Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer

Clubhouse

Play for a Change

Like our Facebook!

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority

Play Positive Banner

Marketplace

Wilson Trophy Company

Happy Family

Nesquik

Capri Sun

Active Family Project

Active Family Project

Olive Garden

Print Page Share

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". 

 

Best Dressed

Susan Boyd

Spring soccer begins soon if it hasn't already started in your neighborhood.  Even the MLS kicks off this week.  So, after the doldrums of winter, the time has come to pull out that soccer gear and discover what fits and what doesn't.  With kids you never know until you try.  Those expensive cleats that they wore four months ago may now be two sizes too small.   Those fancy practice shorts now fit them like something Larry Bird would have worn in 1981 when players didn't mind showing off their thighs.  And turning the house upside down still only reveals one shin guard.  So, it's time to go shopping.
 
Your options for purchasing soccer gear now rival any other sports options.  Not too long ago, the big box sports stores had soccer sections that looked like an afterthought.  Now you can find just about anything you need, especially for the youth player.  Online options abound that offer everything from the basics to the most expensive international gear.  But I'm pretty loyal to my local independent soccer store, Stefan's, because the staff is knowledgeable both about gear and its customers.  I know I'll get the best advice on cleats and other gear.  They may not have the rock bottom bargains of the internet or the big boxes, but my boys were always fitted well which meant fewer blisters and better foot control.  Plus, if anything went amiss I knew they would help make it right.
 
Because soccer gear is such a big business internationally, the marketing by the manufacturers gets pretty intense, which is not lost on dedicated youth players.  No matter the occasion, these giants create launch dates for new cleats, uniforms, and outer wear.  Along with their tempting images of soccer heroes striking the ball with sweat flying and muscles rippling, these promotions come with hefty price tags. The ads promise "faster," "higher," "smarter," and "sharper."  Black cleats barely exist for these titans; they are orange, yellow, lime green, red.   You can easily spend over $200 for a pair of these "replica" youth cleats for your son or daughter.  Some of us have experienced that they will grow out of them in just months thanks to that unforeseen growth spurt.   It's difficult to fight the urge, especially when a kid or two shows up at practice streaking down the field in her neon blue cleats.   Make sure you set your budget and your limits before you begin looking for your gear so you can resist the doe-eyed pleas for the electric cleats.
 
Our family's biggest expense every year seemed to be shin guards.  The boys managed to leave one or both guards on the bench or on the field.  We orphaned dozens of shin guards until I hit on a plan to stem the madness.  Most players get pretty particular about their shin guards – they have to be the right size, shape, color, padding, and weight.  So once the boys located their perfect pair, they were told that was it for a year.  If the shin guards got separated, lost, destroyed, or wandered off, they had to use the cheap pairs I purchased at the same time.  I'd pick up two additional pairs that cost no more than $10 each and kept them in my soccer box in the back of the car.  Once the only options for shin protection became either their perfect pair or some cheap, embarrassing pair, they seemed to be able to collect their shin guards and store them away after every game!
 
I also learned quickly that I have no memory when it comes to soccer purchases and that my kids believe they have perfect memory.  So this weakness has been exploited on a regular basis. I have been told dozens of times that my kids have had the same pair of cleats or warm-ups for "at least a year" and short of digging through my credit card receipts I have no way of countering.   However, with the convenience of cell phones I now have the perfect response.  I just take a picture of every purchase.  Then with a quick scroll I can locate the exact date AND time that the item entered our home.  I've discovered that "at least a year" actually translates to "about three months."  This one technique has saved countless arguments while sitting in the soccer store clinging to a pair of must have cleats when a perfectly good pair sits at home.
 
Since kids outgrow gear so quickly, most of it remains gently used.  If you can hand it down, then bravo to you.  But usually that won't work.  So consider finding a spot to donate that gear.  U.S. Soccer Foundation has the Passback program (passback.org) which usually collects through local state soccer associations.  Sports Gift (sportsgift.org) collects gear from all sports for both local and international organizations.  Goodwill, Salvation Army, and St. Vincent DePaul are always grateful for good sports equipment since the demand is huge for those items.  If your team is willing, donating their uniforms as a unit will help provide for teams both in the states and abroad.
 
Once you have all the gear collected, you now have to maintain it.  That's not always easy.  Spring soccer means rain, mud, and even snow.  That gear takes a beating and then transfers the elements into your car on the trip home.  There's nothing like an errant sock pressed under the seat against the heat vent to provide fumes that even a Hazmat team fears.  I have long advocated the use of plastic bags to help keep mud and wet in their place.  I also believe in recycling, so you can collect those grocery fruit and vegetable bags and shopping bags to use in your efforts to control filth and odors.  I like to cover my car floors with the 33 gallon garbage bags to contain the dirt.  These can be removed, shaken out, and even hosed down to use again.  Use smaller bags to collect the cleats, uniforms, socks, and even shin guards before they have a chance to contaminate the car or the soccer bag.  In fact, I always keep everything in bags so even the clean is sealed. 
 
I suggest keeping all soccer related clothing and gear in one spot.  I bought a cheap five drawer dresser at Target and set it in the garage.  One drawer holds uniforms and warm-ups, one holds gloves, hats, socks and undergarments, one holds peripheral gear like shin guards, goalie gloves and head bands, and two hold cleats.  I hung a rack with hooks over the door to hold jackets.  They set their soccer bags on top of the dresser and so it's really easy to load up the bags before a game.  The added bonus of being already in the garage helps insure we don't forget much before a game.  When I wash the uniforms I put them in the drawer.  The boys clean off their cleats and put them in the drawer.  It becomes an easy and helpful set of routines that prevent most, but not all last minute panics.  It also helps at the end of one season to insure that several months later at the beginning of the next season we know where to locate everything.  Once the boys expanded to club, high school, and indoor soccer teams we expanded to two dressers to accommodate all the additional uniforms.
 
Getting new soccer clothes and gear can help boost enthusiasm for the game.  Even just adding a new pair of socks can bring enough pizzazz to a new season to give it extra fun.   Keep all the purchases at a reasonable cost.  Consider one special item each season if you have the money – a jacket, a backpack, or a professional jersey.  But these aren't necessary to playing the game, so don't feel obligated to spend more than you can afford just to keep up with the soccer Joneses.  Once they get out onto the field and score a goal or make a great pass or defend successfully against a rush, they'll be so happy to be playing it won't matter what you did or didn't spend.   
 

Build Culture Excellence

Sam Snow

Occasionally I am asked questions about the club environment. Most of those questions are about problems such as dealing with belligerent coaches or the blind eye that club administrators turn when a team is winning but deeper life lessons are not being taught.

Sometimes though, the question is about how can our club improve what we are doing? Here's one such question that came across my desk.

How would you help build and create a culture of excellence? E.g. training, uniforms, standards, expectations?

I think the culture begins with the leaders in the club.  That will be the top administrators and coaches, and certainly having the full board of directors on board is a major plus; they must walk the talk, so to speak, when it comes to the club's mission statement and philosophy.  The next most important group to get on track to create a culture of excellence is the parents.  There is no doubt this is challenging and a never-ending aspect of the culture, but in the end it is the most important.  The parents influence all others in the club; players, coaches and administrators – in that order.

Working with the parents regarding the sporting experience of children though is an area still largely ignored by clubs. Most still believe the priority for their efforts is player development. That once was the case, but not today. The reality is that the number one priority is education of the soccer parent. That education is not necessarily about the tactics of the game or the rules for the age group. It certainly isn't about how to raise children. No, it's about the environment at matches, the either positive or infamous ride home, the understanding of the long term goals of youth soccer participation and it's about the management of adult expectations of the return on investment. It is about being a supportive group for the youth soccer experience. Clearly the majority of parents fall into exactly that category as evidenced by the large numbers of young people playing the game all across our nation. The Parents section of the US Youth Soccer website has quality resources for clubs and parents: /parents/. I encourage you to take advantage of the free materials and guidance there.

For a culture of excellence then to be understood and embraced by the club members the leaders must LEAD. Begin that endeavor by following these objectives of leadership. An interesting way to think about leadership in a succinct manner:

Leadership Characteristics:
-           Take accountability for results
-           Create direction and focus
-           Set the bar high
-           High energy level
-           Always willing to try new things
-           Unleash energy and talent in operations
-           Self-driven
-           Prioritize speed

Some of these elements become challenging when they are out of our direct control.  For those that are in our control, we can embrace them as they help us make forward strides and have significant impacts.

I'll close with one of my favorite passages from a quality sports leader which is taught in the National Youth License coaching course.

"There are many people, particularly in sports who think that success and excellence are the same thing and they are not the same thing. Excellence is something that is lasting and dependable and largely within a person's control. In contrast, success is perishable and is often outside our control… If you strive for excellence, you will probably be successful eventually… People who put excellence in first place have the patience to end up with success… An additional burden for the victim of the success mentality is that he/she is threatened by success of others and resents real excellence. In contrast, the person fascinated by quality is excited when he/she sees it in others."

Joe Paterno – Penn State football coach – 1990
 

Reinventing the ball

Sam Snow

Recently Mike Woitalla, executive editor of Soccer America, wrote an article in Youth Soccer Insider on reinventing the ball. The article talks about using different types of balls in training to help players improve their feel for the ball. The article opens with these lines: "It seems to me that playing soccer with different kinds of balls is good for children's skill development. I don't have scientific evidence for this, but a lot of anecdotes from great players."
 
US Youth Soccer agrees with the use of different types of balls in training to help players developing better skills.  We advocate this approach in the 'street soccer' portion of the National Youth License.  We also talk about playing these training games sometimes on different surfaces which affects the bounce and roll of the ball.  We teach coaches that occasionally using different types of balls and/or playing on a different surface will improve players visual perception of the way a ball rolls, bounces, spins and moves through the air.  That variety broadens and deepens players' skills at reading the movement of the ball and the skills then to control or propel it.  While as coaches we came to this practice through educated experience and the results are anecdotal, there are theories from physical education supporting the approach.
 
  • Principle of Variable Practice:  Block practice aids performance while variable practice aids in learning.  Variable practice causes an increase in attention.  The variables in this case are the type of ball being used or the type of surface on which the game is taking place or both for more advanced players.

  • Principle of Feedback:  Internal and external sources of information about motor performance are essential for learning to take place.  The immediate feedback the player receives here is from the action of the ball when received or propelled by the player.

  • Principle of Skill Improvement:  The development of motor skills progresses along a continuum from least mature to most mature.  The rate of progression and the amount of progress within an individual depends upon the interaction of nature and nurture.  We know from both practical experience and research on skill acquisition that variable practice accelerates skill development.  This is especially important in soccer where the game conditions change constantly – hard field, muddy field, strong wind, no wind, quality of ball in the match, etc.

  • Principle of Transfer:  The more identical two tasks are the greater the possibility that positive transfer will occur.  Practice conditions should match the conditions in which the motor skill is going to be used.  By using different types of balls in small-sided games in training transference is more likely into matches.

  • Principle of Practice:  Practicing the motor skill correctly is essential for learning to take place.  Some coaches will think this principle supports a more assembly line approach to learning skills, but the opposite is true.  The variety of practice in the environment of small-sided games and different types of balls mimics the multitude of variations a player will face in a match.  Yes most training should occur with the proper soccer ball for the age group.  However the use of other types of balls takes skill acquisition a step further and truly challenges players in a fun way.

  • Principle of Interest:  A player's attitude toward learning a skill determines for the most part the amount and kind of learning that takes place.  Using different types of balls and sometimes playing in different environments or on different surfaces will grab youngsters attention and give them fun new challenges.

  • Principle of Whole–Part Learning:  The complexity of the skill to learn and the player's ability determines whether it is more efficient to teach the whole skill or break the skill into component parts.  We advocate a games-based approach to learning skills so that the players can connect when and how to use a particular skill to the situation in the game.  For example, the type of ball being used in the training game will be a determining factor to make a short or long pass, or no pass at all, or just dribble and/or shield. Variety is the spice of exciting and challenging training sessions.  Using different types of balls in training is one way to create a good learning environment for young players.

Take a look at the US Youth Soccer DVD Skills School – developing essential soccer techniques. There is also an accompanying document, Skills School - Fundamental Ball Skills, for your use.

 

Camp Roulette - Thinking about Summer Camps

Susan Boyd

While I am celebrating the thermometer's rise to 41 degrees, I have to do so amidst snow and ice covering the major portion of the landscape. So it's difficult to think about filling out the summer camp applications. But they are already arriving. I have had three come via email and another two come in snail mail, so the floodgates should be opening soon. Even if you are experienced in sorting through the possibilities, they seem to multiply exponentially. Suddenly that simple decision that you based on cost and dates now explodes into manifold factors from skill levels to friends attending to coaching levels. We don't want our kids to miss out on that "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity that might mean being scouted by an English Premier League coach or recruited by a top college program.
         
The first thing anyone should do is decide on a budget then rule out any camp that exceeds that budget. It's so easy to be seduced by a glossy brochure with pictures of happy players against a rich green pitch gazing fondly at a silver-haired coach who looks like he comes from central casting. It makes us wish we could go to camp and let the kids stay home. Declaring a budget also makes it clear to your children that they can't ask for pipe dreams – camps in Argentina or becoming a youth soccer ambassador to New Zealand. If an international camp appeals to your family but you can't afford it now, those options are available every year, so make a plan about how to save for this goal. Decide how much your child will be responsible for. You could do a matching fund where every dollar your kid saves you'll match. You also could involve grandparents to pledge some money towards this opportunity. However you choose to finance the expensive camps, it's not a bad idea to ask your child to invest in the expense as well.
         
Once you have the budget, then you can start deciding on the type of camp you want to attend. The options are overwhelming. Besides the opportunity to play soccer out of the country, there are camps dedicated to specific field positions, camps for boys only, camps for girls only, camps directed by famous coaches, camps sponsored by local clubs, camps sponsored by colleges, high schools, and civic organizations, overnight camps, day camps, camps offered by professional teams, camps that provide the opportunity to be looked at by overseas coaches, camps run by former National Team players, camps promising college scholarships, nutrition camps, camps sponsored by sportswear manufacturers, camps sponsored by sports drinks and camps that focus on fitness. You and your child need to decide what you want from a camp in order to narrow down where you apply. Make a list of what your ideal camp experience would be, and then pour through the options to find the best matches.
         
For those in elementary and middle school the local camps usually offer the best matches. You can use summer camps as a way to check out other clubs in the area or keep a strong tie to your present club. Most US Youth Soccer Association state association websites will provide a list of camps offered by member clubs. This is a great resource to begin your search. You can also use a search engine to locate local camps by searching your city and the phrase "summer soccer camps." If you are lucky enough to have a professional soccer club in your area then check out their camps. These camps are usually staffed by high school and college age soccer players, but include one or two professional players. It's great fun for a young player to have an idol teaching her how to dribble a ball! These camps can provide a T-shirt, ball, and water bottle emblazoned with the team logo, so there's some long term bragging rights attached to the experience. Both my boys grew up spending summers at the Milwaukee WAVE camps, and now my grandkids have continued the tradition.
         
The other factor for the youngest campers will be friends. Check out with other families where they are considering sending their kids. It's always the most fun to share a camp with good buddies, plus it helps with carpooling! Some parents also may have some good advice on camps based on experiences with their older kids. Use the sideline time this spring to find out what camps they liked or didn't like and why. Personal testimony beats the marketing blurbs in the brochures. 
         
Check out some of the intangibles with camps as well. For example do the camps have contingency plans for bad weather, especially thunderstorms?   What process do they use to contact parents in case of emergency? What is the ratio of staff to campers? What insurance do they carry for both liability and injury? How long has the camp been running? What is their policy on weather-related cancellations? Do they address the issue of differing skill levels at the same ages? Is the camp a member of any recreational organization or licensed by any organization? How is their staff screened?   What safety does the camp provide at its site (i.e. fences separating fields from busy roads or water features)? Do they offer any credits or reimbursement for unforeseen reasons to miss the camp (death in the family, extended illness)? Can they deal with medical conditions such as asthma attacks and allergic reactions?
         
For older campers the situation becomes less about finding a camp that offers fun with friends and more about finding a camp that can advance a player's abilities. The big question for most high school players is whether or not they should attend a college camp in the hopes of being recruited. College camps can be very expensive and are filled with hundreds of campers hoping for the same brass ring. My experience has been that few if any kids are "discovered" at a college camp. Most coaches rely on watching players at tournaments in the context of their teams to make decisions on players they want to recruit. Often players who have contacted a school receive an invitation to their camp.   Don't read too much into this. Every player who has ever emailed a coach has had his or her email placed in a mailing list for camp. On the other hand, if a player has been in serious discussions directly with a coach, initiated by the coach, who asks the player to attend the camp, it might be worth attending. You'll have to judge how serious the coach's interest is and how the expense fits into your family's budget. On the other hand, I do encourage good players to consider attending college sponsored camps because they can give you exposure to the level of play necessary to succeed at college and if the camp includes more than one college, then you'll get a bigger bang for your buck.
         
Older players should also consider camps that focus on fitness training. While developing skills and improving on team tactics remains the primary reason for going to a summer camp, players can benefit from training that isn't soccer centered. Most coaches will agree that teams that have the best fitness have the best chance to get that late game goal or prevent one. It's the players who falter over time due to lack of conditioning who hurt a team's ability to be a winner. Therefore, a fitness or conditioning camp may be a good idea. These should be reserved for older players since younger players don't have the muscle development to endure and benefit from intense fitness training. But supplementing a skills camp with a fitness camp could be a great way to prepare for an upcoming high school or club soccer season.
         
No matter what you decide to do about camps, just be sure that you select a camp that fits the needs of your child. Don't pick a camp that demands too much from your player. The younger the child, the more the camp should focus on fun and spending some carefree time with friends, new and old.  Older players will want to use camps to advance both their skills and their chances to play soccer at a higher level. So decide what benefits the camps offer and how those benefits justify the costs. Most importantly make sure that your child is comfortable with the camp choice. If kids have fears of being away from home, you might not want to leap into an overnight camp right away or if they do better with shorter bursts of instruction consider half-day camps. Use the internet, the parent's network, and brochures at your local soccer store to discover the variety of camps available in your area. Investigate the college, club, and professional club camps that number in the thousands. After all your considerations the most important one will be is the camp enjoyable for your child. The rest will all fall in place.