated the rise of soccer in the US, invalidating my purported hypothesis (of its being soccer's fault).

Football is interesting because it is contrary to current gamification theory which underlies the design of many modern games, especially computer-based games, and which is being pushed as a way to structure (corporate) work. Most of the members of a football team have no expectation of having even the opportunity to score, and of the individual recognition that comes with that. Thus, there are very different lessons learned and attitudes developed. Part of a player's sense of success comes from the team's success, part comes from recognition from their teammates, and part comes from inside themselves, from knowing how well they did.

Remember, this discussion is about the type of football likely to be played for fun by generic children. However, a useful example from the NFL: Much criticism is directed at pass receivers who "give up on their routes" when they know that the pass isn't coming to them. Casual watchers of football misunderstand this, thinking the player is being criticized simply for lack of enthusiasm or similar, and sympathize with the player for not pointlessly wasting energy. Instead that player failed to perform a crucial task?being a decoy?because it was thankless, and largely invisible. As a decoy, a good wide receiver will not only pull his defender (a cornerback) away from where the ball is going, but also cause another defender (likely a safety) adjust in his direction. At its core, football is about resource allocation, hence the frequent committee meetings (huddles). Causing the opponent to misallocate one additional player?9% of its resources?is a huge advantage.

A major component of many games is the challenge of balancing competing demands or priorities, thereby allowing the game to be fun as you acquire the individual skills. In our current example of football, consider the example of a defensive lineman (DL) The simplistic notion of his role is that he goes after the player with the ball. Offenses love coming up against players who think this way?they are easy to neutralize and defeat. Since the offense has both a plan to neutral him and the initiative, our example DL needs to think of success in other ways. He starts to think of himself as a "disruptor", of the offense's initiative, of its plan, of its back-up plan and of its options to improvise. Instead of making the big play, think about how to tie up more "resources" than the opponent planned to use to neutralize you. Or move to create opportunities for a teammate. But should that opportunity fall to you, so be it.

The well-trained DL will learn that the offense's advantages are such that he will often be overwhelmed, and that an important part of his job is to make it easier for help to arrive faster, and that the offense will be trying to prevent that. A child hasn't grasped the essence of the DL position until he understands that it is both attacking the offense and defending the defense.

Should you expect a player, especially a child, to be able to articulate this? No. To recognize it if you articulate it? Almost certainly not. In fact, expect him to look at you as if you are crazy. But if you watch more experienced children coaching others, you often see strong indications that they know these sort of things.(foot#5)
Recognize that training for critical tasks takes students through a series of stages: knowing what they should do, to doing it "feels right", to "feeling natural", to being simply "what is done" (such as a reflex).

Sports are my examples for learning teamwork because they involve an urgency, commitment and emotion, which is known to enhance learning. You don't get the same effect, or number of repetitions, in many other types of games, or in other activities such as collaborating on a homework assignment.

Volleyball is a very interesting example of a game because of how visibly it values teamwork. The most valued skill, and the one most practiced, is not returning the ball over the net for a potential score, but setting up that return. The second-most appreciated is defense: preventing the other team from scoring and returning the initiative to your teammates.

--Email non-collaboration--
The complaints about the virtual meetings conducted by email are almost as strong as those about physical meetings, and many complaints boil down to observations that the sender have no regard for teamwork, although that word itself rarely comes up. The basic complaint is that the sender seems intent of just getting the email out and does nothing to help the audience deal more efficiently with the message. Even a message going to tens, sometimes hundreds, of people. We all know the phenomenon: You get a email where you are unable to tell whether (1) it is an action item for you, (2) it is a request for information from you, (3) a suggestion, or (4) a random, half-baked thought triggered by the topic, but totally irrelevant to the matter at hand. Such people just don't understand that they should be helping people to help them, and what is signaled by their failure to compose a message that is even vaguely competent.

Or the reverse situation where you send a request saying that you urgently need three simple pieces of information and carefully bullet the message to make it trivial to reply, but the recipient answers only one, but seems to genuinely believe that he has been fully cooperative.

There are certain people that send the group an email saying that the attached document has several interesting points, but doesn't bother to say what or where they are. And the attached document can turn out to be a 200-page report that seems to be routine boilerplate. (foot#6)
Such people seem to want to help the group leverage off what they have done, but seem unable to grasp how ineffective they are: because they continue in the same behavior long after the problem has been repeatedly pointed out to them.

--Nevermind ;-) --
In a "winner take all" economy, "teamplayer" is a category of "loser" (although career-advice articles have long warned against being too much of a teamplayer). Around here, you don't even have to go looking to find examples of talking-over-others being cited as crucial for success. Barely implicit in that is suppressing or usurping the contributions of others.

Parents who want to protect their children from growing up to be teamplayers should recognize that it is still important that they learn about teamwork.
1. Teamwork is not an all-or-nothing skill.
2. An understanding of teamwork helps them more quickly spot the degree of cooperation they can expect from those they are assigned to work with.
3. They might wind up in circumstances where teamwork is valued.
4. If they become full-fledged predators, this understanding helps them distinguish the teamplayers who are easily exploited from those that can be dangerous.

The attitudes developed learning teamwork are also highly transferable to seemingly unrelated areas. For example, take the attitude toward the audience in presentations, both written and oral. It is painfully routine to have a presenter who regards himself as the boss or lecturer or whatever, and all that matters is what he wants to tell the audience. Over my years of working with people on their presentations, there have been many who resolutely resisted the concept of considering how to work with the audience to reach their desired goals. An announcement of a webinar on resume writing reminded me of how many resumes I have read where the applicants gave me no help in deciding whether to seriously consider them.

Worse are the sales pitches by companies that tell me little/nothing about why I should bother spending any more time considering whether to buy their product (actually, their disrespect/obliviousness tells me that I shouldn't consider them). Particularly ill-conceived are pitches by startups that appear to be minor variations of what they gave to potential investors (venture capitalists). I have even seen CEOs of such startups give such pitches at conferences to audiences of hundreds of potential customers. I have to suspect that the startup's executives talked-over the underlings who tried to give them good advice. And the executives will likely have gotten rich, and the underlings' stakes in the company likely got diluted into nothingness. Such is Silicon Valley.

---- Footnotes ----
1. Not playing chess: The recent letter by Senate Republicans to the Iranians on the nuclear negotiations is but a recent example of the US political elite, in both parties, unwilling to put in the time to identify even the immediate, predictable consequences of their actions. Reportedly many signers couldn't even be bothered to give token consideration because it might make them late for their plane out of Washington.

2. Expectation about leaders: A while back, I was reading an article of advice on presenting science to a general population, and one section addressed testimony to Congress and similarly bodies. The author admonished the reader not to think of Congresspeople as stupid and ill-informed, telling them that one-third actually are smart (leaving unsaid what the other two-thirds were).

3. "Competition" can be handled many ways. When I was an undergrad at MIT ('73), my roommate's best friend from high school transferred in from Cornell. I was surprised by his comment that he was amazed at how "relaxed" the environment at MIT was. He was a chemistry major and he said that the competition in that portion of Cornell was beyond toxic because of the grading curve. He said that the most important piece of lab equipment was a box to use if you needed to leave your bench?for supplies, bathroom break, whatever?because even a briefly unattended experiment was prone to be sabotaged. I grew up not-that-far from Cornell (in upstate New York terms: less than an hour's drive, second city "over") and heard enough?including its high rate of suicides?to know that it was a university to be avoided.
Note: school suicides is off-topic in this discussion.

4. Belaboring the critique of "the sharp tip of the spear": The absurdity of the conceit behind this metaphor is provided by the history of the spear itself. After the transition from a sharpened stick to a mounted spearhead, the focus of innovation is on the shaft, and how that interacts with how a spear is used by individuals and groups. For example, the military success of the Macedonians under Alexander the Great came from having spears/pikes that were twice the length of their opponents (the Sarissa).
Furthermore, ask yourself which one you would choose if you had to defend yourself: a spearhead or a long "blunt stick"? I would choose the stick: Spearheads are not designed to be held, and you are more likely to wind up cutting yourself than an attacker.
My understanding is that the origins of this analogy are in the military as a morale device for the units that were going to lead an attack and that needed to keep going despite heavy casualties. It gave purpose to their sacrifice, rather than being a declaration of entitlement and superiority.

5. Coaching (an aside): When I was growing up, none of my best coaches were adults, and most of the adult coaches I encountered I would classify as being less than "good".
There is a learning paradigm called "See one; do one; teach one" based upon the observation that the teaching teaches the teacher much that they didn't realize they didn't know, and that you typically don't have mastery of a topic until you can, and have, taught it.

6. Email, a positive example of collaborative behavior: A friend who is a movie buff sent me a link to the article "Why Did This Movie Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper Go Straight to VOD?", but telling me that for my interests that I probably wanted to go directly to the summary paragraph: "?It's an incompetent movie. ? a bracing reminder of how much expertise goes into making even the most uninspired movie ? how dozens of people with wildly different skill sets all have to perform well or the whole project is imperiled.?"
Aside: Try to reconcile this with Hollywood being a prominent center of income inequality.

An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particular strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", don't be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a Troll, don't waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:58 am

"Games?athletic and otherwise?tend to be your only opportunity to get the amount of practice needed to acquire these abilities." (micro-transactions)

Actually, there are plenty of other ways to acquire aptitude in micro-transactions. Performing arts: theatre, dance, music (orchestra, band, choir, etc.) are a great source of teamwork building. Rehearsals are long. Performances can be very rewarding, but there's no score at the end. The end result is qualitative.

The gamefication concept has become popular in recent years, much of it because the results are quantitative and thus easy to understand amongst a wide group of people whose knowledge of the endeavor may differ wildly.

You also see this type of learning in other kid activities: collaborative artworks, cooking teams, science projects.

The choral ensembles have the ability to scale since you always have your instrument (your voice), This can a larger choir like those performing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as well as works that combine multiple ensembles (children's choirs, adult choirs, etc.). Although a strictly amateur execution, we see this at many athletic events, prior to the start of the action: the singing of the national anthem.

But even skilled singing groups can work together with enormous results. One of the most stunning instances of this is the Tallinn Song Festival, where joint choirs of a combined 30,000 singers perform together. This event is one of UNESCO's Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

So yeah, it's not just games where people learn these concepts.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Really not sure where you are going with this, but I will jump in anyway.

Firstly, if you don't see teamwork in soccer then ask a goalie of the winning team. He is part of the team. If you ask the goalie of the losing team, it is always the goalies fault. Not a true description of the result, but definitely an accurate assessment of the expert (?) talking heads. This is true of the local AYSO games and also professional level.

Secondly, soccer is the one sport that the only piece of equipment needed for a pick up or even semi league game is a ball. In even the poorest African or South American villages, the sport is played on a waste area with make shift goals and often bare feet. The skills of the players do not need helmets, body armor, bats, nets, boots, or anything else.

And yes, soccer is good exercise. Apart from perhaps field hockey and lacrosse, it is probably one of the best team sports to acquire exercise and have fun at the same time.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 3:25 pm

I have lived overseas and can tell football (soccer) is well played past ones childhood. Basic and easy to a community involved and the businesses of that same community.

I lived in Australia where sports can bind people in a community. Some of my best mates played sports with all sorts. Janitors to CEO's, skilled or non skilled, Liberal or Labour, it is amazing what a ball can do.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The first three comments are excellent negative examples of what I was talking about.

1. The first (Jay Park) misses that there is much more to teamwork than being part of a group activity. Take one of Park's examples, an orchestra. If a bass or kettle drum gets in trouble (dropped drum stick, broken drum head), does one of the tubas shift over to provide the missing beats?

Also, many of the group activities have a goal of each participant playing a well-defined role, with unchallenging adaptations to the other participants. In a theatrical play involving 16-year olds, when one actor flubs his lines, do you expect another actor to smoothly fill in? No. The typical advice is for the other actors to just keep going with their own lines. In contrast, in games such as my examples of basketball, football, volleyball..., a 16-year-old teammate covering a flub is so routine and expected that it typically goes unremarked.

This difference between actual teamwork and being a member of a group labeled a "team" is routinely on display in corporate meetings. For example, you will see a person being bullied and none of his "teammates" coming to his/her aid, or providing at most a tepid, ineffectual comment.

2. "Resident": The second part of his comment is that of the "jackrabbit" (see main posting): venturing into what I explicitly declared to be off-topic.
But in the first part, notice that his mention of "teamwork" in relation to a soccer goalie goes no further than being a member of a group designated as a team. All games that I know of with a goalie are designed to disadvantage the goalie, such as making the goal too large to be effectively covered. This is intentional because if a team's defense breaks down so much that the offense is 1-on-1 against the goalie, the offense should be rewarded by having a high probability of scoring. The goalie's true role is to cover the inevitable gaps in the defense plus allowing defenders to take advantageous risks that leave some gaps. The common attitude that "Resident" reports of "It's the goalie's fault" is indicative of not seeing a real team, but a collection of individual performers.

3. "Garrett": Another "jackrabbit". This comment is indicative of the sort of person who a skilled bureaucratic infighter sends into a meeting when he wants it to accomplish nothing, but doesn't want his fingerprints on the failure.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:01 pm

[[Deleted by blogger as redundantly off-topic. Commenter "Resident" took the response that he was off-topic to go even longer off-topic.

His extended discourse on how soccer is played in an impoverished African village had no apparent relevance to what Palo Alto parents should be thinking about in terms of the range of games they should be encouraging their children to play. ...

Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:25 pm

[[Deleted by blogger: Troll.
1. He stated that I made a claim that I specifically disclaimed in the introduction, and that he had *quoted* in his first comment.
2. He cites events that he explicitly characterizes as extremely rare and goes on to have them be so frequent as to create reflexes.

I delete comments from trolls quickly to discourage them from wasting everyone's time

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 8:29 am

Really don't have a clue what this is all about.

I understood the topic to be teamwork and that soccer doesn't teach it.

[[Blogger: I very specifically did not say this. See paragraph 4 "...Most kids I know have moved on from soccer before reaching the level where non-trivial teamwork becomes a factor."

Remainder of post deleted because it is off-topic based on that misunderstanding.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 9:52 am

If you are using this blog to discuss sport and which sport teaches kids the best lessons then first of all you have to look at the benefits of sport as a whole. In affluent Palo Alto you assume that cost is not part of the equation.

[[Blogger: Off-topic: Commenter's primary argument is continued advocacy for soccer because it can be played by the extremely poor.

... The skill level is not just skill with the ball, but skills can be reading the game, reading the strengths/weaknesses of the opposing team as well as reading the skills/weaknesses of your own team and being able to cover for a weaker player. ...

[[Blogger: portion deleted as off-topic because they are about unrelated specifics of soccer. ]]

... The points you make about what lessons sport teaches are much more complicated that you suggest. The lessons are much more than what a team does on the field/pitch/court for the duration of the game. Teamwork is a good lesson to learn from sport, but teamwork has to be defined too. The lessons are much more than teamwork and healthy exercise alone. Learning rules and how to play by them, how to be a good sport to the opposition whether they win or lose, learning how to lose, learning how to treat the player who make the big mistake, team spirit and a myriad other lessons are values of sport. ...

[[Blogger: To assert that an essay that focuses on one aspect of games fails because it isn't "A Theory of Everything" is inappropriate behavior and suggests that the commenter is intent on being belligerent, and thus not deserving of "the benefit of the doubt".

Aside: It's ironic that the commenter trumpets learning to play by the rules, but refuses to play by the rules here.

Posted by Hat Trick, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 12:33 pm

[[Off topic: See paragraph 3 of main post: "This will not be a discussion of the pros-and-cons and relative merits of specific games: pointless and over-discussed elsewhere."

Posted by Lydia Kou, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 1:46 pm

My sport is Volleyball. I played in high school, then coached in Middle School. But, I have also loved and still love Playing ping pong and badminton. Interestingly, in 4th grade I was mostly forced to participate in football (soccer, as America calls it) and baseball.

Let me start with football and baseball, in 4th grade, I attend an American School in the Sudan and just my luck, I was the only girl in that class. Every-time PE came about, the boys all chose soccer or baseball, and as each Captain chose their team-mates, I was the last and went with whichever team that was unlucky enough to have to have me. I was always either goalie or defense when playing football and outfield as far as can be for baseball. So, talking about team-work it was not too much except to be ostracized to somewhere that one is considered as useless. Although, I must say the boys were wrong to think a goalie was of lesser value to the team, that?s where all the points are scored.

Now, volleyball is truly teamwork, 3 hits on a side and the consecutive hit can?t be from the same player. It is each player setting it up for the next and each has to depend on each other and watch and be ready for the move. You have to recognize it. You have to be ready for it. You have to know it. You have to feel it. You have to want it. You have to be selfless. You have to want it for the team! There is no ?I? in volleyball.

Communications is key in team-work. It is fundamental, understanding the signals, knowing what your team-mate?s going to do, feeling confident your team-mate has your back. The relationships are key, transparency and accountability? owning and owing a commitment to each other.

And that?s why the sport of volleyball means so much to me and can teach great lessons in life.

I coached for 5 years and I have had teams that were so in sync it was beautiful, we won mostly because we worked as a team, communicated, had each other?s backs and knew at the end of each game, we had performed at our personal bests. The team that lost the most were made of players who were only about ?I?. In essence, they worked alone to the detriment to everybody else on the team, so that at the end of the day, the team lost and was demoralized due to that those ?I? players.

I mentioned I've played volleyball, as well as ping-pong and badminton. Volleyball a team sport and ping-pong or badminton, which can be ?I? sport or partner sport. Whether team, single or partner, in all endeavors, communication is key.

This translates to corporate world? are you communicating or working in silo?

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Doug Moran is entitled to blog his heart out even if you disagree or agree.

My comment was more about the relationship between sport and the community. Overseas you will find more adult leagues and community support. Semi pro where players work other jobs and spend set amount of time in pratice and play.

The dedication in having to raise a family, hectic work life amd others being dependent on being a good teammate. Part of sport you have to learn to lose and more to life then losing a game.

Posted by Roger Overnaut, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Overmixed metaphors: Kettle drums do not keep the beat, and tubas seldom occur in the same orhestra with them. Your conclusion is correct, but for a reason that doesn't exist.

[[From the blogger: Because a significant portion of the potential readership are non-native speakers of English, I try to shade examples and vocabulary for easier understanding, rather than absolute technical accuracy (although I too often forget). Hence the "kettle drums" (or "kettledrums") are typically referred to as "Timpani" in orchestras and various other musical groups, but I judged the former as more likely to conjure up the intended visualization. Similarly, "tuba" instead of its relative the "euphonium" (or similar "baritone horn").

Posted by aPlayer, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 11:31 am

From reading this I doubt that the author has participated in any organized team sport, at any level (including kickball with neighborhood kids).

[[Blogger: Normally I just delete this sort of comment, but am leaving it as an example. It is nothing more than an unsupported, and false, opinion. I don't immediately remember the formal name for this argument, but it is summarized as "I disagree with you, therefore you are, by definition, illegitimate". Some might call it "The Cable News Argument".

Posted by Interesting, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 11:45 am

Nice article.

Mr. Moran, you have an interesting view about a focus on individual skills when beginning soccer, but let me disagree with you a bit. My friend teaches soccer to kids on the East Coast. Their main game is small group keep-away. How many different touches can your team get before the other team steals the ball? It is very collaborative -- and really no one gets to stand around waiting for the ball. They don't even bring out any goals until towards the end of her course.

PS as a parent I will admit that for all of those sports (soccer, basketball, etc.) I view the primary benefit as exercise for the kids.

Posted by Palo Alto resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 2:27 pm

I grew up playing organized sports (i.e. football, baseball and basketball) and loved playing them throughout high school. I had some great coaches and they taught me a lot about the value of teamwork. Because I bought in so completely to the idea of teamwork, I was usually captain of the teams I played on. I have also coached baseball for several years and youth soccer for a dozen years. I have also been involved in theatre for most of my life, to the extent that I am currently the artistic director of a youth theatre company. I cite all of the former because after reading your blog carefully, I have to wonder if you've ever played soccer yourself, or had much involvement in the arts. Yes, football, baseball and basketball are wonderful teamwork sports. The examples you provided were spot on. But each of those sports can be, and often are, dominated by a single player. A pitcher can win a game by himself, a running back can be impossible to bring down, a great center can control both ends of the court. Soccer has it's stars, yes, but the game actually demands more teamwork, demands more covering of each others mistakes and more movement in concert with teammates than any other I've been personally involved with. The reason we see big celebrations after goals are scored in soccer is because the players and fans all understand how much unified play goes into each score, how the tackle in the defensive end led to the deft pass from the midfielder to the streaking forward who nicked the ball past the charging goalkeeper. Furthermore, if a player is issued a red card in soccer, a penalty which takes him out of the game, the punishment effects his entire team, as they have to play with one less player for the remainder of the match. That is to say, a large advantage is given to the other team, and the penalized team have to work even harder together if they are to prevail. There is no equivalency to this in basketball, baseball or football.
Theatre, my expertise, requires and teaches more teamwork than any team sport I've encountered. Flubbing a line is akin to striking out, missing a free throw or fumbling. It happens and the play/game goes on. The play, much like organized sports, practices for several months, every day, with a norm of 20 to 100 participants. True, some participants have more responsibility than others, but there are no bench players in theatre that show up to play and sit by waiting for a chance to work. Sometimes actors have to move set pieces. Sometimes an actor will fall sick and the Stage Manager will have to play the role, script in hand. Sometimes the costumer also has to run lights. Everyone has a role in theatre, everyone contributes and is expected to lend a helping hand. If the guy assigned to pull the curtain doesn't, you're not going to have a show until one of his teammates steps in and does it for him. I think you would have been better off titling your blog I blame golf.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Interesting"

My observation on the focus on individual skills in soccer as played by the typical child was based upon my observations while watching/helping with practices and watching games. I watch what the players are doing and listen for what the coach and other players are emphasizing.

On "small group keep-away": First, one can view soccer as predominantly a game of keep-away (aka "ball control"), with advancing the ball up the field secondary and the actual scoring opportunities as a minor part of the game in terms of time consumed and effort expended. So, as you point out, it is excellent practice for the game itself.

But depending upon how it is coached, it may develop teamwork skills or simply practice individual skills. My personal assessment is that passing and getting open for a pass are individual skills necessary for teamwork, but not quite being teamwork themselves. To understand this point of view, consider "The Picnic Tests" put forth in the main article: Having these skills doesn't push the player across the threshold from being an interchangeable part. I look for situations like one player helping a teammate get open (analogous to a basketball player setting a pick), or a player who anticipates a pass going to a teammate and moves to be ready for it to be errant or mishandled.

I am particularly sensitive to this latter aspect because I played lacrosse: For beginning players most of the passes were errant or mishandled, plus the ball rolls faster and further than in soccer. Consequently, dealing with bad passes gets lots of emphasis from the earliest stages.

One of the interesting issues in teaching/coaching a game/sport is the balance between individual skills and teamwork. You may be at a level of play in a game where focusing on individual skills produces outsized returns (games won) for the amount of practice time, but if the intent of playing is to learn teamwork ... A parent who is an economist would remark "Poorly chosen game: A classic case of misaligned incentives."

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 4:49 pm

[[Blogger: post deleted because this commenter is insistent on this being an discussion on the merits of soccer, especially at the _professional_level_, and lacks the reading comprehension to understand that this is not the topic.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 31, 2015 at 4:57 pm

There certainly is a difference in skill and mental ability between local youth soccer and world-class soccer (e.g., Premier League). However, if one were to actually observe a Premier League match, one would see the obvious amounts of teamwork required to play defense and offense.

Yes, soccer provides a great cardio exercise opportunity. But as young players develop and continue with the game, they learn strategy and working as a team as they also develop their minds for the game.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 1, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

(AFD): An alternate perspective on soccer comes from parents whose children are in primary and early middle school. In observing how the children are playing the game, they see that the children don't want to play soccer-style football, but rugby-style football. They see children bunched up around the ball in what is commonly referred to as a "crowd" or "mob", but those with a British Commonwealth background quickly identify as akin to a rugby scrum, with the smaller, less aggressive players hovering on the periphery (some hoping the ball pops out toward them; others praying that it doesn't). Some of these parents who work in software development argue that their children would be better prepared for careers if they were being taught about Scrum.

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 2, 2015 at 11:11 am

mauricio is a registered user.

[[Blogger: Normally I delete comments based on the Straw Man Argument/Fallacy (Web Link but have been leaving a selection of these because they so vividly illustrate what I was talking about in the first paragraph of "CEO is not an entry-level position!"

It is completely false to claim that soccer (football to the rest of the world), is not a team sport. It is very much a team sport, but, just like any other sport, players need to develop individual skills in order to become good players who can help their team. If a quarterback couldn't throw the ball with accuracy and read defenses, how could he help his team? The same would apply to a basketball player who couldn't shoot, rebound or set up a pick, or a baseball pitcher who couldn't throw strikes. In soccer, teams with inferior talent often win championships because of their superior team play. In 2004, Greece, a barely mediocre team talent-wise, won the European championship, ahead of many teams with much more talent due to their superb team play.

Posted by John94306, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 2, 2015 at 10:42 pm

John94306 is a registered user.

It's a common saying that "Sports builds character".

However, after coaching several of my kids' teams and observing other teams, this statement isn't necessarily true. It's not the sport that builds character, it's the coaching leadership that determines what values the kids take away. When coached well, any team sport (even soccer) can build teamwork, resilience, camaradarie, etc....

But on the other hand, if any sport is coached by win-at-all-costs, overly-competitive, non-empathetic coaches who don't prioritize character (just skill), the kids will pick up the wrong values.

So, the key is to find the right coaching culture, not necessarily the right sport.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 2, 2015 at 11:32 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

In the main article, I said "...too many Palo Altans no longer seem to even understand the concept of having a disciplined, purposeful discussion. I anticipate that this phenomenon will be reflected in the comments..." (section "CEO is not an entry-level position!", paragraph 1). The comments here exceeded my wildest (negative) expectations. To recap, let's use the above to create an example corporate meeting (using the NATO phonetic alphabet as names for participants)

Chairperson: I would like to welcome you to this special task force. We have been asked to address helping children here learning teamwork. Games are an important way for children to learn teamwork. One observation is that although many children are playing soccer, they stop playing it before they get to the level where they would be learning teamwork.

Task force member Alpha: I don't want to talk about learning teamwork via games. I want to advocate for other activities. And simply participating in any group activity, including joining in singing the national anthem at a ball game, teaches teamwork.

Bravo: ... Africa ... exercise.

Charlie: ... adults ... exercise.

Chairperson to self: yet another person going 0-for-2 for being on-topic. I guess they are accustomed to getting trophies for any sort of participation.

Chairperson to group: Focus, people, focus.

Delta: ... Africa ...

Alpha: (contradicting himself twice)

Bravo: I understood the topic to be teamwork and that soccer doesn't teach it.

Chairperson: No. I said "Most kids I know have moved on from soccer before reaching the level where non-trivial teamwork becomes a factor."

Chairperson to self: Why is this such a difficult distinction to understand?
Aside: As a quick double-check, I posed this distinction (exact sentences) to a neighbor's child and she understood it correctly. She's in fifth grade.

Bravo: ...which sport teaches kids the best lessons...

Chairperson to self: I specifically said that this was off-topic. This is the second instance of him being unable to understand trivial distinctions and instructions.

Echo: (ramblings about the specifics of soccer)

Chairperson to self: Shoot me now. Another person who lacks basic reading comprehension about what is on/off topic.

Foxtrot: ... comment about learning teamwork ...

Chairperson to self: Thank God. Maybe this discussion will finally get on-track.

Charlie: ... adults ... exercise ...

Chairperson to self: Return of the doofuses.

Golf: (sniping based upon a trivial part of peripheral example)

Chairperson to self: Quick web search indicates he is probably wrong on the facts. Plus made mistake in basic terminology. Avoid temptation to go down that rabbit-hole.

Golf: (more sniping).

Hotel: (sniping)

Chairperson to self: OK, now we have heard from people who know they have nothing to say.

India: (comment that could nudge the discussion back to focus)

Bravo2 (same alias as earlier participant, but apparently different person): (mostly off-topic, but only modestly so. And relative to most of the other comments, could help re-orient the discussion.)

Juliet: I acknowledge that there is a difference between children playing soccer (on-topic) and the elite/professional level (off-topic), but I want to talk about the latter...

Chairperson to self: Can my expectations have become so low that I am thankful for an intentionally off-topic comment because it is terse? Yes.

Kilo: It is completely false to claim that soccer ... is not a team sport...

Chairperson to self: Good grief! Not only another person who can't read at a fifth-grade level, but he couldn't understand the explanation given in response to the previous instance (participant Bravo)

Lima: ... good and bad coaching ...

Chairperson to self: Valid comment. However, in a discussion of teamwork, I would expect the participants to try to display teamwork attitudes and aptitudes. The topic of coaching had already been raised -- it should have at least been acknowledged, and preferably leveraged off of.

Chairperson: I would like to thank you all for coming. I will forward your two recommended alternatives to management:
1. "Teamwork" should be redefined to be whatever is learned by simply participated in any group activity, no matter how briefly or trivially.
2. It is a non-issue whether children are learning teamwork in their current game-play: They will learn it as they progress to playing professional soccer. Apparently, this being Palo Alto, all the children who matter will become professional soccer players.
If participant Bravo wishes to add his diagnosis that the problem is that Palo Alto children have a surfeit of shoes, soccer balls and grass on their playing fields, I will attach it as a minority report.

Chairperson to self: Intensify networking with friends in other companies. Fine-tune my resume. Delay submitting report until after I have a job offer.

Posted by Interesting, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Apr 3, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Mr. Moran,

Just curious as to the ages of the kids you observed starting out in soccer, basketball and football?

Based only on personal observations, around here I see parents starting their kids in soccer at 3-5 yrs (they'll take 4 yr olds in AYSO). In beginning AYSO the coaches often have to work hard just to get the kids to pay attention. Not too many of those little kids have the capacity to think about what someone else on the team is doing. Regarding your "Picnic Tests", I think soccer qualifies by the time you get to 8-9yo AYSO. Do a lot of kids quit soccer by that time? Probably.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem like the other sports mentioned -- basketball, volleyball and football don't really seem to start until a couple of years later? Maybe I am wrong but my kids didn't start basketball until 8. I think there's quite a difference in what kind of teamwork you can teach to a child at different ages.

So maybe the approach should be making sure kids stay in team sports until they're old enough to grasp and learn the benefits of teamwork?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 3, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Interesting"

Meta comment: In making statements, it is important to remember that children develop--mentally and physically--at different rates, and that a two-year range is routine, and more is not unusual.

Agreed that different sports, and other games, have different entry ages for both basic individual skills and teamwork. Your "...to get the kids pay attention..." raises an interesting question: At what point does a game that involves kicking a ball and a goal become "soccer"? I grew up in a time and place where much of the time playing sports were self-organized (and dogs and children roamed freely and widely). Many of the games we played diverged so much from the official version that they would probably be more accurately described as "inspired by". For example, when the basketball courts were too muddy to dribble, we played "tackle basketball". For example, in many of the soccer-like games, a volleyball was strongly preferred to an actual soccer ball.

But just as parents need to consider such "entry ages", might not they also want to be thinking about "exit ages". Just as a game that is appropriate for a 10-year-old can be far beyond the capabilities of a 5-year-old, a game that can be played by that 5-year-old still the best choice for that 10-year-old? For a 12-year-old? 14?

As to the age of the children that I based my observations on: mostly 4-8th grade. The sample I see is enough to ask provocative/teaser questions, but not enough that I would make pronouncements. There are various family-oriented "soccer" games that I see where most of the children appear to be 4-5th graders. Negligible teamwork. And just after I posted the main article, I was walking through my neighborhood park and there was a father trying to teach his daughter (5-6th grade?) basic give-and-go, and it was likely that this was her first introduction (she kept forgetting to run forward after passing the ball to him).

And "moving on from soccer" also occurs over a wide range. For example, one of my nieces--and all of her friends--moved on from soccer before learning any non-trivial teamwork. Her brother stuck with soccer throughout high school and was good enough to be invited to apply for an athletic scholarship (he declined since he was going to major in engineering and had been well-advised that he wouldn't have time for both).

An interesting question occurred to me in writing the portion of this response about the father teaching give-and-go. One of my basic points in the main post is that parents reported exercise as their sole/primary goal in having their children play soccer and none mentioned teamwork. Was that father teaching a teamwork skill to enable his daughter to better play soccer for exercise, or did he value/intend her learning teamwork itself (even if that intent was subconscious)?

Posted by curious, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 3, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Does anybody know why they call it football in Brazil? Most people know what football is and soccer isn't football.

[[Blogger: The topic of the name of the game is off-topic here. Web search will find you plenty of info on this. However, if you are interested in the derivation of the name, let me recommend the article "Why Americans Call Soccer 'Soccer': The British started it" (Web Link

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 3, 2015 at 10:31 pm


Could you please state your point in 25 words or less? It might help your respondents stay on point if we understood what the point is.

1. This is not Twitter. This blog deals with complex situations -- the real world is messy.
2. If a reader can't comprehend the 21-word sentence ending paragraph 3 or the 19-word sentence ending paragraph 4, I don't see him benefiting from yet another sentence of similar size.
3. Similarly for the multiple commenters who missed the boldfaced "not" in paragraph 3.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Boichik Bagels is opening its newest – and largest – location in Santa Clara this week
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,483 views

I Do I Don't: How to build a better marriage Page 15
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 969 views

By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 859 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.