I was given the chance to contribute to our bookshelf while Bobinho is away in Spain on vacation. Jomo Hendrickson put together a very remarkable novel that details the struggle American soccer players face still to this day and very much so in the 90s and early 2000s in The American Way. The story takes place in a few different settings but a majority of the tail is told in Kokomo, Indiana, a very blue collar town where gang violence and drugs dominated the streets. The main character Japeth struggles to become the greatest soccer player ever, amidst drug and gang violence, pressures from friends to give up, and the struggle financially to afford the expensive youth sport. The tail sheds light to the struggle many of America's youth face daily to be successful in youth soccer, a sport in the US that is expensive, not extremely accessible to young people in certain areas, and especially back in the 1990s and early 2000s, looked down upon as a sport for the feint of heart.
The book crafts perfectly the experience of a young man who is trying to make it in soccer who grew up in a very blue collar town with a small underworld of gangs and drugs in the 1990s. Japeth the main character struggles to make it to practice an hour away from his house, has to work jobs to afford the high cost of travel to the major tournaments in the country, and has to stay motivated to train in a hostile atmosphere that his neighborhood supplied. Japeth lucked out and was taken to St. Vincent where his family originally hailed from, a place where he was able to train and fully understand what it means to love the game and play the sport with a passion that very few American players have.
The story was very relatable to anyone who grew up playing the sport in the past twenty years in America. It details perfectly the intensity and hunger for success that the heavily suburban Americans sometimes lack when playing the sport. The novel is particularly enjoyable when the social aspect of Japeth's life is discussed and the struggle with old friends and newfound fame and fortune becomes a talking point later in the story.
The book should be read by every player who has parents who can afford $300 shoes, the club fees, and the hotel rooms and travel expenses that typically come with the club soccer experience in this country as a humble reminder of how grateful they should be for their parents support, and for what they are competing against if they want to be great at this sport. To some soccer is the only way out of dealing drugs, gang life, or horrible situations. The sport is the only hope they have, and not succeeding is not an option for many players with backgrounds similar to Japeth. Jomo does a wonderful job depicting the long and bumpy road to success that many soccer players face when trying to make it in the game and allows for insight into the not so perfect world most professionals come from. We can all be reminded of how imperfect athletes may be in a lot of instances, with few of us realizing the struggles they may have had getting to the position they are currently in today in the past.
The American Way is a perfect description of how America makes soccer inaccessible for most young people in many communities across the country like Kokomo. Without access to fields, transportation to training and games, equipment, or quality instruction America wastes a majority of the natural talent it could have playing the sport at the highest levels. I witnessed first hand players who grew up working jobs before school to pay for soccer, players with parents who had no internet to respond to emails or look at schedules online, and other scenarios where the support systems and life conditions made becoming an elite soccer player almost impossible. Soccer in the US has grown in popularity, and it is now a popular sport to be good at, Japeth may not have been looked down upon as so many of us were growing up for having dreams of being a great soccer player. It is hard to ignore however the thousands of Japeth’s that exist in this country still today who are not supported by a system who makes soccer an investment for families that is very hard to afford.
You can find Jomo Hendrickson’s The American Way on Amazon.com here