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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". 

 

Let me check my calendar

Susan Boyd

Last night I shopped online for calendars. I like to give them as gifts because everyone needs a calendar, because I can buy a calendar to suit someone's interests, and because calendars are fat-free (except for the chocolate filled Advent calendars). There's a website I use appropriately called calendars.com that probably has every calendar ever made for 2011 plus games and mugs.  I came across the website several years ago when I was desperate to find a calendar that could handle all the entries I had to make. Most calendars I found in stores had these anemic little squares that couldn't hold three entries much less the dozen or more I needed. As I filled in my new, super-sized calendar I realized that soccer had taken over my life.

I'm not really complaining because I love sharing this activity with my kids. At the same time, I also know the feeling of jolting awake in a cold sweat as I panic over forgetting a game or an after practice treat assignment. Now I just have two kids to worry about, but Robbie has a friend who has seven siblings, all in soccer. I can't imagine juggling eight soccer schedules. I talked to the mom at team registration and she seemed remarkably calm. She must have an incredible calendar. She also has her kids all in one club minimizing travel for practices. But what about games and tournaments that never seemed to mesh for our family. She just shrugged and said serenely, "It seems to work out." Maybe she has taxis on call. In any case her aromatherapy must be amazing.

Youth soccer does take on a life of its own. Before you know it, your time has been stolen, now channeled into driving for, watching, shopping for, and organizing soccer. You not only know the clerks in your local soccer store, you have them on speed dial. You can explain the offside rule to anyone. When you turn your television on it's already set on Fox Soccer Channel. Birthday parties have soccer themes, you haven't bought a shirt without a number on the back in years, and you have to unload 12 soccer balls in various states of inflation to reach your spare tire. What began as a fun way to spend Saturday morning has now become the dominant entry on your calendar.

Finding the necessary balance in life seems impossible with soccer dominating one side of the scales and the rest of life clinging to the other. The best way to push back the soccer encroachment is to do it early and put those non-soccer events on the calendar right away. In our family we made an agreement that soccer would never take precedence over certain family activities. Sticking to that commitment wasn't easy. Occasionally it wouldn't have been inconvenient or a sacrifice to change our plans, but doing so would have opened the door to a full-blown soccer take over. So school dances, a weekend for snowboarding, a field trip, and other life experiences got their spot on our calendar along with the soccer games and trips. We also limited the number of days the boys could miss school for soccer. That's really tough because spring travel tournaments never seem to fall during spring break. Setting those limits before soccer season starts makes all the jumble on the calendar easier to handle.

As much as my boys love soccer, they also got tired of the routine. Every once in a while they needed a break just to hang out in their rooms, play some video games, or have their non-soccer buddies over. That last thing is really important because friends can get left behinds when soccer takes over. So, I encourage you to find room on the calendar for those breaks. Have a Friday night pizza party, buy tickets to a basketball game, or go out for dinner that isn't a quick bite before or after practice. I love soccer with my kids because we interact a lot together traveling, sharing game stories, and finding common ground in the sport we all love. But we also need to recognize that talking about the last goal or analyzing a disappointing game isn't a substitute for talking with our kids about values, teenage issues, and their dreams. We need to find topics outside of soccer to occupy our discussions.

When we get those blank calendars in December, it's the best time to pencil in some non-soccer activities. Even though soccer isn't some evil swarm of insects seeping under our doors to invade our lives, it can be a bit like a dog barking incessantly. We love the cute dog, but we also wish it would just quit yapping for a while. We can use the calendar as a way to control how out of control soccer can become. Don't get me wrong – we're still crazy for soccer in our family. After buying calendars online I sat through a soccer game that we lost 5-1 in 41 degree weather with 30 mph wind gusts and rain and hail. That's when you know you've won some battles in keeping soccer at bay, but you have definitely lost the war.
 

99% Perspiration 1% Inspiration

Susan Boyd

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) recently sponsored a public service announcement (PSA) contest. The WIAA oversees all high school athletics in the state of Wisconsin, but it's not well known and, when it is known, it isn't always respected.The problem for any oversight organization is that it can't please all of the people all of the time. The WIAA is charged with making determinations on athlete eligibility, transfers, recruiting violations, and other not so pleasant tasks. Their decisions can have far-reaching implications for student athletes who seek college opportunities and high schools which are looking for a state championship. So it's not surprising that they enlisted the creative efforts of their clientele to design a PSA promoting a more positive image of the association.

The contest rules were fairly simple with most of them covering format and eligibility. The overriding factor was that "The video public service announcement must convey the importance of education and athletics, sportsmanship and the role of the WIAA in the high school sports experience. The best videos will be selected based on their creativity, originality of content and ability to inspire." Those last three words speak volumes. In polishing up its image the WIAA wants to be seen much like the NCAA has advertised in the last two years as the organization that shapes and builds future adults. Forget about sanctions, forget about expulsions, forget about returning trophies, forget about policing the sports, and definitely forget about enforcing rules on eligibility, violations, and conduct. We want to be the organization which inspires!

Certainly youth sports couldn't exist without clear boundaries, expectations, and arbitration. Because sports embody competition, that competition can extend off the field to disputes concerning perceived unfair practices from bad referee calls to stealing players. So I am grateful to have oversight associations to regulate and arbitrate. Without their supervision, infractions would skyrocket and increase in severity. And as players grow older the boundaries, expectations, and arbitration grow ever murkier, cut-throat, and significant. The older the player, the more the sport takes on a gravity with far-reaching consequences. So any decision, much like a referee's calls, makes enemies of one side and momentary comrades of the other. No wonder they want a new cloak that hides all their warts. They don't want to be Ferris Bueller's vice principal; they want to be Robin Williams in "Dead Poets' Society."

The contest yielded two co-winners with different approaches. The first from Luther High School in Onalaska used stirring music, flames, and dissolves from high school athletes to their adult counterparts to send the following message in banners over the images: Fueling future athletes, fueling future competition, fueling future battles, fueling future leadership, the WIAA fueling the future. The second from Wauwatosa West High School in Wauwatosa focused on a tennis match with the natural sounds of the match as a backdrop to its message in banners: A game need not be won, an opponent need not be crushed, ethics do not need to be compromised to learn and grow while enjoying a sport – It's the journey.   I'm including the link here so you can see these winning videos http://www.wiaawi.org/index.php?id=504. They did inspire. High school athletes and their parents watching these videos should be inspired to stretch further and dream higher. But I'm not sure that's the result or the function of the WIAA.

I'd actually like to see someone tackle the job of selling the duties the WIAA or other governing associations that are charged with fulfilling as a worthwhile and honorable role in youth sports. Putting a wolf in sheep's clothing doesn't make the wolf a sheep, but selling the wolf as majestic and important in the ecosystem lets people admire the wolf even as they fear him. Don't get me started on changes that governing committees need to make to the rules. There are too many rules in most sports' organizations and many of these rules are contradictory or punitive. But we need these associations just like our kids need parents – we need them to set the boundaries and the rules. And like parents, these groups aren't infallible but they do have the best interest of the sport, the players, and the competition in mind. They exist to be sure that the sport can exist civilly and fairly. They exist to create the brackets, to oversee the officiating, to arbitrate disputes and violations, and to monitor changes in the sport in order to incorporate them into the organization. That's a worthy profession. Leave the inspiration to the parents, coaches, and professional sports heroes. I'm happy to have the WIAA create a safe, level, and controlled playing field. 
 

Academy Approach

Sam Snow

I spent the past weekend in Greensboro, N.C. for the Fall U-10 Academy Showcase for North Carolina Youth Soccer. 

On Friday afternoon I met with members of the state instructional staff. We reviewed the content and how to teach the "D" and "E" courses of U.S. Soccer and the U-6/U-8 and the U-10/U-12 Youth Modules of US Youth Soccer. Bill Furjanic, the state Technical Director for North Carolina, meets once a year with the instructional staff for continuing professional development. Such meetings go a long way to keep the instructors up-to-date with any curriculum changes and to discuss teaching methods when working with adults.

The remainder of the weekend was focused on the Academy Showcase. Three years ago North Carolina Youth Soccer started an academy approach for the U-10 age group with 12 clubs involved. Now, 38 clubs from across the state participate. The academy is set up with less emphasis on teams and more on pool training for the age group. The club directors of coaching meet at the state office once a year to sort out their scheduled matches with one another, to discuss training objectives and to learn of the dates and location of the fall and spring showcase events. The showcase is not what happens with older players to display talent to college coaches. This showcase is playing round robin matches so that the clubs far apart from one another in the state get to play each other and for the coaches to better assess the development they are doing with their players. What I saw this weekend was truly wonderful. It is a model that some other state associations are doing and that the rest should copy.

The clubs form teams from their development pools to play other clubs during the year and at the showcase. However, which players are on the teams from within the pool can vary from match to match and showcase to showcase. They play by the US Youth Soccer Modified Rules which can be found here. The parents have been educated by the clubs on the purpose of the U-10 academy – develop players. So the yelling and screaming at players, referees and so on does not go on. Instead, the adults cheer for the kids, sometimes any and all kids. The referees are part of the development too. One referee is used per field, that referee is also there to help teach the players the Laws of the Game during the match. There is great cooperation between the teams and coaches too. In fact, on some of the fields the teams shared the same bench.

Because the atmosphere at the matches is with adult restraint, the players are free to experiment in the match on their skills and tactical ideas. Attempts to try something new were often cheered whether it came off or not. The approach in training and the matches has allowed the players to develop closer to their full potential. It is not often that you see 9-year-olds playing the ball out of the back instead of just kicking it down field. Indeed, many of the keeper distributions were short bowled balls to outside backs who then combined passes with teammates to move the ball up field. Attackers would dribble to the goal line and pass the ball back toward the top of the penalty area for on-running teammates. Mind you, the connections did not always work and possession was often lost, sometimes resulting in a counterattack goal. Still, no one got upset – least of all the kids who just got on with playing the game. 

The academy environment allowed creativity and confidence to grow in the players through trial and error in a real game environment.

For example, I saw a player with the ball facing up field and two opponents bearing down on him. He did a little chip pass between the two onrushing defenders to a teammate. The teammate received the ball on his chest, dropped it to his feet, dribbled around his marker and headed for goal. Other times I saw kids making recovery runs at the proper angle and speed and to the right space. Now, mind you that these moments happened at times and other times the same players played like, well 10-year-olds.

So the system I saw over two days with the boys and girls showed what children this age can do when the pressure solely for results is lifted. And to say that the matches were competitive could be an understatement. The players really went at it in the truest sense of competition. 

A meeting was held during the weekend where Coach Furjanic and I had a chance to speak with the coaches. Also Kathy Robinson, Executive Director for North Carolina Youth Soccer, joined us and spoke to the coaches. They know they have the support of the State Association administrators for this program. With administrators, coaches, parents and referees bought into the concept and seeing the results, the academy in North Carolina is growing. Those who started three years ago have pushed for the same set up with the U-12 age group and several teams in that age division played this weekend, and more will do so in the spring.

If you would like to learn more about this approach to youth player development, Bill Furjanic will make a presentation on the North Carolina Youth Soccer Academy at the 2011 US Youth Soccer Workshop next February in Louisville, Ky. Come join us to learn about this program and much more for administrators, coaches and referees.
 

Random observations

Susan Boyd

At a soccer game this week the opposing coach took exception with the center referee's calls.   Shocker! But what I loved was how he handled getting his yellow card for his dissension. "Good," he shouted, "At least I finally got my point across. You've got both benches yelling at you." Oops, he must be new to the game. Everyone knows referees are 100% wrong – it just depends on whom the call affects.  I doubt many refs leave the field at the final whistle saying, "Wow I didn't ruffle anyone's feathers," or even, "Wow I didn't ruffle one team's feathers." Referees know they have a virtual "Kick me" sign on their backs. Oh, sure they hear the occasional "Thank you" which is usually followed by "Finally!" But even as the thank you floats over the field it's surrounded by "Get some glasses," "Are you crazy," and "You've got to be kidding." I would support a Referee's Day – like Mother's Day – where all players, coaches, and fans in every sport send a card to at least one official letting him or her know how much their officiating is appreciated. Without referees games would be even more out of control than we already think they are.

I saw an ad for an insurance company where a mother humpback whale cavorts in the ocean with her calf. The voiceover tells how protective the whales are to their young even, "guiding the calf to the surface for its first breath." Humpback whales don't buy insurance – they just leave their kids with whatever wisdom about survival they can impart. When it comes to youth sports, parents see survival training as pushing their kids. I often hear parents exhorting their children with, "You've got to get on the select team" and "You need to be a starter."   There's a line between encouragement and expectation which is often slippery and vague. Knowing when to push and knowing when to let them swim on their own ends up being relatively simple for whales and terribly complicated for humans. But then humpbacks only have to worry about blubber hunters and orcas. Humans have to worry about getting on the right team, into the right college, and finding a home in a good school district. We parents have already been through these rites of passage and want our kids to do better, even if we did great. That leads to lots of pushing in every area when we probably should pick our battles better. I wonder if they sell insurance for high pressure parenting?

This week I traveled from Milwaukee to Detroit and back home in one day in order to see a soccer game. It was an 800 mile journey and well worth it. This is what we do for our kids when it comes to supporting them.   Or it's lunacy. I haven't quite figured it all out. But as long as I have the time, the money, and the working vehicle I'll continue to go to as many games as possible. Of course I'm eating up their inheritance, but that's the little secret we'll keep among us. Luckily I have grandkids too, so I foresee lots of long trips to see all kinds of games continuing far into the future. I chalk this all up to the first trip I ever made right after moving to Milwaukee from Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks were playing Nebraska in Lincoln, and I and Bruce drove there, watched the game, and drove home. We didn't even have very good seats but we did have fun. Once you drive 1200 miles round trip in one loop to see a college football team with no one you know on the roster, then driving 800 miles round trip to see two of your kids play doesn't seem quite as crazy. Right?

The push is on to find indoor practice space for many soccer teams. School gyms, indoor soccer fields, indoor driving ranges, and even roller skating rinks get calls begging for times for practice sessions. Coming from a state that usually has a blanket of snow on the ground from mid-December to mid-March, I know the panic that sets in when indoor space can't be found. So imagine my envy when I found out that the team we played in Detroit has an indoor full field facility of their own with bleachers that can accommodate up to 5,000 fans. I wondered whose deep pockets paid for that. But then I also thought why don't teams join forces and build an indoor facility that they can share. Club teams are so competitive and want their facilities to be a selling point for drawing in good players, so they usually focus just on themselves.  But I don't see a lot of clubs with indoor practice spaces of their own. So it might be an excellent business move for clubs to share in constructing, maintaining, and renting out indoor facilities to allow for consistent, affordable, and controlled practice space. Just a thought.