Dr. Sam Owiredu lives in Corpus Christi and he has called this place home for over the last dozen years or better. He loves his profession of physical therapy and he loves the patients that he works with on a daily basis. But if there are two things that Dr. Owiredu loves more in this world than that, it would be his family and his love for the game of soccer. Dr. Owiredu plays and participates in a very complicated men’s league here in Corpus Christi and he has for the last several years. He has seen the game at the local level change direction over the years and while being a student of the game and a trained athlete, he has built a solid reputation in the local soccer community as both a leader and as a player.
If you spend a few minutes talking to Dr. Owiredu you quickly learn that he loves sports. In addition to his soccer, he was an accomplished tracker star in his native Ghana in West Africa. He surely come by his love for both track and soccer honestly. The country’s national team, known as the “Black Stars,” after the Black Star of Africa has won 4 Africa Cups and finished runner up 5 times. The love of the game runs deep in Africa and like in most places around the world, that love spills over to its people.
“Too many kids think that they are entitled to play and be good,” said Dr. Owiredu. “They think that they deserve to play.”
And when it comes to the culture of sports in general, he is certainly right. But observers say that it is nearly an expected rule in American style soccer–a fact that is causing many to question the legitimacy of the sport itself here in the states.
“It is about money,” Dr. Owiredu says. “Soccer players here do not make what they make in Europe and they do not get the coverage from the sportscasters.” A fact that does seem to hold water.
On average soccer players in the USA earn as much as 60% less than their counterparts in Europe or Latin America. However, on the global scale, the mentality of the sport is very different.
“Around the world it takes exceptional dedication to become a footballer,” says James Pinkard, a talent scout for UEFA. “We rarely look outside of Europe because we have such a solid talent pool here and everywhere you look there is a promising kid with a ball putting in the hours outside of regular practice to make that dream come true.”
Pinkard also points to the fact that soccer is still a sport that limits itself in the United States and tries to compete with other major sports across the country.
“What we see from the USA is entitlement and though it is a growing problem worldwide with the younger generation, we see it less among children in developing nations,” Pinkard says. “What the sport in America needs is more dedication and less expectation.”
Dr. Owiredu could not agree more and points out that for him personally, he practices what he preaches and makes sure that even his own children work hard and are fully dedicated to whatever it is they are doing–even on the pitch.
“You do not go to practice and then go play on the same day,” says Dr. Owiredu. “I used to go out and practice for hours and hours outside of practice.”
But Pinkard points out that while all of the professional resources are good and great, the best cure for the soccer acceptance dilemma here in the states is simply being a fan.
“How can you say that you are going to be the greatest at anything and you only practice or play 5 to 6 hours each week? No matter the sport, the greatest spend hours each and every single day working on their technique, practicing their individual skills and then watching and re-watching the truly great players and teams play at the highest level,” says Pinkard. “A few hours each week hardly makes you qualified to be the very best.”
In fact, Daniel Heikken is a sports psychologist based in London that routinely works with Formula 1 drivers and teams. He told STJ in an interview that even while the race is only a few hours long, the drivers still spend upwards to 80 hours each week studying tracks, learning new details about their machines and physically training 4-6 hours each day to prepare for the demands of a 2 hour race.
“If you want to be the greatest then you have to work like the greatest and stop talking about it,” says Heikken. “There is a very big difference between hype and ripe, if you know what I mean?”
But how does all of this translate to growing the sport here in Texas? It most likely doesn’t. But what it does do is teach us all a lesson in finding our own greatness and living up to our own internal potential. Perhaps, that is what sporting is truly all about anyhow.