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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". 

 

What We Love to Hate

Susan Boyd

I was watching the World Cup qualifying match between England and Kazakhstan at Wembley Stadium when something flashed along the advertising board on the sidelines: "7,000 referees quit every season."  I'm assuming that this was in Great Britain or perhaps even just in England proper. Either way, it is a disturbing statistic. Every referee that quits has to be replaced by a new referee who won't be as experienced as the referee he or she took the place of. Replacing 7,000 referees seems almost impossible. Each person has to be trained, tested, apprenticed, and certified before taking on games.   And even then, the instincts that time and experience can hone won't have developed yet. Bad refereeing frustrates coaches, players, and fans, but novice refs can't hope to be excellent referees immediately.

When families are just learning about soccer and have only watched their own children's games, they may not have the expertise and context in which to judge the competency of referees. But naturally that doesn't stop sideline second guessing. Add to the mix that referees of youth games are usually the youngest and least experienced refs, and you end up with a volatile mix for sideline conflict. At one of Bryce's Under-10 games, the referee made a player do her throw in three times, declaring that each time the player had lifted her back foot. On the fourth attempt the girl planted both her feet firmly on the ground, threw the ball, and another whistle blew. Several parents exclaimed, "Not again!" at which point the referee turned and threw out most of the parents within listening range. This was a young ref who was trying to operate completely within the rules. It was a bitter cold day, but she made the players take off their warm-up pants and put on their shorts because the rule book didn't allow for warm-ups. She didn't yet have the experience to be comfortable with some common sense adjustment of the rules and the parents only saw her as the enemy.

I've often wondered what happened to that referee. Her dedication to the rules and decorum of the game were commendable if not misplaced. But she needed to learn how to adapt to the situations that weather, parents, fields, and equipment create. With time and mentoring she would have probably made a good referee, but I'm not sure she could survive her various trials by fire. If she didn't, she quit, and then she had to be replaced by another younger, untrained referee. Inexperienced referees with inexperienced fans makes for an unpleasant situation, which taxes everyone. But it's the only way everyone learns.   

Two weekends ago Robbie played in a tournament outside St. Louis which featured some of the top high schools in the country. The competitive level rivaled some of the club teams Robbie has faced, which makes sense since many of the players came from top club teams in the nation. The sponsors understood their responsibility to provide good refs knowing that coaches, players, and fans had the experience to recognize the difference between good refereeing and mediocre. Nevertheless, some of the refereeing was excellent – fair, appropriate, and by the book and some was actually terrible – rookie mistakes, unbalanced application of fouls, and laziness. All of which I think speaks to the difficulty in locating sufficient referees having both experience and excellence. At the adult level, with expectations so high and the importance of winning even higher, coaches, fans, and players won't tolerate faulty refs. This results in even bolder attacks.

I have personally witnessed three physical attacks on referees and we hear of them on the news. Then there are the bottles, stones, spittle, and verbal harangues which referees have to endure during upper level games. So it is not surprising that after years of experience referees say to everyone, "Be careful what you wish for" and quit. If they aren't berated out of the sport, they may be unable to keep up. The most experienced referees are usually the oldest, and some of these aren't fit enough to keep up with the action. It's difficult to call offside when you are twenty yards behind the play.   Once the fitness goes, their ability to be excellent referees diminishes. So they may quit or they may be asked to quit. Once again the system suffers the loss of experience that has to be replaced by a new referee.

It's difficult to expect anyone to continue in a job where he or she receives constant abuse. Yet we have all been to games that were played with only one or two referees because there weren't enough available referees. We have also been to games where referees never showed up, which is also not surprising. Given the option of snowboarding with friends and earning less than $20 while being criticized, a teenager might well select the former over the latter. This situation has led to more and more games for the youngest ages being played without benefit of referees. That's sad on two counts. First it means that games don't have the proper neutral supervision leaving coaches and parents to work out conflicts. Second it means that the first step in becoming an experienced referee has been eliminated, moving new refs into higher level games with more at stake for everyone.

I agree that bad refereeing can ruin a game, although I am of the belief that no loss can be totally blamed on the officiating. I also know that if teams were left to compete without benefit of refereeing, even bad refereeing, there would be chaos. Based on the variety of interpretations on things as simple as out of bound balls, I can't imagine most infractions would be resolved quickly and amicably without a referee. In effect, referees are the people we love to hate, and no matter their qualifications we call their decisions into question whenever they go against our team. So I guess what I am asking is for each of us to try and limit our criticism of the referees during games to just one or two well justified cat-calls. We need to trust our coaches and the captains of our soccer teams to handle what they feel are the most egregious mistakes of referees and settle for grumbling amongst ourselves on the sidelines. Otherwise we'll be adding scores of zeros to that 7,000 number and running out of replacements. The rest of the banner at Wembley Stadium read: "No respect, no referee, no game." No one wants that to come true.
 

No Fair Weather Fans

Susan Boyd

When the Midwest was first settled by Scandinavian, Norwegian, Finnish, German, and Polish immigrants, they must have been attracted by the area's climate. Harsh winters, grey skies, rain, snow, and sleet had to have given them a sense of comfortable familiarity. As a West Coast transplant to the Midwest, I have less affinity for the winter, and after twenty-two winters I'm actually intolerant. But growing up in Seattle, I understand and welcome the rain. So it's no surprise that I have sat through my share of soccer games in a heavy downpour, as well as the remainder of the Midwest weather spectrum.

Tuesday night was no exception. The game was Robbie's last conference game of his high school life, so as a milestone it couldn't be missed. Naturally the weather report came in as: Monday sunny and 64, Tuesday heavy rains and 55, Wednesday sunny and 72, Thursday sunny and 70, Friday sunny and 70. . . You get the picture. The weather gods conspired against us.  As I strode up to purchase my ticket, the teacher who volunteered to collect the admission said, "This school has the most loyal parents. They will come out and sit through anything to support their kids." I agreed as I shifted the two umbrellas, three towels, blanket, heavy jacket, and plastic bag to the other arm so I could get my money out. But I also knew a secret . . . this wasn't the only group of parents willing to brave the elements to support their kids.

I have yet to experience the shirtless dad on the sidelines in minus 15 degrees with a soccer ball painted on his belly. But I have witnessed tremendous parental support despite the elements. I have joined parents in the midst of snowstorms, tornado warnings, monsoons, blazing Saharan summers, and wildfires. During the latter everyone was choking on the smoke as they urged their players who were also choking. I don't think there have been many games called on account of soot. I have learned to be ready for anything. Umbrellas work for snow, rain, and sun. I've put an umbrella on the ground covering my legs on days when the sun was at a low angle or the rain was driving parallel to the ground. I've huddled with people I barely knew in a survivalist attempt to stay warm. I've sat in my car with six soccer players waiting for lightning to pass and then watched them finish the match in a deluge that came so hard and so fast six inches of standing water accumulated on the field and sidelines. 

As parents we all think our kids are magnificent and special. We sacrifice our time, our money, and on certain days even our health to give them support. It's not surprising that we gather even in the face of Mother Nature's fury to provide for them the cheers to make it all worthwhile. The teacher who took my admission on Tuesday wasn't a mom yet, so she hadn't been brought into the club. Once she has her own soccer players or actors or go-carters she'll join the legions of parents who defy the elements because their kids are. When Shane, our youngest daughter, was a cheerleader her high school went to the state sectionals in football. It was early November, but it was an ice storm with winds approaching gale force and temperatures below zero Fahrenheit. The cheerleaders were all dressed in their sweaters, short skirts, and tights. I had on four layers plus heaters in my gloves and boots and two blankets. The girls lasted the first half, but they realized that there was no way they could continue for another half. They gladly accepted our blankets and sat with us to watch the football squad try to handle the pigskin that was iced up and hard as a rock. I don't even remember if her high school team won. I do remember that it took about a year to shake the chill out of my bones. But I'd do again, because that's what parents do.

And the best proof I have of that came at the game Tuesday night. Our opponent traditionally wasn't competitive. The team and their parents knew that the chance of beating Robbie's team was small. Yet the parents came and sat in the same cold, wet stands suffering through the same wind, rain, and chill. They encouraged their team even when the score reached 5-0 in the first half. They applauded the good plays, heartened the team after being scored upon, and went wild for any shot that neared the goal. After the game they roared as their team ran across the field and shouted ""Good game."" They had the same muddy uniforms to wash the next day and the same soggy coats to dry out. If you're a parent, you can't be a fair weather fan. You can't switch off your loyalty if the team isn't doing well and you can't decide that it's too wet or too cold to come watch. But I have to admit that I'm pretty happy that Robbie and Bryce both will be playing college soccer in California. I'm not made of hearty Midwest stock. Give me a wildfire, soot-filled game so long as I can wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt.
 

Active Coaching and Playing Up

Sam Snow

Active Coaching No. 16
 
We believe that top-level coaches, particularly those in administrative positions, such as club and state directors and national staff coaches must remain active practitioners.  In order to gain respect and proactively affect change it is essential that coaches in leadership positions are current in their knowledge and constantly evolving their craft.  In addition:
  • Soccer continues to evolve rapidly and nowhere more dramatically than at the youth level in the United States.  Coaches must have practical contact with the newest trends and be well positioned to proactively test new theories against existing models.
  • Many coaching directors in the United States are in their 20's and 30's and still developing their personal philosophy and pedagogy.  If these talented young coaches are removed from their fertile learning environment before gaining the lessons of experience, the short- and long-term impact on the next generations of players will be sorely felt.
  • Personal growth stagnates without constant challenge.  Each new training session is an opportunity to reaffirm or reassess existing soccer knowledge, beliefs and pedagogical skills.  Each level of play provides unique coaching challenges and, in order to service the needs of players and coaches at every level, practical and ongoing contact with players of all ages and abilities is essential.
  • Top club coaches are influenced by actions, not words.  To gain the confidence and respect of these coaches, it is important for the coaching director to demonstrate their knowledge and skills as a field coach.  Without respect, the possibilities for positive growth and evolution within the top leagues and clubs are severely hamstrung.
  • The director of coaching is often uniquely placed to vertically integrate the technical, tactical, physical and psychological insights gleaned from the regional and national teams programs.  Often, these messages can only be delivered through contact with players; this is particularly the case at the area and state Olympic Development Program levels.
  • One of the most important messages in the coaching education process is that coaching skills evolve with use and erode through inactivity.  This message is true of both experts and beginners.  Coaching directors must be seen to practice what they preach.
  • The motivation for coaches to administrate can be found in the rewards of the field.
  • The vast majority of soccer coaches within the United States are parents with no formal background in the sport.  The coaching director must serve as a role model and inspiration for this population by conducting clinics and workshops and by learning to appreciate and focus the unique challenge of the parent/coach experience.  This process is practical, ongoing and very demanding.
  • The director of coaching must remain connected and sensitive to the balance of competitive pressures that influence those players striving to reach the top level and those coaches making a living from the game.  Competition is a necessary and important element in sport and society.  Without periodic re-exposure to the stresses of intense competition, coaches in leadership positions can easily lose touch with the balance between the theoretical and the practical: X's and O's must always be grounded in the reality of the playing level.
 
Playing Up No. 17
 
The majority of clubs, leagues and district, state or regional Olympic Development Programs in the United States allow talented, younger players to compete on teams with and against older players.  This occurs as a natural part of the development process and is consistent throughout the world.  Currently, however, there are isolated instances where the adult leadership has imposed rules or policies restricting the exceptional, young player from ""playing up.""  These rules vary.  Some absolutely will not allow it. Others establish team or age group quotas while the most lenient review the issue on a case-by-case basis.  Associations that create rules restricting an individual player's option to play at the appropriate competitive level are in effect impeding that player's opportunity for growth.  For development to occur, all players must be exposed to levels of competition commensurate with their skills and must be challenged constantly in training and matches in order to aspire to higher levels of play and maintain their interest in and passion for the game.
 
When it is appropriate for soccer development, the opportunity for the exceptional player to play with older players must be available.  We believe that ""club passes"" should be adopted as an alternative to team rosters to allow for a more realistic and fluid movement of players between teams and levels of play.  If there is a concern regarding the individual situation, the decision must be carefully evaluated by coaches and administrators familiar with the particular player.  When faced with making the decision whether the player ought to play up, the adult leadership must be prepared with sound rationale to support their decision.  Under no circumstances should coaches exploit or hold players back in the misplaced quest for team building and winning championships, nor should parents push their child in an attempt to accelerate to the top of the soccer pyramid.  In addition, playing up under the appropriate circumstances should not preclude a player playing back in his or her own age group.  When the situation dictates that it is in the best interests of the player to do so, it should not be interpreted as a demotion, but as an opportunity to gain or regain confidence.
 
Some rationale for the above includes:
 
Pele played for Brazil in his first World Cup as a seventeen year old; Mia Hamm earned her first call to the U.S. Women's National Team when she was fifteen.  Exceptionally talented young players playing with older players have been an integral part of the game since its inception.  Certainly, a player that possesses soccer maturity beyond that of his or her peers should be encouraged to ""play up"" in order that his or her development as a player is stimulated.
 
The playing environment must provide the right balance between challenge and success.  The best players must have the opportunity to compete with and against players of similar abilities.  Players with less ability must be allowed to compete at their own level in order to enjoy the game and to improve performance.
 
In conclusion the development of players and advancement of the overall quality in the United States is the responsibility of every youth coach, administrator and policymaker in this country.  It is our obligation to provide an environment where every player is given the opportunity to improve and to gain the maximum enjoyment from their soccer experience and ultimately, what is best for the player.
 
Original document compiled by Dr. Tom Turner, Director of Coaching and Player Development for the Ohio Youth Soccer Association North.
 
Supplemental documentation compiled by Sam Snow, Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.
 

Coaching Priorities, League Play and Matches per Year, National Championship Series, Professional Li

Sam Snow

Priorities of Coaching No. 12
We also recommend the prioritization of events by coaches:
- Objectives are identified and a season plan is developed that balances training, competition and 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 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.

League Play and Matches Per Year No. 13
We believe that the optimal playing and learning environment includes participating in no more than two matches per week.  We also believe that players should not compete in more than one full match per day and no more than two full matches per weekend.  There must be a day of rest between full-length matches.  We strongly oppose the practice of scheduling regular season and/or make-up matches in a manner that results in four full matches in the same week.  Modified FIFA rules apply: no reentry per half for the U14 and younger age groups and no reentry after substitution for the U15 and older age groups.  In addition, we believe that players should not compete in more than 40 playing dates in a calendar year.  Players must have one full month off from all soccer activity.

National Championship Series Competition No. 14
We believe that, in order to be consistent with the final stages of the competition, the national tournament for the top players should adopt a no reentry rule for state and regional level play.

The Professional Link No. 15
We believe that the professional level plays a necessary and vital role in the growth and development of youth and amateur soccer.  In all soccer cultures, the professional level serves to provide for the vertical movement of top players and creates the conditions for national heroes to emerge.  The professional influence also accounts for much of the indirect education that permeates soccer societies.  Television ratings and paid attendance have a significant local and national impact on media perception and civic response.  We feel that promoting professional soccer is foundational to all professional coaching positions.