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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". 

 

Sportsland

Susan Boyd

I just got home from my 6-year-old grandson's baseball game. Once again the disconnect between what the adults do and say and what the kids are hearing was obvious. I've done a blog about those funny moments as they relate to soccer, so I don't want to repeat myself. But I also think it's important that parents remember that we have to try to get into the kid frame of mind when coaching or mentoring our children, because in their world things are very different.

The field was really muddy, so the coaches wanted the children to bat in from of home plate. Every child marched up to the plate and took his or her stance as taught, lifted the elbows and then saw a coach approaching signaling for the player to move in front of the plate. The coach would point to a spot on the ground and tell the child to stand there. The batter would take a swing and then return to the "proper" place beside home plate. The coach would stride out again, move the batter again, and the cycle continued. The confusion on the child's faces was clearly evident, because for weeks of practice aqnd play they had been told to straddle home plate. Now today, out of nowhere, these parents changed the rules. The parents understood why, but not once did the coaches gather the children together and announce, "Hey, it's so muddy today that we're going to move home plate to a different spot," and then physically place something on the ground to represent home plate. Instead, every child strode to home plate, got told that was wrong, got physically moved to an invisible home plate, and then stood looking bewildered at these coaches who seemed to have no concept of consistency. 

I hate criticizing volunteer coaches because it's a tough job dealing with all the children, their parents, and other well-meaning fans. However year after year, volunteer coaches are sent out to the playing fields with nothing more than a key to the equipment box, a copy of the schedule, and occasionally a slap on the back. While some parents may rail at the US Youth Soccer requirement for all youth coaches have a license, it does raise the level of preparation and information for those coaches. Playing a sport doesn't insure you know how to coach the sport, especially for children under age 10. You can tell a child to throw to second, but if he thinks second base is the second one on the field, then he'll be throwing to first base. You have to have the patience to laugh at that logic and the patience to explain why Abner Doubleday's logic has to prevail. Dealing with a group of children each having their own logical perception of the rules of baseball means dealing with anarchy.

Today a child spent his fielding time between first and second base digging a booby trap for the base runners. He etched out a square on the base path and then methodically dug a trench in the square. When his activities were punctuated by the sound of a hit, he would check to see if the ball was coming in his direction. If it did, he ran after it, but once it got 10 feet beyond him, he returned to his trench. After all if he couldn't throw them out, he could ensnare them. His dad was one of the coaches, so he had to deal with some frustration as ball after ball flew by his inattentive child. Eventually a ball actually rolled into the pit he had created and was stopped.  He was able to pick it up, dust it off, and throw it to first just as the hitter streaked by him towards second leaping over the trap. 

Youth coaches need to be able to deal with kids not "getting" it. So many variables have to line up before any child finally understands how a game is played. It's for a reason that Candy Land uses colors and pictures to travel a singular pathway to its conclusion. Some children who watch a lot of sports or have older siblings catch on faster because they have some experience. Other children approach their sports' experiences as if they are going through the looking glass. It's a new language, new muscles to stretch, and a new skill set. Everything seems strange, wondrous, and intimidating. Soccer coaches know that dribbling means kicking the ball ahead of you as you run, but new soccer players may only know dribbling from idolizing LeBron James. If a coach says "Dribble the ball across the field" he may not always get what he expects. 

Therefore, attending classes to earn an entry level coaching license can give volunteers the opportunity to share with one another how to handle the frustrations of miscommunication and a slow learning curve. Having a professional give some pointers on how to conduct practices and how to approach the entire experience with humor and patience can give new coaches that extra bit of self-confidence to get through the rough spots. 

There's one other important reason to have coaches licensed and that's safety. Volunteer coaches for the most part are fabulous, dedicated, selfless moms and dads who just want to give their children and their children's friends the opportunity to play recreational sports. But unfortunately the occasional bad apple pops up who has a hidden agenda or an uncontrolled temper, and having background checks on all the coaches insures that the bad apples get weeded out before coming into contact with our kids. 

I'm thinking that the coaches in today's game could have used a few hours of training to help them see the need for straightforward instructions, making all decisions clear to the children, and learning how to cope with some of the issues when faced with making baseball clear to 12 6-year-olds. For starters, label all the bases so there are no variables, only certainties. And a line with arrows from home plate around 1st, 2nd, and 3rd back to home might not be a bad idea either. It works for Candy Land.
 

First Impressions

Susan Boyd

Two of my grandkids are in soccer camp this week. I nearly forgot how long it takes to dress them in their soccer gear. One is a girl, and she's very particular about things like how her shin guard strap bulges out her sock. We have to undo and redo the Velcro closing at least a dozen times until it lies flat enough not to make the top of her sock look "fat." Soccer clothes need to make a fashion statement. Her cleats have pink inserts so her socks had to be pink. We had to settle for red shorts since the pink shorts didn't come in her size. The red shorts have a tie string waistband which must be cinched within a millimeter of cutting off all blood supply to her lower extremities. The first day we discovered that tying the string with a knot made it nearly impossible to untie and this was during a major bathroom emergency. So I discovered a way I could tie it up without a knot. I'm going to patent the method and make millions.

My grandson, on the other hand, likes to dress himself. Normally I would applaud, but he requires at least 45 minutes to pull his socks on over the shin guards. I watch him bunch up the socks, stick his toes in the end, and then try to pull them using the top of the socks only. This leaves a wad of sock around his ankles and an extremely thin stretch of sock for the remainder of his leg. So in frustration he rips it all off and begins again. My offers to help or to teach him are totally rebuffed. This is his battle to win every morning. Eventually he works the sock up and over his ankle, although it is twisted at least 720 degrees around the axis of his leg, and maneuvers it up to his knee. Then the real work begins as he pulls at the sock, moves it around his leg, and then grabs the next level to untwist and so on. And that's just the first sock. When he's finally done and he goes to put his cleats on, I hear him say, "Why doesn't this work?"   Before I can stop him, he has pulled the sock off again because it felt too bunched up in his cleat. The process begins again as the clock moves unrelentingly to the time we have to load up and go.

Andrew loves his soccer outfit so much that he has worn it all day, every day, for the past week. Yesterday it was really stormy here and the kids got drenched, so I was able to coerce him out of the clothes and finally wash them. He plans to wear the outfit home on the plane. So does Siobhan, which means a flight attendant will get a first-hand look at my clever tie job. But that's a risk I'll have to take. I'm just happy they love their soccer clothes because I have discovered that's the first step to loving soccer. If the outfit isn't cool, neither is the sport.

The other thing I've rediscovered is how magical a new sport can be. The soccer balls have become trophies that they even take to bed with them. The cleats have super powers to make them run faster as in "Gramma watch how fast I can run." At the end of the first day of camp I was informed by Siobhan that she had made "lots of points." Andrew says he's the best passer in his group. Every day they have stories to tell of their adventures and soccer prowess. Soccer is new, special, and for the moment achievable. I make it a point to reinforce all their beliefs both in soccer and in themselves. They may never end up playing soccer, but I don't want them to dismiss it because their first experience wasn't exciting and fulfilling. For the moment, soccer rules. Now if I could just figure out a way to speed up the preparation process, soccer would rule for me too.
 

Move up at 9?

Sam Snow

A coach from New Jersey had the following inquiry:
 
I wanted to get your opinion on a discussion we are having in our community regarding the possibility of a U-9 girl playing with the U-9 boys travel team. We are obviously split in our opinion as one school of thought is to allow her to seek her level of play regardless. The other side of the coin believes our education environments are equal for the boys and girls these days and debates whether an eight-year-old is better socially with their own gender.
After coaching a U-9 and U-10 team during the past two years, my opinion is that the 8 vs. 8 game is challenging enough for a young athlete (i.e., opponent, space, transition, technical/tactical speed) and she would find plenty of challenges in the middle of the field with her gender.

Any thoughts?
 
Here then is the response from the state association Technical Director:

Oh boy travel at U-9's...

Well, let's take a look at the 1999ers: Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Carla Overbeck and Michelle Akers-Stahl. All these women grew up with the game playing on boys' teams pre and post pubescent (no girls teams existed then) and probably their sharp skill is derived from those environments.
All the research shows that up until puberty it's OK to have boys and girls playing together.  Actually, in their prepubescent years girls develop faster physically than boys (girls reach puberty around nine years of age, much earlier than boys for whom it is around 10-years-old) so physically there really is no danger.  My concern in this case is the travel team situation where there are consequences for performance and the level is much more competitive than at a recreational level, so psychologically it could be an issue.  How will the girl deal with things like the social aspect, and likewise the boys as her teammates, and the opponents? Also, what if the girl is hurt? Are you willing to hear/deal with all the consequences and issues?

Professionally speaking, I would have strong psychosocial reservations about her playing in the games, but maybe train with the boys for her soccer skill development if in fact she can hold her own physically.
 
I'll add to the Technical Director comments with the thought that we tend to be too quick to move very young players up an age group or to the next level of competition.  By doing so, we often miss the chance to let that young talent be a star for a moment in their career.  To be a leader in their age group or their division means they must take on more responsibility.  This further develops American soccer talent, which must be deeper than just ball skills and athleticism.  We need to also develop team leaders who can read the game and become impact players.

Some players should move up, but not before they measure their years on Earth in double digits, so let's all hold off on the movement of children to other age groups or levels of play before the age of 10 at the very earliest.

When it is time to consider moving a youngster up then the decision must be reached only after a 360° review of the player's talent and the predicted impact on the player.  I am not against girls on boys' teams or players moving up, but I think the decision is made too hastily or without a full review in many cases across the country.  Let's keep more kids in their age group to develop soccer leaders within a team.  Train with older teams, play in coed games, have friendly matches with another competitive division, but let more of the kids stay in their age appropriate team and learn how to be tactically impactful upon the game and to be a psychological leader of their teammates.  There will be time to move them up age groups and competitive divisions when they are teenagers, which for this girl is a mere four years away.
 

Physicality

Sam Snow

Here is a comment I received about the physicality of soccer in the youth game in America and my response.

As we are drawing to the close of the spring season, I wanted to re-iterate my concerns over how physical the youth game is here in the US. In your previous responses, you've acknowledged the problem and advised that the solution is multi-faceted (parents, coaches and referees). I do not disagree. But my recent experience is that this is going to have to be driven in the short term from the referees. There are simply too many parents and coaches already in place that ignore the coaching education and leadership you are providing on player development. 

Way too many of the teams I encounter are being driven by coaches and parents that seem to have a strong desire to turn soccer into American Football (or at the very least use physical play to negate skill and intimidate younger or smaller teams). My boys are getting beat up and are not enjoying matches and tournaments to the extent that they should. I depend on the referee to protect them and to preserve their ability to enjoy the game by enforcing the spirit of Law 12. The excuse that players at the U-11/12 age can't control their bodies adequately to play within Law 12 is simply not correct in most cases and shouldn't apply anyway. I am working very hard to implement the player development model set forth by USYSA and USSF, but I need some protection for my players so that they enjoy the competition without having to resort to retaliation (which I do not allow) to protect themselves (or even the playing field). All I am asking is that referees in youth matches enforce Law 12 at the physical level of the better professional leagues (i.e. EPL, La Liga, Serie A - perhaps referees should watch some of these matches...). We rarely get that treatment now. The typical youth match I have seen gets progressively more physical (and dangerous) as the game goes on because the larger team discovers that the referee is not willing to enforce Law 12. 

I believe this issue is the single biggest problem with youth soccer in the US. I realize that referee education is not within your realm of supervision or management. However, I know that you are well respected in the U.S. soccer community and that is why I am asking for your help. And again, I agree that coaches and parents must step up as well - but from a practical standpoint, the referee is going to have to force a significant majority to do so by managing the game in accordance with Law 12.

Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Your point is well stated on the over physicality of some youth soccer play. And yes, indeed some coaches and players make up for a lack of skill by simply being more physical or even intimidating in the way that they play. You are also right that the solution does not lie with referees alone. Referees, coaches, club/league administrators and most importantly parents must work together to improve the standard of play. But when it comes game time the actions of the players when it comes to infractions of the Laws of the Game are mostly up to the players themselves to control. However, young players must be taught how to play skillfully and intelligently with resorting to athleticism last and never to intentional foul play. The teaching of the players comes from the coaches predominately. However, referees do have a role to play. They can teach the Laws of the Game and Fair Play to the players by enforcing the rules. Also, when players are in their preteens they should explain the calls they make to the children to aid them in learning the rules for their age group. So in other words, all of these groups of adults: referees, coaches, administrators and parents, have a role to play in the teamwork to improve the American youth soccer experience.

Now, having said all of that I think that your next step is to solicit the aid of your state director of instruction and the state technical director to address the situation in your league. I also suggest that you engage with your club president and director of coaching so that, as a club, you may take on this issue within your own club. Then let the league or state association take on the matter with youth soccer across Arkansas.