The Soccer Dilemma of All Time

By Julio Espinoza, Staff Writer

Last year, my colleague Nash Wills wrote an article about the soccer club at Thunderbird. The incumbent president and captain of the Thunderbird Futbol Club, Tomas Thomas, mentioned a year ago that “since fútbol (soccer) is the international language, it serves as another medium of communication and bonding between T-birds from all over the world.”

I could not agree more with Tomas. I have come to the conclusion that culture matters in soccer if you want to be competitive. In this article I will argue that low-context countries favor a more concrete/result oriented soccer style while high-context countries favor a more abstract/fun-oriented soccer style. This is the soccer dilemma of all time. We see how low-context countries and high-context countries fight over World Cup primacy, with Europe and South America the eternal rivals.

The Tbird soccer team having a good time while warming up.

Germany, a low-context country, has a soccer style where the team comes first. Germans are not well known for creative soccer skills but for great athletic performance and tactical discipline in the field. Low-context cultures play differently than high-context cultures on the soccer field. Germans are also well known for their ability to stay focused until the end of the game. In contrast, Brazilian and Argentinean soccer players are highly admired for their individual skills in dribbling and scoring. It is like high-context players have a natural creative advantage in comparison to low-context players, which tend to be stronger in terms of team performance.

Some of the managerial skills we are taught in the classroom could be used on the soccer field. The Thunderbird soccer team is made of people from different age groups coming from different cultural backgrounds. The diversity is evident; we lack a particular and consistent style of play but we have a huge talent pool. Some cultures prefer passing the ball to the elder and refraining themselves from shooting to the goal. In other cultures, showing your creativity by dribbling and scoring is highly rewarded. For some of our players, soccer is all about cooperation and team work but for others soccer is about being competitive and winning.

Yaser, Tomas and Julio about to kick off the second half of the game.

The challenge is to work with different players that have different perceptions about the purpose of the game. First we need to set goals (maybe being champions of the tournament, or maybe just being a competitive team that has fun on the field). Then we need to create a game strategy: how we are going to play every game and what we expect from every player and his role in the field. We also need to have open communication channels all the time for constant feedback. We finally need to kick our egos out of the field so we can improve as a team.

If you are into soccer, come support us. We play every Wednesday night in the intramural league at ASU West Campus.

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