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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". 

 

Grounding the Helicopter

Susan Boyd

Last week I heard a news report about a woman at the University of Cincinnati filing a restraining order against her parents. The 21-year-old complained that her parents were overly involved in her life, visiting her unannounced on campus, reading her emails, checking her cell phone through some type of tracking software, and overall micromanaging her life. She is a music and performance major looking to take her talents to Broadway. She won her case requiring that her parents stop invading her private accounts and stay at least 500 feet away from her. Therefore, if they want to watch her perform I’m assuming they have to sit in the third balcony last row. Even though she lost her parents’ financial support for college, the sympathetic university awarded her a full scholarship for her final year. Meanwhile, in a rather childish retaliation, her parents filed a lawsuit against her to collect the tuition they had paid on her behalf the previous three years. That case is still pending.
 
This behavior is called "the helicopter syndrome," where parents hover over their children hoping to swoop in and handle both positive and negative situations their children face. The young lady experienced an extreme form of the behavior, but we all know how to fly those helicopters. When our kids are little, helicoptering serves an important function. We make sure we protect them against the cause and effect behaviors that could harm them — like touching a hot iron, running into traffic or drinking Drano — until they can understand for themselves all the dangerous consequences. But we also need to helicopter as our kids start out in activities. We need to attend parent-teacher conferences, support them at their soccer games, monitor their eating habits and protect them as much as possible from unsavory outside influences. Likewise, good discipline goes hand in hand with active helicopter surveillance. We hover and guide and occasionally strike to insure our children develop a strong internal moral compass. We get so used to being good pilots that we can’t always recognize when we need to ground our flights and let our kids go solo. Some abort their flight schedule too early and some, like the Cincinnati parents, add flights well into adulthood.
 
We’ve all experienced the parents who abort too early. Their kids are the ones who ride around on their bikes without helmets even though they just dropped the training wheels last week. Or the ones who come into your home and exhibit a lack of boundaries for your property and rules. Or those who teach your children that if they type "sex" in the search box, some very interesting websites pop up. I went caroling a couple weeks ago. Having just gotten out of the hospital, I wasn’t up to walking, so one neighbor offered to drive me around since he was also taking a trailer for all the kids. About half-way through, only his kids were left still caroling, so they joined us in the car. Screeching and screaming at decibel levels even rock bands can’t duplicate, these three kids leapt all over the car, crawling into the back storage area, diving into the front seat, kicking me in the head, shaking the back of my seat, and sucking on candy pop rings the entire time fueling their excitable behavior. Dad was oblivious, stopping to chat with neighbors he spotted on the way while his kids popped in and out of the car on the street in the dark with cars everywhere. The temperature sat at 20 degrees, yet these kids wore only sweaters or hoodies and complained of their fingers being cold. I was ready to take my helicopter out of the hangar! However, I have enough trouble flying over my own children’s lives, so I don’t need to add destinations. Luckily, heavenly angels in helicopters fill in occasionally.
 
Finding the moments to ground ourselves isn’t easy. But we have to be sure to develop the ability to recognize those instances. You can let your children take on more responsibility in situations where you have pretty strong control. During a visit to a restaurant, encourage them to order for themselves, ask for refills if they need them and pay the bill at the cash register. At school, if your child begins to struggle with a subject, urge them to talk to the teacher after school or during recess. You can grease the wheel with a note to the teacher asking him or her to indicate a willingness to talk to your child, but leave the details to the youngster. When I worked for the Wisconsin Soccer Olympic Development Program, we had a strict policy that coaches’ emails and phone numbers weren’t released to the parents. Instead, we told parents that their players needed to talk to their coach on their own. Sometimes that’s difficult for a 10- or 11-year-old to do, even for an 18-year-old. But without taking the first steps we found that players were at the mercy of their parents’ helicopter maneuvers, which weren’t always the direction the kids wanted to go. Every day I fielded plenty of phone calls from concerned and often irate parents who demanded to talk to the ODP coach about why their child didn’t make the state pool or was put in the weaker training group. Coaches would walk the other way when a parent approached. It was a struggle, but eventually the parents learned they had to hover a distance away and let their child go in alone. Find ways for your children to practice talking to their club coach whenever a problem or concern arises. You can walk them to the coach, but have your player do the talking. Have the kids practice asking questions rather than accusing, even have them write the questions down and then tell them to listen without defensiveness as the coach explains his or her answer. That’s good hovering!
 
Over time our kids will accept our helicopter flights as welcoming rather than smothering when they feel they have most of the control. Letting go piece by piece, moment by moment, makes the transition smoother and still makes us parents feel useful. Having the helicopter fueled and ready to take off isn’t a bad idea. We just need to recognize what are 911 emergencies and what is normal childhood struggle. Failing is part of life, so we need to give our children the secure space to try, either succeeding or failing on their own. Helping them to understand that losing the battle doesn’t mean losing the war is a great use of our helicopter skills. There’s no perfect time for grounding, but over time we should be tapering off on the flights. Don’t quit too soon or you’ll be dealing with kids that are missing their rudder, and don’t quit too late or you’ll be sitting in the third balcony last row watching your kids from a court-ordered distance.

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Guidelines for Heading in Soccer

Sam Snow

Not long ago an article hit the World Wide Web that speaks to the alleged dangers of heading the ball in soccer. The article was brought to my attention by Rick Meana, Technical Director for New Jersey Youth Soccer and Andy Coutts, Director of Technical Education for Minnesota Youth Soccer. Here’s the article:http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/story/2011-11-29/Heading-a-football-could-lead-to-brain-damage/51463474/1.
 
I am not qualified in medicine, so I use the findings of FMARC (Fifa Medical and Research Center) and the U.S. Soccer Sports Medicine Committee to understand the risks of any soccer technique. Here is a document that I hope you will use to educate coaches on the progression for teaching heading in soccer.
 
Concerning the specific article mentioned above here’s the feedback from Don Kirkendall, member FMARC:
 
"I saw a different news item about this topic, too. Remember, that this is a presentation and presentations don't go through the rigor of peer review anywhere near the level of critique of a journal publication. Based on what I've read, my first inkling is that it won't get published. Here are the primary factors that a reviewer has to ask of every paper they review:
 
History: What do the subjects bring into the study? Don't care how detailed the interviews were, they were asking questions about a lifetime of soccer, heading exposure, injuries. FMARC data shows that players forget about half their injuries from that year. This is about a lifetime. I bet if you surveyed players about how many times they headed the ball during a match vs. what was captured on film the results would be remarkably different. History is a HUGE issue with this project. And I haven't even brought up learning disabilities, alcohol, non-sports head injury, non-head injuries, or drug intake. Plus, players this age paid little attention to concussions when they were half their age, so how many did they have? The only accurate answer is "...that I can recall". Hardly firm data.
 
Maturation: This is about changes over the course of a study. Not as critical here, but this group is making conclusions about the adult brain based on something that may have happened before the brain had matured.
 
Testing: Oral interviews using a 'detailed' questionnaire (that from another media outlet). One might wonder about the validity of the Q and A. Were the questions 'leading' the subject on one direction or another? Given the emotions surrounding this topic, this probably needs to be considered.
 
Instrumentation: MRI is getting very good; a question could be that it is finding variants that have little or no effect. Sort of like the right handed pitcher with a crooked left pinkie; a variant of no consequence.
 
Statistical Regression: Tendency for extreme scores to migrate toward the mean. Basketball team shoots 75% one game is due for a 25% game soon. Not sure this would be as much of an issue as other topics.
 
Experimental Mortality: Subjects who are included in the study fail to complete it-they drop out, move, die, get sick or hurt, etc. How were the subjects selected? What were the inclusion and exclusion criteria? Any bias in selection stacks the deck one way or another.
Selection-Maturation Interaction: are subjects selected because they have a tendency to gain (or not to gain) much during the study.
 
Hawthorne Effect: People behave differently when they know they are being studied. This has been shown to be an issue in concussion research. Mention the word, and people are on edge, so to speak.
 
Those are just the 'standard' items that can lead to an alternative hypothesis for the results. I haven't even approached the actual data and interpretation of the data. We'll have to wait this one out. Stick with the FMARC data for now. Sorry for going on about the peer review process. But the popular media will run with this without doing due diligence."
 
 

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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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