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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." 
 
 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.

 

Those Were the Days

Susan Boyd

It’s a special kind of delight to watch our youngest players in their first games. They have such an eagerness, abandon, and audacity it’s impossible not to share in the giddiness. Despite all admonishments that scores and wins don’t matter, we can’t help posting the picture of Lucy nudging her first goal into the net as we quietly cheer “yay” on the sidelines. We form parent tunnels for the kids to run through after a game and provide some nutritious and special treats. In those early years, we have no judgment and no expectations. Somewhere along the way, that all changes. We become more involved in improvement, success and rewards. Until that shift arrives, there is something truly magical about youth sports, a magic I relive through great memories.

We went out to dinner as a family last weekend, a crowded and popular Mexican restaurant that played loud music along with serving its excellent food. The lone TV above the bar was showing a soccer game even though college basketball was in full swing. The evening led to lots of amazing memories spurred by all the sensory elements of the outing. I was in heaven. The soccer game alone initiated a raft of recollections, but when Smash Mouth’s “All Star” blared over the sound system, we all perked up. That was the song we played at top volume on our way to games and practices so the boys could get pumped up. They were playing recreational soccer, and so keen on the experience. The song would play and they’d bounce around in the car, shouting out the words, getting ready for “battle.” That night as the song’s familiar lyrics and melody reverberated the boys reenacted their exuberance, much to the delight of the other diners. To see that old joy on their faces took me back to the years when soccer was simple and they played just for the fun of it. The game airing across the room elicited lots of comments both about the skill of the players in the game and the deep idolatry they had had for professional players when all they had were faint dreams of attaining that level of adulation. They reflected on the fact that their dreams then were both silly and significant giving them both fantasy and goals – the former ethereal wishes and the latter solid objectives. Even the food added to the memories. We had a favorite restaurant we would stop by after practices. Tuesday night was Mexican specials, and the boys usually had practice on Tuesday, so we ate a lot of south-of-the-border treats over time. There were always only two or three choices that changed weekly, so we ended up eating a wide variety of delicacies, which ultimately informed our tastes that night at the restaurant. After years of soccer being a job for the boys, the sport was suddenly returned to that light-hearted romp that kept us all grinning.

The cliché of course is that the years of childhood are fleeting. Speaking as the mother of four, I can attest to the truth of that statement. Looking back at photographs, hearing a song, driving by a youth game, smelling the mustiness that mimics the indoor arena, tasting the same pepperoni pizza, all bring back memories of those early years. We need to keep those moments alive for as long as possible because they are so joy-based. As the boys progressed in soccer I do remember the big wins, devastating losses, significant saves, and powerful goals, but as they grew older and played on more select teams we began to lose the memories based solely on moments untethered to outcomes. I cherish those reminiscences because they can be appreciated by anyone whether or not they understand soccer, and those anecdotes don’t involve any hint of bragging or sour grapes. At one tournament in Florida we had three teammates traveling with us. During one long rain delay, we holed up at a funky restaurant that had a really unusual menu. We challenged our sons and the three teammates to eat at least three bizarre foods, which included alligator, frog legs, rattlesnake, catfish, pickled pigs’ feet, pork scrapple, and chitterlings (pig intestines). We ordered one serving of each for the table and then watched as the boys picked and grimaced through the plates. It was a wonderful hour of laughs and some discoveries, such as chitterlings smell awful but actually taste pretty good. In the end, two of the boys just couldn’t manage three trials although one boy put several choices up to his lips and then chickened out. I don’t remember any of the matches we played that tournament or even if we placed at all, but I definitely remember that afternoon at the restaurant. I remember the kids’ faces and comments, where they sat at the table and the décor. I have a vivid image of the Claw Machine at the door because we rewarded the boys who tried at least three delicacies with a buck to try the Claw. We left with three stuffed toys. Unbelievable. These experiences inform our pasts with delight because they spring from moments of unbridled joy.

I love watching the youngest kids cavorting on the soccer pitch. I saw a little girl who did cartwheels up and down the field during the entire game. I giggle at the enthusiasm of kids who will score goals wherever there’s a net even if it’s the wrong end or even if it’s on another field. At one game, a 6-year-old got the ball, make a sharp right and dribbling through the parents on the sidelines then skittered amongst a team on the adjoining field to triumphantly score a goal. Amazingly the kids on the invaded field broke into cheers and slapped the scorer on the back before suddenly realizing he wasn’t on their team. His coach had to go retrieve him and the ball, even as he was celebrating. Everyone was delighted, no one was angry, and people just had fun watching this spectacle unfold before them. Kids will fall on their behinds kicking the ball and bounce right up. Bryce used to always kick and fall down, and when we asked him why, he responded, “Because it’s fun.” That’s the point. Youth sports should be joyful and the memories from them shouldn’t be focused on wins or accomplishments – those things will fluctuate widely in youth sports. But precious moments of delight and abandon will disappear as they grow older because they become more self-aware, they want to avoid embarrassment, and they get more driven. When that happens we parents will see fewer and fewer of these carefree moments.

What I loved so much when the boys began to reminisce was how they focused on these nuggets of enjoyment. They remembered having somersault contests on the hill next to the field while waiting for their turn to play, much to the frustration of their coach, they remembered when they discovered the bog in the woods at the back of the big field and Bryce ended up permanently losing a cleat in the muck. They remembered the thunderstorm when they gathered under the clubhouse canopy and watched the fury happening just a few feet from them. The discussed the stupid clothing choices they made that they thought were so cool – head bands and wearing their shorts pulled down. I was glad that as time has gone by the soccer captured in their hearts is now the soccer of delight, which is what I hoped we had created – a lifetime of positive memories they could share with their future spouses, children, and non-soccer friends. Playing youth sports may turn into something more intense and goal-oriented, but it should always be based in joyfulness so when our kids get tickled by some sensory cue it will elicit a memory worthy of being embraced, relished, and repeated.

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Jeering and Cheering

Susan Boyd

An essential part of the youth sports experience is having fans cheering our kids. We parents love to attend their games and embarrass them (and occasionally ourselves) with loud vocal support. Unfortunately, especially as they grow older, our vocal support drifts and crosses the line to taunting the opposition. It’s a natural evolution fueled by tradition and learned behaviors at professional events. In the name of good sportsmanship we try to curb the instinct, and official rules of conduct for various youth sports organizations request that we abstain from jeers and focus on just cheering for our players. A recent national flap on this issue was sparked by the very high school sports governing board guidelines under which my own sons played here in Wisconsin. When the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) sent out an email reminding schools, coaches, players, students, and parents to avoid taunting, even helpfully including a list of phrases to avoid, a basketball student-athlete took exception to the perceived restrictions and lashed out via social media with a profanity-laced rant. Her punishment was a five game suspension, not for attacking the guidelines but for violating the athlete’s code of ethics by swearing in her posts. There it might have ended, but her local paper picked up the story, and suddenly so did ESPN and Sports Illustrated. Without all the facts public opinion was squarely with the student and her position that the guidelines were stupid, and also condemning the WIAA for the suspension.

I find this all very intriguing beginning with people being so upset with being asked to be civil at games. I guess we could chalk it up to the right to personal expression being curbed by this stuffy organization, which overall doesn’t always have the best reputation in Wisconsin. People probably look upon ridiculing as an entitlement for attending sporting events. Watching and supporting sports for parents of athletes is a personal experience, which only extends to the school or club because of their children’s association with those institutions. Therefore, we are probably less interested in deriding the opponents than in supporting our own kids. However, for most students releasing their energy through cheering and jeering is considered a rite of passage. Even athletes speak positively about the contempt heaped upon them with chants and catcalls during games. Somehow it’s a backhanded compliment that their abilities elicit the need to heckle them.

One unavoidable reason that this has provoked such a strong response is the way the WIAA framed their decree. First they called it a “point of emphasis,” which just screams of ivory tower, living in a bubble, elitism. Instead of speaking in normal terms that simply encourage participants to avoid excessive ridicule, the email did highlight possible consequences for violating the guidelines, which only fueled the anger. Naturally, the WIAA had to quickly discount the enforcement portion of their email, since they never had sanctioned any school or person for “normal” taunts. The WIAA should have simply reiterated their stance on the more significant issue of taunts that cross the lines of decorum such as attacks that focus on a physical disability, a player’s race or religion, sexism, or ethnic backgrounds should never be tolerated, encouraging schools, fans, and participants to make a good faith effort to tone down the jeers heard regularly during most sporting events. Unfortunately the WIAA provided a “helpful” list of phrases to avoid, which only further reinforced their total out-of-touch position. Here are the phrases: air ball, you can’t do that, fundamentals, scoreboard, and sieve. Holy Cow! Other than air ball, I think very few of us have heard any of these phrases used in the last decade as a way to mock the other team. That may explain why none of these guidelines have been enforced because they rarely occur having been replaced by far more current vernacular.

Right now, the WIAA has been heaped with national ridicule for their well-intended, poorly executed email, the purpose of which was simply to reinforce the concept of good sportsmanship. I don’t think most people would argue that fair play extends to the use of language, and in general, people want to maintain some level of appropriateness in their public shouts. However, even as long ago as the Roman amphitheaters people expressed both support and disdain with shouts, bringing a more sinister element to these emotions with a thumbs up or down on letting a competitor live. Luckily, we don’t go that far. The WIAA further caught grief for its treatment of the high school tweeter. Most people assume she was punished for questioning the WIAA’s policies, but she was actually punished for violating the athletic code on profanity that flowed freely in her posts. There is a case to be made for consistency. Profanity is officially considered cause for all different types of consequences for high school and college athletes, but these consequences are rarely enforced. Players should receive an official warning if they swear during a game, and if they swear at an official that is supposed to be immediate removal (usually a red card in a soccer game). But officials don’t enforce the policy most of the time and decide when a situation is egregious enough to warrant a send-off, which makes enforcement very subjective and therefore open to challenges if applied. That weakens both the policies and the issuing organization. Many people thought a five game suspension was overkill for the young athlete, and there’s certainly a possibility that it will be overturned or diminished. All of which makes the WIAA look like it overreacted and when it comes to implementation chose a rather knee-jerk approach.

While the entire incident has become an embarrassment for the WIAA, it has opened the conversation on what might be appropriate when we cheer at games. Language is extremely difficult to police, and even the WIAA admitted that their email wasn’t new policy to control behavior, just a reminder of long-standing guidelines. However, we do have common sense tests for what should and shouldn’t be voiced. We can all tolerate some taunting. It seems to be part of the culture of “sticks and stones.” What we need to avoid are personal attacks that border on hate speech. I don’t like profanity, especially when young kids are around, but it has become the way many of us express our intense positions. As a writing teacher, I’m appalled that three four letter words seem to have replaced the elegance and beauty of all English adjectives, adverbs and verbs, but I understand in the age of texts and 140 character tweets we have reverted to a much more abbreviated and profane way of emphasizing our points. I’d rather see us focus on speech that can harm rather than speech that is clanking and abrasive but is essentially just puffery. My sons are biracial, and they were taunted regularly with racial slurs, which concern me far more that someone shouting “F” you at them. The WIAA hasn’t attended to this issue enough, and officials have been as lax in handling verbal attacks as they have been in handling profanity, perhaps placing both on the same level.

Because this situation ended up highlighting the relatively minor issues of common jeering and simple profanity and the ridiculous way the WIAA approached the problem, the press missed the chance to zero in on more significant concerns at our youth games. Definitely, we parents need to take as high a road as possible to set a good example for our kids. But we can’t avoid the serious issues of heckling, which becomes ugly and personal. It’s incumbent upon governing organizations to not only make policies clear on these racist, sexist, and physical appearance attacks, but to find ways to enforce them. This means setting guidelines and requirements for officials so that they more aggressively handle personal attack situations. Coaches and schools need to be held accountable for their athletes’ behaviors and to an extent their fans’ behaviors, and all punishments must be fairly applied to all involved. Kids who chant “loser” aren’t the problem, but kids who chant racial slurs are and should be sanctioned either individually if possible or as a school. All too often the worst situations are glossed over or ignored which only emboldens hecklers the next game. It’s unfortunate that the WIAA is taking all the heat because I’m sure other state athletic associations and sports governing organizations have similar problems. They just didn’t get called out so publically by first an athlete and then by national publications. Nevertheless, everyone needs to revisit the issue of good sportsmanship as it relates to language. We can laugh at the flubs of the WIAA, but we shouldn’t dismiss the dangers of hate filled jeering. As one local high school coach said, “We just ask students to cheer and support their team rather than cheering against the other team.” Good advice.

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Women In Soccer

Sam Snow

A few weeks ago I attended a symposium for Women In Soccer - http://women-in-soccer.com/.  Almost 110 people attended the symposium. The speakers included Carrie Taylor, Diane Scavuzzo, Lynn Berling-Manuel, Lesle Gallimore, Shannon McMillian, Louise Waxler, Rosalie Kramm, Sally Grigoriev, Chris Moore, Jeff Plush, Jerry Zanelli, Duncan Riddle, Steve Hoffman, Yvette Brown and Angela Hucles.

The day was filled with a great exchange of information from the speakers and the audience members. The fundamental goal of the symposium was to get more women, especially the former players, more deeply into coaching, officiating and top tier sport management. We also need more women in soccer media, marketing, governance, sports sciences, etc.

The push toward a tipping point gained real momentum at this symposium. To keep that momentum going there will be a meeting to devise action plans to achieve the goal of more women in soccer leadership at the 2016 US Youth Soccer Workshop in Baltimore next month. The session will be led by Carrie Taylor and Ruth Nicholson. That session will be in convention center room 321 beginning at 2:15 PM on Saturday, January 16th. If you support this effort tin any way then please do attend that session.

In the meantime you can email Carrie Taylor (carrie.taylor@lagunaunited.org) your goals or reach out through Twitter @Carrie1v1 #WIS2015GOALS. PLEASE also include the #WomenInSoccer hashtag. You may also read and add to the document via Google.

Carrie Taylor has shared a link to the following document:

WIS 2015 Goals

Goals list. Please invite people to add their goals as you see fit:

Open in Docs

 

We hope that you’ll actively participate with us at the January 16th meeting.

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End of an Era

Susan Boyd

Quick! Name the soccer player with the greatest number of international goals. Hint: this forward has appeared in four World Cups and three Olympics. Give up or did you know? It’s Abby Wambach, who retired from the game on Dec. 16, 2015 with 184 goals scored in international play. And yes, that is more than any other player male or female in soccer history. That means more goals than Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham or Mia Hamm who amazingly ranks second in the world with 154 goals. Abby’s impact on the sport transcends gender distinctions and national allegiance.  She definitely elevated the game here in the United States, but she has also joined the international pantheon of notable players with name recognition around the world.

Abby began playing soccer when she was six and made the U.S. National team in her teens. She played college ball at the University of Florida where she honed her signature diving header. Her headers determined games with last minute clutch plays, most notably in the 2011 World Cup when her header at the 122nd minute tied Brazil in the semi-finals, leading to the U.S.’s ultimate victory to make it to the finals. Her head was marked by both her own team, as the point to hit in hopes of a goal, and by the opponent as the dangerous weapon which had to be stopped. Yet teams often couldn’t thwart the power she possessed with both her head and her feet, and more significantly the power she possessed to inspire her team. The New York Times declared she was “the soul” of the Women’s National Team, and there was little argument with the truth of that statement. She motivated teammates to persevere through tough matches and helped them remained focused leading to strong performances and significant come-from-behind victories. While her skill as a player is unquestioned, it is her character which sets her even further apart from other sports marvels. She possesses integrity, determination, humility and joy, traits we hope all our youth players aspire to and achieve. She embodies the true character of a role model. Abby was a refreshing stand-out who could inspire both girls and boys; someone we could trust to provide drama-free behaviors. When Hope Solo, the goalkeeper for the Women’s National Team, was arrested for domestic abuse just prior to the 2015 World Cup, Abby kept her opinions to herself, focused on the competition ahead and supported her teammate. That’s a class act. As she shifts to a new role as commentator, soccer representative and endorser, she will continue to bring to soccer the same high level of investment and scrupulousness. Pointing our kids in her direction wouldn’t be a mistake.

However in this climate of larger-than-life sports celebrities who all too often seem more self-involved than humble in the face of their success, it’s difficult to find people we want our children to look up to. We may chuckle at some of the antics, but the behaviors of these notables aren’t anything we want our children to model. Abby’s time of playing has ended, and new players will take her place as time moves forward. Just as Mia Hamm and Cobi Jones gave way to Abby Wambach and Landon Donovan, they have now given way to Alex Morgan and Michael Bradley.  Unfortunately we parents don’t get to pick the sports icons our children adore. That comes from a mix of public opinion and personal attachment. We may be able to steer our kids gently in a certain direction, but ultimately they want the jersey that everyone else is wearing. Alas those who imbue a jersey number with legendary magic can’t all have the dependability that we witnessed with Abby. Too regularly our heroes end up letting us down. So that begs the question, what do we do when our child’s idol has clay feet? 

In 2013 we had a summer of huge disappointment when Brewer’s outfielder Ryan Braun denied he used performance enhancing drugs, had a suspension overturned and then in a disastrous turn of events had to reluctantly fess up. Caught up in the same scandal was Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees who dug in his heels in the face of overwhelming evidence and refused to admit to any wrong doing, though the evidence (and the baseball commissioner) said otherwise. Thousands of kids were sent into a tailspin as they struggled with the aftermath of fallen idols. These kids had jerseys, posters, signed baseballs and other memorabilia, all of which lost their luster quickly. Some continued to support their heroes, but most were too scared and ashamed to admit their allegiances. It was confusing to hear newscasters and sports reporters tear down their icons daily. Parents were also conflicted because they understood the seriousness of the charges but also felt loyalty to their team. Imagine how much more upsetting this was to young players who didn’t comprehend the issues except on the most rudimentary level. All they really understood was that their star was tarnished and by association so were they.

These doping suspensions weren’t the first implosion of a sports star’s image (think Tiger Woods, Tonya Harding, Lance Armstrong), but is regrettably emblematic of how many players end up on the wrong end of the law, lying or flaunting poor social decorum. We parents have the unenviable task of helping our kids deal with the news. We need to help kids separate the legend from the reality. It’s important for them to understand that just because someone can score goals from 30 yards out doesn’t mean he’s a pillar of integrity. Kids can still be enamored with a player’s skills while taking exception to her conduct. We parents should point out that all the adulation can warp a person’s sense of humility and entitlement. Whatever the circumstances of a professional player’s fall from grace, kids should be able to learn some valuable lessons about making ethical choices, being honest and taking responsibility for behaviors. We should openly discuss the reports and kids should be encouraged to come up with how their hero might have better handled the situation. We can ask “What would you do if someone offered you a way to cheat?” or “Is there a time when lying is okay?” or “Does someone famous have the right to ignore the rules?”  While these seem to be rhetorical questions, we may be surprised at how our kids view the issues.  Rather than judge the responses, we should encourage a dialog, focusing on all the issues involved, and continuing the discussion as it impacts their lives. We should do this is so that our kids learn to analyze moral dilemmas and arrive at solutions that will make both us and them comfortable. It’s not about one right answer but about developing the tools to find their own answers while in the midst of an ethical quagmire. It won’t be just about sports, but really all about life.

Abby’s retirement marks the end of an era with the Women’s National Team that set amazing standards for quality of action both on and off the pitch. When we find a player that we believe embodies a strong work ethic and moral compass, we shouldn’t be shy about pointing that out to our youngsters. The player may not be the biggest star, but at least he or she can serve as an example of what we want our children to aspire to. It’s all right if our kids hitch their loyalties to someone we consider possesses questionable principles because should he or she falter, their fall will provide valuable life lessons. More importantly, there will always be an Abby Wambach out there to whom we can direct their attention. Sports heroes despite some extraordinary skills are also human beings with frailties, but some, like Abby, have fewer than others. An era of decency will continue long after good players retire. Someone will take their place. It will be exciting to see who steps up in women’s soccer.

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