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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". 

 

Loyalty

Susan Boyd

As belts tightened across the nation, soccer clubs are no more immune to budget concerns than any family or organization. Most clubs operated on a thin margin of financial viability even in boom times, so they acutely feel the pinch now.   You'll hear the mantra of "loyalty" more incessantly than ever as clubs try to maintain membership and to attract more members. Unfortunately loyalty from the club's perspective is a one-way obligation and families who have given years of service to a club can find their sons and daughters cut from their teams when select tryouts are complete.  Ironically loyalty is a fickle concept.

Coaching directors brush off any criticism with "that's the way it is in the world of soccer." They are correct as far as professional clubs go. But this is youth soccer without paid contracts, sports agents, and back room negotiations. Soccer teams provide more than just a place to train and hopefully win. They provide a social center where parents feel strongly connected. Being cut from a team can be like being ostracized from a community. Youth clubs need to both expect and honor loyalty by being loyal themselves or they need to accept they can't offer loyalty in return so stop demanding it from their players and families. All too often youth clubs only want the pendulum to swing one direction. Loyal, but unskilled players rarely get consideration for their loyalty. On the swing side we all know the "star" player who misses practices, whose family rarely volunteers, and who bad-mouths the players and the coach, yet starts every game. Under the umbrella of loyalty, families expect fairness, they expect that the rules will apply to every player, and they expect some consideration for their loyalty. But youth clubs continue to apply the professional standard to their choices exposing loyal members to dismissal, while expecting members to accept the risk they may be cut, blindly stay true in the name of loyalty until then and not pursue better opportunities when they come up.

If clubs want to operate like professional teams bumping off players without consideration to their loyalty, then they have to accept the converse: that every day professional players defect from the club that nurtured them, gave them the biggest salary, and put up with their shenanigans. When another club dangles a more lucrative contract, loyalty flies out the window. Kids read and hear about this all the time, so they know how the real world works. It should be no surprise to youth clubs when a player leaves for his or her own reasons since these same clubs are willing to cut a kid when it serves their purposes. 

US Youth Soccer and local State Associations have attempted to put in rules that will temper this cut-throat atmosphere. But every rule has a thousand loopholes that clubs have expertly learned to maneuver. For example there's the rule that coaches can't recruit players in the weeks preceding tryouts. The reality is that recruiting happens all the time, just not directly by the coaches. Robbie got hand-written personal invitations from parents of players in other clubs asking him to consider trying out and touting the club's accomplishments. While the notes were clearly following a template created by someone in the club no one could fault the club for a recruiting violation. After all this was just a proud parent exercising his or her right to free speech! Even players will approach other players after a game in an attempt to get them to consider joining their team, a tactic that works much better if the recruiting team beats the player's team. And players on their own decide to make a switch without any recruiting happening at all. One family on Robbie's first select team was subjected to threats of a lawsuit because they "defected" and were made to endure dozens of phone calls asking them to admit that the player was recruited illegally when the kid actually left because he couldn't get along with one player. All this anger and politics seem unfitting for youth soccer.

In Wisconsin players have three days to consider an offer from a team, but most coaches will demand an answer the minute they call the player. Coaches will play the loyalty card stating that if the player "really wanted to play for this club" there would be no hesitation. Anxious players, faced with the possibility of not having a team, usually succumb to the pressure and agree immediately even if they are waiting on another team's offer. Coaches will attempt to limit where a player tries out by threatening that if a player doesn't show up for all days of try outs she forfeits the opportunity to play for the club. Players are supposed to be free to try out for any and all teams they want, but the reality is that they put their eggs in one basket because of intimidation. Naturally, most top players don't face intimidation because clubs recognize those players have the power to pick and choose.   So the equity that the rules attempt to create doesn't exist.

Loyalty to a club can be a noble concept, but turns out to be impractical as players make different decisions about their soccer future. Robbie's first club team still contains a few players from the original group, while Bryce's first club team completely dissolved at Under-15. Anything can happen with a team, so ultimately families need to decide what's best for them and for their children. There should be no rancor over making a change because change happens naturally in the course of life. In the case of soccer, players seek different opportunities such as less travel or tougher competition. Players may move because of the "grass is greener" belief or they may move because they want to be with friends. Clubs have no compunction about cutting a player, so families should have no guilt about leaving. Be true to your own ideals and family. Life is too short to sacrifice your own future to the questionable promises and demands of loyalty.
 

A Fatal Flaw

Susan Boyd

I'm not a duster, I don't do windows, and I hate vacuuming stairs, but I despise clutter even more. So my Martha Stewart talent is organizing. Every item in the house has a particular location. It's not exactly the Dewey Decimal System, but it does allow me to rapidly guide someone to an item or swiftly put my hands on it myself. However if people don't replace items exactly where they belong my system breaks down. Its fatal flaw takes the form of two sons and one husband, who expect me to know instantly where jackets, pencils, wallets, and car keys can be found, but steadfastly refuse to "reshelve" their products properly.   If I was the only one in the house I could find a particular DVD in less than 10 seconds. But when Bryce asked if we had "All the President's Men" and I answered "Yes" I had no idea that this would lead to two hours of mucking through drawers, digging under couches, peering behind bookcases, and looking in more and more bizarre locations until finding it in the bathroom in the cupboard with the towels. Don't ask because I have no idea why it was there.

So it is little wonder that all my efforts to be organized about soccer have limited success. My initial idea was to organize uniforms into various backpacks. By the time the boys were 10, I already had to keep track of three different soccer teams for each of them, not to mention baseball and basketball team gear. Eventually the number swelled to five soccer teams – club team, indoor team, summer city league, Super Y League, and US Youth Soccer Olympic Development (US Youth Soccer ODP). I have shelves in the mudroom to hold the various backpacks and whenever I washed the uniforms they were packed away immediately in the appropriate bag. Cleats were stored on a shoe rack hung on the wall.   Extra socks went into a box under the shelves. However, this organizational utopia disintegrated in a seismic wave of indifference to the rules.
 
In a domino effect of obliteration, each case of disorganization disrupted the entire system. Should one boy be asked to spend the night with a friend he would need an overnight bag. Never mind he already had an overnight bag because naturally it was stuffed in some dark recess of the closet or the garage or under the bed. So in a rush of expediency he would grab one of his soccer backpacks and dump it out. The uniforms ended up like so much flotsam and jetsam bobbing on the sea of clothes covering his bedroom floor. Later I would discover the bag on the mudroom floor and replace it on the shelf. Then he would grab the bag for US Youth Soccer ODP practice. As he rushed to get dressed on arrival we would discover a wad of dirty clothes, the Game Boy he had been missing for a week, a soggy bag of chips, and no US Youth Soccer ODP shirts. Cleats that should have been hanging on the rack seemingly sprouted legs and skittered like giant centipedes into the darkest, dankest, most undiscoverable corners of the house or car. The box full of socks held no pairs but plenty of mismatched and holey stockings. Our panicked scramble to find what we needed for any given event or game never seemed to disappear despite all my admonishments on how we could avoid this scene. On average the system worked about 20% of the time which I grew to accept as an admirable result.

The other day I was digging through some boxes in the basement. These were my privately organized clear plastic boxes labeled and complete. I was searching for a particular photo that I wanted to put in a new frame I'd received as a gift. Once I located the proper box and lowered it to the basement floor I knew immediately that it wasn't right. This box should have held stacks of photos organized by year and event, but I could see something decidedly not photographic at the top of the box. When I opened it I discovered two SYL team jerseys that we had had to replace despite days of searching. How they worked their way down to the basement and into the box of photos will remain a mystery, although I suspect it had something to do with needing to clean the basement quickly and finding an expedient, albeit inappropriate hidden storage spot. I will validate that theory sometime in the future when I find a pair of missing shoes in the box with maps and a missing MP3 player in the box with collectible magazines. 

In reality organization ends up being about never losing anything. In that area I suspect I am close to 100%. The trick will be to discover where items have drifted, retrieve them, and return them to their rightful place. After cleaning out Bryce's room this summer I made huge progress in my success rate having discovered thirty plus DVDs, the charger for my cell phone, a box of game cartridges, and various missing utensils and glasses. Over time these items will once again begin to disappear, but for a few weeks I can pat myself on the back that I know right where to find "All the President's Men."
 

Age of competitive play

Sam Snow

The U.S. Soccer National Staff Coaches, the state soccer association Technical Directors and the US Youth Soccer Coaching Department have Position Statements on several topics in the youth soccer realm.  Here is one on appropriate playing ages for elite play.

Age of competitive play        No. 4
 
While it is acknowledged and recognized that preteen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of twelve are forced to meet the same ""competitive"" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:
  1. 50% playing time
  2. no league or match results
  3. 8 v 8 at U12
 

Realizing player potential No. 3

Sam Snow

To maximize player potential, we believe that State Associations and progressive clubs should work to expose their better coaches, who should hold the "Y" License, to their youngest players.  It is also seen as important that mentoring programs be established for community soccer coaches to improve the quality of youth soccer training.

The developmental approach emphasizes the growth of individual skills and group tactical awareness.  We feel too much emphasis is placed on "team" play and competition in the preteen years.  We believe in an inclusion model for preteen players.  From this perspective, the goal of youth soccer programs at all levels is to include players in matches at an age when experience is more important than outcome.

Further options for players in their teen years that are not interested in competing at the highest level, but still have a love for the game should be created.  Perhaps older teen coed teams or high school based teams on a recreational basis.