Monday, July 10, 2006

On the popularity of soccer

It seems to me that US sports are typically based on a large number of repetitions. Basketball is a game of repetitions (shoot the basket n times), baseball is a game of repetitions (pitch the ball n times, swing the bat n times), ice hockey is a game of repetitions (shoot the goal n times), and so on. In these games, winners are usually decided with large statistical samples that determine the effectiveness of the repetitions. Note also that, at any particular time, the repetitions in basketball, baseball, ice hockey and such are performed by very few of the players.

But in soccer, that ain't necessarily so. Not only the statistical samples are smaller, leading to large deviations from the average (as such, the best team may not always win) --- it is not even clear what a "repetition" is, as the ways to score are quite varied. Each team has 11 players that concurrently share the burden of play without many restrictions as to what their activities actually are. Gameplay in general, and scoring in particular, typically involves multiple players.

Soccer is mostly a team game of constraints and concentration, rather than a game of short bursts of intensity and repetitions that focuses on individual performances. Maybe we just do not value those qualities as much*.

* What happens when a team sport like basketball is played in an individualistic fashion? Bronze in Athens 2004, far from 1st in Indianapolis 2002. Even in soccer, Brazil was sent out of the World Cup by a better team of not as talented individual players.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent observation! The sport page of American newspapers is full of statistic. Here in America the so called sport fans are obsessive with statistic. It's very amusing because majority of those people are flunking their basic math course, and have no clue of how to derrive the standard deviation or any statistical terms. Perhaps that is the reason why politicians love to quote statistic - It's the easiest way to fool people while looking good. Anyway the beauty of soccer is that it's not about the statistic, the precision of time keeping, the coaching staffs making decision of the play, the referees video replay, nor the supposed "fairness" of the referees. A soccer game is resemblig real life - not every thing is fair, predictable, and can be stopped by calling a time out. Somehow most Americans never fully understand (or accept) those concepts (or fact of life). That is why they stick to their entertaining, TV oriented sports and their bag of potato chips.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why you say that ice hockey is a game of shooting the puck at the net N times, but soccer isn't. The two seem very similar to me, with one of the biggest differences being that in hockey there are board around the rink and so a hard shot is unlikely to go out of bounds, and there are more opportunities after it. OK, there's the sticks and skates too, but watching both, I see a lot of similarities. Hockey also has fewer people playing, but the number of people involved, but in an attempt to score, at least half of them are likely to be involved. The number of shots on goal and points scored are higher than in soccer, but not by all that much. Of course ice hockey is fairly low in popularity in the US too.

And I'm pretty sure I've seen hockey games, football games, and even baseball games in which the best team didn't necessarily win :-)

-- Alan Knight

Andres said...

Alan,

I commented that ice hockey was a game of repetitions because I saw some stats of goalkeeper saves per game. In that particular instance, some particular goalkeeper had made some 30+ saves in one game. This is an extremely unlikely amount in soccer --- shots on goal hardly ever go past 15, and these days I'd consider myself lucky if I saw 10.

Eric said...

For the record, both basketball and hockey are Canadian sports.

Andres said...

Eric,

Sorry, I meant to refer to sports popular in the US, rather than sports created in the US.

Thanks,
Andres.

tim said...

I'm going to say that the first commentor must be a pretty big fan of soccer and not of the US. It seems to me that they are more into putting down the average american than supporting his sport. Let me remind him that a great deal of the men that put us on the moon first were american scientists and engineers who probably enjoyed a good football or baseball game every now and then.

Andres said...

Tim,

The moon comment does not relate to the assertions in the first comment. If you feel that such assertions are wrong, disprove them without resorting to logical fallacies.

Thanks,
Andres.

Anonymous said...

soccer- score a goal n number of times
obviously you have never watched a basketball or hockey game because you would see that its the same basic concept

Anonymous said...

now don't get me wrong I love soccer, but basketball is a much more team involved sport. In soccer there are usually up to six playing in a position where they can score. the rest are defending and rarely cross midfield.In basketball The entire team plays both offence and defence. It is impossible to carry a team with one guy in basketball.
It's the same in any team sport. In football you need good linemen or the offence can't go anywhere. and it goes on for forever and a day.
my point is that it's unfair to say that one person could carry an entire team in any sport.

Andres said...

Anonymous,

I am not sure what soccer you are watching, but in good teams the assertion that six attack and the rest rarely cross midfield is simply not correct. Surely some teams defend with many players, however there are several examples of defenders who score lots of goals.

It could be argued that, nevertheless, in basketball defenders are much more involved in attacking than in soccer. However, a soccer field is much larger than a basketball one, and therefore matters of efficiency of movement during 90 minutes of play apply to a much larger extent than in 48 (frequently interrupted) minutes of basketball.

My 2 cents,
Andres.

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