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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". 

 

Are we back yet?

Susan Boyd

When the boys were toddlers they used to squirm around in their car seats as we left the driveway, craning to catch a glimpse of our house as it disappeared around the corner. Then they would ask the same question: Are we coming back here again? Leaving in a car must have felt like leaving on a jet plane – don't know when I'll be back again. If they couldn't see the house, it must have ceased to exist. Once we made our way back into the neighborhood, the boys could barely contain their excitement as the house peeked out between the trees. "Oooh, there's our house!" they giggled with glee. And everything was set straight again until the next errand or trip to the library.

Soccer families might feel the same way about their soccer fields. Every time you leave them, you don't really know if you'll see them again. Weather related closures, use by competing groups like lacrosse or football teams, away games, and canceled practices can make those convenient fields just down the street seem like they wandered away to a foreign country.   One mother in our club bragged that she was just a two minute drive from the fields. Two months later she was bemoaning the fact her two minute drive was now thirty minutes as practices and games had shifted to another part of town. Clubs who have the privilege of owning their own fields become remarkably protective of them to the point of closing the fields most of the year lest they become damaged. It's like that living room you spent thousands decorating and furnishing, but no one ever sits in there. 

Even city and town parks are becoming more and more difficult to use as officials look to reduce maintenance. Every time a storm began to brew prior to a Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development Program practice, everyone in the office went into panic mode waiting for the news that the fields we planned to use were closed and scrambling to find alternate fields controlled by less protective overseers. When I managed my sons' teams, I would dread the "fields are closed" phone call because I had to find an alternative for that day, call the referees and direct them to the new site, do likewise with the opposing team, and finally inform my own team and coaches. If I couldn't get a field that day, then the dreaded "rescheduled game" inserted itself in my life like those mucous creatures in the TV ads.   Anyone who has tried to reschedule a game knows the hideous helplessness the task creates. To add insult to injury I often had to drive past the pristine but empty fields while headed to that rescheduled game because the opposing team could only reschedule on their fields.

One particularly waterlogged spring we practice twice on our home fields and played one game there. I'm not opposed to going to an alternate site; it's just that I based part of my decision about where the boys would play upon the convenience factor of the club's location. My only advice would be to ask where the club plays when it can't play on its own fields. This might seem a silly question, but in locations like Chicago and San Francisco, the alternate fields could be an hour away. Alternate fields could disrupt car pools, interconnected schedules, and time limits. Every parent needs to consider what contingencies the club uses and how the family will adapt to those.

The recent floods in the southeast and past flooding such as Katrina add an even uglier dimension to the soccer field saga. In those cases fields may have disappeared altogether. Even if families avoided flood damage of their own personal property, they undoubtedly experienced a complete disruption of their soccer schedules due to flooded fields and flooded routes to practices and games. In those extreme cases, families have far worse concerns than some extra travel on their schedule. As a national soccer community, we should find out what we can do to help those Atlanta and other southeast families get back on track. Dozens of soccer fields at schools, parks, and soccer clubs were submerged and may not be back for the rest of the season. The Georgia State Soccer Association can be reached at gssa@gasoccer.org.  While having to move to an alternate field can be aggravating, at least most of us have alternate fields available. And we are lucky enough to have fields to come back to when the weather clears.  
 

A Month We Can Enjoy All Year

Susan Boyd

I knew that I would eventually be rewarded for leaving my autumn foliage stickers on my patio doors. It only took a year but now the transparent gel leaves look stunning against the backdrop of the slowing evolving trees beyond my deck. Usually I change the stickers four times a year to reflect the changing seasons. But this winter we were out of town so I never got the holiday decorations out. We returned to a home destroyed by burst pipes, so we weren't even in the house over spring, and summer was spent getting settled back in. Now here we are back to autumn, and I finally feel in step once again.
           
I love September. September ranges from the heat and drought of summer through the cool grey and brilliant colors of autumn. Kids begin school, but still fill the waning evenings with play. Families return to the routines they followed for nine months of the year.  And youth soccer starts up. So it's fitting that September serves as Youth Soccer Month. Now that the month is winding down, the four features of the month – family, fun, friendship, and fitness – don't just fall away like the leaves.   While we celebrate youth soccer in September, we participate in youth soccer year round. Each of these features figure prominently in our lives even outside of soccer. So we should continue to focus on these as the seasons progress.
           
Soccer is one of many ways for families to share activities and goals (pun intended). Obviously I'm a huge proponent of soccer, but any activity that a family shares can help form strong ties and happy relationships. In fact, parents should bring some of the family experiences from other activities into soccer. I seriously doubt that most of you at a third grade recorder concert shout at the musicians about their tempo and publicly accuse the music teacher of faulty conducting. Instead we watch with great pride, oooh and aaaah over the cute moment when one child puts the recorder up his nose, and applaud loudly at the end. We probably don't discuss the individual players on the way home and suggest ways our son or daughter could be a better player.  We don't make such an emotional investment in a music concert, even though it's possible that three or four of those kids will end up with college scholarships in music. 
           
Fun is definitely not limited to soccer. But remembering that what our kids do in life should always have an element of fun means we can bring joy to every activity even school. Again making too big an emotional investment in our child's success can absolutely drain the fun out of anything. We don't need soccer to have fun, but we shouldn't forget fun in the rest of our lives. While we're rushing around trying to fit in soccer practice, homework, dentist appointments, jobs, meals, and sleep try to fit in a bit of fun – car games, sing-alongs on the way to events, a detour to get an ice cream, playing Frisbee before a game, green milk for St. Patrick's Day.
           
The friendships we develop through soccer should be just one collection of the many friends we make throughout life. Kids have so many interests and those interests change often over the years, so it's important to nurture friendships within those interests. Soccer may be replaced by another sport or activity, but the friendships developed with teammates can last beyond the change if they have more than soccer in common. Likewise friendships outside of soccer can give kids a wider perspective on life. Because soccer is a huge passion for our family, many of the boys' enduring friendships have come out of soccer, but they also have strong connections to kids who never had an interest in any sport.
           
Fitness can be both physical and mental. Physical fitness naturally comes from playing a sport, but can be part of a non-sport routine as well. Having children bike or walk to school and lessons will give them several hours a week of aerobic exercise. Even more importantly giving kids an hour a day just for random outdoor play can do more for both physical and mental fitness than any organized sport. That one hour a day of unstructured activity gives kids a chance to relax their minds and exercise their hearts and muscles. It also gives them a chance to be with friends, have some fun, and enjoy their families. Those three principles contribute to good mental fitness. Strong families who have fun and enjoy supportive friendships impact their child's mental health positively.
While autumn will dissolve into winter with shorter days and for many of us cold, grey months, we can use the cornerstones of Youth Soccer Month to bring substance to our lives. We love soccer in our family, so we have many of our activities and interests centered around soccer. But we don't need soccer in the same way we need our family, fun, friendships, and fitness. The true measure of our children's growth isn't being a soccer superstar. It's becoming a strong, capable, happy adult. These four soccer month principles contribute to their growth and can support them throughout their lives. Celebrating youth soccer serves as a conduit to both growing the sport and growing a strong generation of children. 
 

Priorities of Coaching No. 12

Sam Snow

From the Position Statements of the 55 state Technical Directors:
 
PRIORITIES OF COACHING  No. 12
 
We recommend the prioritization of events by coaches:
·         Objectives are identified and a season plan is developed that balances training, competition along with rest and recovery.
·         The interest of the player must be dictated by the quality of scheduling and the choice of events.
·         Entering all the possible competitions/tournaments available can have a long lasting negative impact on basic skill and fitness development.
·         A systematic approach will maximize the chances of achieving peak performance by bringing players to peak form for important competitions and minimize the chances for over-training, over-use injuries and burnout.
·         We recommend at a minimum the following training session to match ratios:
  • U6-U8                          1:1
  • U10-U12                      2:1
  • U14-U19                      3:1
·         In order for an athlete to adapt (improve technical, tactical and psychological components) there must be periods of low intensity activity or complete rest interspersed with periods of high intensity activity.
·         "More is not better."  Quantity alone does not improve quality; soccer should be a test of skill not survival.
·         Practicing or playing in matches where players are "going through the motions" due to fatigue or lack of interest reinforce bad habits and retard development.
·         Sound nutrition and ample rest allow for more rapid recovery from intense activity.
 

Position statements No. 9-11

Sam Snow

From the Position Statements of the state association Technical Directors, three Statements concerning the early play to must win environment throughout youth soccer:

Festivals for players Under-10 No. 9
                We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of ten. Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner. We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U-10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.

State, regional and national competition for U-12s No. 10
                We believe that youth soccer is too competitive at the early ages, resulting in an environment that is detrimental to both players and adults; much of the negative behavior reported about parents is associated with preteen play. The direct and indirect pressure exerted on coaches and preteen players to win is reinforced by state "championships" and tournament "winners." We therefore advocate that, in the absence of regional competition for Under-12s, state festivals replace state cups. We also strongly recommend that with regard to regional and national competition the entry age group should be U-14.

Tournament Play No. 11
                We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development, and can serve to reduce long-term motivation. Do not multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player? Further far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an "off season." We believe that players under the age of twelve should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than thirteen should not play more than 120 minutes per day.

-             We also recommend to tournament managers and schedulers:
-              The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
-              That all tournament matches be of the same length and that no full-length match be introduced during play-off rounds.
-              Kick-off times allow players a reasonable opportunity to prepare for competition. This encompasses rest and recovery, nutrition and adequate time to warm-up and stretch after traveling a long distance in addition to taking into consideration extreme environmental conditions.