Why American and European soccer players won’t play chess together


Firstly, a brief note on my absence, since tomorrow it would have been 7 months since my last blog post. In April this year I started working as a strategy consultant at Deloitte. Life’s been slightly different than it was a student, sadly leaving practically no time for writing here.

A while ago Sarah and I were on a trip to the U.S. Somewhere along the trip we watched the soccer game of the U.S. versus Mexico. After the game goalkeeper Tim Howard and offensive midfielder Clint Dempsey were interviewed. Something caught my attention, but at first I didn’t really know what it was. Then it hit me: these guys actually know what they are talking about.

It reminded me of a similar observation a while ago, when (at the time) AZ striker Jozy Altidore answered some questions about racial chants from Dutch soccer idiots fans. I was and still am very much impressed with Altidore’s reaction, both on and off the field. In and of itself this may not stand out so much, but especially within football reactions normally are a bit less versed.

I have seen many, many interviews with soccer players in Europe, and to be frank: they are not exactly the brightest bulbs. So, are American soccer players really smarter than European ones?

Yes, I think so. Two explanations are present, one at each side of the Atlantic. Let’s start on the west side. The U.S. educational system is much broader in scope than its European counterparts when it comes to sports (but also community work, and the main curriculum). Practicing sports and studying go hand-in-hand in the U.S.; many American children practice their sports via school.

As a matter of fact, if you really want to reach the highest levels in soccer, studying seems a prerequisite. If you want to be drafted by a big professional team, you need to get their attention first. In the U.S. the best, if not only, way is through college teams. To play in college teams you need to actually go to college, and study. So if you are an American professional soccer player, chances are you went through college.

How different are things on the east side (my perspective stems mostly from the situation in the Netherlands, but I think it can be generalised for Europe almost entirely). There is no such thing as college sports. You go to university to study – not to do sports. Sports are organised outside universities, high schools, etc. So it is not the case that you have to do some serious studying if you want to gain exposure to be drafted by a professional team.

Practically, it’s even the complete opposite. I experienced it myself, although I never came close to seriously even think of being drafted by a significant team. I played soccer in a small town. When I turned 18, I was asked to join the first selection of the local soccer team. That year, however, was also the first year I could go to university. The coaches were simple about it: I had to forget about studying, since studying and playing soccer didn’t go together.

I was never a particularly gifted soccer player, but things get even more difficult for those who are, and who have a bright intellect. Combining the two is impossible – they do not communicate at all. So, if you are a European soccer player, chances are you did not go to university.

To conclude:

Pic Enuntians Apparenti

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2 comments on “Why American and European soccer players won’t play chess together

  1. […] the Netherlands I was really quite athletic and in shape before I left for university. As detailed elsewhere, I had to give up soccer as it would not fit my university ambitions. On top of that, as I was […]

  2. […] example once again marks an important difference between European and American soccer academies. In the U.S. you can […]

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