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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 


Beyond Fear

Susan Boyd

In 2008, I blogged about a mass shooting on the campus of Northern Illinois University. Two of the soccer coaches trained US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program players, so I’d become friends with them through my work with ODP. Because Robbie was being actively recruited by NIU, we had visited the campus just a week before the attacks took place. It was harrowing to have that connection, to know students at the school, and to share in the sadness and disbelief. Despite Robbie hovering in that zone between adolescence and adulthood, he felt tremendous fear. Now half way around the world, we hear about another coordinated assault that began and ended with a soccer connection. In Paris a couple weeks ago, a terrorist incursion began with bombings outside the Stade de France during an ironically designated “friendly” between France and Germany, holding 80,000 potential victims, including French President Francois Hollande. Luckily, besides the three suicide bombers, only one person lost his life thanks to the perpetrators arriving late and being denied entrance. But lamentably there would be more carnage throughout the city that night. The object of these attacks was initially meant to cause as much injury as possible, but the real plan was to create collateral damage in the form of terror – hence the term “terrorists.” Their objective is to freeze people through the fear that at any moment anyone could be a target, and given the rapid spread of media attention the entire world quickly became ancillary victims, a state which particularly affects our children.

The best reaction we adults can have is anger. We understand the context of these events and we can rationalize and ultimately control our fears. Instead we get mad, making the determination to not let the terrorists win. However, for our children these news stories seem all too close and all too real. They only know the fear. It doesn’t have to be a man-made crisis; it can be a natural disaster or a catastrophe, such as a building collapse that sets off terror in our children. Robbie was deathly afraid of tornadoes. He even refused to appear in one of my brother’s movies because it was filming in Omaha during April – as he so eloquently noted “that’s tornado alley — in high season.” He was 10. Friends of ours who ran a restaurant we often visited after soccer practice lost their daughter in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11. The boys were very aware of this fact, which made the event all the more real and immediate for them as small children.

What can parents do when kids see these crises broadcast on TV, splashed in browser pop-ups on the internet, and emblazoned in headlines in the morning paper? It’s virtually impossible to keep disaster from our children. The more they see, the more it becomes real for them. Shootings in Paris, a typhoon in the Philippines, an earthquake in Haiti, or a mine disaster in China all seem like they exist in their own backyards. They have no understanding of statistics, distances, and probabilities with which to sooth their fears. In the many tributes to the victims, the cameras focused on children laying flowers and candles on sidewalks in front of the sites of attacks. I can only imagine how devastating it has been to their sense of security to be so close to tragedy. These children weren’t witnesses to the actual events, but they experienced them through their parents’ reactions or when they sat in a stadium unaware of how close danger had come but becoming acutely mindful later. What we parents have to understand is that our own children thousands of miles removed from these calamities feel just as immediately frightened as their counterparts in Paris.

It’s left to us parents to find ways of making them understand that the dangers aren’t so close and possible. We can do this by providing some context through education. Pulling out a globe to show kids where they live and where the crisis occurred can help ease their fears that they are really just inches away from disaster. For example, we can talk about how long it took for us to drive to St. Louis, show that route on a map, and then show where Paris is in comparison. Use a bowl of rice to demonstrate the small percentage of people injured compared to an entire population. We can also validate stability to give our kids security. Express how the Eifel Tower is still standing, surviving over 100 years through two wars and even these recent attacks. For Robbie, we pointed out how many tornadoes had touched down in S.E. Wisconsin, how far from our house they were, and how long our house, our neighborhood, and our town had survived without damage. We created a “tornado safe” spot in our basement with pillows, flashlights, water, and crackers so he knew where he would be protected. Paradoxically, we were even able to use pictures of tornado devastation to reinforce that despite the destruction, everyone survived due to good warnings and attention to safety. Kids are immediate in their perceptions and emotions, so we can help them gain enough distance to feel comfort.

Naturally, the more we can shield our children from these stories the better. We can easily forget how watching the evening news while preparing dinner opens a door we don’t want them looking through. We can employ a default browser that doesn’t immediately post news stories when our kids open it. We should avoid discussing these disasters with other adults when surrounded by tiny ears. But most importantly, we need to be ready to answer the tough questions without minimizing the queries. We can downplay the dangers, the possibilities, and the outcomes, but we should never downplay the fears. These are very real to our children and need soothing not dismissal. Considering our own anxieties, we can all sympathize. We know the rational explanations why we shouldn’t be afraid of spiders or flying or horror movies, but we are. It’s no different for our children except they have less perspective through which to process and alleviate the fears. We can provide that context for them, but more significantly we can give the warm fuzzies that ultimately make everything better.

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Heading for a Change

Susan Boyd

One thing distinguishes soccer from other sports: ball play exclusively with either the feet or the head. We love watching the dramatic leaps and sharp cracks that accompany a header, but one of the biggest risks of injury for youth players comes from heading the ball. Players can sustain head wounds and concussions, the latter being particularly serious for the youngest players. Over the past decade, sports in general and soccer specifically have put in place concussion protocols to help detect when a player might have suffered the injury and how to treat it. Guidelines dictate how to discover if a player has a concussion through various questions to and responses from the player, as well as evaluating symptoms such as black outs, memory loss, nausea, dizziness and vision problems. However, the attitude that a head injury is just part of the game has kept organizations, families and coaches from focusing on prevention. As we have become more aware of the long-term effects of concussive episodes, we have all realized that we may need to address how to reduce the risks.

On Nov. 9, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the FIFA-sanctioned organization that oversees most adult and youth soccer in America, issued a statement concerning a comprehensive player safety campaign that will be rolled out before year’s end. The main thrust of the statement was in response to the settlement of concussion litigation which had been filed against USSF and other U.S. Soccer entities in August 2014. The class action lawsuit did not seek monetary damages. Instead it sought to force soccer’s governing body to address the dangers of concussions and to institute policies to prevent that injury. USSF was careful to clarify that it had already begun a study into player safety long before the lawsuit was filed, but indicated that the specific portion related to concussion had been given priority. The USSF worked with medical experts, trainers and coaches to develop guidelines for player safety and educational materials to address detection, treatment, and prevention of common soccer injuries. These guidelines will not be mandatory because several local soccer organizations lack the power to require adherence, but they are highly recommended. This extends to US Youth Soccer, which will support and disseminate these guidelines to state associations and local clubs.

USSF first recommends that players under 10 don’t head the ball at all. The rationale for this recommendation is that young players don’t have the muscle development to give enough support from their necks to the head during a strike. The more the head wobbles when hitting the ball, the more the brain rattles around causing injury. Additionally kids lack the motor skill development to time and control strikes accurately often resulting in head to head contact, missing the ball altogether. Young players also have still developing brains which don’t have the resilience to withstand and recover from injury in soft tissue. Those areas not yet fully developed can be permanently damaged, which can happen even in mature brains, but bring more lasting results in young brains. Treating concussions in young players is also more difficult because getting them to completely rest isn’t usually possible. They also have trouble elucidating symptoms because they have less context in which to recognize serious concerns.

The second recommendation was that players 10-to-13 years old head balls only during games, never during practice. This allows them to act upon their impulses during a fast-paced game, but limits their heading to those few instances a season. Coaches can teach proper methods for heading the ball, but without the ball. The players can spend these years training their neck muscles to be strong enough to regularly practice headers. The years can also be spent learning about concussions, their symptoms, and treatment, so that players will be better prepared to recognize when they might have been injured.

The third recommendation was that substitution rules be changed for older players. Right now, they may follow the FIFA requirements of only three substitutions per game. Under the USSF guidelines, teams wouldn’t be charged a substitution if they pull a player out for possible head injury and replace him or her. If the player can immediately return to the game, he or she must come in for the player who substituted for them, who can return to the pool of eligible players for substitution. The hope is that these guidelines will help coaches not be put in the position of sacrificing a substitution and therefore being hesitant to pull a player out putting that player at risk. Likewise the hope is that players will be more open to being replaced to check out their heads rather than toughing it out.

Each of these recommendations will be requirements for the Youth National Team program and the Development Academy. However, when the Youth National Teams travel, they will be subject to the substitution rules of the country they visit. The fact that these recommendations were reported by every major newspaper and media outlet speaks to several factors. First, it shows that USSF has a top notch PR department. Second, it indicates how significantly soccer interest has increased in America making these stories significant enough for the six o’clock news. Third, it highlights the importance of understanding the dangers of concussion for our youth players. Despite the broad media exposure, parents should still be sure that our clubs and coaching staffs have seen these recommendations and then adopt them. Check your state youth soccer association to see if the recommendations are mentioned and accepted. We parents need to recognize the importance of instituting these guidelines at every level of youth soccer and be instrumental in demanding they be implemented in our club.

Even more safety recommendations will be coming from USSF, but these concussion guidelines were rolled out early in order to address the demands of the lawsuit. The most exciting aspect of the player safety program will be the education portion. USSF promises clearer concussion protocols as well as other sideline protocols for common injuries. Recently we have seen a rise in undetected internal injuries leading to further complications even death. Therefore coaching staffs need to understand how to test for internal bleeding which is relatively easy. Also USSF will hopefully look at repetitive motion injury and introduce guidelines for reducing these through rotating drills and proper stretching. I’m looking forward to seeing how extensive this campaign turns out to be. Optimistically, it will include online training videos, pamphlets, clear guidelines for reducing injury, and parental support. No matter how detailed the campaign turns out to be, the fact that the major American soccer oversight organization is addressing player safety is a step in the right direction. Developing safety standards that we can trust no matter where we move in the country gives all parents some peace of mind. You may want to follow the roll-out of the campaign on the USSF website ( but remember that the site is primarily dedicated to announcements on the schedule and results of the various U.S. National Teams, so you may need to search a bit to discover what you want. The link on the upper bar for “stories” will take you to the various announcements the group is making. You can also get a head start on learning more about concussions by taking the free course offered by US Youth Soccer.

The lawsuit highlighted a serious health epidemic in youth soccer. In 2010 nearly 50,000 high school soccer players sustained concussions. This number eclipses the total number of players suffering concussions in baseball, softball, wrestling, and basketball combined. By asking for the establishment of guidelines and educational programs rather than a monetary award, the plaintiffs clearly placed the responsibility for these details on the primary soccer organizations in the United States. They are the ones with the resources for studying the problems, researching solutions, and distributing materials throughout the youth soccer community. As parents we have the responsibility of recognizing the various safety concerns for youth players, requiring that our clubs address those concerns, and then making use of all available research and standards to attain the best level of safety we can for our kids. As we become more aware of the possible injuries, we shouldn’t be alarmed, but we should be cautious and learn both the signs of and prevention for these injuries. Having an organization as encompassing as USSF take the lead in these factors means that we’ll have both a strong resource and an advocate in providing the safest environment we can for our children. 

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Playing Like a Girl

Susan Boyd

Last week, Abby Wambach announced her retirement from soccer. She will play her last game with the U.S. Women’s National Team against China on Dec. 16 in New Orleans. The match culminates the USWNT’s World Cup victory tour. Abby, who is 35, was considering staying with the team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janerio, but her announcement means that her wicked headers won’t be available as the USWNT pursues gold. Her leadership will be missed along with her skill. Her impact on soccer in general and women’s soccer in particular is both far-reaching and significant. Though she won’t be actively playing, she’ll continue to influence the sport for many years to come.

I began playing sports in the 1960s when there were few options for girls and even fewer role models. In elementary school as an early developer I was taller than all the boys. Therefore I was the designated center fielder for our recess baseball games because I was the only one who could heave the ball far enough from the outfield to hit a baseman’s glove. However, I never got credit for my skills because I was “just a girl.”  In my high school, girls had the choice of three sports: tennis, gymnastics and volleyball. We didn’t even get to run track, but we were encouraged to be cheerleaders. When my daughters entered high school, they had far more options. Deana trained at a performing arts high school in dance and Shane joined the swim team. Many of their friends played soccer, ran track and played softball. Nevertheless, boys’ sports still generated the majority of fans, priority use of the facilities, and a much more revered status in the social hierarchy. Still, there were several seminal changes in the 80’s and 90’s as athletic women took on a more visible and important position in sport coverage. There had been Babe Didrikson, Althea Gibson, and of course Billy Jean King, but when women’s soccer exploded onto the American sports scene, people sat up and took notice that women were succeeding on the international stage, and they were exciting. In 1991, the USWNT won the first Women’s World Cup and then appeared in the finals three more times, winning in 1999 and 2015 and losing in the final match to Japan in 2011. This tremendous success has created dozens of female sports role models from Mia Hamm to Michelle Akers to Christine Rampone (who was 40 years old in the 2015 WWC) to Abby Wambach.

Amazingly, Abby has 184 goals so far, with a .730 scoring average per game, more goals than any other international player, male or female. She has two Olympic gold medals and appeared in four WWC. Her fierce play and height as a forward made her a go-to person to crank a header into the goal, most famously in 2011 in a last second goal to tie Brazil in overtime in the WWC quarterfinals. The U.S. went on to play Japan in the finals, ultimately losing. She has been the point woman with the press, a strong advocate for the value of female athletes, and a determined teammate. Some may question her retirement just before the 2016 Olympics, but she obviously felt that going out with a WWC victory would be the right decision. She will continue to influence the sport, the young fans just embracing the game, and the overall growth of and respect for all women athletes. As President Obama said when he hosted the USWNT at the White House: “This team taught all of America’s children that playing like a girl means you’re a badass.” Precisely.

All these years, girls have had to endure hearing the phrases: “You play like a girl,” “You screech like a girl,” and “You act like a girl,” which are meant to demean boys, but backhandedly also demean the girls. Everyone should want to play, screech, and act like a girl because girls are awesome. Coaches need to learn not to express frustration with play by reverting to the old stereotypes of weak girls who are scared of the ball and worried about breaking a nail. I broke every one of my fingers at least once playing hardball and volleyball. Nails were the least of my worries. Female athletes train as hard or harder as their male counterparts, suffer injuries and play through them, possess drive and ambition, and push the limits of their skills and endurance just as much as any male athlete. What girls have now is tremendous validation through the success of women’s soccer, the growing status of professional women’s basketball, the increased visibility and TV ratings of women’s tennis — through stars like Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Anna Sharapova, and the Williams sisters — and a strong media emphasis on all women sports rather than just the stand-by gymnastics and figure skating.

The proliferation of sports channels has opened the door for televising more women-centered sports. I have the Pac-12 Network in our cable package, which regularly shows all the women’s soccer games in the league. Women have gained a literal seat at the sports table by being commentators, reporters and producers. It’s not unusual to see women offering analysis on all sports, not just women’s sports. All the major networks and ESPN employ women in roles traditionally held in the past by men in broadcasting, and some women have risen to be the primary reporters in their field. Girls can now have as role models not just the athletes on the field, but also the pundits talking before, during, and after games. I still remember all the arguments against having female reporters for NFL games — we can’t allow women in the locker rooms after games, women haven’t played the game so can’t understand it, and women aren’t relatable to the male viewer. All of those caveats were eventually cast aside as women earned their place in the booth (and the locker room).

Abby wasn’t the first to highlight the power and ability of women athletes, and she certainly won’t be the last, but she did make a huge impact in promoting both soccer and women in sports. Many high school and college women soccer players owe a huge debt of gratitude to the pioneers on the USWNT who kept playing even when they had little money, little fan support and little media coverage. By persisting in their sport, succeeding on an international level, and bringing prestige to the United States, they earned their status as top athletes regardless of gender distinction. For a long time, the argument was made that women can’t compete with and against men since they are smaller, less muscular and aren’t raised to be aggressive. Despite this opinion, women, who continue to develop as athletes in their own sports, have branched out to compete against men as jockeys, curlers, archers, golfers, equestrians, kick boxers, and in mixed doubles tennis. Women are carving out a strong position in boxing, basketball, lacrosse and soccer, all sports that could easily become co-gender without losing any intensity or team skill. Girls no longer have to accept traditional women’s sports as their only opportunities. In some schools girls are playing football with the boys. Likewise, women are being certified as officials for sports that have been males-only like baseball umpires and football referees. Significantly women have crossed over as officials for men’s soccer games for at least two decades.

I hesitate to say that a woman will never have the physical power to generate a 60 home run season or be a triple double basketball champion because I’ve seen women athletes evolve tremendously over my lifetime. Once the opportunities opened up and girls began to get the same training as their male counterparts, the differences in skills narrowed rapidly. As trainers learn more about and focus on the needs of young female athletes we’ll see fewer and fewer of the injuries that have plagued them and held them back. Rather than accepting different gender traits as exclusionary coaches should be embracing them. For example, as girls have more opportunities to play sports with the boys, they will gain from exposure to the boys’ aggressiveness and boys will gain from exposure to the girls’ ability to bond. Playing like a girl should be worn as a badge of honor no matter who’s called out.

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A Peek Inside a National Youth Coaching Course

Sam Snow

A Peek Inside A National Youth Coaching Course

The National Youth Coaching Course is designed to provide club directors of coaching, youth coaches, physical education teachers, and soccer administrators with the knowledge to successfully structure soccer environments for children aged 4-12.

The role of the coach as a facilitator is explored; the physical, mental and emotional needs and capabilities of players from 4-12 are explored; the lessons from developmental psychology are explored; and the art of teaching is explored. Candidates are videotaped for analysis during live training sessions. Take a look below into what goes on at a National Youth Coaching Course and then see if one is taking place in your area.

Figure 1: Coaches and instructors come together each day for presentations on the characteristics of children and the methods to effectively coach them


Figure 2: A lecture opens each day of the course to provide information on effective coaching for young soccer players


Figure 3: Candidates have study groups to discuss the course material, work on a group project and prepare session plans for each day


Figure 4: Candidates get to practice coach with children throughout the course


Figure 5: Each practice coaching session is videotaped for review by the study group


Figure 6: The videos are critiqued by the study group and an instructor


Figure 7: Instructors then consult one another on how to help each candidate improve their coaching


Figure 8: Direct guidance by the instructors is given to guide each course candidate toward successful coaching


Figure 9: Each day the course candidates are given essential information and guidance by the lead instructor


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