Hello again! Can you believe it, two blogs in under one week’s time?! Yes, miracles do happen, people. I must admit, I am still recovering from the incredible response to the last entry I posted. There has been a ton of positive feedback and support, and I am really happy that it created a lot of opportunities for discussion!
As with anything so polarizing, there were some naysayers and straight-up negative reactions to my opinions. While it was easy to ignore the rude and ignorant comments (note to haters: there are more effective ways of initiating responses, such as inquisitive, thought-provoking, or at the very least polite questions), it was brought to my attention that some of my points were not crystal clear. Some readers (you know who you are!) took the time to ask for clarification which allowed me to give some more thorough examples of what I had wanted to point out last week. I decided to expand on those points and publish them here, if for no other reason then to add to the conversation.
First things first, let’s point out the obvious issue. Given that the game in question was played in the French Division 1, a lot of people interested in the article were French. Goes without saying, but I, being American, write and publish my blog entries in English. In a perfect world, I would be able to write a supplementary post in a French translation. If I were more confident in my French writing skills, I would give it a go. However, since I picked up the little French I know completely by speaking, my ability to write leaves a lot to be desired. If these posts are dumped into GoogleTranslate or a similar program, a lot of the underlying tone as well as subtle nuances are missed. A lot can get lost in translation, so seriously, if you have any questions or don’t understand something because of the language, just ask! I will do my best to clear up any confusion.
With that being said, I feel like a group of readers (salute, OL supporters!) completely missed the point of my last blog entry. They thought I was saying that the only way to improve the level of competition is for teams like OL to decrease their level of play or play “down” to the level of other teams.
Aie. <Insert exasperated sigh here>
No. No. No. Absolutely not my point. As any of my current or previous teammates or coaches will tell you, I am probably the most competitive person to ever walk the face of the earth. Whether it’s a match, a warm-up game of possession, or a night out bowling, for me it might as well be the Super Bowl. Being competitive drives me; it’s a huge part of who I am as an athlete and as a person. Even when the odds seem impossible to overcome, I always believe there is a possibility of winning a game. I believe in leaving everything out on the field as an individual and as a team, so to ask a team to play “down” is a concept I don’t understand and one that I would never promote.
My point was also not to make excuses for my team. We absolutely did not show up. We have a responsibility to ourselves as players, to our club that we represent, and to the French league to play at the highest level we are capable of, and the Sunday in question we failed at that. While I would like to elaborate further on this, the last thing I can say on this aspect is that again, if you look at this “isolated” incident with a sociologist’s mindset, perhaps you can look at the larger picture and see that in fact it’s reflective of some larger issues at play within my club.
I ended my last blog entry with an idea, an opportunity to create discourse on why the French league is the way it is. So immediately, some readers went to the most negative response: you’re saying the best teams should not play up to their abilities. But just as when you look at a glass with water in it, people see many different things:
This glass is half-full!
This glass is half-empty.
Who drank the other half of the glass?
This glass would be more full if someone else was in charge.
So let’s explore some other ways to look at the glass. There are a lot of case studies that prove that it is indeed possible to breed incredible success on the pitch while also developing players and preserving the important principles that sport aims to instill in athletes. I am going to explore some of those in order to help readers see the glass in different light.
Let’s first look at the University of North Carolina women’s soccer program. 21 National Championships, 20 conference championships along with countless other team honors and individual accolades. While the level of play might be different, UNC has an unparalleled legacy that other teams can only dream of replicating. Anson Dorrance, the head coach, understands that while winning is important, developing players for the long run is also a priority. He has a track record of pushing players to reach their full potential while at the same time rotating a starting lineup to develop players all over the pitch. And I am not just talking about changing a midfielder here or there. There have been numerous seasons when Dorrance has rotated goalkeepers late into the playoffs or throughout the entire season. Most recently he rotated three goalkeepers (Gay, Sieloff, and Heaberlin) in 2012 and two (Harris and Rodenbough) in 2007. This is a standard practice from a program with a proven legacy.
Now let’s head over to the National Women’s Soccer League. What makes the American set-up different than the French approach to the women’s game? What has fast become known as the most competitive women’s soccer league in the world has some interesting differences that completely change the makeup of the game. One major difference is the NWSL continues to play league games while national teams are away at camps, friendlies, and tournaments. This has many effects, some positive and some negative, but one important aspect is that it allows teams to take advantage of players from their development pool on a semi-regular basis. While teams are only allowed to keep twenty players on a roster, when their national team players are away they must call up amateur players to help with the roster gaps. I spent last summer training with the Houston Dash, and this part of the league creates an incredibly competitive training environment. I made a huge amount of progress in a very short time frame due to what was demanded from me at every practice. It also allows coaches to be more creative and utilize players in multiple and different roles.
The American league uses an allocation system that spreads talent throughout the league. Players chosen by the American, Canadian, and Mexican federations are divided equally throughout the nine teams. This concept allows teams to be more competitive as a whole, and it gives the league more credibility by being able to attract world-class players because of the strength of the league. Another effect is that by the federations paying the salary of multiple players around the league, individual teams have more resources to put towards building stronger rosters. This system is a large part of why the NWSL does not have the same competition gap as its French counterpart.
Let’s compare that to OL. Let’s explore what the possible outcomes would be if OL implemented some of these practices in their long-term plans. How much do they rotate their squad? How many games has Méline Gerard, once thought to be the next goalkeeper for the French National team, played this season? How much would she benefit from having more time on the pitch? How many players on the full team have been developed from their youth academy and not just signed from other clubs or countries? Casually perusing the OL website, it’s a bit difficult to gage how many of their youth players make it to their full squad given the very limited information available. For example, the website states that Ève Périsset has been with the club since 1970, over twenty years before she was born (as seen here. It’s an interesting dichotomy in fact, when you look at the OL and their investment in development on the men’s side of things. They are widely regarded as the French Ligue 1 leader in youth development with a wide-reaching system to identity talent at an early age. Imagine the possibilities if a similar system could be adapted for the women’s side?
These are just three examples of practices in place with other programs around the world. There are a lot more out there, a lot of interesting theories on how to build the best team while not sacrificing morals or the spirit of sport. Are these examples blanket solutions for the problems facing the French Division 1 or specific teams within our league? No. Would they fix every problem that exists? Of course not. I am simply pointing out they could be a part of the solution when implemented correctly. The French league is changing. Starting in 2016, only two teams will be promoted and relegated every season. The league is aware of the competition issues, and it seems they are trying to combat them. Soon OL will be changing as well. They have a lot of players with contracts ending soon, and it will be interesting to see what direction they go in as they try to recapture a Champions League title in the future. Perhaps, if they approach the glass in front of them from a different perspective, they will be able to achieve the goals they have set out to accomplish.
I hope this blog sheds some more light on my last post. I hope that it continues to add to the conversation and that we all remember that the most important thing is leaving a legacy of women’s football that we are proud to say we were a part of. It is up to us to always be building a stronger community and growing the game it so that the girls and women who come after us will have more opportunities and possibilities than we do today.
Peace, love, and to looking at the glass in a new light,
Professional goalkeeper for ASPTT Albi in the French Division 1. Previous player at Foot Féminin Yzeure, Forfar Farmington FC (Scotland SWPL) and the Houston Aces (USA WPSL). Inquisitive adventurer uniting my first great love, football, with my passion for exploring. Proud alumna of Rice University (Go Owls!)