Category: Sports

Football is the greatest sport in the world. Why does Canada call it soccer?

“It’s the greatest sport  in the world. Why does Canada call this soccer?” writes John Harbink, Surrey B.C. “Why call a game of handball with a helmet, football? It does not make sense to me.”   Paul Attfield – a  displaced Englishman and former Globe Sports soccer reporter, writes:

The word soccer is – brace yourself – actually a British term.  In truth, it’s not just Canada and the United States that calls football soccer.  It was used in England up until about 30 years ago to distinguish association football – today the world’s most popular sport – from another form of football, rugby football, or rugger for short.

The reasoning behind this is intertwined with the development of both sports. While embattled and outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter is happy to honour China as the cradle of association football, the game as we know it today was forged on the playing fields of England’s public schools. When much of Georgian Britain had condemned the sport as too barbaric for communal play, preferring instead the more gentlemanly pursuits of cricket, rowing and boxing, it was left to the next generation to carry the torch.

While hallowed institutions such as the Duke of Cambridge’s alma mater, Eton College, developed such idiosyncrasies as the Eton Wall Game – a bizarre scrummaging game still played today – others went in different directions. Westminster School derived from its tight London grounds a game of football based around dribbling, Winchester College’s narrow pitch led it to develop a kick-and-chase style and Rugby School students, most notably William Webb Ellis according to legend, preferred to simply carry the ball in hand.

When these students moved on, as many did, to Oxford or Cambridge Universities, or to the armed forces, it proved nearly impossible to play a collective game of footy as everyone ascribed to different rules. Eventually a series of meetings were held in the fall of 1863 between 11 London-based clubs and schools at a bar in Covent Garden to thrash out the official laws of the game.

Though those meetings led to the birth of association football, and the sport’s first governing body, the Football Association, not everyone was in total agreement with the proceedings. Blackheath, one of the clubs involved, withdrew at the final meeting over the removal of a rule permitting running with the ball in hand, and another allowing hacking, tripping and holding of the ball-carrier. Blackheath went on to become one of the founding members of the Rugby Football Union eight years later.

As rugby football made its way to North America – both in Canada and south of the border – it quickly got shortened to ‘football’ as the game morphed into the one we know today. The Grey Cup, the CFL’s championship trophy, was originally donated to the Canadian Rugby Union in 1909 to recognize the top amateur rugby football team in Canada.

Australian Rules Footballas subject to the same abbreviation in Australia, which also happily uses the word soccer to describe association football, so much so that its men’s national team is called the Socceroos.

But while Brits were happy to shorten association football to soccer, the rise in popularity of the sport in North America in the 1970s and 80s led to a backlash back home, so soccer snobs stopped using the word over its American connotations.

Follow Paul Attfield on Twitter here, and read The Globe’s soccer – erm, football – coverage here.

Who will win the Stanley Cup this year?

Reader Jacob Ellis in Toronto asks, “Who will win the Stanley Cup this year?” The Globe’s hockey reporter James Mirtle responds:

This is the question every sportswriter dreads. The question our bosses (and strangers at parties) throw us every year.

The most honest answer is the NHL playoffs are a crapshoot. That’s not a criticism; it’s part of what makes them great. Even relative to other sports, hockey is wildly unpredictable, especially once you toss out the 14 worst teams and get into the relatively short 20ish game stretch that is a Stanley Cup winning run.

In the NHL right now, 13 teams have odds of 14-to-1 or better of winning the Cup, according to one main betting outfit.

In the NBA, there are only seven – similar playoff format but a much different level of parity. (Some of which is simply the fact one sport is so much lower scoring than the other. Fewer scoring plays means more variance means more random results.) In basketball, you can pick Cleveland or Golden State or Oklahoma and be fairly certain you’ll have a hit, barring a big upset.

But there’s no such thing as a real favourite in the NHL this year and basically any playoff team is a reasonable choice. Who’s the best one?

Two of the key traits we’ve seen in championship teams in the NHL the last seven or eight years have been (a) great goaltending and (b) the ability to control play at even strength. Many, many factors go into a team winning the Cup – with luck being another significant one – but those are the biggies.

One thing that makes this year so hard to call is there’s no obvious team that is elite in both elements. Montreal, for example, has the NHL’s best goaltender in Carey Price but struggles possession-wise. Then there are a handful of top possession teams with fairly average starters.

The Blackhawks were likely the league’s closest thing to a favourite until Patrick Kane went down with a broken clavicle last week. They have excellent depth, a great coach and a goaltender in Corey Crawford who has the ability to get hot at the right time.

But with Kane not back until Round 3, and the Western Conference such a dogfight, there’s no guarantee they’ll get through.

A big reason for that is that their current first-round opponent is the St. Louis Blues, a series that would be essentially a coin flip given how evenly matched they are. It’s great team against great team.

In my opinion, those two are the best bets from the West to get through. But there easily could be a 50-per-cent chance one will be gone by Round 2. And there’s an easier route up for someone else in the Pacific Division. And we don’t even know if the defending champs (Kings) are going to get in.

Picking who comes out of the East may be even tougher given every single team there has a legitimate shot. If Price stays unbeatable, it could be the Habs. If Henrik Lundqvist has another terrific postseason, the Rangers could do the same.

Then there’s Tampa Bay, Detroit, the Islanders and Pittsburgh, all four of which have emerged as great possession teams and have superstar talent up front. There are perfectly reasonable reasons to pick each one.

Frankly, as one of the resident hockey nerds at The Globe, I’m simply excited for what’s going to be one of the more compelling playoffs in a long time. This level of parity is terrific – except for making predictions.

But since you’re forcing me to do just that: I’ll take the St. Louis Blackhawks over the Tampa Bay Red Wings. In seven games.

Follow Mirtle on Twitter and keep up on Globe Hockey coverage

When will the Leafs win the Stanley Cup?

A bold question from Steve Stojanovich, a Globe reader in Richmond Hill, Ont.: “When will the Leafs win the Stanley Cup?” Globe Sports columnist Cathal Kelly looks into his crystal ball, and has your answer:


Because by then I’ll be dead, and won’t have to deal with the resultant traffic problems.

How about we start with, ‘When will the Leafs win a playoff round?’. Or, ‘When will the Leafs look like they’re not on a work-to-rule, but still playing just for the hell of it?’ Alllllllways with the Cup. But OK, we’ll play it your way.

Here is the Leafs key problem, as I see it – You care too much. ‘You’ being not just the heavily invested fan, but the average Torontonian. We hear a lot about how that affects the players. It doesn’t, really. The players don’t care. They function as an isolated Band of Brothers and get paid either way.

Who it affects is management and their bosses, the board that controls MLSE. They turn on the TV or the radio or open the paper, and it’s all shrieking calls for change and call-in shows featuring ‘Ed from Whitby’ ranting for twenty minutes about how he’s going to give it all up and move to Yemen, where they don’t have hockey. (Bad news, Ed.) Fired into action by this constant citywide panic, they begin making a series of willy-nilly decisions (i.e. placing effective team control in the hands of Phil Kessel) that resound disastrously for years.

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Many kids’ sports leagues are taking winning and losing out of the game. Isn’t competition part of sports?

“Many kids sports leagues and associations (e.g. soccer) no longer keep score at games, track standings or have playoffs/tournaments where a winning team is declared,” writes Josh Cobden in Toronto. “Isn’t competition part of sports?” Globe Life & Arts reporter and father of two, Dave McGinn weighs in:

Two summers ago, I went to watch my niece play soccer. My daughter was excited to see her cousin in an actual game—look at that jersey, she’s so grown up!—and I was excited to see my brother in his job as the coach of her team (look at that whistle, he’s so grown up!)

They played the way all little kids play soccer: Everyone on both teams surrounded the ball and moved up and down the field as one giant mass. Every now and then, a kid would get the ball and break away from the pack, often in the wrong direction. My brother would windmill his arms to get the kid’s attention, and smiling parents would yell, “The other way! Go the other way!”

Afterwards, we went to get ice cream. Would any of the kids be happier if they were told they won the game? I seriously doubt it. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about it because no one was keeping score.

Personally, I want my kids to love sports because sports are awesome. I want them to build self-confidence and self-esteem. Considering the rates of obesity in this country, I want my kids to develop a lifelong love of physical activity through sports. I want them to learn dedication and good sportsmanship.

Along the way, I want them to learn responsibility, whether it’s by oiling their baseball gloves or making sure their cleats and shin pads are packed in the car as we head to practice. That, too, is one of the important things sports can teach kids.

Some researchers say there shouldn’t be competition in kids’ sports at any age. “The less competition that’s present in kids’ play, the healthier and more productive it is for them,” says Alfie Kohn, author of No Contest: The Case Against Competition. “Overwhelming research indicates that competition undermines psychological health, strains relationships and reduces achievement.”

So let’s take the question ‘isn’t competition part of sports?’ and instead ask ‘what kind of competition? How much? And when?’

“One of the problems we have is people either have full-fledged competition, like the Super Bowl for babies, or nothing. It’s much better to think of a developmental progression,” says Daniel Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.

The big concern that underlies eliminating competition from sports is that by giving trophies to everyone regardless of effort or outcome, we’re raising kids who will expect to be handed trophies their entire lives in one form or another without working for them. It’s a legitimate worry.

The Canadian Long-term athlete development model is a very good example of how this progression should work, Gould says.

A quick summary of it goes like this: First, little kids get engaged in physical activity (Can you jump? Can you hop?) Then, around the age of six, learn fundamental movements to promote balance and agility. (Can you dribble from one end of the pitch to the other?) From there, you can introduce scoring but not place much emphasis on it; and then, finally, when kids reach their teen years, competition becomes more important, with medals and trophies and winners and losers.

“In the teenage years, kids need to learn how to win and they need to learn how to lose,” Gould says.“I think some parents forget to do that, and then they wonder why their kid’s not independent at 14,” Gould says.

When they’re old enough,  I want my kids to know how good it feels to earn victory, and how to recover from a loss that just totally sucks. So yes – competition is part of sports at a certain age,though a yes or no answer doesn’t get us anywhere close to the nuance, complexity and careful understanding the issue requires.

And one thing I’m learning as a parent—my children are five and three—is that thinking through issues with nuance, complexity and careful understanding is our job if we want to do what’s best for kids. It’s not easy or simple, and sometimes people are screaming at you, or flinging things at their sister, but you need to do it all the same.

Sport is about competition. But it’s about so much more than that, too.

By the way, my niece? She still loves soccer. I don’t even know if her league has started to keep score, but you should see her out there. She runs all over the pitch with this huge, determined grin on her face. She’s way better than she was when she started playing, and she wants to get even better. That’s a kid who’s winning.

Read more from Dave McGinn here, including essential reading In Praise of the Fun Dad

How safe are the materials used in artificial turf?

This question – “Are the materials used in artificial turfs of playgrounds toxic?” – was posed to us on Twitter by the @notoxicturf group, and echoed by many. “If so, why is it used?’ Globe Health reporter Carly Weeks says “concerns over artificial turf have been growing at a rapid clip following an NBC investigation in October that suggested it could pose a cancer risk.” Weeks explores the issue:

The controversy centres on crumb rubber, the tiny black specks that are made from used car tires and spread around the turf. Artificial turf is used on everything from soccer fields to playgrounds to baseball diamonds and the rubber used can contain dozens of volatile organic compounds.

The NBC investigation featured a veteran soccer coach who has made a list of nearly 40 young American soccer players — the vast majority of them goalies — who have been diagnosed with cancer in recent years. Goalies, who are frequently making contact with the ground, are believed to be at a heightened risk because they would have a much greater exposure to crumb rubber than their teammates. How can it be a coincidence that so many of them are being diagnosed with cancer as adolescents and young adults, the report asks.

For its part, the astro-turf industry defends its reputation, saying that no long-term studies have found a link between crumb rubber and cancer or other serious health problems.

However, the majority of the studies conducted measure air quality or the environmental impacts of artificial grass. There is no long-term, in-depth research studying the potential health impacts of artificial turf.

One 2010 study by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, cited by the industry as proof artificial turf is safe, doesn’t actually make that conclusion. The report found that levels of volatile organic compounds above outdoor artificial turf fields did not exceed acceptable limits, but the report did not look at indoor artificial turf fields, and says the air there could have much higher levels of VOCs. The report also states that it’s not known how the field age, the methods of processing the tires, or a variety of other factors, affect the chemicals that are released.

And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that tests of artificial turf fields in New Jersey have found “unhealthy levels of lead dust.”

There are no clear answers on what exact risks artificial turf could pose. But it does appear that heightened public attention to the issue could push government agencies and researchers to scrutinize artificial turf much more closely to get to the bottom of it.

Read more health stories from Carly Weeks, and follow @Globe_Health on Twitter.

What advice would you give an up-and-coming sports journalist?

Aspiring sports writer and Globe reader @casey_dulson asks: “What advice would you give an up and coming sports journalist?” As an experienced sports columnist, The Globe’s Cathal Kelly knows sports – but more importantly, his writing  appeals to those who don’t know everything about A-Rod, or anything about soccer. Following the day of the Ottawa attack, Kelly’s piece about the day of no hockey could serve as a lesson in sports-writing in itself.

Kelly’s advice for you:

Here’s the key ability of sportswriter – waiting.

Waiting in hallways, and press boxes, and offices, and outside arenas, in bad hotel rooms in worse cities, and by your phone. You spend half your life waiting for something to happen. Once it does, you spend the other half waiting for someone to talk to you about it.

It’s the spaces in between where you make your mark. Here’s my (totally flawed) formula for making it as a sportswriter.

Be good – This is a dual function of innate talent and reading. A very few of us are born with it. The rest of us copy it from our betters – and think more Richard Yates than Frank DeFord. You could be a natural genius. But you’re probably not. So read a lot and try to do what they did.

Be nice – Never fail to make a friend. The players can afford to be jerks. Everyone else in the game gets where they are because they are agreeable to be around. Do so. Never run anyone down. Be generous. Buy the first and last round. Talk people up. Ask questions. Do more listening than talking. Sow kindness and you will reap success.

Be different – You ever been to the Museu Picasso in Barcelona? It shows the young master doing the photo-realistic stuff everyone else had done. But he did it aged 11. By 20, he was in Paris doing something completely different. It’s a big world – be different. I can’t tell you what that looks like. Decide for yourself.

Do it alone – Look at what has managed. Call them, listen to them. Then ruthlessly exploit them. They are the 21st century Canadian-based template of DIY sportswriting excellence.

Be relentless – Once you’ve met the first four criteria, pick a half-dozen jobs you’d like and target them. Make calls. Ask stupid questions. You’d be amazed how open journos are to people who come without any answers. We love questions. We suspect answers. Find out who can hire you and begin – gently – badgering them. Be good. Be really good. Don’t come until you’re good. If you’re good, then come.

Remember what it’s about – It’s about writing. It’s not about sports. Sports is electricity. Writing is the delivery system. No one has ever made money off electricity. Adjust accordingly.

Be deferential – On the first day in the office, you will see me trying to figure out my expenses. Offer to help do my expenses. And when my expenses are refused, offer to pay them for me. It’s a long road. Start out with generosity.

Follow Cathal Kelly on Twitter and read more from Globe Sports here.