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Parents Blog

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

 

Sign on the dotted line

Susan Boyd

Most kids who play youth sports and many of their parents have the aspiration of getting recruited by a college and even turning pro. An NCAA athletic scholarship glimmers in our dreams as the ultimate validation of all those years scraping mud out of our floor mats and putting up with hours and hours of practice. Youth sports can rapidly switch from being something fun to do into a business. Which of us, the first time Jack or Jill dribbled the ball across the field, didn't at least fleetingly think ka-ching? 

So last month when a 13-year-old boy from Delaware, David Sills, made a verbal commitment with University of Southern California (USC) to play quarterback for the school beginning in 2015, parents everywhere perked up. Apparently David already stands six feet tall, has a tremendous throwing arm, and possesses a good eye for the field. It certainly got me thinking. It's too late for my kids, but I have a nine year old grandson who plays football, forced three fumbles this year and had two sacks. He's already the tallest player on his team and has played football for four years. Perhaps I should tout him as a prospect. I have game film if anyone is interested.

At first glance there's a lot wrong with this situation, but put in a larger context it is pretty normal outside of the U.S. First of all, a verbal commitment is only as good as the paper it's written on. Essentially neither party has to adhere to the commitment, and certainly USC will drop this kid faster than Warren Moon making one of his 161 fumbles if David falters in any way during the next five years. Plus David still has to meet USC's admission policies and he hasn't even started high school. So while he does all the normal growing up of a teenager - plays, gets into trouble, faces puberty, suffers injuries, and attempts to do well in school - he's also got this strange duality of promise to mess with his head. At thirteen he's won the lottery – only problem is that it doesn't pay out for sure. So while he is thrust into the spotlight and the pressure that creates for him, he really has no guarantees. Imagine the devastation to his ego if all the hype simply leads to the same outcome most youth sports participants face: cheering on the team from the bleachers.

On the flip side, around the world thousands of soccer players join professional organizations for development when they are David's age. They are commodities that are owned, sold, or traded by the clubs. They give up on a normal education and childhood in order to train daily for hours. While the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that children should participate in a wide variety of sports because "young athletes who specialize in just one sport may be denied the benefits of varied activity while facing additional demands from intense training and competition," you won't read a report like that in England, Argentina, or Ghana. Youth athletes clamor to be picked up by the clubs knowing full well that there are no assurances that they will become part of a professional team when they reach 18. 

Likewise the Winter Olympics showcase athletes who committed long before age 13 to their sport. In many countries athletes are scouted and recruited when they are still of single digit age, and then they are moved to a training facility and give up a normal childhood for the good of the sport. After years of sacrifice, separation from family, limited education, and hours and hours of training, they may see it culminate in a medal, but more likely they will end up in 26th place or even have great promise disappear completely in a blown triple axel. 

Nevertheless what parent hasn't secretly thought about his or her child standing on the podium, or throwing the winning touchdown pass in the Rose Bowl, or making the World Cup team? We all have to admit that given the opportunity for our children to achieve at that level, we would consider it. And naturally a youngster, inundated with the sparkling images of hero athletes, would want to grab the brass ring when offered a chance to participate in that experience. But for anyone considering such a move, one has to ask who really wants it – the child or the parents? The answer to that question makes all the difference. While the parent may finance and support the dream, the player is the one who has to get up at 5 a.m. for training, finish homework in the team bus, suffer aches and pains most of us won't feel until we're 80, and come back from injury time and time again. If it's not the player's dream, then there's no motivation to get through it all. 

I'm not appalled by David Sills' decision. If David played soccer in England this story wouldn't merit more than a single line in his hometown newspaper – "Local Lad Signs with Liverpool." So we need to put away our indignation that his parents would allow this, and look instead at how this media event will affect David going forward. Whether or not he eventually plays for USC isn't really the issue. Rather it's the pressure he'll feel to live up to the promise, and failing on a national stage if he doesn't. That's a heavy load for anyone, but even heavier for a 13 year old. Hopefully his parents will understand that he has a long journey ahead of him and help him navigate the ups and downs and possible curtailment of that journey. If they don't consider anything less than playing for USC a failure, if they accept that David may change his mind, if they can help him through a career-ending injury, and if they can put achieving the goal in proper perspective, then he'll probably come out of this just fine.

Before we parents get jealous that our child isn't being pursued in middle school we need to remember that elite athletics come with a very heavy price. Psychologically, physically, and socially athletes end up sacrificing most of what we would call a normal childhood with absolutely no assurance of succeeding. That road isn't for the faint of heart or most kids. While we revere athletic prowess to the point of sainthood, we should remember that someone has to build the stadiums they play in, run the cameras that record their achievements, design their uniforms, engineer their transportation, heal their injuries, and write the articles making them heroes or goats. Those careers don't get the same adulation, but they come with a steady pay check, pride in a job well done, and free time to enjoy life. We all just want our children to be happy, and happiness comes in many forms.
 

Vision

Sam Snow

I recently sent a coach a copy of the Vision document which gives facts on youth soccer player development and how we can measure improvement.  He had this to say after he had read it.

"Thanks for the article. I believe very strongly that coaches are incredibly influential in the lives of each and every player. We are not there to merely teach them how to pass and dribble, but more importantly, [know that] soccer can be a vehicle in which to teach life skills and characteristics that will enrich their lives and their future. Most players do not have the opportunity to play professional sports. It is therefore imperative that personality traits have been developed that will set them apart, and aid their growth as a teenager and then as an adult."

Here are a few samples from the Vision document.

Indeed how do we measure player development? Too often in America a professional sport model is used in measuring youth sports success. Youth soccer is not immune to this misapplied standard. For soccer the situation is made worse by a desire of many adults to use measuring tools from other sports. In fact, it is maddening to many adults that soccer is not as black and white as with some sports in judging successful play. Many team sports played in our nation are statistically driven and coach centered. Soccer is neither of those! Indeed, just like the Laws of the Game, our sport has many shades of grey within it.

The analogy can be made to a youngster's academic development in preparation for work in the adult business world. While the child is in primary and secondary school the corporate world measurements of success are not applied. Those business assessments are not yet appropriate because the school-aged student does not yet have the tools to compete in the adult business environment. The knowledge and skills to be a competitor in business are still being taught and learned. This holds true in soccer as well!

If you would like to receive a copy of the Vision document then just drop me a line and I'll be glad to send a copy to you.

Well now, it's off to the 2010 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop.  This is an annual exchange of information for coaches, administrators and referees.  And then of course, the stories we can all tell about our life in youth soccer.  I hope to see you in Ft. Worth, Texas this week.
 

Workshop in Fort Worth

Sam Snow

Next week the 2010 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop will take place in Fort Worth, Texas. This annual convention for coaches, administrators and referees offers a wonderful opportunity for the 900,000 administrators, coaches and referees (most of whom are volunteers) to come together in one location to exchange information and ideas on youth soccer in the U.S.

Most folks who attend likely don't realize the work that goes into pulling off such an event. Planning begins several years ahead with the selection of the city and venue for the event. Many factors go into the selection process including the spaces for demo sessions and classes.

The nitty gritty for each Workshop begins a year out and, of course, picks up pace as we get closer to the opening day. The host State Association where a Workshop is held is a key player within the team that makes each Workshop a success. The State Association promotes the event with its members, gets volunteers to assist with a multitude of tasks, and through its clubs, gets the players for each of the demonstration sessions. The quality of each Workshop is credited to the host State Association and the US Youth Soccer staff. The national office staff puts in hundreds of hours to drive an event that is a service to our referees, coaches, administrators and members.

I'd like to give you some insights to many of the first-rate presenters who will be available to you at the 2010 Workshop & Coaches Convention in Fort Worth. For our coaches, referees and administrators, there'll be sessions that will educate and inspire. We'll have sessions for the technical development of mainstream players, select players and special needs players. The presenters include the US Youth Soccer Technical Department. Alongside us in the coaching tracks are Jeff Tipping, the NSCAA director of coaching; Dr. Don Kirkendall from the University of North Carolina and FIFA's Medical Assessment and Research Centre; Gary Williamson, technical director for North Texas Soccer; Dan Gaspar, head coach for men at the University of Hartford and goalkeeper coach for the Portugal Men's National Team; Oscar Pareja, FC Dallas director of player development, plus many more outstanding American coaches.

For our colleagues in officiating and administration, some of the top class clinicians are Larry Monaco, president of US Youth Soccer; Rodney Kenney; Alfred Kleinaitis; John Kukitz, chairman of the Soccer Start Committee; Todd Roby, US Youth Soccer director of communications; Dr. Dan Freigang; Charlie Kadupski among many others.

With help from many of the North Texas soccer clubs, we'll have on hand some wonderful young players to assist the coaches in showing you the best in the craft of coaching. Plus the very popular Kick Zone for local players to come and try out their skills. FC Dallas players will join you there!

Did I mention the Awards Gala with the presentations of the Dr. Thomas Fleck Award, Coach of the Year honors and more? There will be exhibits, meetings, sharing of information and experiences along with new and old friendships. Join us for a fabulous time with those who support and guide youth soccer in our country.
 
At the Workshop there's something for everyone!  The sessions are first rate and aimed at the needs of youth soccer. Check out the sessions and clinicians here.
 

Chairs and candy

Susan Boyd

Despite a 24 hour snowfall and the incumbent shoveling, this was actually a pretty good week. The Winter Olympics are here, I got to spoil everyone for Valentine's Day, and the chair of my dreams showed up on my doorstep. As you may know, I am constantly on the quest for the ultimate soccer chair. It's not enough that it be portable, it has to have cup holders, arms, places to store my papers and magazines, even possess a "roof" to protect from the sun and rain. But several months ago I came across a chair in a catalog that was perfect for the type of soccer we play here in Wisconsin: Refrigerator Soccer. This chair had portability, an attached flap with three pockets, a fold-out hard tray with a huge cup holder, and most amazingly of all, a heated seat!   There was a battery that you charged, placed in a small pocket and attached to wires in the seat that provided a gentle warming. You could also choose between high and low temperatures. It had both a home charger and a car charger so you could recharge it during tournaments.

Imagine my delight when the manufacturer sent me one to try out. It arrived this past week and has been set up in my family room where various people have been testing it. Everyone agrees it's ideal for the spring/fall soccer season and those winter practices outdoors. Even the dogs approve, curling up in the gentle warmth of the chair and abandoning their usual perch on the back of the couch where the sun warms them. I love the tray that extends because I usually have several items I need to set out: keys, cell phone, tournament program, sons' jewelry that has to be removed before play, and a drink. The sturdy yet light weight aluminum frame folds up like a flat sandwich board with handles on the arms making it very portable. It has a nice wide seat and sits firmly off the ground so I can hop in and out much easier than the sunken sling back chairs of yore. The Tempachair is manufactured by Prairie Sales, LLC (www.tempachair.com).   Check it out – especially those of you who watch soccer AND ice fish! And thank you to Prairie Sales for making my quest for the perfect chair complete.

This week I also sent out Valentine's Day packages filled with the most abominable junk imaginable, and I know with all the kids I'll be a hero and with all the parents I'll be a scoundrel. But Valentine's Day is the holiday I spoil youngsters with Nerds, candy necklaces, satellite wafers, pixy sticks, candy hearts, wax bottles, and other sweets whose ingredient lists simply read: sugar and artificial flavors and colors. Each product's appearance may change, but they're all derivatives of the same formula. These candies for all their agelessness end up being an exotic treat for many youngsters. So instead of the usual carrot sticks, granola bars, and orange slices that make up after-practice or after-game snacks, once a year I'll pull out the candy jar for a sugar indulgence like no other. I also don't have to worry about peanut, egg, gluten, and milk allergies because the factories which fabricate these goodies have never been within miles of anything considered part of the food pyramid.

These treats provide a nostalgic trip back to when I was seven or eight years old. My brothers and I used to walk or ride our bikes to the Rexall Drug Store at the bottom of our hill for a candy run. Each of us would have up to a quarter in our pockets to spend in the days when candy bars were a nickel and penny candy really meant a penny. We'd buy the most horrific stuff certain to rot our teeth, destroy major internal organs, and dim the brain. We needed the sugar high just to get back up our hill, a mile of switchbacks along a wooded and canyoned asphalt ribbon. Our dad, the dentist, further complicated the situation, so naturally we had to keep our stash a secret. But it was bliss on a spring day to sit outside in the tire swing and spin around while cracking my teeth on Atomic Fireballs.

There's a party store in our town that sells these forbidden delicacies along with party favors like plastic yo-yos, army men, ponies, and other useless "not recommended for children under three" toys. The treats rest colorfully in bins in the back of the store, and three to six bikes can be seen daily leaned on the brick wall, their owners inside perusing the candy bins. Just like I did as a kid, the boys and girls crowd around making high level financial decisions based on how much money they have, the weight of the candy, how long it lasts, and if they can share any items. In one trip they have learned budgeting skills, cost versus benefit analysis, and cooperative purchasing tactics. I relate these stories because in this day of internet threats, Amber alerts, food recalls, and homeland security, it's good to know that some of the simpler bucolic albeit unhealthy things in life haven't changed.  

Now the government wants to ruin even this experience. It's not enough to educate us about the effects of sugar on the diets and dental health of our children. Common sense tells us that candy doesn't grow on trees, so it's not likely to be healthy for us. But we recognize that we supplemented our own healthy lifestyle with an occasional sugar binge and lived to tell about it. This new government study goes further in heaping on the guilt. It suggests that children who have a sweet tooth are more likely to have alcohol and drug abuse problems than children who don't. So now when I bring a jar full of artificially colored sugar shapes to the soccer field, I'm actually contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Years later if one of those tiny soccer players ends up in rehab, she can point to that watershed moment in her life when Mrs. Boyd leaned over and whispered, "take as many as you like." At least I will now do so from my heated chair with the jar set conveniently on the pull up tray.