The Future of the Women’s Game – Post WWC Analysis

WWC GERMANY

Congratulations to the German crowds they have been allowed and have sold out a number of games even though Germany was knocked out unexpectedly. My impression is that the country has done an excellent job of organizing and hosting the Women’s World Cup. I can only wish I could have been there.

MEDIA COVERAGE

It is great that ESPN showed all the games live from the women’s World Cup and made them available through espn3 live and on replay.  That is a great start.  The problem with much of the rest of the coverage is that it wasn’t covered like a men’s tournament it was covered like a women’s game, as an afterthought. Comments about how the women compared to the men were the norm rather than judging them and analyzing them on their own merits.

Sports media needs to learn the lesson that the US Women’s National Team has been teaching it since 1999. It needs to start treating the US women’s team like it treats other names in sports — with consistent attention to both its successes and its struggles. Front-page celebrations of a come-from-behind victory are wonderful. But for longtime fans of the sport, getting that coverage once every four years is not even close to enough.

It is hard to hide the shallowness of media awareness of the women’s game. BBC Radio 5 featured a discussion of England coach Hope Powell’s controversial statements regarding her team’s failure to volunteer to take penalties. Within seconds of the broadcast, it became clear that not all of the football journalists talking about the game had seen it.

Or announcing that the 4th ranked Japanese had the upset of all time when they beat #2 Germany. Not a monumental upset, just an excellent game.

COMPETITION

Competition has arrived. This is the first time a World Cup winner was not undefeated, the first time that the World Cup winner did not win the group, and as a matter of fact neither Japan or the US won the group. There was a distinct lack of blowouts as compared to other women’s World Cup’s.

This is exciting for women’s soccer and indicates that the quality level is going up around the world.

I watched almost every game in the World Cup and I would say that two thirds of them were eminently watchable contests. This is a change from previous Women’s World Cup’s where subpar play and blowouts made games uninteresting. This is also a higher percentage than in the Men’s World Cup in South Africa where maybe only a third of the games were watchable because most teems just sat back and played not to lose instead of playing to win. This led to very boring soccer. The women on the other hand appear to be trying to play a more attractive attacking game. This can only be good for the future of the sport as it maintains interest and provides a watchable showcase.  I believe it is possible for this to remain the case in the women’s game, which segues into the Field Size section.

TEAMWORK/RESPECT/LOVE/CHEMISTRY MATTER

The teams that had team chemistry did well. Japan, USA, Sweden, France. The teams that didn’t imploded. It is not ‘just that women need teamwork’, but actual physical results will show.

Because of the relative field size, see next section, women’s teams on full-size fields must work harder than men’s teams. Players work to the limit when they love and respect their teammates. It is very difficult to ‘give it your all’ for people you don’t like.

Examples would include the French women, where Bruno Bini (all time great name) left the countries best keeper at home because of chemistry issues and the team did well. The German women did not leave their controversial captain at home and did poorly (the German men did leave their controversial captain at home and did well). Brazil had an argumentative captain screaming at her teammates and their workrate fell (and they allowed a 10 player team to catch them after playing for half of the game with 10 players.)

FIELD/GOAL SIZE ALLOW FOR DIFFERENT STRATEGIES THAN MEN

As Anson Dorrance has said repeatedly goals are too big for female goalkeepers, which is why he advocates different shooting and different training for forwards in the women’s game as opposed to the men’s. More emphasis on shooting to the upper 90 and shooting high from a distance; while as the men’s game emphasizes shooting low on the ground to corners. This works as well on the female keeper, but is more difficult to achieve technically and tactically is more difficult to get in positions to take those shots. Shots from distance in the air allow for his trademark framing the goal to gain rebound goals.

A full sized World Cup field is the same size for men and women, which in watching this World Cup allows for more empty space. This means that the women’s game should always be a higher scoring game if it is played at the same technical level as the men. Women may not be as athletic, but can be as technical. Some of the very defensive teams in Italy and England remind me of the Chicago Bulls in their heyday with Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman appearing to stretch their defense over the entire width of the court so that the other team could not even bring the ball up. It was even mentioned in NBA circles that perhaps the court in NBA should be made larger to compensate for the size and athleticism of the pros.

The women are not big enough to shut down an entire field like in the men’s game this leads to larger gaps and more space on the field.  I have often compared soccer to the game of tennis where technical skill can trump athletic ability, however in the women’s game the spaces on the field remain large enough that a reasonably skilled athletic side will always have the opportunity to prevail. 

The original powers that dominated women’s soccer are the Scandinavian countries Sweden, Norway, I’ll include Germany, and the USA.  They played similar styles and continue to do so with big athletic players well-organized with some possession and looking for counterattacks. Sweden and the US were perfect examples through much of this WWC. The US women finally decided to play soccer in the final.

This WWC has brought to the forefront the new style à la Arsenal and Barcelona; technical, exciting, attacking, possession soccer.  There will be success for organized athletic teams in women’s soccer because of the field dimensions, but soccer can be so much more. It should be the beautiful game of possession oriented technical soccer.  The US should adjust their youth system to develop players.

It is obvious that the US development system is not doing its job as many other teams have caught up. We continue to say to play the same old stuff I want to call it presoccer. The countries that have well developed player development systems on the men’s side are making great strides on the women’s side.  This shows precisely which development systems and styles are best and shows where the US should look toward as they decide how to set their youth development systems. Brazil, France, Germany, and Japan have all made great strides forward and changed their technical level of play. Germany on the men’s side also changed away from me the Scandinavian style of play and has had more attacking success with skilled technical flair players. Their men’s team is attempting to make that same change and in a similar fashion their ex-national team captain is getting in the way that process.

Japan and Brazil will be two of the more obvious choices to look toward and I will focus on Japan since they are a more similar country in terms of development structure. Also, Japan was specifically talked about during this World Cup since they made such an impact. They are heavily influenced by the Brazilian and Dutch as far as their technical training and small sided games philosophy. Japan, during ages five to 12, emphasize technical repetition and small sided games with Brazil and the Dutch are known for the same things. Many of those young players only play Futsal (especially Brazil) until the age of 12.

Why doesn’t the US side copy countries that are successful rather than copying countries just because they speak English (England). There are many examples Dutch, Spanish, and the Germans (whom we used to work closely with until the mid-90s). Obviously, Brazil, Argentina, and now I would say we should be copying Japan, as well as, they’ve successfully taken a fusion of ideas and proven how to integrate them.

REFEREES

The bain of of a coach, player, or spectator is not know what the referee was thinking during a crucial call. This can be solved and has been solved for the past 15 years in professional rugb. Rugby refs have a live mic so we get to hear them live on TV speaking to their linesmen, to the replay booth, or when they call two truculent captains together for a calming chat. No confusion and a proven viable method. Soccer should implement this, stat.

I believe that with proper training – and experience – referees that work their way through the pro leagues can make the correct calls – IF they are in position. This is a primary problem in the top levels of men’s soccer that they are trying to solve with 5 officials or with the inevitable goal line technology. The women’s game has an immediate solution until the previous questions are answered. Male referees are able to run as fast, or faster, than the female players. That means they have the potential to be in the correct positions to make the calls. Instead we have many matches in the showcase event that are a refereeing farce.

The “that handball” in the Australia versus Equatorial Guinea game, the brutality in the German versus Nigeria game, and Sunday’s quarter final between USA and Brazil each had its fair share of controversial moments – with a retaken penalty and a clear off-side leading to both of Brazil’s goals. 

The main issue is that the difference in standard is too large”, refereeing expert Urs Meier told Deutsche Welle. “The gap between a top female referee and a not-so-good one is very large.”

Meier says that the differing standards are due to the conditions that female referees are exposed to in their domestic leagues. For instance, a number of female referees active at the World Cup officiate in third or fourth division men’s league games, in front of small crowds.

Do female refs need more support, Yes. But why ruin a showcase event when solutions area available in the interim?

ANNOUNCING AGAIN (SORRY)

We need the best announcers of the game. We do not watch a game because of the announcers. We watch in spite of them. Announcers are like a straightman and a comic. The play-by-play should describe the action in such a fashion that I could close my ees and visualize the game. The Color commentator doesn’t speak nearly as often so they can gather their thoughts to high light spectacular plays with lyrical whimsey and obscure facts dug up by the research department. This has been the tried and true method for years. Lately, not just at the WWC, it has become like two drunken bums trying to hold a conversation while watching a robery. One talks about the weather and the other about a tunafish sandwhich from 12 years prior. Utter confusion and pointlessness.

Below are some pointed quotes from another blog.

I recognize that they feel they have to have one of their “anchor” people presiding over the coverage. I do. But for the love of all that’s holy, why does it have to be the imbecilic Bob Ley?

I stopped keeping track of his inanities early on, as I just didn’t have the strength, but even without it, the clear # 1 was when, after Pia Sundhage remarked that her team showed a special kind of American spirit, Ley commented that it seemed like a kind of “jingoistic” thing to say.

Leaving aside the fact that the Swedish Sundhage isn’t exactly a member of the DAR (daughter of the american revolution – she’s swedish), and ignoring the obvious point that Ley clearly doesn’t know what “jingoistic” means, does this kind of thing enhance the viewers’ understanding of the event in any meaningful way or is he just trying to show off?

Like a couple of kids with a new toy, Darke and Foudy couldn’t seem to stop babbling yesterday about how the Japanese women were known as the “Nadeshiko”, which is, they assured us “a lovely pink flower”.

Well yes, it is, although it’s only a variety of carnation and not some exotic Japanese form of Edelweis which grows only on the highest peaks of Mount Fuji as they seemed to want to imagine.

Furthermore, I’m reliably informed that the term is used sort of apologetically; it connotes traditional, submissive, obedient Japanese womanhood. The term was used extensively in government propaganda during the war, the point being to get them to shut up and do as they were told.

They use the name so that everyone knows that while they may be athletes, deep down they’re still just a bunch of rice-frying, kimono-mending, tea-ceremony hostessing homebodies. In other words, non-threatening to the masculine Japanese cultural norms.

I’m not sure that if it was explained that way to Ms. Foudy she would have been quite so eager to toss it around.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 at 00:16 and is filed under Coaching, Program Management, Soccer Business, other. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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