Over lunch one day two years ago, a distinguished editor of this newspaper - an editor whose realm happens to be sports, as Mrs. President might say - revealed his secrets for coaching kids' soccer.
"I asked everyone with a European father to raise their hands," Editor said, "and two kids raised their hands. So I made them strikers. My kid, who is a first baseman, I made him the goalkeeper."
Hanging on every word was Gordon Bradley, who at 45 had spent 19 years playing and coaching soccer in England - and 10 more in New York - before the Washington Diplomats made him their main brain.
"Ah, I see," Bradley said to Editor, who then said to the Englishman, "Soccer has come a long way in the competitive standards of the rest of the world. What do you think is the main problem with American soccer?"
Bradley is as kindly a gentleman as works in professional sports. With a smile and a tilt of his head, the coach said to Editor, "The main problem is coaches like you."
Solzhenitsyn at Harvard said the West is going to hell in a handbasket. You could tell by the music, Alex said. Soccer in the U.S. may catch up with Yugoslavia, say, in 50 or 60 years, according to Bradley, who the other day did a Solzhenitsyn number at a weekly luncheon meeting of local soccer people devoted to the Diplomats.
The up-from-nothing son of an English coal miner, Bradley said we Americans overorganize and overcoach our overindulged children. The result is they will never be Pele or Beckenbauer. "Pele was never coached, Beckenbauer was never coached," Bradley said. "Too much coaching is going on in this country.... We're 3,000 percent overorganized. We even organize the organized. I yearn to see the day when children will go out in a field and improve themselves."
That day, Bradley fears, is far removed because not only are American adults obsessively concerned with directing their children's play, but the children have so many luxuries they are robbed of the driving desire to succeed.
"When a kid does something wrong, the parent says, "Go up to my bedroom," because the kid's bedroom has color TV and a telephone," Bradley said.
And probably a stereo that Solzhenitsyn can hear in the Vermont woods.
"We give the kids so much," Bradley said, "they are not hungry. Hunger. That's why we get Sonny Listons and Muhammad Alis. They were hungry guys who wanted something badly. But most kids, if they see a 20-speed bicycle, they want it because they already have a 10-speed.
"We've got too much in this country. We ought to start all over again."
Solzhenitsyn can put words together and he has a wonderful prophet's beard, but it was disturbing to hear him, from the freedom of a Harvard soapbox, decry the freedom that has made the West safe for a thousand - nay, tens of thousands - divergent interests, some of which may believe disco is what Beethoven had in mind before his ears went bad.
It also is strange to hear Bradley knock a sports culture that makes his job possible. Without the 50,000 organized soccer players between 5 and 19 in the metropolitan Washington area, the Diplomats might play on the White House lawn unnoticed. So Pele was not coached? So what? Did anyone tell Picasso how to hold the brush? Not all of us are touched by genius, especially kid first basemen who might want to learn how to play a ball game where it's a no-no to touch the ball with your hands.
In his impassioned little speech, Bradley conceded that America produces the best athletes in basketball, football and baseball. "But when it comes to soccer..." he said, allowing the sentence to die in meaningful silence.
The baffling part here is that while Bradley believes our basketball, football and baseball players - virtually all of them products of our supposed overorganized, overcoached system - are the best available, he doesn't think the same system will produce the best soccer players.
I hasten to add that Bradley is no militant in this belief. Far from crusading for abolition of the kids' soccer programs now nearly as large as junior baseball programs, Bradley and the Diplomats are taking advantage of the interest.
A man stood up at the luncheon the other day and bragged about how many kids had signed up for another soccer camp at which Bradley and his players are instructors. From a low of 25 kids at the first camp two years ago, the Diplomats now expect 225 at a camp next week.
Nor does Bradley ignore the American competitive spirit.
"This country can be successful at soccer without bringing in players from other countries," he said, "because Americans are competitive. They have to climb Everest, they have to swim the English Channel, they have to compete, even if it is with Timbuktu.
"Certainly, America can be successful with the North American Soccer League without going outside these waters.
"But then there's always the question, "But what about the World Cup?""
The World Cup is It in soccer, a tournament open to every country that knows how to play a ball game without touching the ball with your hands.
"America is not at the World Cup level yet," Bradley said. "It could be 50, 60 years away."
As entertainment right now, however, Bradley insists the Diplomats are worth a customer's money.Behind, 4-1, in last week's 95-degree heat and playing with only 10 men to Toronto's 11, the Diplomats rallied to win 5-4, the verdict assured only when a Toronto shot caromed off a goal post with 17 seconds to play. There were 11,856 people at RFK.
"It was a pity to me that we didn't have 55,000 people there to see such an exciting game," Bradley said. "I coudln't quite believe what was happening in that game."
One supposes, however, Bradley is happy that 55,000 Washingtonians did not see the next Diplomat game, a 4-0 loss in Atlanta that was painfully boring (until you have seen a boring soccer game, you know not the depths of depression possible in your central nervous system).
One also supposes that if Bradley had problems of principle with the overorganized, overcoached American system, he would move back to England, where the presumably underorganized, undercoached athletes know how to play soccer well, indeed. But he is in the U.S., has been here for a dozen years now, and the suspicion is he likes it here, even as Solzhenitsyn must. No one, after all, is forcing Alex to listen to disco. CAPTION: Picture, Gordon Bradley