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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". 

 

It's Funny Because It's True

Susan Boyd

The other night I was watching the program "How I Met Your Mother."  I admit this even though it may decrease my credibility in some people's eyes.   But I find the show a pleasant diversion for Mondays.  In this particular episode one story line concerns Marshall, who is married to Lily, a kindergarten teacher.  He agrees to coach her class basketball team. Marshall has an amiable even child-like demeanor, and Lily is just plain sweet. 

So when the scene opens in the gym with Marshall and his pint-size players, our expectation is a bucolic moment.  Lily enters with a large container of orange slices and Marshall turns to his team warmly asking "Hey kids, who wants to knock off early and have some of these orange slices?"  The team erupts in cheers, leaping up and down.  But the crescendo quickly fades as Marshall evolves into a growling, screaming creature. "Well you can't.  Because oranges are for winners and you little runts haven't made a single shot yet.  You're embarrassing yourselves.  You're embarrassing Miss Aldrin.  And worst of all you're embarrassing me.   That's it.  Suicides.  Baseline.  Now run."  Lily stands horrified as he throws the basketball at a kid and shouts, "That's not running.  That's falling."

So the next day, she pleads with Marshall not to pick on the kids.   "Lily, I'm not picking on the kids.  I'm picking on the culture of losing around here.  I'm going to win that game tomorrow."  Lily laughs.  "Win?  We don't keep score."  Like a boxer rising from the mat on the eight count, Marshall reels, "What!?  You don't keep score.  What's the point of playing if you don't keep score?  If you don't know who's winning then who gets the trophy?"  She coos, "Everyone.  It's a participation trophy.  Everyone gets one."  With utter confusion Marshall looks at the love of his life, "It's like you're speaking Chinese to me right now." 

The writer, Joe Kelly, has to have young children.  He wrote scenes that perfectly convey those rite of passage moments in youth sports. The show is funny because it's true.  We have either known or observed the coach who thinks the players under his or her guidance should be handled like Dennis Rodman on his most petulant days.  Hopefully none of us have been that coach, but I think the tendency exists in all of us.  We're a nation that exalts a "winning" mentality.  We have award shows for just about anything you can name, and for what's left over we have the "People's Choice" awards.  We don't know what to do with situations where scores aren't kept and everyone gets an award. 

The episode continues with a flashback to Marshall being taught by his father, who was evidently the model for his coaching style.  Lily realizes that unless she steps in, Marshall will continue the pattern with their children.  So she orders him to be a
"Teddy Bear stuffed with cotton candy and rainbows" when he's on the sidelines.  At the big game, he can barely choke out to the kids "go out and have fun".  He gags on his encouragement.  "Yay, way to let them score that easily."  As a player kicks the ball, he instinctively reacts, "Billy you don't kick the ball.  This isn't soccer."  Then he catches himself, "Unless kicking the ball is something you find fun, then you should do it."   As the team struggles into half time Marshall has an apoplectic moment trying hard not to tell the team that "the score is 51 to nothing.  But it doesn't matter because you are having fun."

Marshall does convince Lily to let him try it his way, which ends up being no more or less effective than the Mr. Nice Guy routine.  At the game's conclusion, Marshall begrudgingly acknowledges that Lily's way isn't completely terrible.  Lily will have none of it.  "Your way stinks!"  This is the real moral of the tale.  These are kids who have limited attention spans and haven't yet developed a cut-throat attitude towards life.  So coaching won't brow beat them into winners, but coaches can contribute to their growth as happy and confident human beings. 

When I went to my grandson's soccer game where parents were urged to be part of the "circle of positive thoughts," I admit I rolled my eyes.  This touchy feely approach was so far removed from what Bryce and Robbie were experiencing in their team practices and games.  I assumed that people couldn't help themselves.  I absolutely expected that everyone would know the score of the game at the end despite the "we don't keep score" policy.  But it was truly a joyful, exhilarating experience for both parents and kids.  Everyone had fun, and as much as I pride myself on my compulsive tendencies, I had no idea what the score was at the end.  Every kid left that field with a smile, even the kid who got stepped on by his own teammate rushing the goal.  The adults made a tunnel for the kids to run through, something I had always regarded as corny.  But after the tenth trip through for each kid whooping it up and feeling very good about his contribution, I had to admit that things are only corny if you can't see the good in them.

Years ago our sons had a coach who wouldn't have known positive if he was hooked up to a battery.  We parents put up with his antics and his swearing and his put downs because, well frankly, I think we were all a bit terrified.  We knew we wanted our kids to stay in this particular successful club.  So despite our better judgment and despite the slumped shoulders and bowed heads after every game, win or lose, we stuck it out.  Flash forward to last summer as I walked to a field to watch Bryce's new club team play.  An under 12 game was just finishing up.  As I approached the field I heard a coach bellowing "You guys are losers.  You can't play soccer.  Move your rear end (I cleaned that up).  You call that passing.  You stink at passing."  Sure enough, when I got close enough I realized it was this coach from years before still using his bullying techniques.  There was nothing in his rhetoric that taught those boys how to be better soccer players, but there was plenty that taught them they were worthless.  Now that he no longer had any power over my boys' future in soccer, I wasn't filtering what he was saying with my own rationalizations.  I was pretty uncomfortable realizing that for my own sake of wanting to create winners in our family, I had subjected my children to this ugly, non-productive ranting.  They weren't motivated to be winners; they won despite his tirades.

I'd love to sit down with Joe Kelly and talk about his experiences with coaches.  I did look him up on Internet Movie Data Base because I had to know how many kids he had and their ages.  But unfortunately I only learned that his nickname was Meathouse.  If you read this blog, Joe, write to me.  I thought your script really nailed it when it comes to the world of youth sports and coaching.  It was funny because it was true.  I hope a lot of parents and coaches saw the show and shared a good laugh as they realized the wisdom of it all.

 

Camp Fever

Susan Boyd

Spring has barely begun. We have snow promised for the weekend in the Midwest, Denver just had its biggest blizzard of the season, and ice dams are causing the Red River to rise above flood stage. So talking about summer may seem premature. But the time to think about summer soccer camps is now because the most popular camps will be full by mid-April. Soccer camps come in as many sizes, shapes, and skill levels as there are registered youth soccer players, so figuring out what camp best fits your child's needs can be as daunting as selecting a college and nearly as expensive.

Depending on your player's age and skill level, he or she might best be served by any of the local soccer camps offered by clubs and professional teams in your area. Check with your own club to see camps they offer throughout the summer. These are traditionally the best options for younger players and provide good training for a reasonable cost, often under $200 for a week. If your club has summer camps, it allows players to continue to train together over the summer and to have the same coaches. That type of consistency really appeals to younger players because it helps diffuse the awkward and scary "first-timer" experience. If you do have a professional team in the area that has camps, they usually use their players as coaches and advisors. Kids love the opportunity to engage with their soccer idols who can often inspire them to work harder and pay attention.

Another local option would be high school camps. These usually focus on older players who are middle school age and up. These camps can be a great introduction to the next level of soccer commitment and give players a chance to test themselves in a more competitive environment. Many high schools offer camps just before the high school season begins to help players get acquainted with their teammates and to improve their level of conditioning.

Colleges sponsor camps to fulfill three needs. First, college camps bring in substantial revenue for a college soccer program. Second, these camps give coaches a chance to see talent they might not see when on their recruiting trips. Third, college camps get the program's name out to the public. Players who have their hearts set on being recruited by a particular college might consider attending the college camp. The chances of being recruited at one of these camps are minimal, but they do happen. My own son benefited from attending a college camp where he eventually got recruited. But for recruitment purposes most college camps are a very expensive way to be seen. Your best bet is to find college camps where several colleges will provide coaches so that you widen your observation base. Going to a local college camp can be beneficial because it gives players insight to what a college level program requires of its players, and you can avoid the costs of an overnight camp.

Camps can be day camps or resident camps. Day camps would, by necessity be local, while resident camps allow players to stretch their boundaries. Most resident camps run about five days to a week and the cost will be about $100 to $150 a day. Selecting a resident camp requires a close study of the brochures for the camp. Are linens included? How many meals are included? How much additional spending money is needed? The cost of a camp can look good at first, but because of additional expenses end up costing more than an all-inclusive camp. Resident camps usually provide transportation to and from the camp and major transportation hubs such as airports and train stations. But you'll want to figure out if there is an additional cost and if that cost has to be paid in cash. Resident camps can be a great way for kids to experience some independence and to meet soccer players from all over who share their skill level.

The ultimate resident camp would be abroad. More and more opportunities exist for foreign travel where either an individual camper can take advantage of camps in South America, Europe, and Asia or entire teams can travel to compete with foreign youth teams. These programs vary in expense depending on the length of the trip, the distance traveled, and the additional amenities such as sightseeing, but most come in around $2300 to $2900. If you can afford them, they are an awesome experience for any teenage soccer player. Robbie and Bryce had the opportunity to train with the Queens Park Rangers and play local London youth clubs. A few years later Bryce trained with his club team at Newcastle and then traveled around playing three Great Britain youth teams. Robbie traveled with his club team to Spain and played against five different Spanish youth teams. These international summer experiences helped the boys understand that soccer has nuances based on the country and soccer has so many more levels of greatness above what they are playing today. They also got to see different cultures, different landscapes, and different history. 

To find out about camps, check your local soccer supply store. They will usually have brochures for most of the local camps and some of the international camps. Be sure to ask teammates and neighbors for recommendations as well. If you have a goalkeeper, you will probably want to find a camp exclusively for goalkeepers. You can also check on line for various camps. A good starting point is to contact your local US Youth Soccer State Association. However, once you locate the camps in which you have an interest, you can search them on the internet to see what has been said about them. Like anything in life, what suits one player may not suit another, so be sure to read between the lines to see if the camp experience would be appropriate for your child. The longevity of a camp also speaks volumes on how it is regarded by campers, parents, and coaches.   This is not to say a brand new camp won't be terrific too.   Ask your son's and daughter's coaches about the various camps as well. They may know the director or coaches on staff, so can speak to the professionalism or quality of the camp.

Most importantly, don't stretch your budget too thin to provide camp. While the glossy brochures of the more expensive and farther reaching camps can be enticing, perfectly good camps that don't break the bank can be found right in your backyard. A week of camp isn't going to turn your two left footed player into David Beckham or Mia Hamm, so concentrate on what a week can do – provide good outdoor activity and be fun!! That will give you the best value for your dollar.
 

Overuse

Sam Snow

During my flight to the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Region I symposium in Newark, Del., this weekend I read a report in Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The article, written by Dr. Joel Brenner, was Overuse Injuries, Overtraining and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes. I want to share with you some excerpts from this article as they are directly applicable to our youth soccer scene.
 
"Overuse is one of the most common etiologic factors that lead to injuries in the pediatric and adolescent athlete. As more children are becoming involved in organized and recreational athletics, the incidence of overuse injuries is increasing. Many children are participating in sports year-round and sometimes on multiple teams simultaneously. This overtraining can lead to burnout, which may have a detrimental effect on the child participating in sports as a lifelong healthy activity. One contributing factor to overtraining may be parental pressure to compete and succeed.
 
"An overuse injury is microtraumatic damage to a bone, muscle or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural reparative process. Overuse injuries can be classified into four stages: (1) pain in the affected area after physical activity; (2) pain during the activity, without restricting performance; (3) pain during the activity that restricts performance; and (4) chronic, unremitting pain even at rest. The incidence of overuse injuries in the young athlete has paralleled the growth of youth participation in sports. Up to 50 percent of all injuries seen in pediatric sports medicine are related to overuse. The risks of overuse are more serious in the pediatric/adolescent athlete for several reasons. The growing bones of the young athlete cannot handle as much stress as the mature bones of adults. Other reasons include susceptibility to traction apophysitis or spondylosis, rotator cuff tendonitis, etc.
 
"How much training is too much? There are no scientifically determined guidelines to help define how much exercise is healthy and beneficial to the young athlete compared with what might be harmful and represent overtraining. However, injuries tend to be more common during peak growth velocity, and some are more likely to occur if underlying biomechanical problems are present.
 
"The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends limiting one sporting event activity to a maximum of five days per week with at least one day off from any organized physical activity. In addition, athletes should have at least two to three months off per year from their particular sport during which they can let injuries heal, refresh the mind, and work on strength, conditioning, and proprioception in hopes of reducing injury risk. In addition to overuse injuries, if the body is not given sufficient time to regenerate and refresh, the youth may be at risk of 'burnout'."
 
The overtraining (burnout) syndrome can be defined as a series of psychological, physiologic, and hormonal changes that result in decreased sports performance. Common manifestations may include chronic muscle or joint pain, personality changes, elevated resting heart rate and decreased sports performance. The pediatric athlete may also have fatigue, lack of enthusiasm about practice or competition, or difficulty with successfully completing usual routines. Prevention of burnout should be addressed by encouraging the athlete to become well rounded and well versed in a variety of activities rather than 1 particular sport. The following guidelines are suggested to prevent overtraining/burnout:
 
1.       Keep workouts interesting, with age-appropriate games and training, to keep practice fun.
2.       Take time off from organized or structured sports participation one to two days per week to allow the body to rest or participate in other activities.
3.       Permit longer scheduled breaks from training and competition every two to three months while focusing on other activities and cross-training to prevent loss of skill or level of conditioning.
4.       Focus on wellness and teaching athletes to be in tune with their own bodies for cues to slow down or alter their training methods.
 

US Youth Soccer ODP Championships Talk

Sam Snow

This past weekend the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Championships took place here in Frisco, Texas, at Pizza Hut Park. The fields were great, the weather was good and the level of play was high. 
 
Along with the Championships, Dr. John Thomas, Coach Dave Rubinson and I conducted a Coaches Connection symposium. The symposium included two class sessions, match analysis of three of the ODP matches and a training session run by Oscar Pareja, Director of Player Development for FC Dallas and his U-16 boys' team. Plus the coaches, administrators and players got to watch the FC Dallas versus Chicago Fire match. In all it was a great soccer weekend.
 
John Thomas, Dave Rubinson and I watched all of the US Youth Soccer ODP Championship matches over the weekend. All of the matches were good quality and the final for the 1993 Boys between Cal South and Oklahoma was riveting! As the three of us watch the players in the matches we also look at the coaches. We observe how they handle warm-up, bench management, substitutions, tactical adjustments, halftime talk, injuries and cool-down. 
 
One crucial coach and player interaction stood out for us – communication. The state select team coaches at this event were models of professional standards in this regard. There was none of the constant yapping from the coach as is heard around so many soccer fields. By and all there was no micromanaging of the players on the field and there was little chatter from the coach to the referees. So while a good standard of match coaching was displayed it can still go up another notch. In this regard for many coaches a new skill must be learned.
 
The information that coaches gave to the players during the run of play was appropriate, at the right moment and just what the team needed for the game situation. Halftime talks were mostly a talk by the coach or coaches and only a little bit of response by the players or small groups of players discussing with the coach the second half game plan. The information given by the coaches at halftime was again right on the money, but tended to be a monologue and not a dialogue. So here's the point. To improve understanding by the players in the team plan for the next half or during the flow of the match and for the players to buy into the plan they must have a hand in devising the plan. Certainly these players of high caliber, good experience and 15 to 17 years old are quite capable, when given the chance, to contribute to the game strategy. After all it is the players who must execute the game plan. If they are just passive receivers of the game plan, as opposed to active co-designers of the game plan, then the likelihood of consistent execution of the game plan diminishes.
 
As an example while watching a 1993 Girls match with Virginia and Minnesota a corner kick was taking place. The coach of the attacking team called out to the players on some positioning adjustments to help keep good team shape in case of a counterattack from the corner kick. The information he gave was good, the players adjusted and the timing of talking to the players was right. However, the players simply followed orders called out by the coach. Instead the coach could have asked a key defensive player to fix the positioning of the team. Then the player takes over commanding teammates and adjustments are made. In the end this is far more efficient and quicker as the players will be able to talk to each other and make adjustments without waiting for information from the middle man, the coach. 
As these talented players move up to even more competitive levels of the game with large crowds watching and the players unable to hear the coach from the bench internal team communication is a must.
 
With halftime the talks should be a dialogue from the get go. Ask the players for a defensive adjustment they think the team should make, discuss it and the coach sums it all up for the team. Then do the same for the attack. Now the players and coaches have jointly come up with the second half game plan. By involving the players they are now thinking tactically and the plan will be much clearer in their minds, which means execution of the plan will improve. When players are accustomed to this approach the coach will find that the players are talking about what to do in the second half as they walk off the field from the first half. Their mental focus on the match will improve.
 
The new skill coaches must learn is to take a player centered approach in training and in matches. Both training sessions and matches are learning opportunities for the players and coaches. The coach will need to learn a bit about the use of guided questions in matches as a continuation of guided discovery coaching in training sessions. The final objective is to give the game over to the players!