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

 

Keeping the Lid on Costs

Susan Boyd

Recently, my oldest son announced he needed new cleats. As he put it: “Nothing special. Certainly, not top of the line. I just need cleats that don’t rip apart.” He said this right before he informed me cleats fitting those three categories apparently cost $220 to $270. Yeah, right. When I went online and looked, I discovered plenty of cleats in the $70 to $150 range, so I wondered how the ones he touted weren’t “top of the line.” He had no response other than to say he needed the right weight and durability and, of course, the right colors. I had run into the technology wall. Soccer equipment, which used to be serviceable boots and something round to kick, has now moved into the realm of super-scientifically designed gear. Cleats have become an impressive selection of incredibly lightweight, colorful, streamlined and transitory purchases. New car models have nothing on new shoe models. How do parents fight our children’s urge to gravitate to the shiniest and therefore most expensive baubles in the soccer shop?              

Sports products are driven by the professional athletes in the sport. Whatever high-end equipment the superstars use immediately floods the stores, fulfilling the dreams of thousands of youth fans. If Ronaldo runs faster in 3-ounce shoes, then every kid believes he or she will also run faster. Boots in radiant color schemes that light up the pitch in a UEFA Champions League game continue their siren call from the shelves of the local soccer shop. Soccer balls that promise straighter passes and elegant bends serve up rapid sales. Team jerseys, practice shirts, and warm-ups run two to five times the cost of regular soccer clothing. Throw in scarves, pennants, posters, t-shirts, and training DVDS and books to create a black hole of expense for the soccer family. Finding the happy medium can prove elusive, especially when one kid on the team shows up in the most expensive cleats. Just like we all stop and gape as a bright yellow Lamborghini purrs by, kids do the same for top-of-the-line soccer gear. We end up not only trying to keep up with the Joneses, but also with the junior Messis, Wambachs, Beckhams and Drogbas. We are fighting a tide of trendiness.              

First of all, very few players need specialized gear other than for the cool factor. While light-weight cleats are great for giving an extra split-second of speed, they also offer less foot stability and support. Youth players with their developing bones and muscles don’t have the physical strengths to make effective, safe use of such specifically designed gear. While they may have faster feet, they may also end up with Achilles’ tendon strains, ankle sprains, calf and shin cramps, and arch collapses due to inappropriate equipment for their developmental level. The damage can extend to other joints, especially knees, as the body tries to compensate for inadequate support at foot level. Luckily the major companies, such as Nike and adidas, have recognized the twinkling lure of the professional gear and create various levels of the same gear with slight exterior design tweaks on the proper “chassis” for a child’s feet. Kids will recognize the design differences, but when parents appear willing to spring for a less fancy model that at least mimics the higher-end prototype, they will often be happy to concur. Ask at the soccer shop or run a search online for these kid and budget friendlier products. Ultimately cost and safety should take the front seat in making your selection. Discuss with your kids the possibility that injuries, even soccer ending injuries, could result from making the wrong choice of cleats. Most kids will understand and happily accept a small change in design to get a pair of the cooler cleats rather than the pragmatic basic black brand.             

The older the player, the tougher that argument is to win. The good news is that teen players usually have stopped growing, or at least growing rapidly, so that a pair of shoes can fit one or two seasons. Your budget may allow for a more expensive model but not for all the sparkling options that assault players entering the soccer or sports store. You can put the responsibility on your child. Offer the mid-priced option, but agree that if your child wants to spring for the difference in price between that and the top-of-the-line model, then that would be a possibility. I found my sons, when faced with that choice, let me pay for the mid-price and kept their money. Coolness had a price they let me sacrifice for, but not themselves. Older players also can work to earn some of these treats. State Associations are always looking for referees. The flexibility of officiating games when the player’s schedule allows makes this a great job for soccer kids. Many clubs will pay their players to mow and line fields, run concession stands and clean public areas, including bathrooms. Again, these jobs offer some flexibility. Getting a job with a store like Sports Authority not only provides a pay check, but also gives the employee a steep discount on store merchandise. So that’s a great way for a player to stock up on the elite equipment they crave.             

Team jerseys rarely come with a discount. They can cost $120 to $200. This is the time to alert grandparents to the wish list. They can purchase gift certificates to major distributors and online soccer sites for special occasions like birthdays and graduations. There are off-brand replica possibilities for several teams, but rarely for Premier League teams and players. Online auction sites might offer jerseys, albeit discontinued styles, for a bargain. The same holds true for warm-ups. These specialized jerseys shouldn’t be impulse buys. Also consider less expensive official team training jerseys. They aren’t as fancy but come in all the team colors and designs. They can run as low as $50, a much more palatable price for a young family. Saving these purchases, which aren’t necessary to play the game, for significant moments will make them more meaningful and let our kids know that focusing on their development is the important point of spending money. However, I will agree that kids find validation in their sports’ choices by identifying with particular teams and players. Since soccer’s popularity is still evolving in America, finding those factors that make a kid feel proud are important. The cheapest way to do that is by supporting them at their games, attending high school, college and professional games as a family, and watching games on TV. Creating the bonds between parent and child also creates the pride in the sport and the child’s participation in the sport.          

Soccer balls make me crazy. First of all, hundreds of thousands of skillful players grew up kicking a can, a melon, a threadbare ball or a piece of wood. So paying over $50 for any soccer ball seems ridiculously extravagant. Then I’ll ask you how many soccer balls your child has lost over the years? I bought a 2006 World Cup ball for nearly $200 for my boys with strict orders it was not to be used for practice. One week later it was lost in the canal behind the Marquette University fields because they brought it to US Youth Soccer ODP practice. UGH! Unless you are in the business of collecting sports memorabilia, there’s no need for such fancy expensive balls. I have found great balls for $3 at Goodwill and kept a huge supply in the trunk for practices and games. Often these balls were selected as the game ball because they were actually quite good. Invest in two good pumps — one for the garage and one for the trunk — and then three or four inexpensive balls. Kids can claim a fancy ball, but when it comes down to it, balls become communal once they hit the pitch, so there’s no need to help a teammate go home with your expensive treasure. Occasionally, high schools and colleges may sell or give away their old balls, so that’s worth a phone call to the appropriate athletic directors.      

Today, I’m addressing the issue of my son’s shoes the way I always have. I set a budget and if he wants to go over it, then that’s up to him. I did the research, and, for half the price, I found the same shoes just a half ounce heavier with a slightly different color scheme. He’s trying to save for a car and the insurance to cover it, so having flashy cleats will steal away from having a serviceable car. We’ll see what he opts to do. When all else fails, I return to the speech he hates, but knows is true. I put 10 pennies on the table which each represent $100. Then we look at choices he has to make every day with his limited budget. It’s a tangible representation of the budget none of us want to acknowledge constrains us. A lot of pennies skittered off to the side for rent, car payment, car insurance and food — leaving just one to represent anything vaguely “disposable income,” a term I scoff at. I feel like all we do in the year is dispose of our income and rarely for something fun and extra. That remaining penny also had to cover any emergency and any savings. Looking at the pile of pennies at first seems comforting and sufficient; pulling them out one by one shows how transient his finances actually are. He hates the penny demo, but he also appreciates how it reminds him to stay focused on what is really important. I’m hoping cleats with the coolest gradations of orange are less important in the grand scheme of things.

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Soccer is Like School

Sam Snow

When I make a presentation to a club or in discussion with coaches at a coaching school, I often make the connection that a young soccer player’s growth in the game is VERY similar to their growth as a student. The timeline to high quality performance is about the same, in their twenties. The variety of types of learners (players) and teachers (coaches) is about the same and the need for clear communication with parents is the same.

I’ve found that the academic analogy works well with most adults. They know that their second grader isn’t ready for Geometry; other mathematics must be learned first. Pick any subject and there is a foundation that must be learned before going on to advanced study. Grammar school children are not ready for college academics. Those same children are not ready to play the adult version of soccer. Both academic and athletic development take decades to achieve.

Club leaders must work on club management through a dedicated player development model. The analogy would be to speak of the many years of schooling, with continuous "training", starting with the basic building blocks prior to a kid being ready to enter the job market and compete for jobs.

The business connection of a school and a youth soccer club reflect one another as well. Both are not for profit organizations. Yet they must have a sound business plan to keep the doors open in order to achieve their mission. The mission of the school is the academic development of the student. The mission of the club is the soccer development of the player. Remember, we’re talking about the same kid here. For most of the day that kid is a student in school and later in the same day he or she is a player in the club. But who’s the customer and who’s the consumer is different in both settings.

At the school and the club the parents are the customer in that they pay the costs involved. The consumer is the student at school – academic matriculation. The consumer at the club is the player – soccer matriculation. In the youth soccer club setting there is clearly a difference between the customer and the consumer.

It’s roughly twenty years to end up with a college or post-graduate degree and the time line is the same for the majority of players to high level soccer performance.

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Get Organized

Susan Boyd

Every spring, I reevaluate my organizational needs for soccer. Manufacturers recognize how important tidiness is for active families juggling kids with lots of activities. I’m always amazed and pleased to see what new products come available that can smooth out the chaos of getting ready for soccer and traveling to practices, games, and tournaments. Helping me out is the latest issue of Real Simple magazine, which is devoted entirely to organization. I discovered several great ideas that should help everyone out and then sprinkled in a few of the hints I’ve found that work for me or for my friends.            

The best hint I got from Real Simple was a mom who used EnviroSax to keep her kids organized. You can certainly use any sack you want, but I personally own a dozen of these huge “sacs” that I have used for three years to carry groceries, clothing and firewood, along with scores of other usages and all I need to do is throw the bags in the washer and they come out good as new. This mom provides each of her children a bag for each of their activities. She attaches a luggage tag to the bag with the child’s name on one side with the activity (i.e. Billy - soccer) and on the other side she lists all the items necessary to participate in the activity (i.e. cleats, jersey, shorts, socks, shin guards etc.) That way she can look quickly at the list and the items in the bag, replenishing what needs to be added. It also makes it easy for babysitters, grandparents and neighbors to help out without her having to print out instructions. The idea is so simple I’m surprised I didn’t come across it sooner. But I think it’s a brilliant way to keep things all orderly and complete. EnviroSax sell for around $8 for one sack or $35 for five sacks. There’s even a Sesame Street set. They come in a small carry bag and roll up to just a tiny percentage of their full size. Luggage tags can be found on Zazzle.com with thousands of options in just about any price range.           

A second wonderful suggestion from a mom is a product called Cocoon Grid It. This comes in a variety of sizes and is essentially a flat board covered in heavy-duty nylon. On one side there are dozens of interwoven elastic straps, which will hold all those items in your purse, backpack or soccer bag that fall down to the bottom and get lost. You can put things in it like charging cords for your phone, the phone, Chap Stick, headphones, pens, pencils, extra keys, shoelaces, sunscreen, any little things you carry with you. Once you get the items stuck into the straps, you can then slide the entire Cocoon into your purse, backpack, car seat pocket or bag. Then, just pull the entire board out to retrieve what you want when you want it. The prices range from 7x 9 inches for $15 to 8x10 inches for $18 to 9.5x15 inches for $25 from CocoonInnovations.com and come in a variety of colors. These boards seem to be a great, inexpensive solution to the tiny clutter we all accumulate when we travel and have kids. You could fill these with arts and crafts to slide into car seat pockets.             

I recommend getting everything organized before the season starts into what I have termed “the soccer box.” You can get as big a box as you need, either a cardboard one or a specialty one to fit whatever you feel you will use at most soccer games. I suggest towels (to wipe down bleacher seats after rain or to dry off hair), blankets, toilet paper, paper towels, bug spray, sunscreen, extra gloves and hats, several bottles of water, extra t-shirts (light and dark) in case someone forgets their jersey, extra socks (there is nothing worse than playing several games in wet socks), flashlight, paper and pen, and I’ve even thrown a calculator in there, although now with smart phones you probably don’t need it. Just think about what you used or wish you had last season and throw that in the box. There’s a three compartment trunk organizer from Picnic at Ascot that holds tons of those soccer box needs like first aid kits, extra clothing, tire pumps and toilet paper (trust me this is a must to have along for the ride!). Amazon.com offers the organizer, which also includes a removable cooler, for $46.75. The entire product collapses if you want to create more trunk space, but in my experience once you fill it up, you’ll never empty it. Along that line you might want to get a car emergency kit that includes battery cables, aerosol tire refill, ice scraper, and shammy cloths. AAA has a great kit with flashlight, batteries, booster cables, first aid kit, poncho, duct tape, fuses and cloths for $25, which Amazon sells for $19.50.              

My top suggestion is to keep a roll of large 33 gallon trash bags and 13 gallon kitchen bags to deal with all the clothing and shoes covered in mud, grass, turf chips and rain. Throw the large bags on the floor of your car to protect against those muddy cleats. Use the kitchen bags to hold rain and mud-soaked uniforms without letting out the stench and the stains on your upholstery. I’ve used them for over a decade and found them to be the best solution for protecting the car’s interior, not to mention the passengers’ sense of smell. I’ve hosed down the large trash bags and reused them. I know there are those WeatherTech liners, but they run about $100 and the garbage bags are less than $20. Not nearly as attractive, but you remove them when not needed.             

The one thing that seems to get out of hand quickly in the truck are those soccer chairs. Once a game is over, few of us want to spend the time shoving the chair back in its travel bag, or we end up losing those. The stack of chairs tend to collapse and are hard to keep contained in a small area. A 30x50-inch military duffle bag will hold four or five chairs easily, keeping them tightly packed in one place. The bag is canvas, so very sturdy and only costs $25 at Militaryuniformsupply.com. There are smaller bags, but the large one leaves room to stuff in some blankets. The duffle bag has two shoulder straps to allow you to carry all your chairs at once to the fields. There is an option for $55, which has wheels should you feel so inclined, but is smaller, so less versatile.            

Traveling to tournaments, especially if you are the team parent, can mean tons of paperwork that never seems to stay organized and the pages you need get shuffled around and lost. Obviously, a three-ring binder would help. Beyond that, I got a great hint from a friend. She prints the various paperwork on different colored paper, depending on the purpose. So, for example, the hotel confirmations are printed on pink, the rental car on green, the airline itinerary on yellow, etc. Although you could invest in tabs, you still have to sort through to find the right tab. The different colored paper is a quick visual cue that can be readily detected. If something gets out of order you’ll be able to see that immediately. I found this a wonderful way to keep things straight.              

I don’t know if it happens to you, but my sons managed to see one cleat or one shin guard in their bags and assume both were in there, only to make the disturbing discovery that in fact there was only one when they arrived at the fields. I found that large office loose-leaf rings are a great way to keep items in pairs. You can thread the ring through cleat shoelace eyelets or through the shin guards. You can even use them to clip all the uniform pieces together by slipping the ring through the jersey and shorts. Chip bag clips can be used to hold the socks or goalkeeper gloves together. One friend uses her daughter’s hair clips for the same purpose. I don’t like putting things in zip bags because all too often one item is “used” and the moisture and smell just cultivate in the bags. However, there are small mesh laundry bags that breathe and can be used for gathering items together. Ikea sells these as bags to put delicates in the washer and come in packs of three for $9. The advantage of the bags is that you can put the soiled wet socks in one and the uniforms in another and then just throw them in the washer when you get home. They are also great for gently washing gloves, shin guards and knee pads.              

Keeping the garage organized can be the final frontier in maintaining your soccer sanity. Kids love to shove their bags into any open space on the garage floor, leaving us to trip over them. There are three simple ways to get these organized. You can use the “J” hooks sold to hang bicycles as a place to hang the bags. You decide where to put them, tag them for each kid, and ask them to hoist their bags on the hooks once they have cleaned out what they need washed. There is also a bike hanging pole you can install that serves the same purpose but they usually run $65 to $100. However, if you have limited space, the pole will keep all the soccer bags in one corner of the garage without robbing lots of space.  There are also sports equipment organizing racks for around $45, but in my experience they aren’t big enough to handle large soccer bags, especially more than one. I really advocate for the hooks which are inexpensive and easy to install. Our driveway is inclined and loose balls in the garage invariably roll into the courtyard across the street.  Rubbermaid makes a vertical ball storage rack called The Fast Track that sells for $22 on Amazon. It’s a metal cage tube with two bungee bands in the front. You simply push the balls through the elastic into the wire cage which holds up to five balls. You can also invest in a portable basketball rack with three shelves that hold a total of 12 balls. It costs $74 from Martin Sports and takes up some floor space, whereas the Rubbermaid rack hangs on the wall. Any over-the-door shoe rack hung on the garage side of the back door can keep those soccer cleats off the floor, airing out, and readily accessible. The rack also encourages kids to remove the cleats before entering the house.            

Anything we can do to minimize the disorder that comes with kids in multiple activities, each with its own set of equipment and clothing needs, means snatching extra sanity for our days. If you find you have a particular organizational dilemma, ask fellow parents how they handle it. Necessity is the mother of invention, and parents have lots of necessity to be inventive. Most solutions run under $25, so you can stay in budget while staying uncluttered. The more we get organized, the more we find our stress reduced. When we arrive at the fields relatively stress-free we can enjoy the game better and our kids will be happier. It’s all about finding the method to reduce the madness.

 

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Finding the Right Balance

Sam Snow

I am a parent from Southern California and I have question.

I was wondering if you have done a story in the past or possibly consider a future story regarding the clash between Club Soccer and High School Soccer. What do the experts say about practicing twice a day? Once at high school and then at club practice? My daughter plays on a team heading to National League in 3 weeks, we asked our high school coach to let our daughter sustain from high school practice (contact drills) until she returns from North Carolina.

My daughter played varsity (goalkeeper) as a freshmen last year and was injured at high school practice. She missed nearly 90% of the high school season. I was watching high school practice last year when she was injured. The previous high school coached was running a Keeper vs Field player (One-on-One) drill for nearly an hour. As time went on the field players became more reckless. So this year as a sophomore we do not want to take a chance of our daughter getting hurt.

 

Coaches of elite players absolutely must educate the player and the player’s parents on striking the right balance of activity. It is also very helpful when that player’s coaches are all involved in the discussion. Connecting those coaches is the responsibility of the player. We are mistaken when we think that a teenaged player has boundless energy and therefore can play in multiple demanding soccer events. No athlete has inexhaustible energy. All athletes need recovery time from strenuous events (matches, tournaments or demanding training sessions).

The coaches of high performance players are well aware that the player is on more than one team and to act as if that’s not the case is very selfish of them. The coach who really cares about the individual player, as well as the team performance, will take into account the physical and mental demands on a high performance player who is being asked to play the most number of minutes in every match on the schedule and is likely on more than one team not only in a year, but perhaps in a season. The coach who sees the big picture will give the player good counsel on when to take time off, will put that player in regeneration sessions as it fits that players soccer schedule (even if that’s out of synch with the rest of the team) and will reach out to the player’s parents to give them facts on proper sleep, hydration, days off and nutrition for the player under heavy demands.

The coach who is interested in the player’s long term career in soccer as well as performance in the immediate season will also reach out to those other coaches to work on a sensible schedule for the high performance player. Coaches who only care about their team’s performance to the exclusion of all else will not do any of the steps just described.

It is the well-educated coach who is more likely to make the balanced decision with the player. For example the three slides below are from the U.S. Soccer “E” and “D” license coaching courses and they speak directly to over training and over playing a player or team.
 

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Coaches have an obligation to make well informed decisions that affect players’ health.

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