They are intended as an introduction that will allow beginners to progress on to the coaching ladder -- the D, C, B and A licenses.
Spanish-speakers are evidently deemed not ready for those licensing levels, they must first of all take some kindergarten instruction lessons. Heaven knows what they will learn at those sessions. But one thing is certain: whatever is taught will be soccer according to U.S. Soccer. And who says that is the ultimate wisdom in soccer intelligence? Why, U.S. Soccer does.
Which is one very good reason why all Latinos should turn their backs and give a mighty Bronx cheer to this patronizing gesture. This is merely the latest signal from U.S. Soccer that it regards Latinos as soccer infants. The logical extension of that viewpoint is that Latin soccer itself is not a matter of any great interest to U.S. Soccer.
A couple of anecdotes will underline the point:
• Some 30 years ago a Latino friend of mine had been attending a Federation licensing course (A, B, C? I can’t remember -- does it really matter?) and had been irritated because all the references, all the cited teams and players, were European. He asked the instructor: “Can we have some examples from, say, River Plate, or Sao Paolo?” The answer, from one of the Federation’s top instructors, was “If you want to learn about Latin soccer, get your carcass down to South America.”
• Soon after the 1994 World Cup, a Latin American Soccer Coaches Association (LASCA) was formed at the coaches convention. I had watched the proceedings and was rather surprised to see that George Tarantini was given a secretarial appointment. It seemed quite the wrong job for Tarantini, who was very much an on-the-field sort of guy. A week or so later, back in my New York apartment, I got a phone call. From George.
“Hey Pablo - I need your help.”
“For what George?”
“Translating. LASCA's given me all these pages. It's a coaching course curriculum. They want me to translate it into Spanish.”
I hesitated for a moment or two, then “George, the first thing you should do with those pages is ...”
George interrupted to finish my sentence “... to chuck them in the garbage!” He knew, as did I, that merely translating the curriculum into Spanish was not going to change anything. As far as I know, he never did the work.
Those two anecdotes come from more than 20 years ago. But has anything changed? Not that you’d notice. How much mention and study of Latin soccer do the U.S. Soccer courses contain today? How much would you expect from a curriculum that has been suffocated for decades by English and Scottish, German, and now Dutch and Belgian input?
If you want to study the Latin game, flying down to Rio or Buenos Aires is still the way to go. A U.S. Soccer coaching course won’t be of much help. (Nor will the United Soccer Coaches, who recently rolled out “an exclusive coaching education experience,” consisting of a “week of high-quality coaching education.” In Brazil, maybe? Wrong. In Scotland -- a nation currently in 53rd place in the world rankings).
The recent revelation that U.S. Soccer assembled a Task Force on youth soccer without Latinos among the 60 members has no doubt prompted this decision to allow Spanish-speakers to take elementary courses, in Spanish. It is a clumsy move.
What is needed is something much more fundamental. A change in the Federation’s attitude, for a start. Namely, that U.S. Soccer should show some humility, should stop treating the Hispanic soccer community as though it is an ignorant child that needs educating. That is a travesty of the reality. The Latin game comes with a 100-year history of achievements far beyond anything the USA can show.
The USA has much to learn from the Latin game. When will it start listening? When will it realize that translating a few of its minor courses (or any of its courses for that matter) into Spanish is not a particularly praiseworthy move, but looks more like the least it could do.
Let’s make this clear: the inclusion of Hispanics and Hispanic influence into the mainstream of American soccer will not be achieved by dropping a few crumbs from the head table. It is about making sure that Hispanics are sitting at that head table, that their voice is heard when the curricula - and all soccer decisions - are formulated.
For far too long the language issue has been used as an excuse, a useful “difficulty” to be cited as an explanation for lack of action. Now its role has been reversed -- its appearance at the lowest level of Federation coaching courses is being put forward as an example of progress. Maybe it is -- but it is a side issue, not the main event.
This is a soccer issue, not a language quibble. One would like to believe that the language being spoken on both sides of this divide, is the language of soccer. Which is also the language of futbol. Of course there are differences -- rather like dialects -- but they are part of the adventure of understanding the global game. With goodwill on both sides they are not a “difficulty.”
U.S. Soccer is the power group, and it is they who must make the big moves. They urgently need to stop behaving like an arrogant colonial power dealing with uppity natives and to incorporate, to welcome, the Latino influence. The days of crumb-dropping must be ended.
Events at the recent Under-17 World Cup provide a useful end-note. A tournament in which the USA, under its Swiss coach, played poorly and was quickly eliminated.
Mexico -- the USA’s “distant neighbor” -- meanwhile made its way to the final, there to lose narrowly to host Brazil. The Mexican team included two Mexican-Americans who might well have been part of the USA squad.
There is much food for thought there. Yet I find myself wondering -- in all seriousness -- whether anyone at the overwhelmingly Anglo Federation took the time to watch that final, to take in the high quality of the soccer played by both teams.