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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.


To travel or not to travel

Sam Snow

This question was posted on the US Youth Soccer Facebook account.

"Sorry to bother you with what might be a silly question. I was unable to find this on your website. We were told by our local organization (not the State) that a child cannot play on a travel soccer team at the U9 level unless the child is at least a U8. My son is a U7. We were told this was a USYS rule? Any help you can provide would be great. Thank you."
To be clear, the restriction noted in the question is not a US Youth Soccer policy because it would be the local state association policy.
Here are some portions of the Position Statements from the State Association Technical Directors that pertain to this question.
While it is acknowledged and recognized that preteen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of twelve are forced to meet the same "competitive" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:
1. 50% playing time
2. No league or match results
3. 8 vs. 8 at U12
We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of ten. Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner. We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.

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Love Notes

Susan Boyd

Certain things warm our hearts: a hug, a kind word, a home-cooked meal, a job well-done. Whether young or old, we all appreciate validation that we are loved and admired. We’ve seen the total joy on our children’s faces when we give them praise, and we’ve also seen the devastation that criticism can cause. Despite that crushing result, we often feel that evaluation is necessary. We believe we can correct some on-field errors through our instruction offered right after a game or practice, surrounding our critique with praise for our children’s other efforts. Nevertheless, kids so often block out the compliments and only hear the reproaches. How often have we heard our kids say, "You never say anything good about what I do?" We’re shocked because we know that we have heaped far more approval on our children than disapproval. Yet even we adults dwell on that one negative comment our boss or fellow worker made, blocking out all the positive remarks.
Therefore, kids will do well with some non-verbal confirmation of how wonderful we think they are. Several options exist to give our children the approval they so crave and we so want to give them. The best forms of non-verbal praise come as a surprise and aren’t attached to any particular performance. It’s important that kids know we are watching them and seeing the great persons they are in every moment of every day. They don’t have to score a goal or make a brilliant pass to deserve affirmation. They just have to be bright, happy kids.
Notes are an easy and unexpected way to give our kids a hug without being with them. Post-a-notes make an excellent resource for these stealth messages. Stick a positive note in a text book, on a homework sheet, in a lunch box, or on a calculator. Make the note brief, personal and heartfelt. Kids can smell an insincere attempt to be a "good parent" with these notes. For example, if your child struggled with math homework, even having a meltdown because she couldn’t get how to do the problems, then put a note on the completed homework sheet saying, "I know this was tough but I’m proud of you for sticking with it." If your child has a particular treat he likes, stick one in the lunchbox with a note saying, "you deserve something special today." Flipping through a few pages of an English or history book and inserting a note will be a pleasant surprise, especially if the subject isn’t your child’s favorite. Tell her to have a great day or thank her for paying attention in class. There are dozens of messages you could send, and you know your child best, so find what you know will touch the heart of your child.
I’m a great believer in hugs. Recently my grandson’s moodiness on a trip was getting to me. He’s nearly 13, so it’s not unusual for a child that age to take a dark and belligerent approach to a new situation. He also wasn’t feeling his best, so that just added to his poutiness and foot shuffling. As I tried to get him in a good mood and then ended up getting exasperated, I realized that my behavior was only having a negative effect on his behavior. So in the damp of the caves under Niagara Falls, I asked, "Do you need a hug?" He nodded vigorously and with a sudden rush the floodgates of his emotions opened, and sobbing (both of us) we had a good long hug. I could actually feel the darkness lift. We got the mutual support we needed and exchanged the love we both felt. You can also give hugs just because it’s Wednesday or you are passing by your child sitting at a table. Hugs can really give a child a quick boost of affection and reinforcement. Some families have a difficult time showing affection, and I hear you loud and clear. I didn’t grow up with touching, so learning to do it with my own children didn’t come naturally. But I can attest once you do it and feel the welcome joy flowing back to you, you’ll be hooked.
Some families hold a celebration once a week for each of their children. It can be as simple as a special dessert or as complex as an entire day where the child gets special attention. We used to do "conversation starters" at meals, where the child of the day got to tell about his day and then pick a topic for everyone to discuss. You can also play a board game together and let the kids decide on the game, which can create opportunities to share a laugh and some fun. Be sure to keep the mood light so the competition doesn’t turn into conflict. Games like Pictionary or Mad Gab can insure that it’s not about winning but about having a good time and being silly. You can create teams with one adult or older child on each team to help balance out experience and abilities. Letting the "child of the day" pick the game gives her some authority which builds self-image.
You can create a scrapbook for various occasions and activities that you can give for no special reason. I have about as much visual creative talent as an earthworm, so I depend on the kindness of craft store employees and pre-packaged scrapbook kits. But if you have the talent, let it loose with more elaborate approaches. You can do a scrapbook about a school play or concert that includes the program, photos of the event, and any preparatory materials the teacher used such as a script or musical scores. If grandparents sent congratulatory notes, stick those in there as well. Use your imagination in terms of what to include. If you make a scrapbook for a soccer tournament, you might want to add in the airplane boarding passes or a road map along with photos. Put the brackets in there and the scores. Whether a winning tournament or not, you child will appreciate the memories your scrapbook evokes for him or her. Don’t forget to take, label and include a team photo. Years later it will be fun to remember who was on the team and to see what they are doing now. You can also make a scrapbook for a year in school including a class picture, your child’s school photo, the teacher’s name and photo, a list of the textbooks, projects that your child completed during the year, report cards, and great accomplishments. You can make nearly any occasion or period of time the subject of a scrapbook. You decide what your child might like to remember years later and what your child will take pride in.
Speaking of pride, we kept a "wall of fame" in our kitchen. The kids could decide what they wanted to post on the wall. Sometimes it was a perfect spelling test, sometimes a ribbon from a tournament, or sometimes a special drawing. Every few weeks we’d rotate out items and add new ones, so the wall was always fresh and special. We didn’t need to verbally express pride, although that was also important, since our pride was evident in how prominent this display was. Allowing the kids to decide what they thought was special and worthy of note meant that sometimes we discovered things we didn’t expect. These revelations allowed us to find more avenues to giving praise and to paying attention to accomplishments. More significantly, the wall ironically provided a window into their lives that was completely defined by their own measurements of what was worthy and expressive.
Saying "I love you" and "good job" are meaningful and necessary, but aren’t sufficient. Words can be so transitory and unheard. Actions often speak louder than words, and any action that is accompanied by a tangible confirmation leaves lasting evidence of love. Kids will definitely appreciate the extra strokes a note, hug, treat, and memorabilia bring. Even better, you’ll get a warm fuzzy knowing the impact your personal touch has. Enjoy these moments.

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In the Blink of an Eye

Susan Boyd

Robbie’s soccer game Thursday night was delayed for an hour due to lightning. It pushed the end time to 10:30 p.m. We parents feed the team after the game, so with the meal and clean-up I got home after midnight. I would have gladly sat in a downpour to avoid getting home so late, and I’m sure the players with thoughts of school the next day would rather have played than sat in the locker room waiting the storm out. They usually eat around 3 p.m., so they really look forward to their meal after the game to quell the hunger pangs. Even Robbie texted me during the break to be sure we’d have food on the tables right after the game. Lightning has always been a huge inconvenience.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that last Sunday night TV and radio sports pundits took exception to the NFL’s lightning policy when the Seattle Seahawks’ football game against San Francisco was halted for over an hour due to an electrical storm. Listening to the game on XM radio while driving home from Indianapolis, I was struck by several phrases used in the announcer’s booth. First, there were the usual complaints about wasted time as the reporters scrambled to fill what was otherwise totally empty air. Then there were the statements that this was Seattle after all, poster child for rain, so the fans were used to sitting out in the drizzle for most sporting events. Finally came the inevitable declaration that "in 30 years of announcing for the NFL, I’ve never known any player or fan to be injured or killed by lightning." The discussion focused primarily on the expense of the delay for NBC, addressing the issue of losing their East Coast viewers as the time approached 11 p.m. in New York, the effect on advertising revenue, and, oddly enough, the negative impact on Seattle’s attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records as the loudest fans in the NFL. Once the game restarted and the fans left the protection of the entrance tunnels, the argument continued on the wisdom of having a policy that halts games when lightning is detected in the area. The fact that no player or fan had suffered physical harm due to lightning became the prevailing argument that the policy should be abolished.
Well, those same announcers might be surprised to learn some interesting facts about lightning before so quickly adopting an attitude of bravado in the face of danger. First of all, lightning has three ways it can kill or injure people: 1. Direct hit; 2. Indirect hit; 3. Resultant hit creating devastation such as a fire or explosion. It is the latter cause that proves elusive in the statistics about lightning injuries and death. In many cases, authorities are unable to determine if a disaster is lightning-related even if suspected. A direct hit is self-explanatory. A fan stands on the sidelines and lightning strikes the fan. Cases of direct hits usually result in death. However, the good news, if you can call it that, is that most interactions with lightning (95-97 percent) involve indirect hits. Since lightning is an electrical discharge, those of you who took basic physics know that electricity seeks a path of least resistance. Surprise! Human and animal flesh have less resistance than the ground, so as the lightning strike dissipates and travels through the earth, it will detour into our bodies as the easier route. These indirect strikes can cause death and serious injury, but the main effects are burns and a sudden cessation of breathing, which can be improved by immediate administration of CPR. 
Second, lightning causes more deaths than any other weather phenomenon (Martin A. Urman), including flood, earthquakes and tornadoes, combined. Of lightning injuries and deaths, 68 percent occurred in sports-related activities. Open water strikes are the most dangerous involving fishing and swimming. But as sports participation in open area venues increases, so too have the deaths and injuries. The statistics are elusive but could be as high as 150. NOAA states it can only accurately document an average of 51 fatalities a year in the U.S. of which approximately 35 occurred during sports. However, the agency also admits that the number is probably up to four times higher since even the best medical examiner can’t detect lightning as the reason for a heart attack or stroke during an event without the tell-tale burns that don’t always result. John S. Jensenius, Jr., Lightning Safety Specialist for the National Weather Service, reported "From 2006 to 2012, there were a total of 26 fishing deaths, 15 camping deaths, 14 boating deaths and 11 beach deaths. Of the sports activities, soccer saw the greatest number of deaths with 12, as compared to golf with 8." He only focuses on deaths and doesn’t include injuries in his report. According to the Canadian Government, outdoor recreation accounted for 68 percent of lightning-related deaths and 68 percent of lightning-related injuries. Other U.S. reports state that sports-related lightning injuries have increased recently due to larger participation in these activities. Sadly, they also report that most people injured or killed were just steps away from cover. The National Weather Service has strict guidelines to increase safety during electrical storms. Most of these guidelines have now been adopted by major sports organizations including US Youth Soccer and, yes, the NFL. At the first signs of lightning, and especially when accompanied by thunder, games are to be halted and fans, players, coaches, and staff are to seek immediate cover. Everyone can return to the activity when there has not been any evidence of lightning or rumble of thunder for 30 minutes. These guidelines have been recognized as a main reason that lightning deaths have dropped from 5 deaths per million in 1940 to less than 0.3 deaths per million in 2000.
The least persuasive argument for ignoring these safety measures is that you have never witnessed a lightning death or injury in "X" number of years of participating in a sport. We all have auto insurance even if we have never been in an accident. Why? Because accidents are random events and can’t be predicted to avoid them. Lightning is completely random and strikes are unpredictable (hence the myth that lightning never strikes twice in the same place). But we do have a bit of an advantage when it comes to lightning because we can actually see the approach of an electrical storm. NOAA actually plots the lightning cloud to ground strikes so we can see the pattern as it nears. We need to keep in mind that we can be as far as 20 miles away from any direct lightning strikes and still be affected by them. As they move closer, the risk becomes greater. Lightning does not need to course down directly on a soccer or football field for fans and players to be in danger. In fact, such incidents are extremely rare. The greatest danger comes from lightning a distance away traveling to and seeking the "warm body" so it can escape the earth. The danger from an indirect hit is not only a sudden cessation of brain activity and breathing, but serious burns. Sitting on metal bleachers only increases the possibility of exacerbating lightning injuries, not by attracting the electricity but the metal heats up causing burns. Wearing metal cleats also won’t attract lightning to the body, but they can lead to burns on the feet should an indirect hit come to the player. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea to remove cleats quickly to run to safety. Rubber boots or shoes won’t insulate you from a strike but may diminish the possibility of burns. Hindsight is a wonderful illuminator about what went wrong or right, but has little power to predict any chaotic event. Someone who boasts that she has swum through dozens of electrical storms without incident could be a new lightning statistic the next day. I’m sure that the NFL learned through its involvement with the concussion controversy, which is a far more predictable outcome than lightning, that a lack of caution can result in a big expense. The loss of viewership and thereby important advertising revenue should never be the excuse for not protecting human lives.
In youth sports there are no big economic consequences to halting a game for lightning protection, so there is absolutely no excuse for not taking the most cautious approach possible. When Robbie and Bryce were playing for their high school in the state finals, I was 1,500 miles away helping with the birth of my fifth grandchild. So I awaited constant updates. When scores of minutes went by without any phone call to update me, I got panicked, thinking the team was doing so badly no one wanted to report to me. I learned later that there were actually three storm-related breaks in the action, each one at least 45 minutes. It took nearly 4.5 hours to complete that state championship, which my sons’ high school eventually won. That was the good news. The bad news was that a certain mom nearly expired from a "resultant" hit during an anxiety-ridden wait for the outcome! As parents, we need to remember that lightning is not only random but non-discriminatory. Two kids standing two feet apart may experience entirely different outcomes – one might collapse from an electrical discharge and the other will not be touched. Therefore, we can’t expect that our kids will be safe in numbers. Although there are few incidents of multiple injuries and deaths from direct or indirect hits, the numbers are increasing in team sports. We need to err to the side of caution. It costs us nothing but time, and in the case of Robbie’s game, nourishment and sleep. Yearly, around the world more than 240,000 people are injured in lightning-related incidents and nearly 70 percent of those involve recreational activities. That’s a staggering number when we think about our kids. Ask your club to invest in a NOAA National Weather Report radio to keep track of storms or buy one yourself and bring it to games. A lightning detector can be an additional safety investment. You can spend more than $800 or as little as $75, but most competent and well-reviewed detectors cost in the $250 range. It’s a small price to pay for weather safety. But even if your club chooses to rely on the age-old method of observation, no method works if ignored. We need to avoid the temptation to "just get this half over." A few minutes of hesitation can mean the difference between safety and tragedy. We don’t want something to end in the blink of an eye when the gentle lag of caution can insure that the next game and the next and the next will include us and our children.

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Advancing Youth Soccer Through “Play for a Change”


By Erin Gifford
Guest Contributor
As a mother of four active children, we can frequently be found outside, and in the fall, that means we’re out on the soccer fields. Three of my four are playing soccer this year, and literally every single day of the week, we’re either headed to soccer practice or to a game. I think by now our minivan could probably drive itself to the soccer fields.
When we’re not watching the kids play and practice, we’re kicking the soccer ball around with one another, playing different games just off the soccer fields and getting lots of exercise as we run and play. This is my son’s first year playing soccer (he’s four years old) and he loves to kick the ball with his sisters. My husband coaches my son’s team, as well as my six-year-old daughter’s team, so we’re definitely a soccer family.
Getting outside and exercising is important to me and my family, and soccer is such an easy way to do so. You don’t need to do much more than kick a ball around, so I was excited to see that Merck Consumer Care’s Active Family Project teamed up with U.S. Youth Soccer to encourage families to get out there and play soccer this month during Youth Soccer Month.
As part of this partnership, Merck Consumer Care is helping to further interest among children and families in playing soccer in their communities through their Play for a Change initiative. Through this campaign, they’ll provide soccer tips and locations of soccer fields. They even joined forces with soccer superstar Brandi Chastain to bring added excitement to this worthwhile initiative.
I’m fortunate that in my community it’s easy to get started with soccer. Many, many children in my neighborhood play soccer at all different levels. But, I know it’s not that way in every community, so I love that as part of Play for a Change, Merck Consumer Care is donating soccer equipment to underserved communities to get even more children, moms and dads engaged in the sport of soccer.
When we’re not actively engaged in soccer practices and games, we like to kick the ball around in the backyard before dinner and in our spare time. We also look for national and college level games that the kids would enjoy watching to get them even more excited about the sport. It’s a great way to see new teams in action while spending time together as a family. We even bring along a couple of soccer balls to play with before the game and when the kids start to get antsy in their seats.
Soccer will no doubt be a part of our lives for some time to come. I encourage you to get out there, start kicking the ball around and see where it takes you.
Erin Gifford is a mother of four children and finds herself out on a soccer field just about every day in the fall. She is a member of Merck Consumer Care’s Active Family Project Play Council. She also has a family travel blog, Kidventurous, which was chosen as the Best Family Travel Blog by Parents magazine.

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