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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". 

 

Fun doesn't come in sizes - Bart Simpson

Susan Boyd

It's not often I get to quote a cartoon character, much less a perennial 10 year old cartoon character. But Bart makes a very good point. Fun doesn't need to be huge like a trip to Disney World, and fun shouldn't be dismissed because it might be tiny and fleeting. Fun is just fun. And since September is Youth Soccer Month and the first week is devoted to the topic of fun, it seems appropriate to think about how to keep the fun in youth soccer. I've discovered that Bart is not only a philosopher of fun, but he also unwittingly introduced the vuvuzela to us in March of 1997, has a "Soccer Bart" fleece blanket and poster, and joined Ronaldo on the April 22, 2007 episode to teach Homer about soccer. So fun, soccer, and Bart Simpson are not such odd bedfellows.

Besides shamelessly using the Simpsons to add Google search keywords that might bring more readers to my blog, I also wanted to make the point that we often get way too serious about soccer and forget the fun of it all. At the adult professional level soccer can have all the fun of a runaway train – that is to say none. In Europe they have to put demilitarized zones in the stands to separate the opposing fans lest a fist fight breaks out. At the Community Shield game a few years ago, one of Robbie's friends applauded a good play by someone not wearing the jersey of his seating section. The poor kid was nearly muffled by a dozen burly men before security swiftly escorted him out to safety and out of the game. That's serious soccer! Unfortunately I've seen the same serious attitudes at games for kids as young as six. People need to get their Bart on and discover the fun of youth soccer. Here's a few ways to do just that.

One: Practice saying only encouraging things and only cheering for good play. You'll discover it's not that easy because as parents we are naturally inclined to "teach" which often translates into criticizing. So we find ourselves saying encouraging things like, "you can beat that kid," or "next time look before you pass." That's not the kind of encouragement I mean. Try starting every shout out with the word "good" or "great." It's amazing how hard it is to change your habits, but it's also amazing how wonderful your shout-outs will become. Do I practice what I preach – are you kidding? I'm about as fallible as it comes when being a soccer parent. But when I remember, usually after an evil eye look from one of my kids, I find out I am having a lot more fun watching them play. I can laugh at a lot of stuff and it relieves me of having to intently "coach" the game.

Two: Find something fun to do during the game. I hated the vuvuzelas during the Confederation games and the World Cup. But at least those tooting their horns looked to be having a great time even in the face of defeat. The horns hopefully deflected anger and frustration and offered the participants some celebratory joy no matter what the results on the field. While I'm not advocating bringing a bee buzzing plastic instrument to a U8 game, I am saying you might want to have pom poms for everyone on the sidelines or dress in the team colors. I went to a game for a group of 9 year olds where the parents had brought signs like you might for a pro game where they had written "Billy Bends it Better than Beckham" and "Josh Knows Soccer". They jumped around on the sidelines cheering and shaking the signs the entire game. I had fun just watching the parents.

Three: Remember why they play. We spectators have been conditioned to believe that if you lose, it wasn't fun. We're so used to turning off our TVs in disgust when the Brewers are down five runs in the bottom of the ninth. We feel the bitter taste in our mouths from disappointment. Kids on the other hand still find fun just in playing. The more we make games like the adult version, the less fun the kids will have. How many games have you gone to where they don't keep score, yet everyone seems to know what the score is, including the players. The idea is to not have winners or losers. I've come to the conclusion we have this "deception" for the sake of the adults not the kids. Because kids like to know who won and kids forget about it moments after knowing.   It's just a fact they want to know, but it doesn't affect how they feel about themselves, the game, or their participation. To be honest I think they just want to know because that means the game is over and they can go get snacks. At my grandson's last baseball game he won (no one was keeping score of course) and his delight at winning was a mere blip, but his disappointment in not getting a snack lasted all the way to the car and all the way home. "The other team got snacks," he pouted. So they play for fun AND food.

Four: Discover what makes it fun for your child and promote that. When the boys were really young they liked to get pumped up by Smash Mouth's "All Star." We would crank up the volume in the car and rock out as we pulled into the parking lot of the fields. It became an essential ritual. If they won the game, it was due to the song, and if they lost it was due to the volume not being loud enough. Rewards can bring some added zest to a game, although be careful because you may end up paying out a lot. My daughter and her husband promised their 6 year old an ice cream if he got an unassisted double play. The first game he got two! I also saw a girl trot over to her gramma in the middle of a game to claim her dime for not crying when she got knocked down. But of course everyone had a good laugh, which means everyone had a moment of fun.

Five: Fun doesn't come in sizes, so don't discount the smidgens of fun that peek out even in the most serious of games. Last night we went to a college game where Bryce's former teammate was on the opposition. I knew his parents well and told everyone they were in for a treat. Mom is a petite soccer parent with lungs a lion would envy. Her shouts to the team come from deep and are propelled forth with what must be the tautest diaphragm in history. Heads snap round when she belts out her encouragement. And it is always encouragement, never criticism or anger. But there are those who try to shush her, I suppose out of embarrassment. She always laughs and brushes it off. I remarked that her vocalizations were her way of bringing joy to the game. She said I was right. So even though her team lost, she had fun.   And I think she had it super-sized.
 

Conway Testimonial

Sam Snow

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure to attend a testimonial dinner for Jimmy Conway. Jimmy has now retired as the technical director for Oregon Youth Soccer after 28 years on the job. Along the way he also coached at Pacific University and he began the men's program at Oregon State University. He also served on the staff for Region IV US Youth Soccer ODP for many years.

If you didn't know, Jimmy also played for the Portland Timbers in the North American Soccer League. And when he retired from the pro game he was an assistant coach with the Timbers from 1980-1982 and again from 2001-2005. He also played for Bohemian Football Club, Manchester City Football Club and Fulham Football Club. Jimmy was an Irish international earning 20 caps and scoring 3 goals.

Attending the testimonial with me from US Youth Soccer were John Sutter, President and Jim Cosgrove, Executive Director. In the banquet room were another 200 people who arrived at the affair from literally around the world. Those personages included Bobby Howe, Cliff McGrath, Dean Wurzberger, John Madding, Peter Mellor, Bill Irwin and Jan Smisek. Of course, Oregon Youth Soccer was represented by Ric Listella, President; Chuck Keers, Executive Director and Mike Smith, Technical Director.

Mick Hoban headed up a group of volunteers who did an outstanding job in organizing and then pulling off the golf tournament, dinner and testimonial match.

In the trivia on Jimmy that was assembled by Dennis O'Meara, there's one line I think says a lot about Jimmy as a player and a person. "From 1966 through 1980, it appears that Jimmy's name only went into the ref's book for one reason – scoring goals."

On a personal note, several years ago I attended a symposium for U.S. Soccer National Instructors for the National Coaching Schools. We of course had both class and field sessions at the symposium. During one of the field sessions held at the Air Force Academy soccer fields, Gordon Miller ran a session on 2 v 2. I was in one of those pairs and Jimmy was in the other and of course it often fell to me to cover Jimmy. If you've not seen Jimmy play I can tell you that he's really smooth with the ball, complete opposite of me. So, during the activity there were times when Jimmy dribbled straight at me showing me a bit of the ball. I'd look for my moment and would go for the ball, just to have Jim move himself and the ball ever so slightly out of my reach and then he was gone. Jimmy is eight years older than me and I thought I should be able to deal with these 1 v 1 moments. After the activity was over and Jimmy had skated past me at least four times, I went for a drink. Bobby Howe got me aside and said, "Don't worry about it Sam. Jimmy does that to full internationals." Well the only thing international about me is my passport. From those object lessons and the sessions that Jimmy conducted during that symposium I pick up many golden nuggets from the man.

I have always found Jimmy to be a class act in the coaching of our game and real gentleman off the field too. If you like to read more about Jimmy Conway, click here
 

Not just business

Susan Boyd

In the midst of the World Cup in the early morning hours of June 23, the soccer store in our town burned down, the victim of a lightning strike. I heard about it just a few hours after it happened because its joint tenant was a Starbuck's, and a Starbuck's burning down on a work week morning is big news. Stefan's was the town square of soccer here. It's where I learned all the soccer gossip, connected with fellow soccer moms and dads, caught up with my son's friends, and took a few moments to discover the new gear.  

The manager was a young man from Ghana who, at one time or another, had coached both my boys. I could always count on a smile from Abdul. I had the honor of being a witness to his evolving life from soccer player and coach to student to boyfriend to husband to father. I attended his wedding, cheered him on as he returned to college, prayed for him and his wife when she got breast cancer, and beamed when their daughter was born. Other employees included players we had competed with and against over the years. Buying a pair of soccer socks wasn't a five minute trip. Like in the country stores with their pot belly stoves, we all congregated on the benches in the shoe section and chewed the fat. Stefan's was not just a store; it was a refuge.

Once, Robbie was headed to a national tryout in Florida and when he put his bag together late the night before he realized that he couldn't find his shin guards. We tore the house apart and finally admitted to ourselves that he probably left them at the last game. Stefan's didn't open until 10 the next morning, the same time Robbie had to be at the airport. Robbie was frantic, but I told him all was not lost. So at 9:30 a.m. we zoomed into Stefan's parking lot trusting that Abdul or someone would be at the store already. We knocked on the glass door and openly cheered as we saw Abdul's head pop up from the office in the back. He was laughing as he opened the door. "What'd you forget?" As he grabbed the right shin guards I could see the anxiety wash away from Robbie. Because the cash registers weren't open yet, I promised to return to pay after dropping Robbie off. I couldn't have done that at any big box store or mega-sports outlet. And Robbie wouldn't have gotten a cheerful pat on the back and a sincere "Good Luck" from one of their clerks who had no idea what a big deal this tryout was.

Every August team managers descended on Stefan's to pick up their uniform orders for their teams. This was a stressful experience that Stefan's managed to make less so. Each player's order was bagged up with the order form in the bag and then all the bags in a box. All a manager had to do was pick up the box, take it to a practice, and hand out the bags. Stefan's rarely made a mistake, and if they did it was corrected quickly and uncomplainingly. Of course there was a deadline for orders and of course many of the managers were late with the orders, but somehow everything got done in time for the first game or tournament. And when a manager came in with a new player the coach had added on Aug, 28, Stefan's still somehow managed to get the order done. It was a personal touch that a family owned and run store could offer.

So when the store burned down it took away family. I sent an e-mail immediately to the owner to offer any help I could, but she said that because the damage was so extensive they would just be closing. I don't think it completely hit me until two weeks later when my grandkids came to visit and I couldn't take them to Stephan's to get their gear for soccer camp. Now whenever I am out and drive by the shell that was the store I get depressed. I counted on my visits to the store to bring some delight into my life and to bring me up to speed on what was happening in soccer in S.E. Wisconsin. My last time in the store was buying two World Cup T-shirts for the boys. I even went back to the store a couple hours later to exchange one T-shirt for another size. It was that convenient.

There are other Stefan's stores in Wisconsin, but none are just minutes from my house and filled with old and dear friends. I will truly miss it. I'm sure many of you have a similar haven where you get your soccer necessities and catch up on your soccer news. Be sure you let them know how much you appreciate their service and their attention. The staff at Stefan's used to joke when I came through the door that they could finally make payroll this month. Based on the amount I spent there, it might not have been entirely a joke. But it shows how much the store and its customers were intertwined. It wasn't just a business – it was a family.   And I will miss doing business with them.
 

Juggling

Sam Snow

An interesting thought was sent to me recently from Shawn Wilson concerning the skill of juggling the ball as a part of player development. I think it is a good look at juggling and opens us up for some discussion. While this matter is not a huge one in youth soccer, it does point us toward more effort in training sessions on ball skills. So the inquery was this:

I would love to hear your take on the relative importance of juggling on the thighs. I think it is over emphasized amongst youth soccer players. I see value in encouraging players to spend time with the ball, but I also think that allowing/encouraging players to demonstrate juggling that is dominated by the thighs is counterproductive to developing players with true touch and control for the game.

Now here's the passage from Shawn which prompted our dialogue:

My son recently joined a highly competitive U-11 classic team. His new coach at the first training session asked him what his juggling record is to which he told the coach "67". The coach did not give any positive feedback but instead pointed out that two players on the team are over 100, and one of which is actually over a 1,000, quite impressive indeed. Further discussion on the topic revealed that of those 1,000 touches, the vast majority (over 80 percent estimated) were with the thighs. This is not uncommon amongst youth soccer players. Juggling on the thighs is very prevalent to the point of dominating juggling, especially when a total count is the emphasis. 

My wife was observing the interaction and as the conversation continued felt compelled to point out that with our son we do not "count" thigh touches. To clarify, with my players I encourage them to use the thighs as a controlling surface but try to keep them from fixating on thigh to thigh juggling. When addressing juggling with my team I set up contests in a variety of ways. When going for simple total counts, I only allow feet and head to count, but all legal surfaces (including thighs) are in play for keeping the streak going. We also focus on juggling activities that force the player to move the ball from surface to surface on command (such as "climb the mountain" or juggling "h-o-r-s-e"). 

When my wife pointed this out to the coach, the coach got somewhat defensive and countered that, "a lot of the game is played on the thighs". Perhaps my wife should not have offered any response, but she did so in an effort to preserve my son's confidence in front of his new teammates. 

The fact is that not much of the game is played on the thighs at all. Just this morning I am watching Chelsea and Manchester United in the FA Community Shield. These are two of the best teams in the world, loaded with highly skilled players. Through 73 minutes, I observed the ball played off the thigh once. That's right, one time! Chelsea's right wing used his thigh to settle the ball to the floor near minute 26 from a pass played in the air to him. Furthermore, I have never seen a high level player move the ball from thigh to thigh in a match or even move the ball thigh to thigh while juggling or warming up. 

Ronaldinho, when in his prime, demonstrated the best ball control in the world. Viewing video of him reveals that for 2-3 minutes of juggling, he plays the ball off his thighs 1-2 times, and never does he move the ball thigh to thigh.

Perhaps, all of this comes across as a little hard core on my part. It is. But I do appreciate the skill and concentration required to juggle a ball thigh to thigh for several hundred touches. And if a young player can do this, then it should be recognized as an impressive achievement. But the point I am making is that focusing on thigh juggling to that degree is a mistake. Juggling is only valuable if it ultimately improves a player's touch (especially first touch) and control within the actual game of soccer. For this reason, young players should be encouraged to juggle primarily with their feet (preferably both feet).

Here's the response I sent:

I agree with you that juggle is a means to an end. The end being more confidence with the ball, improved balance and limb control, visually getting better at reading the spin, flight and bounce of the ball and finally to learn controlled impact with the ball to either settle or propel it (touch on the ball). Do Americans who juggle do so on the thigh too much? Quite likely so. I feel though that this issue is less of a problem than the fact that too little juggling is taught or encouraged by coaches in the first place. I think that juggling is a useful tool for improving in many of the areas mentioned above. Juggling can also be a good warm-up and/or cool-down activity. So let's get more young players out there learning how to lift the ball and then to juggle it. And yes, please encourage touches up and down the body. Even the juggling tricks, while not used in a match, help to build confidence. That confident attitude of a player's mastery of the ball is invaluable to quality match performance. Finally, on the note of one's record of juggles in a row, I do not see a practical need for anything over 100. After that record is achieved juggling becomes an end in itself and not the means to improvement in the areas mentioned in the second sentence above.