“A Study in ‘Active Rhetoric’,” Matti Ingraham (2012) — Inquiry 1

Writer’s Reflection

First of all, I’d like to say that I went out on a limb in more ways than one on this essay. The first is the topic of the essay. I chose to describe a rhetorical situation in which a minimal amount of words were used. To be honest, I was stumped as to what I should write about, what parts of my soccer tryout I should analyze. And as I began to write, I found that much of what I described would be indecipherable to someone not familiar with the sport. Therefore, I was forced to insert descriptions of soccer terms or general facts that would help the reader understand my points. I was a little worried that this would detract from the story or analysis. During revisions I tried to trim down the technical information but still make sure the words had meaning for the reader.

I feel that I also took a plunge with my voice here. If you recall the piece “Style” by Kate Ronald, I traditionally have written with the “objectivity, detachment, and authority” that apparently dominates male prose. Assuming it’s about a topic that I enjoy or feel strongly about, I actually like to write formal essays; asserting something and then supporting it just appeals to me. But with this paper, I tried to insert some humor. At first, it was primarily through the use of parenthesis. However, after getting feedback from peer response, I tried to incorporate some of the humor into the writing itself rather than plop it in parenthesis. During revision I did this in some instances though I felt more comfortable leaving others bracketed off. Hopefully, this doesn’t impede the flow of the paper.

I’m still not satisfied with some of my storytelling. In the passages where I describe action, I find the writing to be dry and uninteresting as opposed to when I’m describing a scene or situation, where I feel I excel. I’m hoping that I can improve this facet of my writing as the year goes on. Still, I feel pleased with this essay. I took a risk and tried to utilize humor; I can only pray it’s actually seen as funny. So I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to your feedback.


The use of rhetoric has been traditionally confined to the areas of speaking and writing when trying to sway the audience. However, with the increasing use of visuals to convey messages, visual rhetoric now plays an incredibly important role in our society. Now you may call me presumptuous, but if one can use rhetoric with regards to images, I believe it should follow that rhetoric can also be applied to actions. Let’s call it active rhetoric. But before I’m ridiculed for fabricating a term in an extensively studied field populated with countless experts, allow me to support myself.

It was the summer of 2009, the summer before my senior year. The summer to make memories so I could tell my future kids what not to do when they’re in high school. Sadly, they will probably make more mistakes than most high school students considering I spent the summer on the couch with mononucleosis. In addition to missing all the “get-togethers” my friends were having, I couldn’t go to any of the summer soccer games or practices. In Cumberland, Maine, summer soccer is a quaint term for a two-month tryout. As a returning varsity player, I wasn’t concerned with not making the team. Yet, as one of the three seniors who played year-round soccer, I did have aspirations to be a captain. Therefore, as I sat on the sofa watching reruns of That 70’s Show, I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d be voted captain if I weren’t there.

Here’s where “active rhetoric” comes into play. Luckily, I was cleared to play by the first week of the official preseason. After two months away from soccer, I had to play like a captain. Through my actions, I had to sway the opinions of my teammates. I emphasize the importance of my actions because I could not openly ask for their votes. The captain of any sports team is supposed to be the natural choice of the other players. Therefore, campaigning was out of the question (as were smear ads).

“Playing like a captain”—this implies many different things. Most obvious among them is work ethic. Constant hustle and enthusiasm are two of the best ways to win the respect of your teammates. This would prove to be a struggle. My disturbingly pale body had only just begun to venture outside. The closest I had come to physical activity was climbing up the stairs to take a nap. But luckily hustle is just one requirement for a captain. In soccer, there is much more than simply hustle.

A quality soccer player does many things. He’s intelligent with the ball, has good vision, and knows his position. Those of us within the sport would describe him as “clever,” “useful,” and “creative” (insert English accent here). These were my primary goals when trying out. A confident player instills confidence in those around him and encourages them to step up their own play. I knew from playing on my club team that I felt most inspired when I saw other players make plays and play with assuredness. When our best players played consistently well, everyone else let out a sigh of relief and focused on their own play. This was key in the way in which I wanted to present myself to my teammates on the field. In my mind, the confident player knows he has skill and uses it whenever it’s appropriate. He always has a plan when the ball comes to him and never panics or shows excessive emotion. Essentially, he can do whatever the team needs him to do, whether it’s score or create opportunities or help out on the defensive end.

Yes, I’ll admit it; this poised and unabashedly sexy image was what I imagined for myself during tryouts. I felt that this body language would convince the others on the team that I was captain material. I find this parallels the orator or writer’s use of appealing to their audience’s emotions, or pathos. As manipulative as it sounds, I would have to play upon the numerous doubts that enter a player’s head as he plays. I would know. I’ve experienced just about all of them. By acting and playing confidently, I would be able to reassure them.

The atmosphere at tryouts was ripe for this. Imagine sixty high school boys playing for their lives on a hazy August morning. At one end of the spectrum were the vulnerable freshmen and sophomores, praying that they would stand out from their respective grades. On the other end were the jaded juniors and seniors, grizzled, not to mention cynical, veterans of the tryout process. Throw in a belligerent and filter-less varsity coach, and it was one hell of a psychological gauntlet for some players, as it was for myself when I was younger. Therefore, the time was perfect for my “calming” influence.

Personally, nothing relaxes my nerves in a big game more than watching my teammate juggle the ball over an opponent’s head. So that’s what I did. As the ball bounced to me during our scrimmage, I turned to my left and let the heel of my right foot flick the ball over the bewildered defender’s head. I quickly turned and collected the ball before distributing it wide. It just so happened that the defender was a hapless freshman, and I felt a tinge of guilt for dismantling him like that. Yet the whistles and catcalls from my teammates were a sign that my play had hit the mark. A few more deft touches later and I had established myself as one of the most skilled players there, and by extension, a player they could look to later in the season.

Now, I’m going to be honest. I’m not the complete visionary my opening paragraph made me out to be. My situation did involve some good old-fashioned verbal rhetoric. For anyone who’s never played soccer or watched it on a local level, not every game sounds like a hive of bees (see: vuvuzuela). There is actually quite a lot of communication on the players’ part. Naturally, some players are more vocal than others, depending on the needs of their position or status within the team. Long story short, captains have to talk, a lot.

However, when a teammate made a mistake, I couldn’t just vent my frustration on him. I had to use ethos and logos to show him what he did was wrong and what he should do in a similar situation next time. As a year-round club soccer player, I had the credentials to provide advice. As a result, I had the experience to draw from so that I could use soccer knowledge or “logic” to give the player directions for the future. The delivery of my advice was also very important. It had to be encouraging, not condescending. After all, no one votes for a jerk or wants one for a captain.

So, before you ask, yes I was luckily voted a captain by my teammates. To be honest, I was surprised I got the job. In a sense, it vindicated all the effort and time I had devoted to the sport over the past several years. But this essay isn’t about my feelings; it’s about rhetoric. Until the start of this class, I had never really considered when I used rhetoric in my everyday life. However, after learning that rhetoric can be applied in images and experiencing the emotions instigated by those visuals I found that the same result could be drawn from actions as well. And according to my own account, we use rhetoric with actions just as subconsciously as when we are speaking or writing.