You Call It Football, We Call It Soccer

This week Alan talks about the world's Beautiful Game and its place in the U.S. sporting hierarchy.

One topic that usually comes up around the water cooler is sports.  Americans love sports, and you can usually find someone at work willing to talk about his/her favorite one.  The one complaint I hear from internationals living and working here is soccer, or rather, the lack of soccer conversations.

As I said, we love our sports, but we have many to take our attention, including many that were invented here.

In order of popularity—based on revenue or participation, Americans like 

  1. Football
  2. Baseball
  3. Basketball
  4. Ice hockey
  5. Soccer
  6. Tennis
  7. Golf
  8. Wrestling
  9. Car racing

The funny thing is that this is probably the only country in the world where soccer ranks so low.  On the other hand, American football is only played or watched by 5% of the world’s population.  With baseball, it’s only a little higher: 13% of the world has access to playing the sport or watching it professionally in their countries.

An accurate observation about American football is that it is seldom played with the feet.  The average professional football game has 70 plays, and yet only 9-10 of them involve kicking.  In this regard, the sport would more appropriately be called Handball since 87% of the plays involve holding, throwing, or catching with the hands.

The good news is that soccer is on the upswing in the U.S.  More youth leagues are being organized across elementary schools and communities.  In my case, I grew up never watching soccer, but when my daughter joined a youth soccer league, I was invited to be an assistant coach—which forced me to learn the rules!  Today, the U.S. has a professional soccer league, with both American and international players.

On the international level, the U.S. women’s team has won the World Cup, and the men’s team has started advancing into the knockout rounds.  If you want to keep up the conversation about the world’s “beautiful game,” you might try organizing a workplace betting pool for the World Cup.  During that monthlong event, you could schedule game-watch parties after work or on the weekends.  And there’s nothing like a friendly office-wide wagering to keep people’s attention.  With a little concerted effort, you might eventually get your American friends interested in the globe’s “other football”!

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.