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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". 

 

Pass the Ball and the Pampers

Susan Boyd

Last month, Dutch soccer club V.V.V. Venlo signed a new player to their roster for a 10-year contract. Such signings in the Netherlands usually go unnoticed in the United States, but this one was different. The new player was Baerke van der Meij an up and comer who dazzled with a hat trick in less than 20 seconds and thereby gained the notice and ultimately the roster slot on the team. Baerke has an impressive resume including learning to speak Dutch and how to use a spoon. Once he is toilet trained, he should fit right into the locker room. Baerke is 18 months old.
           
I don't know about the rest of you, but when my kids were 18 months old, they had not yet committed to soccer as their primary sport. In fact, one or two hadn't fully committed to walking. Yet in this age of "get 'em while they're hot," Baerke has become the only soccer player who has to have games scheduled around his naptime. He was "discovered" because he hammered three balls into his toy chest while his parents digitally captured the moment and posted it on the internet. 

Had YouTube existed when my kids were in their single digits, and had I owned a video camera, I might have coached them do something spectacular to gain the notice of a major sports organization. I'm sure I could have drilled them enough to sink three putts from different spots on the green or make 10 free throws in a row into their Fisher Price hoop. Given that this story gained the attention of magazines as prestigious as Time, I assume that there will be a slew of videos hitting YouTube in the coming weeks in an attempt to cash in on the media attention.
           
As Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VVV-Venlo) admitted in their blurb on this event, this was a symbolic contract signing. But it still bothers me. First of all, news outlets didn't report that this was a publicity stunt, preferring instead to give the story more wow factor by omitting that tidbit. Second, it speaks once again to the emphasis on identifying "stars" before they ever have a chance to develop any of their adult characteristics. This only heightens that parental panic that somehow our children will miss the boat when it comes to being tapped for a professional contract. While our kids still need help tying their cleats, we are busy fretting about their athletic choices. If Aesop had written his fables today, it wouldn't have been a dog looking in the river to see another dog with a bigger bone clamped in his jaws. It would have been a soccer parent with a club registration form in his/her hands. 
           
One comment on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG-E4kbfqk) stated that it would really be awful for this kid if he grew up to be a fan of Barcelona or Man U and was stuck wearing the Venlo jersey. Likewise, how terrible would it be if he had no interest in soccer and instead wanted to speed skate, another national sport of the Netherlands? Or perhaps he won't be sports minded at all, preferring art, music or reading. I doubt the club would hold him to the contract, after all he merely scribbled his signature. As my heroine, Judge Judy, continually points out, minors can't enter into contracts. But he will always be known as the kid in jersey number 1.5 playing forward. That's a legacy difficult to shake off.
           
When the boys were just starting to play there was a club in town who won every U-8 to U-12 game. They formed teams primarily by having each age group stand in a row and picking the biggest players for the first team, then the next biggest kids for the next team, and so on. Their size stood them in good stead until puberty hit and then all of that strength got equalized and even surpassed. Parents who had pushed their kids on this club because it had a winning record became disillusioned when the winning record dissolved. What happened was the kids on other clubs, whose coaching staffs couldn't rely on size, learned skills and tactics which eventually led to some wins, but more importantly gave them a good base from which to develop further. I still watch this pattern of engineering domination with clubs and parents who equate winning with success. 

What kids need is development based on learning the most primary of skills early on.   Every significant soccer player possesses a great first touch, solid passing and the ability to play off the ball. I watch college level players lose the ball time and again because their first touch sends the ball 20 feet in front of them for an opponent to pick up. Players may be praised for understanding what to do when they have the ball, but those same players often kick the ball and then stand to see what develops before making their next move, rather than knowing right where to be when they don't have the ball. Eventually players who want to play at the top level have to fit into a team where all the players get it. Being the top scorer won't be enough to succeed because the entire team has to be able to function as a unit where every player knows what to do every second of the game. No one can accurately predict at age 10, and definitely not at age 1.5, who will be able to develop those team tactics that create the power and success for a club. But every player has a chance to develop even if they don't have a viral video juggling with their ears.
           
I'm happy that soccer gets any mention in the American press and even happier when it relates to youth soccer. But I also don't want to feed the youth frenzy that comes with any sport – the idea that kids have to be noticed before they can ride a tricycle. I remember watching Tiger Woods on the Tonight Show when he was just four. He would do all the tricks including putting, driving, and escaping sand traps with cute abbreviated clubs and his ever-present father overseeing the exhibition. I felt for the kid because it seemed unnatural.   I'm sure, based on many comments he's made about his father, that Tiger doesn't regret beginning his life that way. But I wonder if he could have become as good a golfer as he has without the strict early training and the circus life that came from that training. We can't know because there's no way to do a control study and find out. Still, I'd rather err on the side of giving my kids a childhood with soccer memories that include free time and other sports. Given the tiny percentage of the nearly 14 million youth players in America who will go on to professional careers, parents would do well to let their kids, as a referee would say, play on without the penalty of added pressure and expectation.
 

How would you market a club?

Sam Snow

Q: How would you market a club; internally and externally?

I think the marketing of a club is extensive. To speak to the full scope of the task may be beyond this medium. However, here are a few thoughts. 

Externally, the club must think of point of contact with its targeted customers. So for children, it will be schools, doctors/dentists offices, religious centers, movie theaters and other business places aimed at youngsters, Chuck E. Cheese for example. Also consider parks and recreation departments, YMCA, Boys Clubs, Scouts, Police Athletic League, etc. if they are not running soccer programs themselves. Additionally, if the funds are available then advertising on billboards, newspapers, radio and local public access TV, keeping in mind that newspapers, radio and TV all also deliver over the internet.

Externally, I would also build relationships with high school and college soccer programs. If there are semi-pro and/or pro soccer franchises in the area, then work with them too.

Once a club is up and operating, then advertising on its own web site becomes quite important. Joining forces with the state soccer association on this platform can extend the reach of the club considerably. Then there are many other means to promote the club from within. It could be a fundraiser golf tournament, a holiday dance, an appreciation BBQ for the volunteer team mangers, a club night at a professional match, the club mission statement printed on bag tags for all players and team equipment, encouraging teams to go watch each other play, etc. Bottom line though is the word of mouth from player to player, parent to parent, manager to manager, etc. To get the right messages being shared requires regular communication from the club leadership.
 

Lord of the Flies

Susan Boyd

"After all, we're not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything."
           
Today I read an article that made me shiver. In England, at a Division Four game between Bury and Chesterfield, when goalkeeper Cameron Belford of Chesterfield allowed an equalizer goal by Bury, young Bury fans rushed the box to not only taunt the keeper, but also physically accost him. The pictures from this event show how completely overwhelming this attack became for the 6' 2" keeper trapped within the net surrounded by at least 10 tweens including one girl. 

Belford had recently had a titanium plate put in his right cheekbone due to a crushing contact from an opposing striker's foot last year. And it was this cheekbone that a young teenager openly punched during the melee. The girl in a ponytail who appeared to be eleven or twelve was forming obscene hand gestures in the face of the keeper while other boys heckled him or joined in the gestures.
           
I have so many questions. Why did these youngsters think they had the right to invade the field and the personal space of the keeper?    Where were the adult supervisors of these delinquents? What lessons have they learned from home or from the media that provided justification for their actions? 

We might expect this behavior from an errant fan impaired by alcohol and bolstered by his equally drunk compatriots egging him on. We've seen the bottles flung at outfielders, the beers dumped on the heads of NBA players heading down the causeway to the locker rooms, the wild abandon of someone running across the field during a game. But we really haven't seen a swarm of fans singling out a player for abuse during a match, much less having that swarm be on the minus side of puberty. 

Of the top ten fan/player confrontations, only one involves a child. This was in Comiskey Park when Kansas City coach Tom Gamboa was attacked by a father and his 15-year-old son. And most of the altercations involve one fan and one player. Only two were brawls – in 1979 between the Boston Bruins and Ranger fans and in 2004 between the Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, and Detroit fans. Of the latter episode, League Commissioner David Stern called it "shocking, repulsive and inexcusable – a humiliation for everyone associated with the NBA." I think the same comment could be made about this incident on the soccer pitch.
           
So how did we arrive at this state of affairs? The press called them hooligans, but I don't think that word is strong enough. Hooligan brings to mind those cheeky lads who throw eggs on Halloween or pants a teammate after a game. These English kids were brutes bent on intimidation and doing violence. Whatever possessed them to think they could enter the field during a game and attack the keeper can only be guessed at. But we can all agree that parents need to offer a strong role model for sideline and bleacher behavior when it comes to our children. 

Kids have a tremendous urge to emulate grown-up conduct in their rush to be adults. Watching dad swear at the referees or mom yell at an opposing team member provides some measure of approval for kids to partake in that behavior. Watching similar sideline actions as portrayed in the media only reinforces that that's what adults do. Somewhere there are parents for these louts who I hope step up to the proverbial plate and make the right statement. Rather than making excuses for their behavior or dismissing their actions, I hope they make these thugs apologize and then give them house arrest for a month or two. These parents will be setting the standard going forward, and I hope it's that this behavior will not be tolerated from kids or adults.

This incident hits home hard for me. I have a 6' 2" goalkeeper son who has been the object of constant ridicule and harassment during several recent games. He has kept his cool and not acknowledged the catcalls, but I often wonder if the fans became even more enflamed or emboldened how quickly they could reach and overpower him. Here was clear evidence of what fans were capable of attempting. But instead of adults who should know better, it was kids who should have been taught better and controlled better. I don't want to see us move to the unhappy world of Lord of the Flies where children develop into savages because they have no outside adult guidance. There are plenty of us adults around who need to reinforce the best of good sportsmanship whether it be at a U-8 game or the World Cup or on a deserted island.
 

Strategy for National Development

Sam Snow

Last week I attended the U.S. Soccer + SPARQ Player Development Summit on the Nike campus in Beaverton, OR. There were 150 coaches and administrators in attendance to learn firsthand about the U.S. Soccer Curriculum. The Summit lasted for two and half days, proving to be quite productive. 

The Summit opened with a friendly match between the U-18 Men's National Team (MNT) and the Portland Timbers. It's always nice to open a soccer event with some quality soccer. From their performance, there's no doubt we'll see some of the U-18 MNT players in MLS in the near future.

Once we were settled in for the Summit we had the pleasure of listening to Dan Coyle, the author of The Talent Code. Hearing the author give us the ideas he had behind writing the book was interesting, learning more about the potential that everyone has to grow their talent was inspiring. We learned more about the role of adversity in talent growth (overcoming challenges), the hard work that must go into becoming topnotch in any endeavor, that talent is a continuous construction process, the need to put older players into the view of younger players (role models and inspiration), the 10 year rule (10,000 hours of deliberate practice and play) and more. I wonder how many youth soccer coaches put in 10,000 hours of study and practical experience into developing their craft of coaching?

The second day of the Summit began with Claudio Reyna giving us the reasons behind the U.S. Soccer Curriculum. It points us toward a national style of play. It gives clubs a curriculum for development to supplement the Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States document. The Curriculum can be found in sections and in whole via this link: http://www.ussoccer.com/Coaches/Coaching-Education/Coaching-Home.aspx.

Following Coach Reyna's presentation of the Curriculum, a presentation was made by Paco de Miguel on the fitness component in high level training sessions for older adolescent players. That afternoon Mr. de Miguel demonstrated exercises done in a manner challenge both fitness and technique using the U-18 MNT players. His session was followed by Brian McBride conducting a session on technical functional training for strikers. The majority of these three sessions was aimed at the Developmental Academy coaches in attendance so the practical sessions were all right on the money for U-18 and older players.

The afternoon concluded with an opportunity for questions and answers with the day's presenters. Many good questions were asked with mostly quality answers. However little was discussed about Zone 1 and the aspects of the Curriculum aimed at our youngest players.

A member breakout meeting was held that evening for coaching education. The meeting was chaired by Dave Chesler, U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education and Scott Flood, U.S. Soccer Manager of Coaching Programs. Other representatives of U.S. Soccer included Dan Flynn, General Secretary and Claudio Reyna, Youth Technical Director. The US Youth Soccer Coaching Committee attended the meeting as well as representatives of other youth organizations. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time that U.S. Soccer had held a meeting with its members directly on coaching education. The meeting was well received and productive. The meeting covered the current initiatives in coaching education, specifically:

a)     
A.I.M. current course sequence ( Assess + Integrate Curriculum + Modify)
b)      Evaluate, expand and develop instructional staff
c)       Connect with members
d)      Identify key technical and education leaders (member organizations)
e)      Focal points in education of coaches (member organizations)

There is a desire by the organizations represented to better coordinate the coaching education offerings for soccer in America. In the near future, you will see an expansion of offerings from U.S. Soccer, US Youth Soccer and their state associations. Another example of improved cooperation on coaching education, Paul Payne, President for the NSCAA, and I are speaking to have the two organizations conventions complement one another on the themes for coaching development that are offered.

On the final day of the Summit we were given an in-depth presentation by SPARQ. That theory session was followed by a very useful field session on fitness training in a practical way for soccer. For coaches of teenaged players the information delivered should be used consistently in their seasonal training plan.

The U.S. Soccer Curriculum will be laced into the "E" to "A" License courses. The National Youth License curriculum for Zone 1 remains largely unchanged. I think at this time, aspects of the Curriculum specific to the Zone 1 age groups of U-6 to U-12 need some revision. I think the aspects of the Curriculum pertaining to Zones II and III are very good and I encourage clubs to utilize that information immediately.

I am quite pleased to have our national governing body, U.S. Soccer, step up and take a leadership role with a game plan for player development. This Curriculum along with Best Practices and the materials produced for coaches by US Youth Soccer should supply both paid and volunteer youth soccer coaches with guidance on the appropriate environments for players aged 5 to 19. In time, I think that foundation will help American soccer clubs create a healthy soccer culture.

There is more communication taking place between the coaching departments of U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer (representing the 55 state associations) and this is bearing fruit already. Naturally there will be challenges to face along the way. The attitude today is to work together on those challenges; in other words teamwork. No one organization can shift the American soccer landscape alone. We are moving forward!

Representing US Youth Soccer at the summit were myself and:

- Dr. David Carr, co-author of the National Youth License
- Dr. Lew Atkinson, Delaware Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region I representative
- Ian Mulliner, Illinois Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region II representative
- Mike Stickler, Florida Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region III representative
- Mike Smith, Oregon Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region IV representative
- Gary White, Washington Youth Soccer Technical Director
- Steve Hoffman, California Youth Soccer – South Technical Director and U.S. Soccer Women's Task Force member
- Jay Hoffman, Region I US Youth Soccer ODP Boys head coach