By Dr. Sandra Geringer |
Gerardo Flores, aka Coach G, is the Director of Soccer for the Gulf Coast Rangers FC, in Daphne, Ala. He was walking by a group of his younger girl athletes and the one yelled out to the others Auburn or Alabama? One of the girls responded “Auburn,” and the girl who asked the question yelled “eewwwwwww!” I am a transplant to LA (lower Alabama) from Ohio and I was quickly indoctrinated into picking a side. My response is, “The Ohio State University.” Hence, I still haven’t made many friends down here. But, I respect the culture that has been engrained in the Yellowhammer State.
Coach G wants to get to a point where those girls (and many others) would ask “Rangers FC or AFC Mobile?” These are the regional men’s and women’s soccer teams that he would like to see his athletes cheering for … just as much as Auburn or Alabama. The US has been reluctant to adopt soccer into its mainstream sports culture. Calling the sport soccer instead of the internationally known football further separates the US as an anomaly. According to Professor Andrei Markovits (1988), “in the United States, soccer was ‘crowded out’ by American football and baseball and therefore could not take root in the national culture.” He also stated that:
American football expresses a set of values and characteristics that are uniquely American. Since the American Revolution, the US has strived to distinguish itself as a unique country with democratic principles and capitalistic standards. Since sport plays such a crucial role in society, the urge to assume a national sport divergent from that of Great Britain led to the diminished popularity of soccer in America. (Markovits, 1988)
Well, that is a pretty strong argument. However, this is also a dated piece and a lot has changed in the US realm of sport since then. With the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France coming up this summer and the preparation and anticipation of the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup hosted in the US, Canada, and Mexico these types of events always seem to pique a bit more interest in soccer throughout the country.
Coach G has been growing the game in Daphne by trying to build soccer for a lifetime. He is developing not only players, but future players, coaches, fans, officials, volunteers, trying to keep as many people involved in the sport for as long as possible. He believes that bridging local communities to work together creates a stronger program. Daphne and the local community of Fairhope, Alabama run their programs as a mirror effect. Kids between the ages of 4-12 stay in their respective city. Daphne and Fairhope train their kids in the same manner, with the same techniques, objectives, and program initiatives. Athletes between the ages of 13-19 are combined and placed by levels of ability to make up the academy level players. Instead of competing against the local community they are building strength and depth between the two communities.
Coach G feels that the secret to success is in the power of the pyramid. For an organization to be successful it needs to have the following levels of play: Recreation (at the base of the pyramid), Foundation, Academy, Travel/Showcase Team, and Men’s and Women’s Regional Teams (collegiate/post-collegiate players). Having the regional teams is important in that kids can see that there is something else to strive for other than just recreation leagues. Coach G said that is a big difference when compared to American football. Kids grow-up in a household that watches Alabama football every Saturday in the fall. It is a family tradition, it is a US tradition, and it is learned that football exists past high school.
Coach G is looking to increase diversity within his programs. He believes the key to recruitment is to catch interest early by setting up programs in local physical education classes, for example. I must say until I married a Colombian I did not totally understand the game and its strategy. However, I enjoy watching it and have a much deeper appreciation for the players. And, going to a live game is quite fun! Will soccer rise above American football one day, who knows? But, I do believe that Coach G has a recipe for successfully building soccer for a lifetime.
The following article contributed to this content: https://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/research-projects/soccermarkets-in-the-u-s/soccer-exceptionalism-in-america/
Dr. Sandra Geringer is the Director of Recreation Management and Sports Studies at the United States Sports Academy.