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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". 

 

Clark Griswold is My Hero

Susan Boyd

Road Trip! Two words that can inspire equal parts of joy and terror. Any soccer parent knows the inevitability of a road trip each soccer season and possibly even several times during a season. Before I even thought about soccer, I grew up taking road trips. Every summer we would pack into the family car and take off for six weeks traveling the highways and byways of America. There were seven of us. When I saw "National Lampoon's Vacation" I relived these family trips complete with boxy station wagon, picnics at rest stops, and hours of bickering. We rarely stayed in motels, opting instead for camping or staying with relatives. My dad created a super tent by sewing together two smaller tents. Every morning after breakfast we had the routine of rolling up the sleeping bags, disassembling the cots, sweeping out the tent and then folding it precisely so that it would fit into the canvas duffle bag from my dad's time in the Navy. My mother cooked for seven of us on a Coleman propane two burner stove and washed the dishes in bucket. Even if we did stay in a hotel we kids all slept in the same room – three in one bed and two in the other. As the only girl I found it less and less ideal as I entered my teen years!
 
But I do have the privilege of boasting that I have driven and stayed in every state in the continental United States. We visited tourist attractions, would-be tourist attractions, and questionable tourist attractions.
 
With this background, I comfortably fell into the routine of soccer road trips. Each one had its unique joys and its unique terrors. There's the trip where the truck in front of me fishtailed into the median strip during a snow storm. And there's the trip where Bryce and Bruce sat for four hours dead still on the Indiana freeway wondering if they would get to the tournament on time. Once following a tournament in Memphis, we took a small detour to go to Metropolis, Illinois, the "home" of Superman. We've had flat tires, wrong turns (even on a tour bus), and mechanical breakdowns. We have rescued players from cars stranded on our route and our boys have been rescued when we were stranded. I am increasingly grateful for my AAA membership which has saved us with a tow or brought us a spare tire or, back before GPS, provided us with Triptiks so we could navigate and learn where the chicken who played tic-tac-toe resided.
 
Packing the car for a soccer road trip didn't require any camping equipment, but as the quality and quantity of electronic devices increased we had to be sure we had the proper cables, plug-ins, movies, games, music, headphones, and controllers. I can tell you the location of Best Buys and Radio Shacks throughout the Midwest because invariably I would hear from the back seat, "You've got to be kidding," and know that we needed to find some accessory as quickly as possible or I would have to deal with petulant teenagers. My admonishment to "Look out the windows - that's what my brothers and I did" was met with eye rolls. The Alphabet or License Plate Games could not compete with "Weekend at Bernie's" or "Mario Kart." I had to be sure to have enough snacks, drinks and fruit. We needed blankets, pillows and books. Of course, we also needed soccer gear, which we double and triple checked was in their bags. But no matter how many lists we made and how often we checked, we couldn't do anything about Bryce leaving his gloves in the hotel room.
 
Hopefully the boys will remember the best times of these trips. Some towns we revisited over the years, but no trip was identical. We took teammates with us on some trips, drove straight through on other trips, and made a vacation of it on still other trips. The car we took on all these road trips still functions, although just barely. The check engine light remains lit for a non-essential part and we keep the car within the immediate tri-county area of Milwaukee so our mechanic is never far away from attending the patient.
 
Soccer has tons of advantages, one of which is the road trip. Parents may not always want to hit the road because trips can be hours of boredom punctuated by bursts of fun. However, you can make sure the fun happens with some planning and a willingness to act spontaneously if a special moment arises. No matter how many trips you end up taking, cherish them, because I can guarantee that they will be part of important memories.
 

Doing the Right Thing

Susan Boyd

By the time this blog posts we'll know if the U.S. Women won the World Cup. Win or lose, they have provided a real lesson in how to play soccer both individually and as a team. When down a player against Brazil, the women held on to a 1-1 tie through regulation time to force overtime play. When Brazil scored in the opening minutes of that overtime play, the depleted U.S. squad never gave up and managed to score the equalizer in what became the latest goal in World Cup history. Then they won in PKs. Against France, exhausted after a travel day and a light training day, they let down for a moment and then rallied to win 3-1. As Coach Pia Sundhage put it, ""We lost our legs but we picked up our heart."" At every moment the team stayed on course, played their tactical game, and never gave up. It has been an incredible journey for the team and for the fans.
           
During the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup, FIFA sponsored a 'Say No to Racism' event, which they hold regularly during major soccer matches. The campaign began in April, 2006 and the first presentation of the event occurred during the Men's World Cup that year. Before designated matches, opposing teams meet in the center of the field behind the 'Say No to Racism' banners. Team captains read a statement which deplores racism in any form whether directed towards players or fans during a game or tolerated in their countries as a political or social policy. The teams pledged to fight racism. The FIFA program seeks to address all manners of prejudice and discrimination, since both have significant effects on the self-images of adults, especially children.  Coretta Scott King said, ""Bigotry seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood"", based on characteristics over which those people have no control. Therefore, derogatory outbursts against players based on their national origin, race, gender, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and/or sexual orientation fall under the umbrella of the FIFA anti-racism campaign. 
           
Most of us don't foster the virulent hatred and fear that we associate with racism. We would no more shout racial slurs at a player than practice active racial discrimination. However, many of us have been guilty of giving voice to or tacitly allowing language which does debase a group of people. For example, using the term 'retarded' as a derogatory term to describe a referee's behavior is demeaning to citizens who have mental disabilities. Even if we as parents don't use that language, we may tolerate our kids using it because ""everyone"" does. But at one time, ""everyone"" used racially derogatory language without a second thought. In a sense, it could be considered passive prejudice. We don't actually say anything bad, but we don't let it be known that such language is unacceptable around us. 
           
Players, coaches, and teams face ridicule from fans constantly, so they have to have tough hides. I don't think FIFA is looking to eradicate racism so that their members won't have hurt feelings. After all, we fans can find any number of faults when we want to let our team, or an opposing team, know our displeasure. This is an issue of no longer tolerating behavior and language which focuses on traits outside those necessary to play the game such as race, religion, and national origin. When a young Latino fan sits in the stands he has already identified with players on the field. So when he hears racial slurs or taunts directed at those players, he feels that hatred directed towards him. Alone in the sea of fans, he probably also feels powerless.  FIFA hopes to eradicate racism by taking a strong stance against racially motivated hate, but the organization also hopes to eradicate discrimination and prejudice which more subtly affect our lives and the lives of our children.
           
This is not FIFA's first recognition of the problem of racism world-wide. At the Men's World Cup in South Africa, Tokyo Sexwale, the commissioner of the program and a prison mate of Nelson Mandela during apartheid, reminded members of the media that, "FIFA itself took a strong stand, not merely against an association or a couple of players, but the strongest stand against racism that was ever taken by FIFA in expelling apartheid South Africa from the family of FIFA. And, of course, after the release of Nelson Mandela, readmitting South Africa."   In addition, FIFA has asked youth teams to take the lead on the campaign, including interviewing and publishing the remarks of youth coaches from around the world. Miroslav Soukup, Czech Republic coach, explained, "There are no enemies in sport; just opponents. There's no hate; we take to the field to play hoping we're going to win. In no way are our opponents enemies, wherever they come from. Whether they're from Africa or Asia, it makes no difference. We're all the same."

During the quarter final match between the U.S. and Brazil, World Cup fans started whistling and hooting every time Brazilian player Marta got the ball.  Their reaction reflected how the fans felt about her perceived off-side goal in overtime, and was not a racial, ethnic, or political statement. That type of protest will continue under the FIFA campaign because it is motivated by the fans' passion for the game and not by any hatred of a race or racial trait. Soccer will continue to be a game of great passion for both the players and the fans. FIFA hopes to take racial taunts and hatred out of the experience and in doing so hopefully positive behavior will spill over into the rest of our lives. It's a good start from a powerful and far-reaching organization which should be applauded for using its international influence to tackle an issue that affects us all.

 

Appropriate Field

Sam Snow

Last week the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy held a tournament at Pizza Hut Park, which is the location of the US Youth Soccer national office. I was able that week to watch some great matches. I was also able to share a meeting with Claudio Reyna, Youth Technical Director; Tony Lepore, Director of Youth National Team Scouting; and Asher Mendelsohn, Director of Referees, Coaching Administration and Development Academy Programs.

We had good discussions on coaching education and aspects of player development in the USA. One facet of player development on which we all agree is that players twelve years old and younger should play small-sided games. But what must be further addressed is that often the field on which these small-sided games are played are too large for the age group. There's little point to the match if the field is so large that the players must play kick-n-run simply to cover the yardage. When the field is too big then quality soccer only makes a rare appearance.

For real soccer to happen in a small-sided game for players in the Under-6, U-8, U-10 and U-12 age groups then the field must be of the appropriate dimensions. The right size field makes it possible for players to dribble, pass and shoot in realistic situations on realistic parts of the field. As they get into the U-12 age group then the tactical possibilities in the game grow for the players when on the right size field.

So the right environment for preteen players must be a smaller field with an adjusted size goal and smaller ball. The length of play must be shorter and the number of players on the field must be less than eleven-a-side. Here are the national recommendations for the proper size ball and field by age group.

Age Appropriate Ball Sizes
Age group
Ball size
Circumference
Weight
U-6 and U-8
3
23-24 inches
11-12 ounces
U-10 and U-12
4
25-26 inches
12-13 ounces
U-14 to U-18+
5
27-28 inches
14-16 ounces

 
US Youth Soccer Recommended Field Dimensions
Age Group
Length x Width (yards)
U-6
25 x 20
U-8
35 x 25
U-10
55 x 40
U-12
80 x 55
U-14
100 x 65
U-16
110 x 70
U-18+
120 x 75
 
 

Numbers Game

Susan Boyd

         Here's some numbers for you: 17 million people play soccer at least once a year in the U.S.  8.5 million people play soccer 25 or more days per year. Five million children (under 18) play organized soccer.  3.2 million youth players are registered with U.S. Youth Soccer Association. 8,200 youth soccer clubs operate in the U.S. (Those clubs sponsor over 2,000 soccer tournaments a year). All major soccer sanctioning committees recommend that players participate in no more than 40 matches a year, no more than two matches a weekend, and no more than one match a day. Most players break the last guidelines when participating in one of those 2,000 tournaments.

         Soccer can be broken down into a game of 11 v. 11 with a field formation of a keeper and 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 or some variety of placements depending on the tactics. The field as, stipulated by FIFA, measures 100 to 130 yards long and 50 to 100 yards wide, so long as the field is not square.   The goal is eight feet tall and 24 feet wide. Surrounding the goal is a box extending 18 yards out from the goal line and 44 yards wide, the territory in which a keeper may use his or her hands, and in which a foul may result in a penalty kick. There is a smaller box extending six yards out from the goal line and 20 yards wide, which serves no purpose under the rules of soccer, but is the area sacred to a keeper. You'll often hear remarks about keeping the offense out of the ""18"" or ""6"" which refer to these two areas. There's a 10 yard radius circle in the center of the field (Keepers hope to get their goal kicks past this circle). For teams younger than 13 these field dimensions will hold their relative relationships in size, but will be smaller depending on the age. For the game to be played, the number of nets required under FIFA rules is 0, but if nets are used, they must not interfere with the keeper, be secured, and not allow the ball to pass through. Goal posts and cross bars must be painted white. The traditional ball consists of 32 panels (12 pentagons and 20 hexagons), but recent designs have created balls with as few as 14 panels.

         Kids who dribble a soccer ball can run between two and four miles per game, with older youth players running on average six miles per game. Throw in a tournament weekend, and players can average eight to 12 miles per day. At 100 calories burned per mile, that's 800 to 1200 calories per day. Unlike adults who count on activity to burn up calories, kids are burning calories just growing. So it's important that parents replenish those calories with nutritious snacks and meals. Gatorade isn't enough, nor is one banana which is only 100 calories on its own. Many professional soccer players use high-protein sandwiches to restock the power plant such as PBJ, chicken salad (easy on the mayo), grilled chicken breast, and, if kids will eat them, avocado and/or hummus sandwiches. Kids who play soccer need around 3,000 calories a day!
           
         Soccer teams play by the numbers too. U.S. Youth Soccer Association is one of many organizations encouraging small-sided games to foster more touches on the ball and more individual coaching with fewer competing team members. At U6, teams are 3 v. 3 and U8 are 4 v. 4, both with no goal keepers. U10 teams play 6 v. 6 and are the first age level to have keepers. U12 teams are 8 v. 8 and U13 moves to a full side of 11 players. Field sizes match the smaller team sizes, letting players learn how to use the sidelines and develop the idea of team tactics and formations. Of course smaller team size means more teams, which means more coaches. Currently there are over 66,000 youth soccer coaches in the United States, and more than 60% of them are volunteers. 
           
        American soccer fans have increased exponentially in the last decade. Just considering the MLS you can see tremendous growth in season ticket sales. Kansas City had 467 season ticket holders in 2007 and this year has 9,000. FC Dallas sold three times as many pre-season tickets this year as last. The two expansion teams, Portland and Vancouver, have sold 11,000 and 16,000 season tickets respectively. Fox Soccer Channel began as Fox Sports Channel in 1997 but switched its name in 2005 and went exclusively to soccer only programming in 2006. It added a new station, Fox Soccer Plus in 2010 when it also went HD. In addition ESPN has increased its dedication to soccer including showing all of the Women's World Cup games this year. At the Men's World Cup last year in South Africa, the U.S. bought more tickets (130,000) than any other country besides the host nation. All American games are sold out for the Women's World Cup.
           
        Financial publications peg average family spending on youth sports per child at around $2,000. The number can climb quickly if a child plays on an elite travel team, participates in additional leagues, and/or opts for private coaching. That number also doesn't include what the family spends to attend tournaments together which can be up to $400 for a weekend for a family of four with hotel, gas, and meals. Of course if you have to fly to a tournament then you need to double or triple that amount. Soccer should be a pretty cheap sport; after all you just need a ball and some shin guards (gloves if you're a keeper) and a wide open space to play. But somehow we have found ways to take a game that can be played nearly for free and turn it into an activity costing thousands of dollars a year. Required club gear can really drain the bank account with warm-ups running around $100 and full uniform kits running upwards of $180, and add in bags at $70. If you change clubs then that wardrobe cost comes anew, and even if you stick with a club, uniforms become obsolete every three years, so clubs have to select new gear. Throw in cleats, favorite player jerseys, and paraphernalia such as blankets, scarves, head bands, kit bags, posters, and balls that leaves you with several hundred dollars due at the register.
           
        Numbers can tell an interesting story of how a sport operates, how it grows, and how it impacts our lives, but what really matters is that you and your children enjoy the sport. Here's a number that does translate into fun: three. That's the number of games my sons will be playing this weekend that I get to watch.