Switching Fields

The contrast is striking. As the United States Women’s National soccer team has long dominated the sport—winners of four World Cups and four Olympic gold medals—the men’s team has floundered. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the last three Olympics, and have long struggled when facing the world’s best teams. How could a country so dominant in other men’s team sports—and such a global powerhouse in women’s soccer—be so far behind the rest of the world in men’s soccer?

In Switching Fields, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist George Dohrmann turns his investigative focus on the system that develops male soccer players in the United States, examining why the country has struggled for decades to produce first-class talent. But rather than just focus on the past, he looks forward, connecting with coaches and players who are changing the way talented prospects are unearthed and developed: an American living in Japan who devised a new way for kids under five to be introduced to the game; a coach in Los Angeles who traveled to Spain and Argentina and returned with coaching methods that he used to school a team of future pros; a startup in San Francisco that has increased access for Latino players; an Arizona real estate developer whose grand experiment changed the way pro teams in the United States nurture talent.

Following these innovators’ inspiring journeys, Dohrmann gives ever-hopeful U.S. soccer fans a reason to believe that a movement is underway to smash the developmental status quo—one that has put the United States on the precipice of greatness.

“A well-reported study of how a hidebound sport was saved from itself.”

Switching Fields is an exhaustive and necessary examination of what has stood between the U.S. men’s national team and relevance in international soccer. Dohrmann takes a microscope to the failings of scouting, youth coaching, and often imagination in the American game, all in the desperate hope that something will change—and the U.S. can finally build a winner.

Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg, Co-Authors of The Club

Essential reading for anyone wanting to understand why the US men’s team has disappointed in the past but should have a brighter future ahead . . . Dohrman’s reporting takes us beyond the up and down of results to find the structural causes—which, as so often in the US, have much to do with race. This optimistic and pacily written book is a pleasure to read.

Simon Kuper, International Bestselling Author of Soccernomics and The Barcelona Complex
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Superfans

There are fans, and then there are fanatics. In this wondrously immersive look at American sports fandom, George Dohrmann travels the country to find out what distinguishes an ordinary, everyday enthusiast from that special breed of supporter known as the superfan. In Minnesota, Dohrmann meets newly minted generals of the Viking World Order, a Minnesota Vikings affinity group organized along military lines. In Oregon, he shares a few beers with a determined soccer fan who amassed—almost singlehandedly—a four-thousand-strong cheering section for the fledgling Portland Timbers. In Illinois, he talks with the parents of a five-year-old boy whose intense hatred of Tom Brady went viral on YouTube. Through these and other intimate profiles, Dohrmann shows us the human faces behind the colored face paint, the real people inside the elaborate costumes who prowl the stands and parking lots at stadiums from coast to coast.

In addition to the fans themselves, Dohrmann also talks with the experts who study them. He uses the latest thinking in sports psychology—some of it learned during a spirited round of miniature golf with a group of professors at the annual Sports Psychology Forum—to unravel the answers to such burning questions as: How does fandom begin? What are its effects on everyday life? When does it go too far?

For everyone who’s ever body-painted their torso with the team colors of their alma mater before heading off to a sports bar—or even just screamed at their television during the NBA Finals, Superfans offers an entertaining and insightful exploration of the many ways human beings find meaning in something bigger than themselves.

Superfans is utterly hilarious, showing that sports have the power to turn PhD psychologists into superstitious obsessives, and young children into statistical savants. It’s also the definitive anthropological dive into a form of mania that affects someone you love, if not you yourself.

David Epstein, New York Times bestselling author of The Sports Gene
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Play Their Hearts Out

Eight years of unfettered access and a keen sense of a story’s deepest truths allow Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist George Dohrmann to take readers inside the machine that produces America’s basketball stars. Play Their Hearts Out reveals a cutthroat world where boys as young as eight or nine are subjected to a dizzying torrent of scrutiny and exploitation. At the book’s heart are the personal stories of two compelling figures: Joe Keller, an ambitious coach with a master plan to find and promote “the next LeBron,” and Demetrius Walker, a fatherless latchkey kid who falls under Keller’s sway and struggles to live up to unrealistic expectations. Complete with a new “where-are-they-now” Epilogue by the author, this thoroughly compelling narrative exposes the gritty reality that lies beneath so many dreams of fame and glory.

Play Their Hearts Out, an often heartbreaking, always riveting exploration of the seamy underbelly of big-time youth basketball — and one of the finest books about sports I’ve ever read.

Jason Zengerle, New York Times Sunday Book Review
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Hand Me Down Dream

The dream of playing big-time basketball never came true for Bruce Nelson, so he passed it on to his son Roberto. His every waking moment as a father was devoted to securing Roberto a Division I scholarship. Oftentimes he worried that his son’s lack of competitive fire might put that dream in jeopardy—when in fact it was Bruce’s own actions that would do so. When Bruce is forced to monitor Roberto’s progress from behind penitentiary walls, his influence recedes—and so too does Roberto’s commitment to the aspirations they once shared. In a story that combines deep insight into family relationships with the deft storytelling that distinguished his award-winning Play Their Hearts Out, George Dohrmann follows Roberto as he addresses his life’s most difficult decisions in the absence of his best friend and most constant companion. In doing so, Dohrmann sheds new light on the larger story of basketball dreams and the pressures they place on young athletes.

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