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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 


The Language of Losing

Susan Boyd

There’s no argument that winning is a pretty fantastic state of affairs. We celebrate wins, praise winners, catalog victories, and create statistics to measure the awesomeness of wins. There are winning percentages, winning streaks, largest and smallest margins of victory, shutouts, wins in a season, wins in history, and number of wins against various opponents. There is of course the darker B side of those figures: losing percentages, losing streaks, largest and smallest margins of defeat, being shutout, losses in a season, losses in history, and number of losses against various opponents. We have to take the yin with the yang. Wins can inspire confidence, but they can also make us nervous because we are just waiting for an inevitable loss. All of us have witnessed the momentum of a game shift when a team scores or is scored against. There’s a psychological component that affects not just individual players, but the entire team and the fans. We don’t know what to say in those circumstances. It’s easy to cheer and stay engaged when our team is winning; less so when our team is losing. As a society we are all about winning, so it’s not surprising that our kids buy into the “win” mentality early on. They see how depressed we are following a Packer loss and how elated we can be when LeBron pushes the Cavs to yet another victory. They hear the language we use when we talk about victories and defeats. They were all flies on the wall across the country when we lambasted Pete Carroll’s decision in the waning seconds of the Super Bowl. They have heard the language of losing.

Kids naturally want to please, and what better way to please than by a win. They don’t want to fall in the dark abyss of a loss. Yet fifty percent or more of our player’s matches will be losses. Most of us, myself included, don’t really know how to speak the language of losing other than to be angry, defeatist, and blaming. For professional teams we don’t have the constraints of personal interactions so it’s easy to yell at the TV, call into question coaching decisions for our major league teams, point the finger at a player who let the team down, and generally spit venom afterwards. No child wants to be at the receiving end of that judgment, so it’s not surprising youth players take losses hard – they know how we react. They see a loss as a failure of performance both from the team and from themselves. Spoken or unspoken they know how a loss is regarded. Therefore we need to learn what to say following losses both with our professional teams and with our kids so that we don’t automatically set up the discouragement. A loss doesn’t need to be synonymous with failure, defeat, disappointment, and catastrophe if we know the proper language to address the situation.

Youth sports contests should be about development, not about wins or losses, which we translate into success or failure. Learning to talk to our kids about losses means shifting our thinking from how we view most sports. Anger, even rage, are not appropriate reactions even though we have been conditioned to that response all our lives. We need to temper our language. Some games end up in losses, some end up in shutouts, and some end up in routs, but all games are intended to teach our kids valuable lessons about soccer. It’s those lessons we should be addressing. Was there improvement? Did the team display good sportsmanship? Did kids create opportunities? When kids win, it’s easy to find ways to express ourselves. There’s no need for criticism and plenty of room for praise, but those same principles should be on display win or lose. Avoid critical remarks because they are far too easy to slip into something ugly and personal. Leave those statements to the coaches who will decide when and what to highlight. Refrain from blaming anyone for the loss. It won’t change the outcome, won’t ensure a win in the next match, and can only adversely affect the players’ self-esteem. Instead find moments in the game to illuminate with approval. A loss shouldn’t illicit depression and resentment as it usually does. A loss is a bitter pill, but as Mary Poppins says, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”   If we parents rise above despondency, then so can our kids. If they understand that we aren’t disappointed in them, then they can be freed to take risks in their matches which is how they develop.

Losses are never fun. We build ourselves up for victory, rather than prepare ourselves for defeat. Retaining that positive outlook will go a long way in helping our kids accept the roller coaster of playing youth sports and move forward no matter the result. We should always be building ourselves up for whatever gems our kids bring us instead of focusing on outcomes. We can use the same language for losses as we use for wins so long as we look for the good points. Of course kids can tell if we’re being disingenuous, so I’m not suggesting false enthusiasm. We need to work on readjusting our way of dealing with losses whether with our kids or with our favorite college or pro team. We should speak of effort, improvement, special moments, and support. When a team loses, we don’t need to immediately go to the darkest place even if it is the World Series, the Super Bowl or the Champions League final. With our kids watching, we need to temper our responses otherwise they will expect the same outrage when they lose. It’s not easy to stay positive but we must learn how to do it.

I’m not suggesting that losses are the same as wins, and kids do need to learn how to handle losses because they experience several of them. Some losses will be more painful than others – big championships, games we expect to win, and embarrassingly lopsided outcomes. We shouldn’t discount the loss, but we should also learn to talk about it with a language that isn’t harsh, critical, and accusatory. We can acknowledge the loss and even acknowledge the pain of the loss, but we should also bring the experience around to a positive teaching moment. That’s why we need to find value in a loss and point out that value to our kids. That’s why we can’t make someone on the team a scapegoat because that merely diminishes the trust our player will have in his or her teammate. And that’s why we can’t be so angry that we make our kids fearful of losing desperately wanting to avoid the pain of being the object of fury. We can sidestep the knee-jerk reactions of losing and develop a more constructive approach so that our children understand loss is just a part of the journey towards wins. They can be disappointed that they lost just as we can be disappointed, but no one should evoke discussions of failure which is a far more final and unredeemable piece of language. Acknowledging a loss isn’t the same as wallowing in it. We should help our kids put losses in perspective which means finding the way a loss will help them improve their skills and future outcomes. It all depends on the words we use to deal with it.

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Coaching Clinic at Presidents Cup

Sam Snow

During the finals of the US Youth Soccer National Presidents Cup I ran a coaching clinic. Nineteen coaches signed up and the clinic was held over the last two days of the tournament. We had class presentations on Match Analysis and Game Day Management. The coaches also gave group reports on the matches they observed. Each group was given specific aspects of the matches to analyze and then report to the class. This really helped the coaches to improve their observation skills and to see a game with a different lens than as a spectator or the coach of the team.

Among other topics here are samples of the points of emphasis given to the coaches to observe in the four matches seen during the tournament.

Communication within the team –

  • Does it exist?
  • Is it effective?
  • Are key players taking responsibility?

Compactness – Does the team know how to stay together and execute defending principles in groups?

  • Horizontal
  • Vertical

Style of defending (man-to-man or zone or combination) – Do the players understand it?

How quickly does the team make the transition to defense? Are they consistent?

Describe the interaction of the coaching staff with the players before, during and after the match.

Does the team formation help or hinder this team on offense?

Do the players know and execute the principles of attack?

What variety in attack does the team display or are they locked into one method of attack?

Does the goalkeeper stay physically and verbally connected to the team throughout the match?

Discuss the keeper’s organization at free kicks and corners in the defending third.

Discuss the keeper’s choice of defensive techniques (ball skills).

Observe the keeper’s distributions.

  • Choice of technique?
  • Makes tactical sense?

Here are a few comments made by the coaches attending the clinic:

“That was a very informative and fun weekend.”

“Thanks again for a very enlightening and productive coaching clinic this weekend. This is the first coaching event I've been to and was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the program and process. I learned a lot and can put it to use immediately to be a better coach.”

“Thanks again for putting on the class, I enjoyed.”

“Thanks so much for the well organized and efficiently detailed coaching course! You do a great job of communicating!”

US Youth Soccer plans to hold similar clinics at our events in the future.  Sign up to receive the Coaching Advisor newsletter and be the first to find out when and where new clinics like this will be held.

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Superlatively Factual

Susan Boyd

Normally I wouldn’t watch it, but my nearly 15 year old grandson is visiting and he’s a fan, so we tuned into American Ninja Warrior. The subtitle was “USA vs. the World.”  Given the recent Women’s World Cup fever, the premise sounded promising. However, apparently “the world” in the Ninja Warrior universe is made up of Europe (one team) and Japan (another team). They couldn’t even muster Asia as a team. The European team had four members, two of whom were expat Americans. The contest is a series of obstacle courses over water where the teams compete in heats against one another, the clock and the treacherous obstacles.  In the background are two announcers whose sole job is to hype the drama playing out on our television screen. We are told regularly how no one has yet completed the third course, how the hand grips are just two inches deep, how much upper body strength is required and naturally how the competitor overcame a major life obstacle on his/her way to this course in Las Vegas. At the end of three courses Japan was eliminated, the irony of which was not lost on the announcers who mentioned Ninja and Japan at least 20 times in the space of two minutes, but the USA and Europe were tied leading to an unprecedented showdown. The showdown is on a mountain of steel scaffolding, dramatic lighting and strategically placed cameras. Contestants must shimmy up a rope some 20 or so stories to the apex of the industrial peak and hit a buzzer. Again, the issue of upper body strength is flogged, remarking often that rock climbers do the best at these events. This show takes up two hours on NBC, and despite the obvious athleticism of the entrants, its main purpose is hype a la arena wrestling.

When we attend sporting events we create our own build up based on our love of the game, the team and the players. We don’t need any externalized boost to our enthusiasm through embellishment of information. We understand the talent needed, the sacrifices made, the obstacles faced and the competitive context for the game. Any tension in the match is created by the events unfolding on the pitch and our own knowledge of the history surrounding the contest. However, when we watch on TV, we get an entire scenario of drama based on whatever facts, figures and stories the announcers can dredge up. We get enveloped in a cloud of statistics pulled out to further tout the tension of the game:  If she scores it will be her 100th career goal; that yellow card made him the most penalized player in the league; only seven other players have more international caps. While these facts rarely have anything to do with the outcome of the match, they are used to make it more exciting, as if that was necessary. Statistics are kept on sports as much for adding color to the game as for keeping records. Nevertheless outside of the game day pronouncements I do get intrigued about many of these superlatives. They add interesting details to my knowledge of soccer and can present some fascinating information. With my curiosity piqued by the Ninja Warrior experience, I decided to glean some of the better statistical superlatives such as most, fastest, first and oldest as they relate to soccer.

Soccer, as we play it, had a morbid start in the early 1800’s in England in Newgate prison. Thieves who had lost their hands as punishment adapted their ball playing to feet only. The game was originally called basket-ball because overturned wicker baskets served as goals. The first football club was Sheffield FC founded in 1857. The term “soccer” was actually created by the British in the 1800’s as a slang term for Association, but while the US and Canada are corrected for calling the sport soccer so too do many Pacific Ocean nations who were once under British control such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. The first televised soccer game was in 1937 as a friendly between two Arsenal practice squads. The soccer ball is actually a bit oval but the pentagon pattern gives the optical illusion of a perfect sphere. There are 32 panels on a traditional soccer ball originally representing the countries of Europe. Yellow and red cards were first used in 1970, and England’s Premier League tried using teal cards in 1994-98 to indicate possible fouls to be reviewed by instant replay. A soccer field is called a pitch because it was built with a five percent incline from one baseline to the other so teams play uphill for half the game.  In 1872 the first international match was played between England and Scotland. The first World Cup was played in 1930. Worst miss would probably be when five Viera FC players shot on goal within eight seconds and all missed. Their shots were foiled only once by the keeper; the rest bounced off the side net, the upright, the crossbar and over the net. All shots were made within three yards of the goal mouth. The average professional soccer player will run between six and nine miles during a match and use over 100 different joint and muscles movements.

Players have their share of amazing statistics. Asmir Begovic, goalkeeper for Stoke City F.C., is credited with the longest soccer goal of 91.9 meters when he sent a drop kick down the pitch 12 seconds after kick-off. It hit the ground, bounced over a defender and the opposing goalkeeper and landed square in the back of the net. Nawaf Al Abed is generally recognized as scoring the fastest goal in two seconds, although the game was ultimately disqualified due to ineligible players. Two seconds was also all it took for the fastest red card ever issued when Lee Todd colorfully remarked about the loudness of the opening whistle. US Youth Soccer alum Carli Lloyd scored the first and only hat trick during a Women’s World Cup final. Seven players have scored more than 10 goals in Men’s World Cup competition with German Miroslav Klose holding the record at 16. For the women, Marta from Brazil has 15 with US Youth Soccer alum Abby Wambach close behind at 14.  Two women players have appeared in six World Cups:  Brazil’s Formiga and Japan’s Homare Sawa. On the men’s side the top number is five World Cups held by Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and German’s Lothar Matthaus who also has played the most WC games. Pele’ had an amazingly efficient goal-scoring ability recording 1,279 goals in 1,363 games or achieving a 94% scoring average. German soccer player Mesut Ozil donated his 300,000 Euro World Cup winnings to provide surgeries for 23 children in Brazil. Giving John Kerry a run for his money, Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast and Chelsea FC brokered a cease fire ending a five year civil war in his country. Discounting 18 month old Baerke Van der Meji signing a 10 year contract with VVV Venlo FC of the Netherlands, the youngest professional player to actually have minutes is Bolivian Mauricio Baldivieso who in 2009 entered a game between Aurora and La Paz in the 39th minute 3 days shy of his 13th birthday. Freddy Adu attracted attention when he was 12, but had to wait until his 14th birthday to sign with DC United. The most violent player might be a subjective choice, however when combining the lists of most cautioned, most ejected and most sanctioned, three players fall at the top end of each list:  Roy Keane, Eric Cantona (who actually fly-kicked a fan in the stands), and Patrick Viera. Honorable mentions have to go to Zinedine Zidane, who is the most penalized player in World Cup history, and famously head-butted a player to earn one of those penalties, and Luis Suarez, who sank his incisors into three players between 2010 and 2014. The male player with the longest career was Yorghos Kudas of Greece who played for 27 years. His female counterpart was Lily Parr of England who played nearly 31 years between 1920 and 1951. A more contemporary example and in second place is Kristine Lilly of the US who played 23 years. The oldest professional soccer player was Neil McBane who made his last appearance in a game at age 51.  The longevity of players proves that training well can extend a career.            

Although these facts have less to do with understanding soccer and more to do with adding detail to what we watch as well as giving us a leg up in trivia, it’s still significant for fans of the game to appreciate the extremes within which normal play and players exist. Many of the major impressive superlatives have been achieved by players of little notoriety otherwise who simply worked daily to better their game and lift up their team.  When teams achieve it comes from group efforts which may include a few superlative moments, but generally rely solely on good, solid performances. Best, worst, most, least, oldest and youngest will always be in flux. Despite being categorized as the ultimate they will surely be surpassed. We can enjoy these facts for the moment, chuckle at many of them, gasp at some and then be assured that these anomalies don’t define soccer play. Besides something newer, better, and bolder will tweak our emotions again. That’s the best that can be said for any trivia.


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The Biggest Stage

Susan Boyd

First off, congratulations to the U.S. Women’s National Team for its World Cup Victory last Sunday. It was an historic win in an exciting competition. Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick, the first ever in a Women’s World Cup final. It also avenged the penalty kick loss four years ago to Japan with this year’s decisive 5-2 win. And the U.S. managed to score four goals before the 20-minute mark. Hope Solo only allowed three goals the entire tournament with 540 minutes between the first goal allowed in the first game against Australia and the second in the 27th minute of the World Cup final. Amazing! The team came to Canada to win and stayed focused on their goal. The defense shone throughout the month. The real test was supposed to be Germany in the semis, but after a foul in the box, the U.S. scored the PK and never looked back. Even England rallied against Germany in the 119th minute of overtime to score and beat the Germans in the consolation game. The tournament awarded fans with spectacular play, a couple major upsets such as Australia beating Brazil 1-0, and examples of true determination. We have to wait another four years for the next Women’s World Cup in France, but there are plenty of opportunities to watch the women of the world play again, especially in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

World-class soccer gives our youth players not only something to strive toward but an important validation of their own choices. As more and more U.S. broadcast channels, announcers, and fans embrace soccer, players can take great pride in being a part of that movement. They also realize they play a sport which dominates the world stage in a way no other American sport does. Just for fun I entered the word “soccer” on my TV provider’s search engine and for the next week there are 279 opportunities to watch soccer games, and this is a slow soccer month. Once September arrives there are a myriad of international games that can be viewed, not to mention the beginning of men’s and women’s college soccer and the last third of the MLS season and then their championship playoffs. The broad spectrum of channels carrying matches mirrors the international nature of the sport: Bein (Middle East), GOL (Spanish Language), Telemundo and Univision (Mexico), Sky Sport (Europe), Setanta (Italy), and U.S. national and local sports stations such as ESPN and Fox Sports. Fans can watch English, Scottish, Italian, French, German, Japanese, Argentine, Columbian, Mexican, and Canadian soccer matches regularly along with our American matches including MLS, college, and even local high school. Youth players can and should be part of this international community because it opens up the competition to aspects greater than wins and losses such as the politics and culture of the nations involved.

Despite the recent problems facing FIFA, there is one area where the organization has truly benefitted the sport. FIFA established rules for soccer that cross all boundaries and equalize all playing options. The penalties our players get disciplined for are the same ones a child in Ghana or South Korea would receive. By standardizing the rules for the entire globe, FIFA has insured that soccer can be played anywhere by anyone in the same format and fair play. Further, by governing the sport since 1904 FIFA provides an impartial and regulated arena to air and resolve disputes. Players and teams who want to play internationally need to adhere to these rules and this oversight. It may seem constricting, but it is no more so than that of the NFL, NBA, or MLB. The framework provides an even playing field all around the world. Countries who can’t agree politically or religiously, all adhere to the FIFA model. It’s gratifying to see 209 nations (60 of whom were added between 1975 and 2002) all agreeing to a single set of rules and a single court of resolution. Countries actually clamor to be a part of FIFA, giving the organization tremendous power to require compliance and to do good. The only major international item unresolved is the inclusion of Israel in the Middle East confederation. Due to the internal restriction of Israel and other Arab nations which don’t allow Israel to play in Arab countries and vice versa, FIFA moved Israel to the European conference. Even that decision shows that the organization can resolve conflicts and maintain peace across the borders. FIFA even attempts to handle issues such as racism and poverty, not always in the most powerful ways, but they recognize that they can bring a universal message and use soccer to promote that message.

Since soccer is played world-wide, kids have the opportunity to travel anywhere to play. Soccer is a conduit to discovering new cultures, spectacular architecture, and political differences. There are a variety of organizations that offer various tours based on soccer but not necessarily exclusively for just training in or playing soccer. The exciting part of going anywhere in the world is that soccer becomes a universal language. One of my favorite documentaries which has a companion book is Pelada which chronicles the journeys of four 20-something soccer players. They brought their play to different countries across a wide spectrum of socio-economic conditions. The film details how quickly kicking a ball around on a patch of grass or a city center fountain square could draw a group of players. Although the four travelers often didn’t speak a word of the country’s language, they communicated with the citizens through a shared love of soccer. In Jerusalem they organized a game among Arabs and Jews that transcended politics and resulted in a joyous afternoon of laughter and happy competition. They played in the slums of Nairobi where the same exuberance emanated on the pitch as was seen in the wealthiest suburbs of Dubai. Youth players, if they can, should venture out into the wide soccer world to test their abilities, to learn the various tactics played in different nations, and to share a passion with strangers who become friends.

Recognizing the extensive net soccer casts in the world gives young players a wider perspective on the power of the sport. Dozens of international and continental competitions are played out every year with the granddaddies being the Men’s and Women’s World Cups and the Olympics. Right now through July 26 the CONCACAF Men’s Gold Cup is being played in the United States. This competition brings together national teams from North America and the Caribbean. With three years to go before the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia teams are jockeying for bids. The Gold Cup performances will factor into who earns enough points to make the World Cup list. Therefore these games will be hotly contested with the best players each nation can bring to the pitch and thus a great representation of international soccer. CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, recently completed their continental competition which had many of the games televised in the United States. On August 2nd, Arsenal will meet Chelsea in the FA Community Shield game which is held annually between the winner of the FA Cup (Arsenal) and the first place team in the Premier League for the previous year (Chelsea). This is akin to our Super Bowl and will be broadcast in America on Fox Soccer 1.

Letting youth players step onto the large international stage that defines soccer gives them not only some goals to shoot for but also an entry to the global community. Soccer can encourage players to learn other languages, travel to exotic locations, or study up on the history of a country. Often during international games, the commentators will highlight some of the struggles of the individual players or the team’s country which might inspire kids to research more of the details. Understanding that soccer crosses borders means understanding that borders don’t need to limit us. Kids can celebrate their athletic choice anywhere in the world and know that they will be joined by scores of other youth players. The soccer community can be very small and personal when kids play with their friends but can expand to include us in a larger world. We can be included by watching international competitions or by actually traveling to another country to play. When Robbie went to Kenya for a study abroad program he engaged groups of kids, most of them orphans suffering from extreme poverty, in games of soccer. The fields were rocky, overgrown, and without lines or goals. Yet he could connect with them through the sport and ultimately help to educate them about public health issues once they trusted him as a fellow player. That’s the power of soccer – to bring us together transcending borders.

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