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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". 

 

Grief is the Price We Pay for Love

Susan Boyd

Grief is the price we pay for love...
 
C.S. Lewis used this line to open a sermon. He could have been talking about any of us who are parents and understand that the joy of having children goes hand in hand with the occasional pain our children bring. Recently, a child psychologist, Susan Engel, wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times that drew sharp criticism from dozens of parents when she suggested that having adult children actually was more difficult than having kids. Most of the critics said, "Your job is done. Just enjoy them." However, her argument was that as children mature, you let them go, which means that you have lost that power to rush in and solve the problem or assuage their pain. I can speak from experience about adult children who, even while being a source of great pride, struggle to find their way. No matter how well we do raising our children, there comes a point when we can no longer "Serve and Protect." When that moment arrives, the powerlessness a parent feels merely intensifies the grief when our children suffer pain or go awry.
 
As parents, we want to smooth the path to adulthood as much as possible for our children. It begins with responding to the cries and coos of our babies and doing as much as we possibly can to keep the cries to a minimum while augmenting the coos. We feed them, change diapers, cuddle them when they are sick, encourage their smiles and laughs, swaddle them against the cold and cover them against the sun. We watch them like a hawk lest they fall, eat something they shouldn’t or touch anything hot or sharp. We are set up to be hyper-involved in keeping them safe and happy. So it’s not surprising that as they begin to take those steps away from us, it’s difficult to let them go without attaching a leash or holding their hands. 
 
In loving our children, we want only the best for them. We become fierce mother and father tigers at the slightest hint of injustice for our children. When I encourage parents not to get over-involved in a soccer game, I am advising against the natural instincts we all have to make the roads our children travel smooth and straight. While they eventually will have to navigate tangled, bumpy roadways, we try as long as we can to give them an easier journey. Finding the points at which we begin to back off becomes not only difficult but highly subjective. Yet our children’s confidence, problem solving, and ability to overcome obstacles depend on us giving them the latitude to work out things without our input. When our children are young we can back off, watch and then swoop in if we feel our assistance is needed. But as they grow older, we play less of the role of rescuer and more of the role of listener. Our ability to see clearly what solutions will work doesn’t diminish as our kids age, so our pain increases watching them make errors that cause them to stumble or endure heartaches. 
 
I wish I could simply shut away any emotional involvement in my adult children’s lives. How blissful it would be to simply treat them as distant friends from whom I get a yearly holiday card with a list of events and accomplishments I read and then file away. I could avoid tons of heartache. Yet, I know that until death separates us I will be completely in love with my children and therefore vulnerable to sharing the pain of their problems. In the movie "Parenthood," there’s a wonderful line from Jason Robards to his son, played by Steve Martin: "There is no end, you never cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your touchdown dance, never... I'm 64 and Larry is 27... and he's still my son,... you think I want him to get hurt?... he's my son." This certainly hits home. Even if I don’t offer protection or solution, I still feel acutely any pain my children feel.
 
As you guide your children through the maze that is childhood, keep in mind that while the smaller things get easier, the big issues never waver. Eventually, kids get toilet-trained, learn to tie their shoes, avoid putting things up their noses, ride bikes and understand that traffic is dangerous. At the same time, the real crises get more complex: being bullied at school, developing good study habits, getting cut from the soccer team, deciding on a college, having a car accident. It’s no wonder we have a tricky time cutting our children loose. We realize as they grow older the difficulties they face grow more complex and require heightened abilities of maturity, intelligence and resources to resolve. We know we possess these abilities, so we want to provide our children with the protection and solution they offer.
 
So when do we remove this bubble? I have no idea. I know it was different with each of my adult children. My daughter recently took a business trip to London for her company where she is an executive. Her flight was canceled in Chicago, so she caught a red-eye to San Diego and from there flew to London. When she arrived, her luggage had not followed. When my son-in-law told me, my immediate response was to go into solution mode — how could we get clothes to her quickly? Did she need money to pay for clothes? And so forth… Here’s a grown woman with two kids who found her way out of the travel dilemma, yet my natural mothering mode kicked in. I never even spoke to my son-in-law or daughter about my thoughts. I was able to just let things unfold, but I recognized how quickly that instinct to protect appears and how quickly the inability to act on the instinct created powerlessness, worry and pain on her behalf knowing how much she hates these situations.
 
As parents, we have to be able to not only endure the grief that love brings, but to suffer in silence. When asked, I am more than willing to give advice and help, but I also know that if I do it too quickly or too often I am doing my kids a disservice. The best thing I can do is gently encourage them to problem solve and find their own way out of a dilemma. I’ve learned that throwing money at a problem or over-protecting just leads to more grief because our children get too dependent upon the quick fix those solutions offer and end up getting tangled up again and again. I think that is what Susan Engel was hoping to tell parents. In her experience, we parents are hard-wired to wrap our wings around our children rather than being the ruthless mother birds that push the kids out of the nest. In recognizing that part of our nature we can better control it. Yet, it doesn’t diminish the grief we feel as we perch on the edge of the nest watching our "babies" cascade toward the earth until they finally figure out to open their wings. Find those teachable moments and use them to give your children more power to solve their own problems and to give yourself permission to feel grief without needing to minimize it by overprotecting.

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Cracking coaching's final frontier

Sam Snow

Gary Williamson, Technical Director for North Texas State Soccer sent this article to me.  My initial response to Gary: "Nice article…not news to us since we’ve taken this approach since the mid 1990’s.  Good to see the rest of the world catching up to soccer in America!"  Perhaps a bit patriotic, but we do indeed do some very good things in soccer in our nation.
Never-the-less as I read the article these connections seemed clear to me.
 
1.      This approach is similar to the one espoused by Horst Wein (2005 US Youth Soccer Workshop presenter).
2.      Coach Wein’s approach seems to be in the same vein as what is taught in the National Youth License devised by Fleck, Quinn, Carr, Stringfield and Buren.
3.      All three approaches have a common root in the Teaching Games for Understanding approach developed by Almond, Bunker and Thorpe.  Rod Thorpe was a presenter at the 2005 US Youth Soccer Workshop.
4.      I draw the conclusion that we are ahead of the curve.  While we should be proud of that fact we have not penetrated this coaching philosophy and methodology deeply into grassroots soccer.  We have had success, yes.  But we should be further along after 15 years of work.  How do we impact on a much, much broader basis the coaches, administrators, parents and referees engaged with players in Zone 1 in the U.S. Soccer Player Development Pyramid?

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Small Things Count

Susan Boyd

This week a Grinnell College sophomore basketball player, Jack Taylor, set the NCAA single-game scoring record with 138 points. Not only did Taylor set the NCAA mark for most points in a game, he also set records for most field goals made in a game (52), most field goal attempts in a game (108), most 3-point field goals made in a game (27) and most 3-point attempts in a game (71). When asked how he celebrated this achievement, he laughed and said, "Well I’ve mostly been doing interviews, so I haven’t had time to celebrate." Such is the nature of instant fame in our world of rapid media. So many professional basketball players were tweeting about him that he had to get his first Twitter account. This attention will wane and dissipate. In a week he’ll return to his normal life being a guard supporting his teammates as the college basketball season moves into conference play.
 
These kinds of accolades are the stuff of dreams. As we watch our tiny limbed pre-schoolers prance across the field — chasing down the ball, falling in pig piles as a dozen legs get entangled and scoring in the wrong goal — we hold out the image of that same child growing into a Landon Donovan or an Abby Wambach. If they don’t morph into a professional player, we hope they will at least have one amazing season or one amazing game. We cringe when they are on the bench, we have anxiety attacks when they are on the field, we second-guess coaching decisions and we have a love-hate relationship with the refs. Before our kids reach middle school, we envision their future soccer life with both hope and certitude.
 
Since Thanksgiving just finished, we all know the strength of gratefulness for even the small gifts of life. Breaking a single-game basketball scoring record won’t be an option for our children. It took nearly 50 years to break the previous record. Therefore, we need to rejoice in the small accomplishments that everyone makes every day. Although we may have dreams of big achievements in our kids’ lives, their achievements won’t be as spectacular as Jack Taylor’s. And even Taylor will return to his ordinary level of excellence moving forward. Instead of constantly striving for some future feat of success, we should be concentrating on what our kids are doing now. There’s plenty to be proud of, we just need to remember to take notice and deliver our praise. Some superb methods exist to insure that our kids hear our pride.
 
Post-a-notes come in sports designs. Keep a pack on hand to scribble out some encouraging and supportive words to your young player. You can stick these on the back of the front seats where they can find them on the way to a game or on their soccer bag, even on their soccer ball. The messages can be short and sweet: "Good luck!" "You are a star," "We love watching you play," "Your team rocks!" You can be fairly inventive in how you use the notes, including creating a soccer treasure hunt with encouraging words or doing sequential rhyming phrases ala Burma Shave on the route from bedroom to car prior to a game or practice: "You dribble the ball / with speed and skill / like a streak of lightning / that creates a thrill!"
 
Make yourself a promise that the first words out of your mouth after a game, no matter how horrible a defeat, will be praise. It’s not as easy as it seems. Those moments after a disastrous loss leave such a sour taste in our mouths that we often spew it out in tough talk. When our children are under age 12 these games come and go like the clouds. We need to find the fun in the game so our children can continue to have fun. For our really young kids, it’s usually easy to laugh at the funny mistakes they make on the field, but eventually we start taking it all way too seriously. Scoring in the wrong goal or falling down every time our kid kicks the ball is no longer funny or acceptable. But I would ask, why not? Sure, we want them to grow as players, but until they become teenagers they are still learning the perimeters of their bodies and their brains are only able to retain so much of the rules and expectations of the game. For example, how many of you really know what the offside rule is or the various substitution rules? Rather than criticize, identify that moment in the game that was actually fun and make it your opening remark when the game is over. Remember the good things your child and the team did so you can focus on those rather than the mistakes and/or the loss.
 
Of course, acknowledging achievement doesn’t need to be limited to soccer or sports in general. Create a "wall of fame" in your kitchen or family room to showcase anything that you or your child finds special: a perfect spelling test, an art project, a poem, an improved grade in math or an award. Rotate the exhibit monthly so that small things are noticed with the same interest that an incredible achievement would be acknowledged. 
 
This is, of course, the point — that our children need not operate at some extravagant level to gain our respect and approval. Certainly impressive accomplishments can get an added level of attention. But we can’t concentrate on those exclusively because they will come intermittently. We need to build a strong foundation of support grounded in all the ordinary but still noteworthy small events of their lives. We may never have a child who has to worry about delaying celebration because of media interviews, but we all have children who crave our validation. We have to pay attention to those small incidences that our children consider significant. They know the big things warrant praise, but when we honor the small stuff we give them the confidence to strive for greater achievements. After all, there is no small praise, only big omissions in what we notice and admire.

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What Sport Means in America research report

Sam Snow

US Youth Soccer members participated in this survey that was conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in December 2009 through January 2010. There is an executive summary that starts on page 7 and finishes on page 9. The data confirms many of the details that US Youth Soccer has collected over the years.
 
A few interesting points from my first review:
 
1.       Coaches rank as the top influence in youth sports
2.       Parents cite personal and social values when describing the hopes for their children’s participation
3.       "…when sport is no longer fun, children and youth are more likely to stop participating."
4.      "…believe the top qualities that sport actually does reinforce are competitiveness and winning."

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