Monday, May 23, 2016
Not so long ago, a hack was considered a taxi or the office flunky. Occasionally, journalists were called hacks although the definition got confused with flunky. You might hack into underbrush. Lately, when we speak of hacks, we’re talking about tech geeks who can break into the dense tangle of computer code and steal our identity. To hack can also mean to cope or succeed, which I imagine is how the term “life skill hacks” evolved. Type “hack” in a search engine and you’ll find ones for cooking, applying make-up, doing exercise, even dog walking on Dogster.com. I’ll add to the conversation with some tried and true soccer hacks that I’ve found useful. Hopefully these can alleviate some of the stress and frustration surrounding the logistics of our children playing a busy, messy and far-ranging game.
Storage Hacks – My garage, mudroom, boys’ bedrooms, and even my family room could end up looking like an explosion in a Nike factory. Keeping gear readily available, yet out of sight, often proved difficult. My best tool was a canvas over-the-door shoe holder. There are usually at least sixteen nice pockets that can hold tons of equipment like shin guards, shoes, socks, water bottles and hand pumps. You can write on the canvas with a Sharpie, labeling pockets for specific items and kids’ names. If it sits on the back of the mudroom door, players can throw things into it or take them out as they come and go from matches. Some models of these bags have two reinforced grommet holes that allow you to mount it on a wall if that would work better. Another option is to keep those boxes that the new cleats come in. They can be covered with construction or wrapping paper and labeled to sit on shelves in the garage or mudroom to hold extra uniforms, practice jerseys, cleats, shin guards, and odds and ends of the sport. You can also use a shoe box to hold first aid supplies. The box can sit on the shelf and be picked up as you head to a practice or game.
Those long trips with electronic devices can eat up the batteries. Transport them accessibly by using a tackle box. The various compartments seem tailor-made for holding AAA to D batteries. They don’t rattle around loose.
A great hack for amazing ball storage can be easily created in a corner of the garage. Build two U-shaped wood braces from 1’ x 3’ with the U at least big enough to surround a soccer or basketball. Attach the braces to the wall one over the other at least 3 feet apart and leaving a 2” space between the floor and the bottom brace. Stretch bungee cords between the braces (two or three for each side which isn’t bordered by a wall) to create a “cage” for the balls. Kids push the balls in and out as needed, and they won’t unexpectedly fall as they might from a shelf or a full bin rolling out the door and down the street.
Dark and Stormy Hacks – All too often, soccer is played in the rain and mud. Dealing with the mess can be never-ending. Here are a few hacks to save your sanity. Packing up muddy cleats as soon as possible in a plastic bag will save the car carpets and the inside of a soccer bag. Having those bags handy is much easier if you repurpose a rectangle facial tissue box to stuff it full of those thin plastic bags you get from the produce department. You can pull out what you need while the rest stay nicely packed away under your front seat. You can also store some 13 gallon kitchen trash bags in your back-of-seat pockets and lay them down on the seats and the floor to save upholstery and carpet from the evils of a mud bowl match.
Since soccer bags tend to hold old socks and wet shorts, they can smell pretty foul. You could spray them with a freshener, but it tends to expensively mask rather than destroy stench. A great hack is to put one or two charcoal briquettes in a sandwich bag and leave it open. Pop it into the bag. It will not only help prevent mildew by leaching water out, but it is also a natural odor destroyer.
Fill plastic snack zip bags with laundry detergent so you can do a load for the team while on the road. You can do the same with softeners and stain removers. Carry the smaller bags in a quart-sized zippered bag or a lidded plastic container to ensure no leakage. We all have old pillow cases sitting in the linen closet. Throw one into the soccer bag to hold the wet, filthy uniforms kids change out of at a match. You can wash the case along with the uniforms and place both back in the soccer bag. Much more environmentally responsible than plastic bags.
Gear Hacks - Pack a white and a dark T-shirt along with some black tape into a gallon zipper bag, which will suffice as emergency jerseys readily available should any team member forget or have a shirt damaged by the elements.
How often do we watch our little ones running across the pitch with their shoe laces dangling? There is a rubber strap you can buy to slip over the cleat and the laces to hold them in place, but getting the strap on can be difficult. An easier and less expensive method involves using the mini rubber bands that are sold in bags of 100. They are about the size of a dime. Slip the laces through the band before tying, make your bow, and then tuck the loops over and back up through the rubber band. The knot should last an entire match or practice.
There’s nothing worse than losing a shin guard, whether it may be completely lost or just drifting loose somewhere in the tangle of a soccer bag. Take the thick blue rubber bands that are wrapped around bunches of asparagus spears or romaine lettuce and place one over a shin guard. Kids can wear the guard with the band in place and after removing them, slide the two together through the band.
My boys loved knocking the turf and mud off their cleats on the floor of the garage no matter how often I pointed out that the lawn was just a few feet away. I put a paper shopping bag between the cars in the garage and the boys then held and clapped their cleats inside the bag. Every few uses, I’d just dump out the clumps in the garden and put the bag back in the garage. This saved me not only from sweeping but also from the boys tracking into the house the grit they left in the garage.
Snacking Well – Keeping kids hydrated and satiated can be done cheaply and still be convenient. Rather than buying Gatorade or Powerade in six and eight packs, leaving you with lots of empty containers, you can buy either liquid drops or cans of powder and mix your own in a permanent water bottle that you can rinse and reuse. The cost is pennies on the dollar and doesn’t dump a huge pile of plastic on the planet.
Those snack bags of chips, raisins, trail mix or pretzels are convenient but pricey. Buy them in bulk and use wax sandwich bags to create your own bags. Fold the top over and use a single strip of tape to hold it close. The wax bags are biodegradable. A gallon milk carton can be repurposed as a carrier. Cut the top off at an angle, preserving the handle, which will create a waterproof holder you can fill with ice and drinks that won’t leak unto your floor or upholstery. You can even set these in a regular chest cooler to keep melting ice from soaking other items in the cooler and can be pulled out as convenient servers.
Oranges are a soccer staple. Here’s a tip to quickly make orange wedges. Slice off the top and bottom stem ends of the orange, then slice the remaining piece along the latitude only to the center. Spread (unroll) the orange into a strip where the orange wedges are now separated and easy to peel off. You can serve that way or cut the strip into a few pieces.
If you regularly hand out popsicles or ice cream treats for after game treats, you can save them from dripping on everyone’s hands and clothing by putting the stick through cupcake baking cups which will catch all dribbles.
Create a snack sampler with a plastic jewelry organizer. Fill each compartment with a different snack to have available during a long trip. Kids will love the variety as they get a little sample of everything from pure junk food to healthy options so that they don’t feel limited. They may even end up creating their own crazy snack combinations. Everything stays put in a tightly sealed container.
Soccer isn’t all that complicated in terms of equipment needs, so storage, travel and playing have fewer chances for thorny problems. Nevertheless it’s always nice to be able to simplify any of our needs. I’m grateful for friends who have turned me onto some of these hacks, especially when I was getting frustrated with clutter and constant insults to my car’s interior. We have apps to handle many of our day-to-day tasks, so having a few hacks to improve our soccer planning and implementation seems reasonable. Our kids may not appreciate them, but we certainly can.