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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 


Pet Peeves

Susan Boyd

When we have kids in youth sports, it means we have to suffer impositions. Even if we don’t have extensive travel to deal with, we still have tight schedules, odd meal times, frustrating games, elusive fields, and cranky kids. There are enough aggravations without adding those quirky behaviors and needling intrusions that prevent our days from running happily and efficiently. My own list of pet peeves may align with yours or it may be a complete deviation, but the effect is the same – they irritate us. My list has had some alterations, but the core has been consistent over the years. I wish I were a better person who could simply ignore that which aggravates me, but when I’m at my weakest, when things are topsy-turvy, when I most need some peace, they crop up to vex me.

My strongest pet peeve is children who scream. I’m not talking about the delighted squeals of children at play, chasing one another through the yard or riding piggy back on their fathers. I’m not complaining about the happy yelps when something special occurs or there’s a wonderful gift. I’m talking about those ear-splitting shrieks that come out of nowhere at the restaurant or movie theater either to get attention or because a child’s been denied something. When they’re under 2, it might be excused if parents at least made an effort to stifle the outbursts or remove the child from the gathering, but that’s rarely the case. Which is probably why kids as old as 9 or 10 are heard screeching unrestrained. They make my ears hurt, which makes my head hurt, which puts me in a foul mood. I find myself wanting to join them in their primeval expressions just to relieve myself of the pent up frustrations. Surprisingly, I can bear crying children. Crying seems somehow warranted in many circumstances. But screaming does not unless we’re all at a Wes Craven film festival.

You can find many of those squealing kids in fast food restaurants, which are also heavily frequented by us soccer families looking for a quick, inexpensive, and familiar meal. We all know the menus by heart. However, when there is a line to order, there always seems to be a mother and child who stand in line visiting and when they reach the counter suddenly look to the menu as if it morphed into an entirely foreign presentation. They hem and haw, ask the clerk questions, and take time to consider the answers. Finally they order, change their order, add to it, subtract from it, and then call to the other six members covertly lurking at a table to get their orders. At last everyone has agreed upon the size, flavors, and condiments for their meals, but naturally the mother also realizes she left her wallet in the car, which leads to a panicked toss of the keys to one of the kids while she holds her place in the line. Personally, I think if an order takes more than two minutes, the customer should get a small electric shock every three seconds. I will gladly administer it. I have learned, however, that there is no active or passive aggressive action on my part that will speed the process along because these people are oblivious. I can feel the tension of those behind me and I’m well-aware of their eye rolls, sighs, toe taps, and OMGs, which only heightens my own tension as if I’m responsible to solve this situation because I am closest to the source. These customers have to be the ones who also drive 50 mph in front of me in the left lane on every trip I take, another pet peeve. I shout out to no one in particular “It’s a passing lane,” which of course does nothing. Where’s a shrieking child when you need one?

Which brings me to my third pet peeve. I can’t do much about traffic, and I certainly drove in my share of it, four or five days a week in rush hour through Chicago to get Robbie to his soccer practices in Romeoville and Naperville. There was no escape. I just had to creep for scores of miles bumper to bumper. Although I really hate traffic, it can’t qualify as a pet peeve since no human has the power to resolve it. But I can talk about being assaulted during those slow drives by the number of ridiculously arrogant, occasionally profane, and profoundly rude vanity plates and bumper stickers I have had to read. The vanity plates that are clever and even self-deprecating provide a welcome breath of fresh air. A van with a teacher union sticker had a plate that read MYDG8IT. Cleverness is not the operative word for the plate that read 2BUSY. Really?  You have a monopoly on having to juggle life? I think every soccer parent, heck every parent, would qualify for that plate. In my own, albeit non-scientific, study I have concluded that doctors have the most egotistical plates. I have seen ICUREM, IFXBONS, IFXHEDS (I wasn’t sure if this was a neurologist, a psychiatrist or a yacht worker), MRSMD (come on – get your own life!), BESTMD, and TOPDOC. There are the “My child is a (insert school) honor student” stickers, which always seem to be exclusively for elementary and middle schools. And the counter opinion stickers “My kid can beat up your honor student,” as if the world can only be categorized as brain or brawn. “World’s Best…” whatever seems to be a favorite, although I did love the World’s Best Home Appraiser because it was so unique and got me wondering was the occupant the best because he or she gave tough or lax appraisals? Best for the bank would not be best for the home buyer. The strangest juxtaposition was a huge boat of a gas-guzzling, environmentally corrupt Hummer with the vanity plate OLDHIPY. The plate MNYMAKR seems more appropriate for that vehicle, but was on a Porsche, so it still fits to rub our faces in the message. The obscene stickers we’ve all seen, primarily on semis and pick-ups (not stereotyping when it’s true). I can’t repeat them here, but they involve sexism, racism, and alarmism with either language, images, or both. Most fall under the “what were they thinking” first when they bought these decals and then when they actually applied them. Most lack cleverness, nuance, and intelligence which explains why the same ones show up dozens of times during a three hour drive – mass production substituting as wit. When my boys learned to read I got plenty of questions when stopped behind one of these traveling billboards for poor taste, most of which I didn’t think I would need to answer until they were at least teenagers. On the opposite end was a plate GDBHVOR, which I am assuming was a released convict or a nun or a released convict nun. Not to be too picky, but I really hate vanity plates I can’t decode. They occupy way too much of my brain power and distract from my defensive driving. I’m thinking I should create my own plate with random letters and numbers just to confuse the people following me.

My final pet peeve is people who put down soccer. I don’t expect everyone will be a fan, although the two most popular sports in the world are soccer followed by cricket. Not being a fan doesn’t mean you have to be nasty. In July, Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, was turned into a soccer venue for a friendly match between Newcastle and Club Atlas. When the Brewers catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, was asked about soccer he replied, “I don’t much like it. I like a game where there’s some action and some scoring.” Really? Baseball is my second-favorite spectator sport, but I will readily admit that there are huge stretches of time when nothing is happening: inning breaks, pitching changes, call disputes, injury time-outs, and just plain slow play. Football stops every 3 to 10 seconds for a huddle or time out or an injury, yet no one would accuse it of not being an action sport. Do I hate baseball games that end up 1-0 or 2-1 because they lack scoring? No, because I appreciate the many facets of the sport that lead to that score:  amazing fielding, strong pitching, nail-biting bases loaded and nobody out, and cutting down the runner at second. An athlete like Lucroy should at least value the skill behind the sport and certainly not accuse soccer of lacking action, which he can’t defend. Few sports run virtually uninterrupted for 45 minutes. Soccer is drama from the close strikes, to the contention on the field, and even to the “injury” flops. People have their favorite sports and teams for their own reasons, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of the reputation of other sports. When I’m at a party or the pool and I mention my sons play soccer, I hate being met with a superior sneer of, “I hate soccer. It’s boring,” as if that should be the final verdict on the subject. Sure it might be boring to some people, especially if they don’t understand the level of training and skill required to play the sport, but that doesn’t make it a bad choice for either a player or a fan. Baseball is boring to many people around the world. Cricket is pretty boring to most Americans. Yet these sports also generate lots of fan enthusiasm and interest. We live in a bubble here in the States because professional sports is big money and soccer is down low on that scale. We equate profits with likeability. Ask the NFL how well their European League did. How many Germans know who Alex Rodriguez is, or Aaron Rodgers for that matter?  I just want some respect for the sport my kids chose to play and still enjoy playing and watching. That’s a pet peeve that might actually get resolved in time.

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Civility Requested

Susan Boyd

Just preceding this year’s football season, Baraboo (WI) High School issued a directive to students, coaches and parents. First, there will be no coaching from the sidelines. Second, no one may jeer, taunt or belittle the spectators, players and coaches of the opposition or the officials. Third, no one can post negative comments on social media about a game, the handling of a game, individual players, or a team. These directives come with consequences, which range from an admonishment to being removed from a game to suspension, even as extreme as expulsion for serious infractions. Players might be benched for a game or even a season. Additionally, the reprimands for parents could be enforced on their children as well. The various degrees of punishment are clearly spelled out and will be administered by a disciplinary committee. Baraboo is serious about requiring civility at school functions. News outlets across the states picked up the story and hustled to various football practices to get people’s opinions. If the reports can be believed, everyone supports Baraboo’s policy.

We constantly hear about behaviors getting out of hand at youth sporting events due to the dangerous combination of heightened emotions, parental expectations, and pride. Most youth programs have addressed the issue of civility asking its fans, players, coaches and officials to practice respect for one another. My grandson’s soccer team had parents sign a form affirming that they would not be negative on the sidelines. Of course grandparents, neighbors, and friends aren’t a part of those pacts. When we came to Archer’s game, my daughter gently let me know of what was expected, but I’m sure not every parent spoke to the outsiders they brought to the matches. Robbie’s team had several hot-headed parents who got in verbal and nearly physical battles with parents of the opposing team several times a season. Many college fans will regularly sit behind the goal nets and taunt the keeper. Fan chants and cheers often center on brow-beating the opponents, so it’s no wonder people feel the freedom to be snarky. Since we watch much of our sports televised in the quiet and anonymity of our homes, we get used to yelling at teams, players, coaches, and officials freely and even obscenely. It’s not surprising we carry that behavior onto the field. The obvious question is will a policy with clear consequences help curb the negative and occasionally violent fan behavior.

Naturally, it’s discouraging to even ask the question. We shouldn’t need penalties to ensure decency. Yet it has become an unfortunate reality that behaviors have grown more and more boorish. As parents and players measure success as moving to the next level with a winning record, it becomes more likely that the stakes will be cloaked in deep emotion. Parents take it upon themselves to bear the slings and arrows kids experience during play and may react with anger, disbelief and physical confrontation. Parents’ vicarious feelings of failure can lead to language and actions which don’t promote politeness. It’s regrettable that decorum has deteriorated to the point that a school has to implement a disciplinary policy to address the issue of civility. We should all be able to control our behaviors without the threat of punishment hanging over us to keep us in line. Nevertheless, we’ve seen courtesy diminish in all areas of our lives. We experience insolent salespersons and managers. People cut ahead in lines. Road rage incidents have increased 7 percent per year since 1990, escalating beyond verbal battles to more and more physical confrontations. The incidents are prompted by people not using courtesy when driving and other drivers not being able to let go of being disrespected. AAA suggests that to avoid being a victim of road rage drivers should practice considerate techniques. Though this may seem a bit like putting the burden on a victim for someone else’s bad behaviors, AAA recognizes that there are drivers out there who ignore the polite rules of the road for their own selfish reasons, which comes across as an act of defiance and being discourteous. All these behaviors rarely have consequences and occur nearly daily. The reasons are anxiety, narcissism, lack of morals, and just thoughtlessness.

Perhaps policies established by clubs and schools can help control one part of this downturn in good manners and in so doing help us adjust our attitudes in other areas of our lives. It’s a monumental task. Putting the responsibility for this change on our institutions ignores the fact that it really should begin in our homes. Parents should be modeling good behaviors for our kids, but we often fall short. I discovered early on that I could control my outbursts at games better if I was sitting than if I was up and pacing. I also had to be diligent. It required teaching myself some catch phrases so I could avoid shouting out something negative: Unlucky, too bad, oops, tough play. I also had to force myself to be more positive locating a good moment to highlight rather than anxiously awaiting disaster. In no way was I perfect or even close to perfect. As late as Robbie’s last year in college soccer I ended up shouting out about the opposing goal keeper crossing the goal line before executing a punt. I clearly remember Robbie’s sharp look up in my direction – a rebuke I absolutely deserved. We do get caught up in the moment and we do want to somehow be able to manipulate the outcome by rattling the opposition, questioning the officials, or coaching our own kids. When we feel slighted or abused, we naturally lash out, and we often take our kids’ perceived injustices personally so we tend to act out at games. However, we need to work on two factors:  Not taking what happens to our kids as happening personally to us and practicing self-control in our reactions. Our children watch what we do, so when they see us being rude at games it gives them permission to do likewise.

I’ve seen teams rattling a coffee can filled with coins dropped in by parents every time the team scores a goal. We also know of “swear” jars where family members have to drop in a quarter for every curse word uttered. I wonder if teams shouldn’t have a “civility” can where parents who shout out negative comments, question officials, demean opposing players, or have a physical confrontation must pay fines on a scale measured by the infraction. This system has a double benefit:  It makes money for a team project or event and it puts parents on notice that discourteousness won’t be tolerated. We shouldn’t need punitive punishments to insure that we all behave, but unfortunately we don’t seem able to control ourselves. If we can develop better manners at youth sports hopefully it will spill over into other areas of our lives. They say kindness is contagious which is wonderful, but I also think rudeness is equally contagious. No one wants to be on the receiving end of criticism, especially discourteous criticism, so we tend to fight back which only keeps the tit for tat going and intensifying. We have to be willing to say “enough.”  Finding ways to stay positive, remind those around us to refrain from negative comments, and not responding to the taunts of others will go a long way to diffusing situations and in so doing increasing civility. Our kids won’t win every match, likewise we don’t need to be right in every circumstance. Learning to pick our battles, being okay with some rudeness, and not answering in kind should have a ripple effect not only in our lives, but the lives of our children and those with whom we come in contact.

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ODP Trials in Arizona

Sam Snow

The US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program ( is flourishing under the Arizona sun. This past weekend I attended the open try-outs of Arizona Youth Soccer ODP ( I was pleased to accept the invitation from Austin Daniels, technical director and Karla Thompson, assistant technical director to attend the trials at the wonderful soccer facilities at Grande Sports World ( in Casa Grande. The visit allowed me to work with the state staff coaches, to observe the players and to speak with the players’ parents.

The weekend US Youth Soccer ODP trials began with a meeting on Friday evening for the state staff coaches. Coach Thompson heads up the Program for the state association. She ran an efficient and productive meeting for a room full of coaches from across the state who work in the clubs, high schools and colleges. Age group assignments, designated fields were noted and the detailed weekend schedule was reviewed. A very good professional standard was set. The staff stayed at the complex hotel and had their meals together. That allowed time and opportunity for the staff coaches to bond, extend their professional connections, review the player evaluations and share their ideas on coaching high performance players.

Saturday morning began with me running the coaches through a session on the field. The training session focused on playing out of the defending third and into midfield. That piece of the American style of play is the foundation unearthed in the US Youth Soccer ODP Coaching Manual. All four US Youth Soccer regions and the 55 state associations use the Manual as a progressive plan to help all of the players in the program evolve to an international level of play. The Manual gives us a uniform approach to develop players in the Program across the nation for both boys and girls. The starting point is how to keep possession of the ball and play our way out of the back third into midfield with good control of the ball and a tactically sound attacking shape around the ball.  Coaches may download the US Youth Soccer ODP Coaching Manual here.

Saturday afternoon arrived and the administrators did an outstanding job of checking in hundreds of players at a time. Each day was divided into three 90 minute sessions with three age groups of boys and girls attending the trials in each session. In the end, over 1,000 players turned up for the open try-outs, which was very impressive on its own account and even more so given the 110 degree days. The coaches and the players handled the climate well with water breaks every 10 minutes, player rotations in the training activities and eating appropriately to meet the athletic demands of the game.

The training activities consisted of small and large groups working on the tactic of buildup play from the back to the half way line. Once the groups were playing 9 vs. 9 at the end of the sessions on Sunday the players were showing real improvement on the tactics for this aspect of attacking play.  Goalkeepers consistently played short distributions, attackers worked to inter-pass to keep possession while penetrating up field and quality soccer ensued.

Each age group had two full sessions, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. On Saturday once the training sessions began Coach Daniels, Coach Thompson and I met with the parents of the players. Coach Daniels gave a quick overview of the Program and then had Coach Thompson give details pertinent to the age groups for the parents in the room. I then spoke about the national scope of the Program, why there was a particular training theme and the reality of moving up the soccer pyramid which requires the adults to have a long term perspective. I told the parents that they must help their child with the proper balance of short and long term goals to stay on the pathway for high performance soccer. This is a twisting and turning pathway which demands confidence and perseverance from the players and their parents. Success is not instant nor lasting in high performance soccer. Coach Daniels and I then completed each parent meeting with time for Q and A.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill

The entire weekend went very well. Even though the challenge of the Olympic Development Program is steep, the players showed their best, learned more about the game and carried on down the path toward the possibility of playing in a World Cup or the Olympic Games. I encourage you as a player, coach, administrator or referee to participate in US Youth Soccer ODP as soon as you can.

Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes, courage is that quiet voice that says...I will try again tomorrow. – Mary Anne Radmacher

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But Does It Pay?

Susan Boyd

Forbes came out with its list of highest earning athletes for 2015. Numbers three and four were Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, earning $80 million and $74 million, respectively. Other than Fortune 500 CEOs and the world’s richest people, no other profession garners such press about what they earn. When a player is signed to a team, that declaration is always followed by a statement on salary and bonuses. Every year the numbers escalate, and we gasp to hear what someone makes for athletic prowess and the transfer fees clubs are willing to lay down for their services. The English Premier League just began its season, and I was watching a match with Manchester City where the announcers declared that Nicolas Otamendi had been purchased from Valencia for $56 million. Double-digit million dollar salaries have become common place in the world of sports, and athletes can supplement their contracts with bonuses and endorsements. It’s no wonder we parents look at our budding soccer player and wonder if he or she will be so blessed.

That siren call of mega-salaries encourages us to see the next Clint Dempsey or Abby Wambach in our children. However, the closest any of us come to any sort of professional sports contract is primarily through a six degrees of separation situation. In our family, my daughters went to high school with the present manager of the Milwaukee Brewers and my workmate at Wisconsin ODP had a son who played briefly for several MLS teams. The left forward to Robbie’s right on his US Youth Soccer ODP team now plays for Columbus Crew. Bryce actually had a one year contract to play professional indoor soccer at $50 a game – double-digits at the wrong end of the pay scale. Most of us have stories about a player we know who went on to play professionally, but it’s rarely our own child. That doesn’t discourage us from keeping an eye on professional salaries and wondering if we have the offspring who’ll make the cut. Robbie and Bryce liked to design villages made out of sponges, cardboard, and glue, yet I admit I didn’t obsess at the idea of them becoming contractors or architects the same way I thought about them advancing in sports. I just took it as part of childhood play. There’s something about athletics which makes us think far more long-term than any other activity in which our kids participate.

That elusive but huge carrot at the end of the stick somehow creates an atmosphere where we expect something tangible from playing sports. It’s not enough that kids have the chance to run and screech, learn some athletic skills, share fun with their friends, and get some exercise. If there is to be youth sports, there has to be wins, trophies, rankings and honors. But most importantly, there has to be a future that kids strive toward – travel team, US Youth Soccer ODP, high school, college, professional. Parents see this as one continuous road that our kids will travel, so we often miss the signs that our child has either had enough of that sport or isn’t up to the next level. We can’t imagine our players quitting or not achieving. The concept of youth sports has morphed into a production line with heavy expectations of the quality and complexity of the final product.

The long-term tangible of sports would be salary, but we also look to the more short-term. This may explain why kids get participation trophies. As result-based as we are in competitions, we seem not to be content with only wins. If you can’t win, then at least you can feel appreciated. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison turned to social media to express his frustration with these awards. When his boys attended a camp this summer they both came home with participation trophies, which Harrison made them return. His argument was that he couldn’t raise his boys “to be men by making them believe they are entitled to something.” He expressed his pride in and support for everything his boys did, but he felt they had to earn their rewards through effort and talent. The argument has raged for decades – some saying these awards help create stronger self-esteem with others saying it promotes a culture of entitlement. When The Today Show reported on this story, it ran a poll asking if kids should receive trophies, medals and ribbons for participation. The results were an overwhelming 93 percent for “no,” a surprise considering how much society values overt indications of achievement. I’ve often felt that these participation incentives were more for the parents than for the child. They provide material evidence that the child is progressing, even when that’s not true. But perhaps the tide is turning.

Parents may actually need encouragement more than the kids. Youth players usually define success in terms that adults don’t use: having fun, seeing friends, running, goofing around, and, yes, even scoring a goal. Adults see success in terms of outcomes: wins, scoring, trophies, getting an honor, playing time, and team standing. Kids become concerned with those things, but they grow into those expectations as they witness their importance with the adults surrounding them. Taking the next step in a sport by elevating a level in competition can be very important to parents, but less so to kids. Youth athletes often just want to be on a team with their friends and have fun doing it. Most youth players rarely hang on to any disappointment over a loss, even a very lopsided one. They have a much different agenda – what are they doing after the game, what’s the snack, can they go out for pizza. The same holds true for a win. Trophies are nice, but after a ceremony I frequently found those ribbons, medals, and trophies stuffed in drawers, packed away in boxes, even left under the car seats. The boys had shelves reserved for displaying the hardware, but because they got so many awards for things that had nothing to do with being champions, the value of everything was diminished. A hard fought victory, even a well fought loss, meant more than the promise of swag.

It’s difficult to hear about highly paid athletes and not feel both envy and ambition. We parents are all well past the point where we could hope to earn those salaries, but our kids possess the possibility. Even manufactured rather than true accomplishment makes us believe the dream could happen. And it may, but only for a few grains of sand on the beach. Kids concern themselves with the process while adults consider outcomes demonstrated by discernible rewards. We focus on progress in the form of advancement in competitiveness, records, awards, and even money. We forget the real reason kids play sports, which has nothing to do with accomplishment. While youth players do enjoy wins and accept a trophy with pride, these aren’t the reasons they participate. For them a participation award is the opportunity to be with friends, play with abandon, and just have fun. That’s something that actually has value.

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