Why I find soccer boring

Do I have a theory for all of my idiosyncratic preferences?  Well, with soccer it is simple.  There is too much apparent noise in the data.  Too many salleys and thrusts lead to immediate reversals.  Moving the ball down the field generates information about the relative strength of the teams, and in theory that is interesting, but I am poorly equipped for interpreting this information.  (I recall reading, with bewilderment, the claim that the French 1-0 victory over Brazil "wasn’t even close.")  To me all that back and forth looks random.  In this regard soccer is like baseball, hockey, or perhaps even chess and Go.  Only the cognoscenti know what is going on.  In particular, the meaning of the drama is clearer when you grow up with it.

Basketball, my favorite sport, generates ongoing data but those results are marked by numbers, most notably points scored, but also rebounds, turnovers, steals, etc.  It is far easier to approach a basketball game "cold" and figure it out on the fly.  If you tune in during halftime, a few stats will indicate what is going on.  It is the perfect sport for people who, like myself, don’t have much time for sports.

Here is a good essay on whether soccer is boring.  Read this too, it compares soccer and hockey.

Comments

I feel the same way, and feel liberated in knowing you feel this way too. I have just chalked it all up to me being poorly equipped to interpret what's happening. I figure it's a great sport, but I just can't understand it. I tried to get a sense of where each player was and how maybe their collective efforts were interesting, but I got really bored really quick and decided I wasn't meant to be a soccer fan.

OK, that was an odd experience - like reading Martians describing human life. The reason a lot of people around the world like football is because they have actually played it and have a basic understanding of the game from experience, not just from random observation. My impression of American sports is that they are so specialized that just about no one have a fairly recent experience of actually playing the game, be it grid iron, basket, or baseball.

Football is a very organized game, so organized that if the organization breaks down if only for a couple of seconds, a good team will punish you. From that point of view , France-Brazil actually never was close. France did an excellent job of containing Brazil's offensive - arguably the best in the world - and posed a deadly threat to Brazil's defence, which is not even among top ten in the world. That much was clear after 30 minutes.

Actually, your primer for understanding basket works for football, too. In Europe you always get a breakdown consisting of possession time, total shots, shots on goal, corners, free-kicks, and cautions. With some prior knowledge of the teams playing, such stats give you a good picture of the game.

Technology is changing the way you get data in soccer. Now, for every single game you can get now lots of computer-generated information, like average position of each player (telling you which team dominates, how they attack/defend, why team A is winning or why it did not transform field domination in score); ball possession in every area of the field (simple possession is not enough : only possession in opponent's area is relevant); number of balls played by every player, number of duels, balls stolen, balls lost, direction of balls played, number of shots, etc.
So now, it is easier to get an aggregate view of the game with data.
The quality of comment is also very important. Usually, active coaches are good commentators, because they understand modern football tactics, can tell you who is good at what, show you important actions and players, things that journalists and players are not really good at.
All these improvements in data and comment can really change the way soccer is watched, and make it easier to appreciate - and less boring - for unused watchers.

At the same time, association football is tremendously popular at the youth recreational level, but this success has not lead to a greater appreciation for the game as a spectator sport. (Unlike how, say, golf and tennis playing leads directly to watching the sports.)

Some observers note that this is because a soccer game played by young, untalented players more closely mimics a real game to the untrained eye than baseball, American football, basketball, tennis, or golf, all of which look ridiculous if extremely young players have not yet learned the skills necessary. By contrast, most children can kick a ball, even if not very well.

Your observation that "It is far easier to approach a basketball game 'cold' and figure it out on the fly" is relevant. Soccer is a game that you must learn to watch. The most exciting scoring plays almost never start in the vicinity of the ball -- so you must be watching a much greater portion of the field in order to see it all develop. This is one of the reasons that soccer televises poorly.

One easy way to statistically quantify the claim that the Brazil-France game "wasn't even close" is that Brazil only had one shot on goal, in the 92nd minute. This from a team that averaged over 9 shots on goal before that game. Fance's defense was very impressive.

That said, it absolutely true in general that soccer is harder to quantify in a box score.

I'll throw out my reason for sometimes finding soccer difficult to watch: it seems like players only sometimes have control of their passes, and rarely have control of their shot.

After some beautiful passing and ball control, the striker is lined up, has a little space and... nothing. The ball goes wide or high by 10 yards, or flutters harmlessly towards the goalie. It's as if Dwayne Wade got a look from 15 feet and shot the ball over the backboard.

Or a pass into the box lands on the other side of the field, 15 yards away from anyone, and rolls out of bounds. As if Jason Kidd saw an open man, and threw the ball into the crowd. On a regular basis.

I've heard that b/c this sort of play is the norm, not the exception, it adds to the beauty. Only a perfect pass and perfect strike will work, and rarity makes them beautiful.

Personally, I find it a little frustrating.

Another soccer gripe (and I've watched lots of the World Cup this year -- I live in an area where World Cup knowledge is a social class signifier, it shows you are international, educated, and wealthy -- equivalent to discussing which hybrid car you want to buy).

Anyway, when I see replays of spectacular shots (like the chest trap to kick goal from 30 yards out in this World Cup) the majesty of the feat is diminished by how how much I know randomness and luck was a factor.

Even the best players don't seem to have that much control of their goal shots and passes. When I see a great play I want to think that the play was purposeful, and not just lucky. The headers in particular seem as likely to go to the opposite side as your own.

I'm reminded of when I learned to play racquetball. Lots of random ball hitting, with occasionally impressive, but unrepeatable results. Which made it quite fun. Actually, the better I got the less fun racquetball became, since it became more predictable and serves become dominant like in tennis.

Lastly, the massive incentive for diving does violate a fundamental tenet of American sports -- never let the opponent know you're hurt. Many great sports moments are about playing injured -- not faking being injured. There are flop artists in the NBA, but 1) they are disliked for this and 2)they fake a flop, not an injury. The size of the field in soccer, and fewer # of refs mean soccer players have to act out the injury to get the refs attention. It's like broadway plays vs movie acting. Soccer has these exaggerated injuries acted for the ref's sake that play horribly on tv.

The soccer guys act like their knee has just exploded, then sprint down the field after five minutes of rolling in fake agony. But getting a red card or penalty kick can radically alter a game, so the diving continues.

Soccer is 2 hours, every time withouth a million time outs and commercial break. In tournaments, you might need overtime and pks to decide a winner. Meanwhile, I can't stand to watch most "American" sports for that reason, you end up watching more commercials than anything. Even the crown jewel of US sports, the Super Bowl, is arguably more of an event for what is televised during sports, than what happens on the playing field.

I find the TV commercials in a baseball game more tolerable because they occur at natural breaks in the game. Baseball games are not deliberately interrupted for the sake of commercials, which unfortunately is not the case with respect to football and basketball.

"American baseball, basketball, and football leagues could benefit from the system used in foreign soccer leagues where bad teams can get relegated down to a lower league, good teams from the lower leagues can climb up, and teams from different countries play in impromptu "champions leagues""

Yep, I was shocked when I found out about this. I work for a german firm, and when they explained how this worked, I was really impressed. It really reinforces the need to put a quality team on the field year after year. As I live in Chicago, I've experienced what ESPN has called the worst owner in Bill Wirtz and the 'anyone can have a bad century' Cubs. The White Sox, my childhood team, had burned me so badly with a bad new stadium, the white flag year and other bonehead moves that by the time they won, I was surprised to find that I could care less.

On topic, I think Soccer appeals to 'random positve behavior reinforcment'. At anytime, a team can score. Any game with a 1 goal difference can be change in an instant.

The France-Brazil outcome (1-0) was I think representative of how things tend to work out - a team dominates though the outcome is 'only' 1-0. There are of course exceptions where a team plays particularly poorly, but somehow manages to luck out and win (perhaps a bit more so in soccer than other sports). Some ways that I understand they have thought about increasing the 'variance' (and reducing randomness) is by making the goal bigger etc. - though given the history of the sport, I am guessing changes are unlikely. Still, one of the best sports around.

Of course, a somewhat bad example given the amazing amount of English on the Tokyo train and subway system.

I should have restricted myself to comments about the train system, I do not take the subway in Tokyo because my business takes place on the outskirts (Tachikawa, Akashima). While the map has English transliteration, the vending machines, which I understand have been discontinued since my last visit, do not have an option for English menus.

at a certain point difficult directly translates into luck

I am guilty of a lack of precision in terminology. My understanding of luck is an event that was considered so remote that it was never specifically planned for, for example the Immaculate Reception in American Football, no one planned on the deflection going in that direction. Soccer goals, even as rare as they are, are not equivalent, on a goal scored from play the players are usually aware of each other's position and momentum, and pass or shoot with intention. This is even more true of dead ball plays. Consider Thierry Henry's goal against Brazil, he was clearly on a run on the opposite side of the box and also clearly unmarked. Zidane's job was to get the ball over the intervening defense and into a position where Henry could make a play. If that was luck then golf is entirely about luck considering how infrequently even the best players hit their exact targets.

Even the best players don't seem to have that much control of their goal shots and passes. When I see a great play I want to think that the play was purposeful, and not just lucky.

Watch some Ronaldinho footage and I think you'll see control, not luck. This might be a good start -- http://youtube.com/watch?v=fkrq1TtrsJo&search=ronaldinho

the vending machines, which I understand have been discontinued since my last visit, do not have an option for English menus.

True enough (though they have not been discontinued). But they do have pictures and you can always just buy a pass for the smallest amount and then use a fare adjustment machine (or pay the person as you leave). Also, they use standard Arabic numerals for the amounts, and every station I've been in has at least one large map with English so that you can figure out the price you need if you want to buy it directly.

My understanding of luck is an event that was considered so remote that it was never specifically planned for, for example the Immaculate Reception in American Football, no one planned on the deflection going in that direction. Soccer goals, even as rare as they are, are not equivalent,

I've seen enough own goal footage in my time to doubt this statement. And of course when God directly intervenes to hit the ball so that Maradona can help Argentina beat England, that wasn't specifically planned for either.

Baseball is better on television by a wide margin. You can actually see whereeach pitch ends up and its trajectory through the air. You can see whether the batter was late or early on a pitch. This is wherethe drama in basball lies and you can't really see it live.

"too much apparent noise" often tranlates as "nuance". Imagine complaining about Tolstoy or Tarrintino because they strayed too much from the main plotline. Claiming not to like it is like only wanting to do math while the equations are simple.

Yes, Soccer is the most complex of modern sports - unlike the big four of American sports, all the players (save the goalie) are allowed the same movements, and there are 22 of them on the field, 20 of whom can move anywhere, creating a lot more possibility that the fairly simple outcomes of Football and Baseball.

Yes, it takes some knowledge and background to fully appreciate the sport (maybe like economics), but it is far simpler to understand than most other sports - imagine someone with no exposure to any sports who tries to figure out baseball or football (where you need multiple referees just to keep track of what each position is allowed to do).

And if you don't think it is interesting, try the political aspect of the World Cup (here is Henry Kissinger:
http://www.ashbrook.org/articles/kissinger.html)

And if you believe in markets, it is pretty hard to argue that it is inferior....

Whether or not soccer televises well...and it's better when you don't have gratuitous explanatory graphics covering up the player with the ball (something ESPN did to the common feed too many times)...no sport is that exciting to someone who is not already a fan if you only read about it afterward.

There are different senses of "not even close". This was not close in the sense that France deserved the win by dominating play and posession. It was certainly close in the sense that Brazil was never out of it until the final whistle. Thus, it was not the version of "not close" that the US team showed against everyone but Italy.

I'm not a soccer afficionado by any means, but watching France-Brazil was very exciting, IMHO. It was not that different from watching a football game where one team is dominating play, but the other keeps it close enough so that one great play could change the outcome. I've certainly seen plenty of those. They often involve the announcers saying how Team A dominated but should be worried because they left Team B in striking distance. Part of the excitement is in whether Team B can come back late. In this case, Brazil had a couple of chances late, but couldn't finish. Not unlike watching team B run the 2-minute drill, not score, get the ball back, not score etc.

As for soccer stats, there are other stats that measure player quality. Especially for your half and fullbacks. They have numbers for passes completed, passes stolen in addition to all of the possesion and location stats. I have seen football games that were 21-17 that weren't as close as the score indicated and games that were 28-7 that were a lot closer than the score indicated.

As for the low scoring. If you turned corners into 3 points and goals into 7, you would get NFL like scores. Remember that Ravens team that went 5 games without scoring a touchdown?

One factor that I think comes into play that people forget about scoring is that defense wins games at high levels. It's true in football, basketball, hockey and baseball (pitching). When you get to the highest levels, you're going to see better defense and therefore lower scores. Most Americans only watch soccer during the World Cup, which is soccer at the very highest level. If you look at some scores for Alemania Aachen this year, here's a their last 5 league games (3:2, 0:0, 2:0, 4:2, and 5:2). Those look like baseball scores to me (outside the 0:0 tie).

I disagree that every player can play in every position, unlike all of the big 4. In basketball, every player can literally take any shot or appear in any spot of the floor as another. No goalies. You just don't see many centers camping out at the 3 point line. Same goes for hockey, with the same goalie exception.

Brad L wrote:
I'll throw out my reason for sometimes finding soccer difficult to watch: it seems like players only sometimes have control of their passes, and rarely have control of their shot.

After some beautiful passing and ball control, the striker is lined up, has a little space and... nothing. The ball goes wide or high by 10 yards, or flutters harmlessly towards the goalie. It's as if Dwayne Wade got a look from 15 feet and shot the ball over the backboard.

Passing takes two people - the passer and the receiver. If the receiver fails to do his job, the pass doesn't get completed. Both are cooperating in this situation and the passer is aware of this. When a player is shooting at the goal, he knows that the goalie will try his best to prevent a goal, and so the shooter is trying to fool the goalie by playing a guessing game sometimes, which often results in shots that go pretty wide of the goal.

Soccer is a great game, obviously, but I'm put off by the wild celebrations after a goal. These guys should act like they have been there before. It only emphasizes the randomness of the scoring. It's always a surprise and thus the pathetic hugging, kissing, piling on. Save your energy, boys. It ain't the end of the world.

The average for this World Cup (the second lowest scoring one in history) is ~11%. 138 goals on 1299 shots. There is a wide distribution among the teams: going from 0% for Trinidad and Tobago (0 goals in 20-some shots) and 3% for Paraguay all the way up to 21% for Argentina (11 goals on 53 shots).

This does not seem to be a valid use of statistics either in the colloquial or more formal sense. Given the relatively narrow margin of victory in most games (especially basketball) it seems as though, in most games, either team has a valid chance at winning. Thus, trying to argue backward from the outcome to the predictive power of the statistics correlated with the outcome seems not supportable. For example, the correlation of points with (#of shots taken)X (field goal percentage) is obvious and not very informative.

Basically, the use of statistics in sports sounds suspiciously like the use of statistics in explaining and marketing outcomes in financial markets. If you want to explain a specific outcome there will always be some markers that are correlated that can be used to explain the outcome even if they add no useful information.

The Majority of these replies and opinions stink of deluded American superiority. Soccer (or Football as u should be calling it, as we English invented it with that name in the 1800's) is a much more complex sport than baseball or American Football (not in the scoring sense as I still dnt understand either of these two sports). Baseball and American Football are all about power and pace, whereas soccer is all about pace, skill, movement and technique, therefore requires much more skill, concentration and intelligence. I am not putting down your sports but soccer is much superior in history and kudos. To compare it to basketball is the biggest joke i have ever heard, basketball is a non contact sport and thus it is nigh on impossible to stop the opponent from scoring at some point. I challenge u to take a ball out to a football goal and see how much easier it is to throw the ball into the net from all distances rather than kick it. Even better, go to a basketball net with a football and try and kick the ball into the ring. You need to give a sport a chance before you bring it down, the beauty of football is in watching your team win, not seeing how many goals are scored.

How can you say that soccer is boring, when it is a lot like basketball, but with your feet? I play soccer and i love it! It is most definetly not a boring game, and most people who dont play, think it is easy to play or boring. Well, I'd like to see those people play and see their sucky opinions change!

soccer is difcualt sports

needs skills

aloots of skills

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