U16 Rec soccer and the World Cup: Wrong lessons learned

Thanks for the prompt on this Itchy and Mika.  So, this summer, I wrote:

1) A high defensive line.  This was one of the keys to the German approach (nicely summarized here by Michael Coxaka Zonal Marking).  Push the whole team far up the field and leave the space behind the defense, not in front.  This is something I’ve already been pushing for years, but now I think I understand why it works for us and why I am going to emphasize it even more.  A skilled and speedy offensive team can potentially be murder on a high defensive line (look what Netherlands did to Spain and what Algeria would have done to Germany if not for Manuel Neuer).  But we don’t really face speedy and skilled offensive teams.  There’s not a lot of pretty through balls in U16 Rec soccer.  Furthermore, we have assistant referees that are actually pretty good at calling offside, making it all the more harder to get the timing down on a nice through ball.

Now this high defensive line will give away more than it’s fair share of breakaways, but giving the paucity of strong offensive players, many of these breakaways will be thwarted by good defense, good goalkeeping (two areas where my teams have been strong) and by mistakes from the offensive player.  We’ll surely give up some goals this way (and have in the past), but I strongly suspect we would give up far more goals by setting up our defense further back on the field.  The truth is, there’s going to be lots of mistakes– it’s the nature of our players.  I want these mistakes to happen as far from my goal as possible.  Our defenders are not Greece or Costa Rica who can just face wave after wave of crosses and offensive attacks and fend them off because we have 9-10 players organized deep behind the ball.  We’re never going to be all that organized giving constant substitutions and 90 minutes of practice a week and, regardless, there’s going to me plenty of physical and mental errors.

Uh, yeah.  Not so much.  Our league is quite different this year.  After always being one-year age groups, this year our division consists of teams who are mostly U15 (my team) and other teams who are mostly U16.  It’s only a year, but you can definitely see the different in size, if nothing else, between the teams.  More notably, in the Fall, our league does not offer “challenge” for high school age players since so many of the challenge players are playing for their high schools.  That means a number of challenge players are assigned to rec teams and this essentially random assignment of challenge players really shakes things up.  I received 3 challenge players, they are all good, but none are better than my 3 best rec players from last season.  That said, some challenge players are truly game-changers.  One goal against us occurred when an opposing player dribbled faster with the ball towards our goal than my son David’s attempt to chase him down.  I don’t think that’s ever happened before (David is quite lacking in technical skill, but he is very fast for a rec player and great at chasing down opponents).  None of my challenge players were natural defenders so now in games we’ve often had my 3 very good, but still rec-level defenders, playing against challenge forwards.  Can we say huge number of breakaways?  Part of this was also figuring out how to best use my new personnel, but at least for this season, the high defensive line is definitely a failure.  One of my PS professors friends who coaches (in Tennessee) this age warned me this might happen and he was exactly right.

We lost our first two games (and second of those 6-0!), but have since tied 2-2, and won 5-2 and 6-1.  Part of this was the bad luck of playing the two best teams first (both of whom are all older kids as well as being more skilled).  I also adjusted my line-up.  I just needed more help for my rec level defense.  I’m now basically playing a 3-2-3-2.  That is, I took away a forward and added a defensive midfielder.  It has worked really, really well.  One of my more talented players who last year refused to play in position decided he wants to play DM and has been an surprisingly effective deep-lying playmaker.  Then I take one of my more talented defensive oriented players and make him the other DM and tell him it’s his job to basically play a stopper and protect the back line.  I think we’re more talented than the teams we beat, but I do think the new formation and the deeper back line on defense has helped.

Probably more detail than most of you wanted, but most of you didn’t make it this far.

Better government, not smaller government

I’ve always found the goal of “small government” to be problematic.  I want a government that does the will of the people and works for the common good (yeah, I know that’s vague, but that’s what democracy is supposed to be for) and does these things in an effective and efficient matter.  Whether government is “big” or “small” should just not be of central concern.  There was a nice piece on this last month in the Atlantic:

Which is better: More government or less?

Most people have an ideological answer ready, but from a practical standpoint, it’s a ridiculous question.

Better is better…

The piece looks at difficulties in the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (worth reading) and comes to some conclusions. Here’s my favorite:

3. Prevention: We know from fields as diverse as health care and crime control that preventing ills is cheaper, not to mention more desirable, than curing them. But we tend to ask government to solve problems once they ripen, instead of preventing them. We could suppose a number of reasons for this: a political system designed to deter governmental intervention until problems are so bad as to require it, ideological objection to government doing anything that it doesn’t “have to” do, a belief that individuals should succeed or fail on their own—at least, until their failures impinge on the rest of us and need to be cleaned up. Whatever the reason, the result is higher cost and more government, not less.

In contrast, Child Welfare Demonstration Projects in several states have shown that investing heavily in prevention and community-support services reduces future child-welfare costs—not to mention maltreatment, trauma, and removal from home. A recent analysis found that Healthy Families Florida, a home-visiting program, prevented child abuse and neglect in 98 percent of participating high-risk families at a cost of $1,800 per year per child. In contrast, conservative estimates put the cost to taxpayers of child welfare, hospitalization, special education, and juvenile-justice services for an abused child at $72,709 per year.

Shifting funding from back-end remediation to front-end prevention, however, looks an awful lot—at least in the short-term—like “new” money and “new” government programs. That’s practically heresy today. But as the old TV ad used to say, you can pay now or pay later: A former state prison commissioner told me recently, “Corrections is the dumping ground for all the problems we’ve failed on”—and Corrections ain’t cheap. But in an exercise like the one Sonnier found herself in—and a larger political environment—focused primarily on budget cutting and short-term benefit, there’s little real room for upfront investment (“more government!”) even when it winds up costing less in the long-term…

What would it really mean to take money out of cleaning up our messes and instead spend it on preventing them? One model is Maine, where the legislature decided to reduce the role of expensive institutions in handling at-risk youth. That slashed the number of children in state custody from more than 3,000 children, with 24 percent in residential care, to fewer than 2,000 children and only 10 percent in residential care. Over the next two years, $4 million in savings were reinvested in providing a variety of local, individualized support services, keeping more kids in their own homes and producing additional savings of $19 million, roughly a 2.5:1 annual return on investment. Analysts in Washington state projected the same rate-of-return.

Ultimately, smart costs less. You want to cut government? Make it work better. [emphasis mine]

Yes, yes, yes!  Alas, too many Republicans get this completely backwards.  They want “less government” and decide that if government is incompetent people will want less of it so they fail to adequately fund, reject good government reforms, etc., with the idea that ineffective government will lead to demands for less government.  But what a sad and cynical approach.  I’m all for less government if that’s the case because government is working smarter and more efficiently.  But the idea of less government as an end in itself is ultimately non-sensical.


Today in Ebola

1) A handy chart of what you should actually be worry about via Vox:

ebola diseases other

2) Is Ebola the Isis of biological agents?  This is so stupid– alas, that’s a CNN headline, not The Onion.  The New Yorker’s Teju Cole follows up with some similarly absurd analogies:

Is Ebola the ISIS of biological agents? Is Ebola the Boko Haram of AIDS? Is Ebola the al-Shabaab of dengue fever? Some say Ebola is the Milosevic of West Nile virus. Others say Ebola is the Ku Klux Klan of paper cuts. It’s obvious that Ebola is the MH370 of MH17. But at some point the question must be asked whether Ebola isn’t also the Narendra Modi of sleeping sickness.

3) Jon Cohn with a nice reminder that the best way to keep Americans safe is to stop the disease in West Africa:

The catch is that you can’t truly wipe out the Ebola threat, even for Americans, without controlling it overseas. As long as it’s un-contained, it will continue to make its way to other countriescarried by people over land, sea, or airbecause the world is simply too interconnected to shut down borders completely. Meanwhile, the damage to social and economic fabric of Africa could be devastating, in ways that would hurt the U.S. over the long run.

Frieden made this point too. “The bottom line here is that we’re stepping up our efforts to protect Americans,” Frieden said. But, he added, “as long as Ebola is spreading in Africa it will remain a risk here.” It remains to be seen whether the public and its politicians understand that.

4) Of course, you could just humanely euthanize anybody who makes to America with Ebola.  Sure random Democrats say and believe truly crazy stuff, but that is from the former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party.

Photo of the day

You may know I have a huge soft spot for cave paintings.  Turns out that after all the awesome caves in Europe, scientists have now found cave paintings from 10 of thousands of years ago in Indonesia.  This is a big deal.  And this is pretty cool for being 40,000 years old.

Wild Pig

This painting, from Bone, is of a variety a wild endemic dwarfed bovid found only in Sulawesi, which the inhabitants probably hunted


Knee-jerk liberalism and Islam

Given the Pew data I highlighted in last week’s post about Bill Maher and Islam, I couldn’t help but just roll my eyes at this post by Max Fisher on Vox titled, “It’s not just Bill Maher: Islamophobia on cable news is out of control.”  Fisher writes:

At the center of this has been Bill Maher, a comedian and HBO talk show host who is well-known for his Islamophobic views. Maher said last week that “vast numbers of Muslims want humans to die for holding a different idea” and share “too much in common with ISIS.” This is all part of his ongoing argument conflating the tiny number of violent extremists with the 1.6 billion worldwide Muslims who largely abhor those extremists.

Over the weekend, when Maher called Islam “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing” (another guest on the panel, author Sam Harris, called Islam “the motherload of bad ideas”), it was left to guest Ben Affleck to call these opinion “gross” and “racist.” There were, of course, no Muslims on the panel who might have the chance to speak up.

Now, of course Maher might have been a little injudicious with his language, but that is because he is trying to make people laugh.  But it is quite clear that Maher is familiar with the Pew survey and that is the basis for his statements.  Again, some charts from Pew:



Now, of course ISIS is a bunch of murderous psychopaths who are an extreme perversion of Islam, but Maher nonetheless has a point.  There are extreme perversions of Christianity, Judaism, etc., that don’t end up in televised beheadings.  A friend shared this Salon article yesterday that was also very much on point:

Maher’s is no offhand opinion, but a blunt statement of fact.  A wide-ranging 2013 Pew Research Center poll, conducted between 2008 and 2012 in 39 countries, offered a deeply disturbing, unequivocal overview of the faith-based intolerance prevalent across much of the Muslim world.  Among other things, majorities of Muslims – varying somewhat according to region – favor putting to death apostates and adulterers, condemn homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia as immoral, and believe that “a wife must obey her husband.”  Large minorities condone “honor killings.”  It should be noted that for practical reasons, the Pew Center could not survey Muslims in the repressive, highly conservative Gulf States (including Saudi Arabia, the homeland of Wahhabism), so, if anything, these numbers provide an excessively moderate summary of Muslim positions on issues progressives hold dear.

There can be no doubt about the wellspring of these nevertheless profoundly illiberal results.  Texts in the Koran and the Hadith (the sayings and teachings traditionally attributed to the prophet Muhammad) back every one of the retrograde, even repulsive, positions the Pew Center catalogued.  There are also passages in these writings that appear more tolerant, but the point is, Muslims looking to back up hardline interpretations of Islam do not lack for scriptural support.

Maher did not cite polls on his show – he is, after all, a comedian – but had he done so, he would have given doubters a way to verify the veracity of his monologue.

I also very much enjoyed Maher’s response in a Salon interview, even though he really didn’t’ want to talk much about it:

But I want to ask you how you felt the Ben Affleck/Sam Harris segment went. Did you feel frustrated as it was happening?

I think Sam and I and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie and everyone who is basically making the same point, I think we all feel frustrated because I think we feel like the people who are arguing with us are not listening.

We’re liberals! We’re liberals. We’re not crazy tea-baggers, y’know, and so it’s kind of hard to be making this case — based on facts, based on polling, I think based on what everybody really knows… I mean, do the people arguing with us, would they really open a lesbian art gallery in Ramallah? [Laughs] Or Karachi? Or Cairo? I don’t know if they would back up what they’re saying with actions.

We are not bigoted people. On the contrary, we’re trying to stand up for the principles of liberalism! And so, y’know, I think we’re just saying we need to identify illiberalism wherever we find it in the world, and not forgive it because it comes from [a group] people perceive as a minority.

Yes!  I hate when the liberal idea of tolerance goes so far that you get attacked for not tolerating intolerance.  It is abhorrent how many Muslim societies, based on their interpretation of Islam, treat women.  I’m not going to go all Sam Harris and say the whole religion is a bad idea– it’s not.  But let’s call a spade a spade, damnit.

I should also mention, that as far as Fisher’s article, I didn’t really pay much attention.  Maybe he’s right about cable news (probably so, about Fox, I would guess), maybe not, but based on his knee-jerk response to Maher, I’m not giving him a lot of credibility on the matter.

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