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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.

 

Use It or Lose It

Susan Boyd

Lately, I find myself in a rush to get through one day and on to the next like a child anticipating her birthday — anxious to reach the moment of cake and gifts. However, I don’t really have an objective — no major trip planned, no upcoming soccer tournament, no anniversary or special occasion.

Now I just bought one of those fitness trackers. Suddenly I want to get to the end of the day to record if I accomplished enough steps, attained the proper ratio of calories taken in versus calories expended and enjoyed a fully restful sleep. I check several times a day, measuring joy or despair over how many blinking dots flash across my display, and I begin to worry that I’m being unhealthy in my attempt to get healthy. It’s a need to move ever forward, never achieving but always producing. My life becomes cluttered by counting distance traveled and nutrition ingested while neglecting things like checking out the landscape as I hike past or savoring the taste of my meals. Even Ferris Bueller pointed out that “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

The TODAY show had a segment on teens obsessed with social media and how parents should deal with it. They used the example of a young woman who had over 2,000 Instagram followers and needed to regularly manage her account with extensive updates, responding to her followers, and staying abreast of media trends. The experts suggested the same things that have been repeated on a regular basis: Limit media time, enforce device-free zones like the dinner table and expect your child to give you access to their accounts. The problem is that parents are as egregious in their device addiction as their kids. Whenever I go to a restaurant or a movie, I see a majority of heads, both child and adult, bent over their phones with regrettably myself included. I went to a Broadway musical last month and an adult in the seats below me was regularly receiving and sending texts during the performance. Besides taking the user out of the magical theatrical experience, he or she took many of us out of it, as well.

We talk about multi-tasking, as if that means we are doubling or tripling up on our accomplishments, when in reality, we are probably missing out on the beautiful nuances and experiences of those tasks. I grew up in the era of the “Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Method,” which has been declared unviable, diminishing comprehension and even eliminating all together. Amazon just sent me an email touting their new “short versions” of bestsellers — introducing, for example, the 40-page version of “A Girl on the Train,” so we can avoid having to plow through the dense, rich imagery and ideas of the full novel (my words not theirs). They’re Cliff Notes for the new millennium. What will we really do with all that extra time we’re “saving?”

In the 1780s, Nicolas de Chamfort wrote, “Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.” How did he anticipate 150 years later our obsession with selfies, food photos, tweets that detail every mundane activity in our lives, and our narcissistic demeanors? We are busy being busy, but we never seem to really do anything. I worry that we parents are perpetuating this reflective existence.

Consider how often we watch our children’s soccer matches through the narrow lens of a camera. Since we can now take countless pictures easily without the need to have film developed, it gave us license to overdo. Instead of the freedom of watching a game unfettered by an SLR camera or smart phone, we clamp that device up to our eye. We don’t snap a picture or two to send to the grandparents; rather we memorialize the entire game because it costs us nothing but our attention, yet it is that very attention that is being compromised in those circumstances. Ironically, we are missing the big picture. We need to ask ourselves who appreciates all those photos. Even if we convince ourselves that we are creating a legacy for our children, the reality is that kids notice if they are receiving our full attention and much prefer that to some artificial reenactment of the day.

Likewise, when we concentrate on wins, we are missing out on the joy of the play. I always marvel at how the youngest soccer players seem to have no stake in the outcome of a match. They love to score and love the celebration a score permits, but at the end of the game they are far more focused on running gleefully to embraces on the sidelines and post-game snacks than on who won. Eventually, they understand the ramifications of competition and buy into the perceived importance of victory. However, kids need to know that they are not valued solely for their success but more significantly for how they pursue their talents. Winning has nothing to do with developing a moral and ethical person. Their character is never measured by conquest but by thoughtful and wise use of skills and considerate behavior while doing so. Abigail Van Buren told her readers that “the best index of a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.” Parents can set the best example by noticing and praising how players exercise both their skills and their principles during a match — making wins a welcomed but unnecessary element in how a match is played. All too often, wins are taken far too seriously. Elbert Hubbard joked at the turn of the 20th century that one shouldn’t take life so seriously because “you will never get out of it alive.” We must take both wins and losses in stride because ultimately they won’t impact how a child grows into an adult.

We can do a great service for our children if we teach them to both enjoy the journey of their lives and to never be afraid to challenge themselves. We shouldn’t focus on wins because we unintentionally instill the fear of losing. This may keep our children from trying something that could make their lives even richer. The old saw reminds us that there is no failure except in no longer trying. Edison said he never failed; he just found 10,000 things that didn’t work. We need to stop trying to find the safest path through life for our children and micro-managing their efforts so they can avoid disappointment and loss. Letting them experience consequences also lets them learn how to overcome hurdles rather than us stepping in to remove the hurdles. How will children develop the courage to take risks if nothing in their life is a risk?

“Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you,” says Bethany Hamilton, who survived the loss of an arm from a shark attack while surfing. She not only continues to surf but to stretch her horizons despite her disability. That’s an important lesson for kids to learn. It allows them to push for more experiences and to accept that there will be roadblocks while they trust that they have the ability to overcome those barriers. Oliver Wendell Holmes made the point very succinctly. He said, Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.” Kids may be afraid to live their lives to a full potential because they lack the confidence to take risks, and also because they are afraid to disappoint their parents. Kids remember one criticism over a dozen words of praise, so we need to be particularly conscious of how we approach our children’s efforts.

I worry that as we rush about getting to lessons, practices, games and events, we lose sight of the things that truly matter. Are our children happy? Have we noticed the unspectacular but important details? Are we building memories rather than just recording them? Are we giving our kids the tools to solve their own problems and accept risk? As we rush everyone through life, we may be depriving our children of the opportunity to just contemplate their surroundings. We need to distinguish between wasting time and enjoying time. The more we can slow down in order to recharge and reassess, paradoxically the more opportunities we will have to make the most of our time. We want to give kids a broad platform from which to launch their lives, but not a bland platform. We should embrace the beautiful imperfections that make life interesting. The conundrum comes about when we need to balance the opportunity to luxuriate in the simple pleasures of life and the drive to experience as much as we can. Children can best evolve when they have time to just be kids while they slowly integrate the ability to solve their own problems, set their own goals and take appropriate risks to reach their full potential. Our job is to give them the freedom to enjoy life and the room to seize opportunities. We can support without rescuing. We can stop doing things that simply fill time and instead choose a purposeful life that we share with our children and with others.

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Soccer's Bright Future

Sam Snow

BLOG_Soccer’sBrighterFuture

There are positive changes taking place for soccer in the USA. Here are two of them worthy of special mention.

Youth Members Technical Leaders Work Group

Not long ago the technical directors of the AYSO, MLS Youth, SAY Soccer, U. S. Futsal, U. S. Club Soccer, U. S. Soccer, USSSA and US Youth Soccer began meeting to devise plans for improving the youth soccer landscape to the betterment of the American player. Never before has such a group been assembled. It is quite exciting to see the teamwork among all of the members of this auspicious group of soccer leaders.

Three meetings have taken place to date. The group plans to meet on a quarterly basis. The outcome of the meetings already held has been an inclusion statement and commitment by all of the organizations, recommendations to member clubs and leagues on implementing the change with player registration to birth year, discussions on increasing coaching education opportunities and last but most certainly not least the creation of a standard set of modified Laws of the Game for Zone 1 under the new small-sided games format. Those modified rules are now being vetted by a select group of leaders in the referee ranks. Soon the rules will be published for the soccer public to use. Beginning this summer take a look on the websites of any of the organizations noted above to find the modified Laws of the Game for soccer for children in the 5 to 12 year old age groups.

National Soccer Hall of Fame

Yesterday, May 5, I had the privilege to attend the ground breaking ceremony for the new National Soccer Hall of Fame. America has a rich soccer history dating back to the mid-1800s. The Hall of Fame will house artifacts and tell the story of soccer in our nation from many different levels of the game. The Hall is being built into the south end of Toyota Stadium the home of FC Dallas. That gives the Hall a central location in the USA and a chance for soccer fans attending the multitude of soccer events in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex a chance to visit.

During the groundbreaking ceremony the newest class of inductees into the Hall of Fame were announced. Brandi Chastain, Don Garber and Shannon MacMillan were honored yesterday with the announcement. Brandi was in attendance and participated in the groundbreaking. You can read more about the event here: http://friscoblog.dallasnews.com/2016/05/soccer-icon-brandi-chastain-helps-break-ground-for-new-hall-of-fame-museum-at-friscos-toyota-stadium.html/

FCD1

Figure 1 Front entrance off of Main Street at the South Gate of Toyota Stadium

FCD2

Figure 2 The view from the field of the expanded south end of the stadium and the National Hall of Fame

 

 

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Up and Coming

Susan Boyd

Last weekend, I drove past the city park where my kids, Bryce and Robbie, regularly played soccer. As I expected on a spring weekend morning, the three full-sized fields and four smaller ones were covered with young players either in the midst of a match or preparing to begin. However, all of these eager participants flocking across the soccer pitches weren’t kicking a ball. They were flinging it with lacrosse sticks. Then last night I drove past the high school where the football field lights were blazing not for a spring scrimmage but in order to illuminate an interscholastic boys’ lacrosse match. The proliferation of this century’s old sport has now become rampant in the United States. Where much of our interaction with lacrosse had been news reports a decade ago about the Duke men’s team, we can now watch matches regularly on cable sports channels and read reports on high school and college competitions in the sports section. Even one of my grandsons has gone over to the lacrosse side.

Soccer has enjoyed a special status as the new and growing sport in the U.S. over nearly three decades. It began when the U.S. Men’s National Team qualified for the 1990 World Cup, the first time since 1950. Interest grew when the U.S. won the bid to host the 1994 World Cup, bringing international attention and teams to our shores. This was followed by the formation of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996. Since 1990, youth involvement in soccer has increased 89 percent with over three million registered players as a component of the 24 million men, women, and children participants in 2014, second only to China. According to 2015 Pew research, soccer is now the fourth-most watched sport ahead of ice hockey, auto racing, tennis and golf. With an average turnout of 19,000 at MLS games, America ranks eighth in the world for attendance at first division soccer matches, ranking ahead of soccer-obsessed Argentina and Brazil. The women’s game has seen not only phenomenal growth but equal success. There were 318 women’s college teams in 1991, which increased to 959 in 2009. The Women’s World Cup has been hosted by the U.S. twice in 1999 and 2003. In the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team beat China to win the title before a crowd of 90,000. This event still ranks as the best attended women’s sporting event ever. In 2011, 8.2 percent of adults listed soccer as their favorite sport. Even when the U.S. loses, the team pulls in huge audiences. The men’s 2-1 loss to Belgium in the 2014 World Cup had 24.5 million viewers, which compares favorably to last year’s NBA finals that averaged 15.5 million, the World Series that averaged 14.9 million and the Stanley Cup that pulled in under 5 million. Soccer has come of age in the United States, and with the continued growth of MLS, which also attracts major European soccer stars, the sport should continue to enjoy a bright and expanding future.

However, no status is ever secure, and lacrosse has begun to nip at soccer’s heels. According to US Lacrosse, the sport’s governing body in America, participation has grown from 254,000 players in 2001 to 773,000 players in 2014—a 300 percent increase. Youth players doubled from 2006 to 2009, and in 2014, lacrosse was the fastest growing sport in high school, increasing 28 percent for boys and 31 percent for girls. Likewise, the number of college programs has increased from 247 in 2009 to 339 in 2014 for the boys and 319 to 443 for the girls. There are two professional North American lacrosse leagues and both are indoor. Major League Lacrosse recently expanded to eight franchises and now has a contract with ESPN3 to stream every league game. The National Lacrosse League has nine franchises and plays in Canada and the U.S. Its primary popularity is in Canada where box lacrosse is the official summer sport of our neighbors to the north. Just as soccer took off once a significant professional league began in the U.S., lacrosse will need its own strong foray into the professional ranks in order to build a loyal fan base. Adding to the hype are international competitions overseen by the Federation of International Lacrosse, which holds World Championships every four years for men, women, and U-19 players. US Lacrosse can boast of a record 27 wins at the World Championships since 1974.

The blossoming of a new sports option for our kids should always be welcomed. The more choices kids have, the more likely they are to find something that excites their passions and gets them out and moving. Lacrosse costs more than soccer for equipment but is still relatively affordable for all families, especially when clubs help organize equipment swaps. As college teams increase and kids can find role models in the sport to inspire them, the future does look bright for lacrosse. However, this growth brings some complications with it, and that is primarily competing for resources. This brings me back to those lacrosse sightings I had this past week. Just as soccer had to carve out space from football, now lacrosse will be carving out space from soccer. There’s only so much groomed green space available and, even worse, precious few indoor facilities. The freedom to practice and compete should be limitless, but restricted resources means fierce competition now spills from the pitch into municipal recreation scheduling offices. Trying to find ways of fairly subdividing these patches of green can lead to some sharp conflicts and sour grapes.

As one sport surges, it’s not unusual for other sports to decrease. This is especially true when the sports share aspects. Kids could find the movement and purpose of lacrosse to be similar enough to soccer to spur some crossover. Just as moving off the ice onto the pitch can come naturally to hockey players, so too soccer players might find the addition of sticks to their scoring arsenal equally enticing. Such shifting of allegiances makes clubs nervous because they survive on increasing their membership, not losing it. These shifts can elicit hostilities while increasing recruiting, which is supposed to be forbidden. As we begin the spring tryouts for soccer teams across the U.S., frustrated coaches may be seeing some players siphoned off by competing sports and others by rival soccer clubs. It’s an uncomfortable situation which works against the “for the kids” policy that youth sports promotes. Clubs need to fill rosters just to meet payrolls and expenses, but they also need winning teams in order to sell the club in the future to parents looking for success, so they must retain and locate what they consider to be quality players. It’s a tough balancing act – giving all players a fair shake while having to keep an eye on the power of the roster. Throw in losing kids to other sports and you can end up with a toxic situation. In some cases, coaches will promise these players that they can play both sports and not have to come to all practices and even games. That’s dangerous because it creates a double-standard that has glaring problems. My sons faced the pull between football and soccer and several of their teammates got “deals” in order to play both sports, which only created resentment and uneven results. Now kids may feel a pull between soccer and lacrosse with the same offers of “dual citizenship.” Finding a way to navigate this prickly course will remain an important aspect of making youth sports fun and fair for all.

No one should be leery of a new sport on the horizon. Kids benefit from a variety of choices because development, size, skills, and interests are so varied among pre-teens and even into high school. It’s really great when a child can find a sport that fit his or her particular attributes to a tee. Hopefully, physical education programs in elementary schools will offer a couple of weeks of exposure to lacrosse so kids can discover if that’s where they see themselves. The point of youth sports is to improve fitness and bring another level of fun to kids’ lives, and youth team sports are meant to encourage collaboration and develop friendships. So we should all applaud this upsurge in lacrosse. However, along with that, parents need to be mindful of the pitfalls. We can help facilitate cooperation among the field sports in order to make the use of our resources fairly available and help restrict in-fighting. We also need to encourage our kids not to straddle sports in the same season but learn to face the tough choices everyone has to make throughout life. We can and should be open to all the possibilities for youth sports, even as we hold a special place in our hearts for soccer, and help our young players to navigate those options. We want our kids to build great memories while improving their health and fitness. We can score goals in either sport.

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Playing Down a Player

Sam Snow

“I’m coaching youth soccer. The league has given me a team with one less player than the rest. Subs will be impossible, what strategy in game time do you recommend? I’ve tried to get this fixed but they’re not going to give me another player. Is there a certain formation that best suits a team when they’re field a player down?”

If a team is playing down a player or two it is generally easier then to play with fewer forwards in the team formation. Visually and physically it is a little easier to go forward from the back than the opposite. Play with a full complement of defenders, try to do the same in the midfield line of the team and then play with only one or two forwards.

The team will need to drop off most of the time when defending to give good cover in its own half of the field. The team may need to concede pressure on the ball in the opponents’ half of the field when defending.

When on the attack, the team will need to move the ball quickly, so lots of one and two touch passing. If most passes are played to each other’s feet as opposed to open space then the physical demand on the players is manageable. If too many passes are made into open space, thus requiring lots of running to catch the ball, the team will be exhausted sooner rather than later.

The coach of a youth team that is playing down must be mindful of the health of the players. Be sure they get lots of water and if needed even play down further in order to take a player off now and then for a rest. The players’ safety and health is more important than the match outcome.

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