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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." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Roughing the Ref

Susan Boyd

We love them. We hate them. Officials, referees, umpires. Since “referee” is actually defined as the arbitrator of disputes, controversy is a central part of their job description. So it’s no wonder that we view with suspicion and occasional derision these men and women with whistles and loud voices who have the power to affect the outcome of a game by disallowing a goal, awarding a PK, issuing yellow and, worse, red cards, or calling back a play. Our emotions run high during a game, and officiating only further inflames our ire or our joy. We cheer them or jeer them depending on how they rule, but we don’t interfere. Fans and players are traditionally restrained when it comes to physically accosting the official. In professional sports, games have been remarkably free of conflict between player and referee other than verbal scoffs, some dirt kicking, and an occasional finger in the chest. Perhaps the threat of a loss of income or even their job keep players in line. However there has been a recent disturbing trend in youth sports of actual physical attacks on the referees which may be indicative of growing open disrespect that young people express toward adults.

This growth has been documented in statistics, but we all have witnessed the increase in media reports. Reflecting this trend, The National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), now has a choice on its phone answering system for a caller to report an assault. The increase in reports prompted NASO to add assault coverage to its liability insurance that every member has a chance to purchase. There are 450,000 sports officials in the United States and 22,000 avail themselves of this insurance with the number increasing each year. The president of NASO, Barry Mano, stated to USA Today that the biggest need for the insurance has come from rec and youth leagues covering officials for all games no matter who sanctions the event.

Two recent incidents highlighted the dangerous situations in which referees have found themselves. In San Antonio early in this season, two high school players assaulted an official, Robert Watts, at a game. First, one player came from behind and tackled the ref, then the second player dove at him helmet first. Luckily, Watts was shaken but not seriously injured, although the results could have been worse. The attack was filmed and made YouTube, getting thousands of views and national attention. But Mano points out that in 2011 and 2013 two soccer officials were killed in separate incidents within 17 months of one another, but because there was no social media response, the cases were virtually unreported. One was at a youth game and the other was at an adult recreation game, and both attacks were by players. Mano used to counsel his umpires to avoid the parents who have a huge emotional investment in their kids’ games, but since 2011 more and more injuries to referees have come from players, many of them younger than 19. NASO now keeps track of assaults on its members, beginning in 1996, and there are have been dozens, many of them resulting in convictions for assault. In 2014 alone, reported player attacks on officials in amateur youth competitions occurred in sports as varied as boxing, soccer, basketball, softball and football. We have no idea how many other attacks there were against officials without affiliation with NASO or that never generated a police report. Presently, 20 states have legislated criminal laws addressing assault of sports officials by either identifying a new specific crime or adding penalties to existing criminal legislation. Two states have dealt with the problems by instituting new civil statues.

Normally we might accuse the behavior of professional athletes for influencing youth players to behave badly, but for the most part professionals confine their officiating objections to bad language and side line tantrums without directly confronting any referees. The real culprits seem to be a combination of overly zealous parents and a notable decrease in respect and civility toward referees. Kids understand how huge an investment their parents have in the outcome of a game and how significant their expectations are in the child’s play. When things don’t go as desired, a player will project his or her disappointment on the referees, whose calls might have set their success back. The intensity of their feelings and their need for the achievement they feel is necessary for approval, added to their immaturity, leads to impulsive and wrong-headed decisions. If parents continually don’t regard officials with respect, that behavior is often mimicked by the youth who lack the natural restraint to avoid resorting to a violent response. They often don’t understand the consequences of their actions, concentrating only the perceived injustice and avenging it. Both of the officials who died were felled with a single punch, nothing more than that, with the right power and placement to cause irrevocable damage.

Spectators, who are generally parents, have been implicated in several attacks on referees, however the largest group of adult offenders are the coaches. Again, here’s a group who should be modeling character and good sportsmanship to youth players, who have instead added to the melee. In one case a coach in Cyprus actually bombed the car of a youth soccer referee. We might say, that’s not America, but we have our fair share of ugly incidents. A 34-year-old coach attacked a 16-year-old referee officiating a U-11 game, then attacked the 20-year-old assistant referee who came to the referee’s defense. A coach in Pennsylvania attempted to bribe referees in the Catholic Youth Organization (yes, a church group), and when that was uncovered he began to harass and threaten the coaches to get them to refrain from testifying against him. A coach’s attack on a New Jersey youth baseball umpire led to the state enacting Sports Rage legislation.

While nearly every incident recorded in the last 20 years has involved male attackers, female players, coaches and parents have also been guilty of boorish behavior. A youth female goalkeeper upset with a call attacked a male referee last year with a Kung Fu chop, and a female Chinese fan stormed the pitch attacking a soccer referee during a youth match. A woman in Iowa attacked a referee over a call during a youth basketball game. Behaving lady-like may garner an entirely new mixed martial arts connotation if the trend continues.

Besides offering assault insurance, requiring expulsion, and pursuing prosecution, which are all after-the-fact solutions, what can we do about this violence? Most obviously, we can demand as parents that our children behave with decorum. We need to make it clear that no matter what the school rules may be, the law, or the coach’s instructions, we expect that our players will refrain from any physical contact with officials. However, if we don’t model the proper behaviors, then we’re sending mixed messages which will only lead kids to respond with whatever immediate knee-jerk reaction seems most appropriate. We need to keep our anxiety about their success on the field from dictating our angry responses if we feel they are “failing” due to an official’s calls. We should redefine success to include the ability to behave coolly and rationally under the pressure and adverse conditions of any game. Even if we perceive a loss was due to bad officiating, or if we feel our child was unduly singled out, we need to focus on the positives and not place blame. It’s possible a bad decision by a referee could affect the outcome of a match, but in general the give and take of officiating simply spreads out the frustration to both sides. Call it tough luck when a ruling goes against your team or your child rather than calling out the person rendering the decision. We need to remember that our amateur players are being officiated by amateur referees. They may get a small stipend for their efforts, but the reality is that they do it for the love of the game, just as our kids play for their own love. Teach our children to respect the referees, even if they believe they are incompetent. Without them, the game could degenerate into a free-for-all, with a lot more brawls and injuries. If you must, call them a necessary evil, but one that should be valued for maintaining order. Next time you feel the urge to yell out at an umpire or a referee, think about who’s around listening and how your comments will affect the way they regard the authority of an official.

We won’t prevent all violent contact with referees. The nature of the job means that half the people will love them and half will hate them at every competition, and occasionally that hate will boil over into physicality. However, we can hopefully reduce some of the acting out by practicing restraint and teaching our kids to have it as well. When pro players know that if they attack a ref they will most likely lose their place on any team for life, they have learned to control their rage. If kids know the adults won’t tolerate any physical, even aggressive verbal, retaliation, they may also learn to curb their impulsive behaviors. Before more children become YouTube sensations for the wrong reasons we need to step in and give them both guidance and firm limits on which they can base their responses.

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Defending Corner Kicks

Sam Snow

Iowa Soccer runs a wonderful coaching symposium each year in Des Moines. I had the privilege to conduct some sessions for the coaches at the 2015 edition. One of the sessions that I coached was on defending against a corner kick. I thought that I’d share with you my ‘cheat sheet’ that I wrote for myself as a reminder of key points before I ran the session.

Defending at Corners – Key Points:


  • The goalkeeper is the primary organizer
  • Near post cover
    • Far post optional
  • Angle of hips to see the ball and the field
  • Positioning to get a path to the ball
  • Jump early
  • Talk – keeper or clear (away)
  • Come out to the ball or stay to handle the shot
  • If you come out then catch or punch the ball
  • If you caught the ball then do you distribute immediately or hold the ball for 6 seconds

Field Players

  • Mark the best scoring spots and then pick up runners
  • Have a marker at short corners


  • Proper positioning of the goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and forwards
  • Deal with the type of service
    • Outswinger
    • Driven ball
    • Inswinger
    • Short corner kick
  • Move first
    • Get between the ball and the opponent
  • Jump early
  • Clearance (head or foot or fists)
    • High, wide and long
    • Make the clearance into an outlet pass if possible
  • Move out together after a clearance

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Worthwhile Coach

Sam Snow

Chris Panayiotou sent out this message not long ago to a group of coaches across the country.  I think it is one that all club coaches should read. Chris is the Developmental Director of Coaching for Virginia Rush Soccer Club and the Developmental Technical Director for Rush Soccer. Here’s the message:

See how your team does on this quiz…

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.

4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for Best Actor and Actress.

6. Name the last decade’s worth of World Series Winners.

How did you do?

The point is, none of us remembers the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They’re the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Now here’s another quiz. See how you do on this one:

1. List a few teachers or coaches who aided your journey through school.

2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.

3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.

4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.

5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

6. Name a half dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.

Easier? The lesson? The people who make a difference in your life aren’t the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They’re the ones who care.


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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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