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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". 

 

Gutter Balls

Susan Boyd

I saw a television commercial the other night which shows a mom helping her nine or 10 year old son try out a variety of sports albeit unsuccessfully. Football, baseball, tennis, and golf evade this youngster's capabilities. As these various frustrations fade in and out, a chorus provides an inspirational background song. Dissolve to the actual chorus on stage and the mom in the audience basking as the boy steps out of the group and sings his solo like an angel. 
               
I applaud the commercial for reinforcing that every child doesn't need to be a sports specialist. The world needs singers, actors, artists, even writers. I personally couldn't survive without mechanics.   But I think the ad also diminishes participation in sports by equating it with success. Kids need to break a few windows, tear up divots, throttle the ball over the side nets, or boot the ball into the woods before they can develop the finesse to be more accurate and controlled. Sports, like any activity, have a learning curve. No one, not Freddy Adu, not LeBron James, not Florence Joyner, who were sports prodigies, walks for the first time onto a field, a court, or a track fully formed as an athlete.   Letting a child give up on a sport because in the first hour he or she hasn't mastered it sends the message that sports can't be fun unless you're an expert. 
               
I remember our oldest daughter bowling for the first time. She was about seven. She threw the initial ball down the alley which wobbled and rolled into the gutter. She turned around, stomped her foot and declared, "I'm not playing anymore" as she stormed in a huff to the bench. It took us about 20 minutes to convince her to roll the second ball. Thankfully this one painfully sashayed down the lane and precariously hung on the edge of the alley before knocking down two pins. Otherwise, I doubt we would have ever gotten her to try a third time. However, over the next year, with lessons, she ended up requesting her own ball and shoes and had won a patch for beating Earl Anthony (who bowled with his opposite hand) in a three frame contest. She eventually went on to become a ballet dancer and then a fashion merchandiser. She bowls once or twice a year. But she learned to persevere through her novice stage which gave her the confidence to persevere through other frustrating experiences. For a perfectionist such as she is, it was good to learn that success doesn't come immediately nor does past success guarantee future success.
               
This was a lesson learned by Robbie's team last weekend. They lost in the finals of the US Youth Soccer Wisconsin State Championships. They had been doing quite well over the spring, but seemed to lose steam at the end. The game was a rematch of last year's final and the other team was hungrier for their vindication of last year's loss. Sadly, for about half his team, this game marked the end of their competitive soccer experience that began for most at ages five and six. Some are going on to play in college and some will play club in college. But no matter what the future holds, all of them continued with soccer up to this point because they found companionship with teammates and joy with the game.   No one considers himself an expert at the sport. But win or lose, soccer awarded each of them with advantages that aren't measured by success.
               
I admit to some bittersweet moments once the game was over. I'll miss not going to US Youth Soccer Regional Championships. I love the caliber of games, the spectacle of the event, and the fun of seeing kids Robbie and Bryce have known through their soccer networks. At the same time I'm a bit grateful for not having to drive ten hours and live in a hotel for six nights. I must be getting old!   I think about the first time the boys walked onto a soccer field and at first were overwhelmed by the game. But they loved being with their friends, loved being outdoors, loved attacking the ball, loved scoring, loved falling, and loved getting the snack after the game. Some of their friends who began soccer with them switched along the way to either other sports or other interests. Despite many of them not continuing with soccer, their friendship and their connection with our family did continue. Now as they are poised to graduate from high school we get to hear where these past teammates are going to school, what they will study, and what they plan to do. It's a rich collection of kids who provide new insights into the world and its opportunities every time they interact with us.
               
I do appreciate these kids for all they offer us, but I also appreciate soccer for being the gateway into their world. As we enter the season for tryouts, I know that anxieties run high.   The focus shifts heavily to success and the innocence of recreational soccer gives way to apprehension. So I know how important remembering the good times turns out to be. We need to remember that if our kids love to play soccer, then they should continue to play. US Youth Soccer supports teams at all age levels and at many different skill levels. So every kid who wants to play should be able to play. As parents we need to not feed into a sense of failure if our children don't make a particular team. Instead look upon it as an opportunity to both expand your network of friends and to experience a different style of coaching and playing. Most importantly, no child should give up. Teams come and go with varying degrees of success. The joy of playing a sport or singing a song or solving an equation should transcend set-backs. Even the world's best bowler throws a gutter ball or two every year.
 

Who is Zadok the Priest

Susan Boyd

Back in college when I majored in psychology in the hopes of making the same breath-taking salary as I now make writing, I studied this psychological assessment of a person's cognitive level. Given nine objects the person had to group them based on size, shape, color, and material. Each object could be part of several different groups, so their separation required some creative thinking. I reverted to the test's structure this week when I had the chance to see two very different and yet very similar soccer games. With soccer as the broad context, the comparisons and contrasts seemed limitless.

Wednesday I watched the UEFA Champions League Championship game between Barcelona and Manchester United. Spoiler alert! I'll be revealing who won. An American equivalent to the match might be the Super Bowl except the pageantry for UEFA has a sparse swagger rather than an over-produced excess. Nevertheless a comely lass dressed in the Championship Cup did do her best Victoria's Secret runway walk towards the camera as confetti fluttered around her and a huge chorus belted out  the Champion League Anthem based on Handel's "Zadok the Priest" from the Coronation Anthems. It wasn't Bruce Springsteen, but it did get the emotions boiling. Then the teams marched out along the center line and spread out across the field flanking the officials.  Every team member showed his anxiety in jittery limbs and tense expressions.

Likewise I got to see several US Youth Soccer Association State Championship games in Wisconsin this weekend and last. The players weren't as seasoned or physically mature, but the same stakes existed: win or go home. While the only confetti bits were errant napkins and wrappers, the celebratory mood did exist on those fields. The teams marched out to the center line, fanned out beside the officials, and basked in the applause of parents, siblings, and fans. I really delight in watching the entrance of the teams on the field. For the younger players it may be the first time they have ever participated in a tradition they have seen preceding World Cup and Gold Cup games. The nerves they felt had to be as intense as any of the nerves Thierry Henry or Cristiano Ronaldo felt on Wednesday. It's their taste of the world-wide rituals of the game. And it was their chance to relish it.

For the first few minutes of the UEFA game Man U dominated. As a team they seemed confident and motivated, but when Samuel Eto'o suddenly used a brilliant pass by André Iniesta at the ten minute mark to power a goal behind Edwin Van der Sar they just as suddenly dissolved into confusion and reticence. How often have we watched our own children be psychologically taken out of a game after an unexpected goal? Team dynamics really aren't much different for 12 year olds and 28 year olds. That intangible network that holds team members together and drives them collectively towards success can dissolve in an instant and never be regained. Such was the case with Manchester United. Many a state championship game turned on the inability of a team to create or maintain that group dynamic.

Even someone as skilled and seasoned as Ronaldo managed to received a pass in the six yard box and then boot it over or wide of the goal. Remember that the next time you groan when your daughter's teammate does the same. The complex and delicate mix of skill, temperament, nerves, and placement may not be mastered by Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United or Sara Smith of Hometown FC. The problem is that Ronaldo is being paid to have mastered it and our sons and daughters do it for the joy of the game. So we need to cut them some slack.

All this brings me to the fans. While I heard occasional jabs at the officials or angry shout outs to players, for the most part state championship fans have been well-mannered and supportive. Not so for the fans at UEFA. Fan intensity in soccer comes with the territory especially at the professional level. Fans don't accept any sort of error. So cat calls, whistles, boos, and even unprintable chants echo regularly throughout soccer stadiums of the world. But at the youth level in the United States we have managed to maintain an atmosphere of near civility. A few members of Robbie's team got yellow cards during the game for having garbage mouths, which comes with being a teenager and knowing everything about everything. The frustration with perceived bad calls erupts in verbal harangues. In that regard they are no different than any of the players at the UEFA game, but in the professional ranks such outbursts are more regularly tolerated and ignored. 

Although it probably seems like an inconsequential element to the game, uniforms can play a very important role for the players. My sons will often express the hope that they will be playing in a certain uniform combination for reasons of superstition, pride, or comfort. When that combination can't be worn, it can have a trickle down affect on team spirit and motivation. As a mom I only hope they won't wear the white shorts on a muddy day. I wonder if Man U felt less strong in their all white uniforms. They did seem to melt into the background compared to Barcelona in their bright blue and red stripes. There's no way of knowing if uniforms had anything to do with the team's demeanor, but as a former psychology student I have to read something into everything.

I look forward to the US Youth Soccer Association Championship Series. I love seeing other teams and watching players whose jerseys I'll be buying someday for my grandchildren. It's a grand gathering of talent, hope, and enthusiasm. Again I'll encourage families to try to attend their Regional Championships and, if they are in the Northeast, the National Championship. While it isn't the World Cup or the FA Cup or UEFA, it is a spectacle in its own right and a show of earnest, passionate soccer. While a ticket to UEFA probably set a fan back several hundred if not thousands of dollars, the Championship Series is free of charge (except possibly for parking) and offers dozens of games to watch and enjoy. The one good thing about soccer being a growing sport in the US is that it is still a relatively inexpensive spectator sport.  Bring along a recording of "Zadok the Priest" and you'll nearly have the complete UEFA experience.
 

A word from a player

Sam Snow

Now and then we adult leaders in the game need to hear from and listen to the players. Here is a portion of a letter written by a 15-year-old player to parents in her State Association. So let's listen up…
 
During my nine years of experience, I have noticed numerous parents on the sidelines who do not always act as role models for their children when it comes to sportsmanship. I believe it is a parent's responsibility to instill in their child the importance of good sportsmanship and offset the "win at all costs" philosophy. To encourage parents to act responsibly, I would like to see the state leadership team consider having parents sign a contract before each season begins.
 
Soccer is a team sport and parents need to understand that and encourage their child to be a team player. There have been too many times when a parent only wants his or her child to succeed or be the best, which does not support a team environment. As an example, I have seen where a parent will pay their child for every goal they score. This encourages the child to try and only score goals, as opposed to passing to another player that may have a better shot at making a goal. While scoring goals is certainly important, playing defensively to ensure the other team does not is just as important. No position on the soccer field is more important than another. If parents are reminded of this in the contract, they can help their child actively participate in a cooperative and coordinated effort on the part of the team working together towards their common goal.
 
The sport of soccer is naturally competitive so parents can tend to get a bit high strung and say or yell things on the sidelines that are not appropriate. For example, there are times when a parent may not agree with the call a referee has made, and will berate and yell at that referee to the point he or she is asked to leave the sidelines. Parents must remember to demonstrate respect for coaches, players and referees and never openly berate, criticize, tease or demean anyone involved in the game. As a player, I can assure you that if a parent says something on the sidelines, we do hear it on the field. Children do learn from their behavior, so it is important they set a positive example.
 
In addition, parents need to be humble, trust the coach and admit that the way they think a child should play or a coach should teach is not the only way a child can learn. Each year I have played, there are always parents who seem to not support the team because they spend the entire game instructing the players from the sidelines. This confuses the players and really undermines the efforts of the coaches. Parents need to be reminded that they should avoid confusion when cheering on the sidelines. Including some examples of what parents should and should not say in a contract will encourage positive behavior. Hearing positive encouragement is always more motivating to me than being told to "shoot" or "pass it" when I am playing.
 
These are just a few of the areas that could be addressed in a sportsmanship contract. I do not think parents intentionally demonstrate behavior that is not sportsman like. If they are required to review what their role is for the soccer season, and then sign an agreement, it will serve as a friendly reminder what their responsibility is as a parent of a player. In addition, if you receive complaints regarding a particular parent's behavior, you have documentation that the parent agreed to behave according to the sportsmanship guidelines and take action if he or she continues behaving inappropriately.
 
I truly believe this will encourage positive support on the sidelines from parents both during games and at practices. If players receive positive encouragement and are taught sportsmanship at a young age, they will be able to model that behavior as a player or observer today and in the future.
 

Video Anaylsis

Sam Snow

There are an increasing number of products on the market for video analysis. More soccer coaches are using this software and many coaches have been using video analysis for a number of years. So here are some facts on how to use video analysis in a productive manner.
 
Please keep in mind that the use of video to help players improve is best done with players who can conceptualize what they are viewing. That is they can watch themselves and self-analyze and they can mentally see themselves doing the skill or a tactical action in a match. This capacity of conceptualization begins to emerge once the player is capable of abstract thought. Generally that growth in the cognitive process occurs around age twelve. Prior to that age if kids want to watch themselves on video let them just watch the film without comment and to come and go from it as they please.
 
Video analysis of team and individual performance should be consistently used with this age group. The analysis should be developed around problem solving discussions. An exchange of questions and answers between you and the players and between the players themselves will be productive. In general video analysis should be used immediately following the activity when the player has a kinesthetic feeling for the action. Video feedback can have its best impact during training sessions where review followed by immediate repetition of the action can take place in a coach-controlled situation. The player should be encouraged to give an active response, be it verbal or physical, thus becoming involved in the learning process. Players should be allowed to work at their own pace. Do not force or rush their use of the media.
 
Initially, each viewing session should isolate small units, such as a specific skill or game play. Short viewing periods plus your analysis should be followed by an attempt to correct as well as improve upon performance. Correction should be positive, not negative. The player must receive rapid feedback regarding the correct action and technique. The correct movements must be over learned by repeated practice. Avoid getting in the way of the players' learning process and interaction with the material. Stop talking and listen. Do not fill the players' minds with details; let them think and analyze for themselves and guide them in reaching a conclusion only when they reach an impasse.
 
Beware the excessive use of slow motion or stop action. It has been found that speed of movement is also quite specific to individual performance, and too much viewing of complex movements performed at excessively slow speeds may upset the player's sense of timing and coordination- his or her internal 'model' of what he or she is doing.
 
A final word of advice: video analysis demands that you understand the mechanics of soccer. No longer will guesswork be allowed – the instant replay of video leaves each analysis open to question. Knowledge of key movement cues that contribute positively to the players' performance is now essential. Watch the US Youth Soccer DVD Skills School | Developing Essential Soccer Techniques for assistance in this area. Also use as a reference the Skills School Manual from US Youth Soccer.
 
Encourage your players to watch high level soccer regularly. As they watch these matches they should focus on the group play around their position. The US Youth Soccer Show on Fox Soccer Channel is a good opportunity to see players like themselves. Players should be able to mentally insert themselves into the position and think how they may benefit from what they are observing.