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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". 

 

The Law

Susan Boyd

The expression "possession is nine tenths of the law" certainly applies to soccer. I saw a great example last night at a high school play-off game. The first ranked team in the bracket was playing the 16th ranked team. At half-time the score was 8-0.  When the score reached 16 to 0, the winning team stopped trying to score and simply possessed the ball for the last 12 minutes. They gained a great lesson in how to pass accurately, how to turn the ball away from the opponent, how to regain the ball when lost, and how to use the field to their advantage, but at what cost?

The opposing team had the unenviable task of selecting what aspect of the game demoralized them less: the 16 unanswered goals or the 12 minutes they were the victims of keep away. This huge disparity between teams in training and skill usually only happens in high school playoffs. Club tournament directors rate the applicants in order to create brackets containing some parity in skill levels. State leagues have divisions based on past records to insure teams are within a narrow band of proficiency at the sport. College playoffs have teams who earned their slots by winning conference tournaments or having exemplary records. But high school playoffs include every team in the state in that division regardless of experience or ability. So last night the previous year's state champion played a team where many of the members don't play soccer outside of high school. 
           
When the difference between two teams is so large it seems humiliating to even conduct the game, but under the state rules this is the way it has to happen. There have to be winners and there have to be losers, but, for certain teams, there's really no way that they will advance. While there were some upsets in the first games of the tournament run, these were between teams much more closely ranked. The particular game I saw had the greatest goal differential, but in looking at today's brackets I saw plenty of 11-0, 9-0 and 13-1 games. One high school team simply forfeited. It couldn't get a team together under those circumstances. Last year the teams from last night's game met, and at halftime with the score 10-0, the game was called, and they all went home. Not putting the score up on the board isn't the answer. It doesn't work for U-8 and U-10 teams, and it works even less for high school teams. Everyone can count.  Requiring that teams take all starters off the field once the goal differential hits a certain point gets into the messy situation of telling a coach how to run his or her team. So for several teams the first game of the state tournament competition becomes an exercise in self-control. The higher ranked team has to play restrained for at least a portion of the game and the lower ranked team has to resist the urge to walk off the field and say "forget it." 

On the upside the higher ranked team can usually afford to allow players who sat on the bench or subbed in for only a few minutes over the season to finally play some extended soccer. It was great when players scored their first goals during that game, giving families a chance to cheer for their sons. And it offers those players who will be stepping up next season to a greater team role the chance to gain experience in the state tournament. But there is little advantage for the lower ranked team. 
           
Giving all teams the opportunity to participate in the tournament run seems necessary. Yet it all comes with unpleasant consequences. As one spectator said to me during the game, "I wonder what that team gets out of playing this game." It really got me thinking about how in a victory obsessed culture we can give kids in no-win situations a reason to participate. 
Competitiveness aside, other factors fit into the big picture when it comes to high school sports. Outmatched teams need to define several achievable objectives to consider the game a success. Parents should reinforce that playing a game with dignity even in defeat shows character. For the winning teams good sportsmanship has to be at the center of these lopsided contests. Fans need to be supportive of all good play, players need to have confidence without being smug, and coaches have to be willing to accept a comfortable, rather than an overwhelming, lead and switch to less aggressive play. With possession comes responsibility. It's up to everyone not to abuse their strengths or surrender to their weaknesses.
 

Leaders Summit

Sam Snow

Last Tuesday, I made the trip from Heidelberg to Frankfurt by train and then from Frankfurt to London by plane. I stayed in a hotel in Barkston Gardens that was rated a three star, but I'm thinking it was closer to one and a half, especially as I listened to the trains go by every minute, all night long. I had gone to London to attend the Leaders in Football conference and the Leaders in Performance conference. Both conferences were held at the Chelsea Football Club. As it turned out, Jeff Tipping, Director of Coaching for the NSCAA, was staying in the same hotel so we walked the mile and half from the hotel to Stamford Bridge each day for the conferences.

The Leaders in Football conference began last Wednesday. The conference included exhibitors, a Brand Leaders Summit and the Football Leaders Summit. Robin Russell, the president of Sports Path and a member of the technical committee for EUFA, hosted me as well as Jeff Tipping, Steve Hoffman, Paul Halford and Mike Singleton at the conferences. Steve Hoffman is the Technical Director for California South, Paul Halford is the Technical Director for Pennsylvania West, and Mike Singleton is the Technical Director for Massachusetts Youth Soccer. The six of us listened to presentations by Sir Dave Richards, Jack Warner, Andy Roxburgh, Lord Triesman, Danny Jordan, Andy Anson, Jeremy Darroch, Lord Mawhinney, Don Garber, Harold Mayne-Nicholls, Richard Bevan, Roy Hodgson, Mick McCarthy, Howard Wilkinson, Sven Goran Eriksson, H.E. Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Hassan Al Thawadi, Romy Gai, Tim Leiweke and the president of U.S. Soccer Sunil Gulati.

The latest version of the conference program is available from www.leadersinfootball.com. You can download the official event guide for the International Business Summit for Leaders in Football here. The official event guide for the Leaders in Performance summit can be downloaded here. Please click here for the latest version of the Leaders in Football delegate list.

The two conferences provided wonderful networking opportunities and good information along with clear insights on the business of football. Coaches Halford, Hoffman, Singleton and I will produce a report on the conferences and I will share that with you in the near future.

I finished up the conferences in London last Thursday and flew back to Germany on Friday. I'll have all of the details on that US Youth Soccer ODP Europe fall camp for you next week.
 

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Chelsea

Susan Boyd

Throw a virtual stone on the internet and you'll hit a tour group ready to provide the international soccer experience for your child. Promoters of these one week to summer long tours made bold claims about what a summer overseas playing soccer can provide a player. Since November to February constitutes the biggest push to sell these tours to clubs, teams, and individuals, it's likely you'll receive a number of brochures slickly produced and definitely enticing. They will tell you that colleges now want players with international playing experience, they will imply that players who don't get the chance to play "real" soccer won't progress very far in the sport, and they will outline the drawbacks of other tours which don't provide proper competition. So wading through all the hype and the options can be difficult.

In reality reputable tour companies end up offering about the same experiences for about the same price. Tours will cost $2,500 to $3,000 a person for seven to ten days and should include at minimum airfare, two meals a day, land transport, a day of sightseeing, three friendlies, two training sessions with pro teams, and tickets to at least two professional matches. Most importantly any tour company should supply a 24/7 tour director to oversee the trip and insure the smooth operation of the tour. You should have a contract where everything is spelled out, and you should have trip insurance because you never know what might come up. 

If you can afford to provide an international soccer trip for your child then by all means do it. America is a soccer neophyte compared to the rest of the world, so there are traditions, attitudes, and style of play that only a foreign nation can provide. Anyone who has attended a professional match in Europe or South America knows how intense the passions run within a certain pageantry and tradition of the game. Players who have the opportunity to play overseas come back with a new found respect of the game and an enthusiasm for playing. Wrap soccer up in the packaging of spectacular scenery and significant historical venues and you have pretty much created the ultimate experience.

Soccer clubs might consider establishing a certain age group that takes a soccer trip every year to a specific location. Being able to promise this experience to players can make a club very attractive come tryouts. I would definitely consider having my kids join a club that saw the value in overseas play. Clubs who have the custom of taking teams abroad usually opt for the U-15 or U-16 age levels. Younger ages might not have the maturity or confidence to travel and older ages are focusing on summer jobs and college. Both of my sons had the opportunity to train with English Premier League teams and play friendlies with several English youth teams, and Robbie also traveled to Spain to play friendlies there. Both boys credit these trips as huge eye-openers for how to train and what is required to play at the top levels. Having the chance to see some of their soccer idols play in live matches only added to the experience.

A few tour companies are sanctioned by soccer organizations in America such as U.S. Soccer and National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Sanctioning may be construed as an endorsement, but actually means that the opportunities and the training fit with the objectives of these organizations. Nevertheless having some seal of approval certainly indicates the integrity and structure of these tour companies are sound. If an entire team is traveling, most tour companies will offer the 19th or 20th spot on the tour for free both as an inducement to fill up the tour and as a way for coaches to travel with their teams without charging the team for that expense.  Many tour companies offer fundraising opportunities so that players or teams can earn additional free trips. These opportunities usually involve selling raffle tickets to win trips with the tour operator or soccer gear provided by the operator. It's a fairly painless way to help offset the costs, and any savings can be passed on to an individual or spread across the entire team.

However, if you can't afford to go abroad, there are ways to gain international soccer playing experience here in the United States. Clubs can attend tournaments that have international team entries and request that they get at least one international opponent. They can also register with tour operators to be the clubs that international teams play in friendlies when they tour the U.S. on their soccer trips. Crossing our northern and southern borders to play in tournaments in Canada and Mexico can provide international experience within driving distance. There are a few more hoops to jump through in terms of getting your State Association's approval to attend and in making sure you have player insurance, but these aren't major roadblocks. Clubs can also consider finding a partner club in either Mexico or Canada and doing an exchange where you open your homes to one another. The expense would be limited to travel and gives everyone a chance to get a true flavor of living and playing in one another's countries. While Canada may not seem to be as exotic a destination as Brazil or England, it does offer some exciting sights and some interesting differences in playing styles. Robbie attended a tournament outside of Toronto one summer where we stayed in Niagara Falls and toured the many historic sites in the area. It's one of our most memorable trips.

Bottom line remains that overseas play offers any soccer player a richer experience and deeper understanding of the game and its history. But no parents should feel pressured to spend money they don't have just because Jeff or Joan down the street are traveling. At the same time, you might explore with your club about establishing the tradition of traveling as a team every summer between U-15 and U-16 with an eye towards preparing for and financing the trip as a club effort. Families can then begin setting aside $50 a month for the two years preceding the event to help make the financial impact smaller and kids can add their babysitting or lawn mowing money to the mix. It would establish a savings goal for everyone and something exciting to look forward to.  If you do go, drink it all in because it will be an amazing trip.
 

US Youth Soccer ODP Europe

Sam Snow

I am in Germany to assist with tryouts for US Youth Soccer ODP Europe. On October 3, I watched the FC Astoria Walldorf U-16 match and attended the U-19 Bundesliga FC Kaiserslautern versus Karlsruher SC. match. 
 
I toured the FC Kaiserslautern training facilities where the US Youth Soccer ODP Europe teams train once per month. The facilities for training are impressive with four full-size, grass fields, two full-size, artificial fields, a small, sand field for beach soccer, pendulum poles, two soccer tennis fields, a soccer volleyball field, numerous goals of various sizes, a half mile running trail, a weight training room, locker rooms and a basketball court. 
 
The facility is something we still lack at our youth soccer clubs; that being a dedicated training area. We have a lot of game field complexes and on many of those our teams train.  But few, if any, of our clubs have a dedicated training facility with all of the tools to develop the players. This fact must be a consideration as we continue to build soccer facilities.
 
On October 4, I taught a U-10/U-12 Youth Module coaching course. We had 27 coaches attend the course. Some of the coaches work with US Youth Soccer ODP Europe and most who attended the course are coaching in youth services for the United States Army. This is the first time that most of the coaches had been through a US Youth Soccer course. 
 
We had class sessions and field sessions with the coaches and then they had the opportunity to work with U-10 and U-12 players. The players were from the FC Astoria Walldorf club. So it was interesting having American coaches speaking in English while coaching German kids. Fortunately, we had four coaches in the course who are fluent in both languages and they helped to translate. The U-12 kids did pretty well with understanding the coaches since they study English in school. Everyone had a good time and the kids had big smiles all during training as they played in game-like activities. The course candidates will receive their certificates from Maryland Youth Soccer.
 
Yesterday, I met with Oliver Brandt the Director of Coaching for the FC Astoria Walldorf club. He gave a presentation on the Dietmar-Hopp-Jugendforderkonzept project. The project funds seven facilities across the country. The sports played at the facilities are football (soccer), handball, golf and ice hockey. The children who participate at the facilities are not only trained in their sport but also receive tutoring in academics each day, when they turn seventeen they receive a mentor who gives them career counseling. The athletes participate outside the club too with interaction with the elderly, disabled players and cultural exchanges. The intent of the project is to develop the whole person not just the athlete. They are looking to grow good citizens as well as sportsmen and women.
 
Today, I leave for London to participate on Wednesday in the Leaders in Football conference at Chelsea F.C. On Thursday, I will attend a similar conference for Leaders in Performance. That conference will also be at Chelsea and will include soccer, basketball, ice hockey, tennis and cycling. I will have more for you next week on the two conferences and the final US Youth Soccer ODP trials in Bitburg.