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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." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Soccer Hacks

Susan Boyd

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 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.

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Player Development

Sam Snow

I want to share with you excerpts from a few US Youth Soccer documents that are great resources to any youth soccer coach. All of the documents can be downloaded for free from the US Youth Soccer website. To kick off, here is the introduction to the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model – Spatial Awareness.


A Progression for Coaching the Tactical Use of the Field of Play through Concepts of Space

This paper is not an analysis of individual, group or team tactics. Nor it is a discussion of systems of play. Instead it provides the youth coach with an age appropriate approach to teaching players concepts of concrete and abstract spaces on the field of play. As players mature at judging distances and angles on the field in relation from themselves to the ball, goals, opponents, field markings, teammates and corner flag posts then tactical decision making within the Principles of Play improves. This document provides coaches with developmental markers to be used within a thorough curriculum for player development, such as the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.

All concepts, Principles of Play and specific tactics need to be learned in well planned and properly conducted training sessions. Look to the Coaches page on the US Youth Soccer website for session plans on these topics and more.

Soccer, like all team sports, involves both elementary and sophisticated tactics. Of primary importance is coaching players in the concepts of the game – known as the Principles of Play. Of secondary importance is coaching specific tactics to execute the Principles of Play. Gradually broadening players’ awareness of space and the use of space on the field will lead to more enjoyable and attractive soccer. The general Principles of Play and the division of the field help clarify tactics for the beginning player and competent coach. Within the zones of the player development pyramid from the U6 age group to the U19 age group, coaches should stair step players into elevated awareness of tactical tenets. Beginning with general concepts, coaches should progress players' knowledge to specific tactics in exact areas of the field. While it is true that knowledge of the theory of the game helps the player to choose the right tactics that tactical ability depends on equally developed theoretical knowledge and practical experience. Neither theory nor practice can replace the other.

Understanding the characteristics of the age groups will help coaches be realistic about the tactical ideas that youth players can comprehend. However, do not be locked in by the age group while coaching the Principles of Play. Take a step by step approach toward awareness of space and the use of space on the field of play. When players can grasp the concepts then teach them. If the players are not ready for a tactical idea then wait until the next season.

A recommended approach helping players progress along the developmental pathway is the use of ‘street soccer’ games. In these games clubs could mix the age groups and/or genders to provide for a richer learning environment. Another option is to use the ‘academy approach’ for an age group. In this approach the players are not on a fixed team roster, but remain in a pool of players. Those players then move between training groups dependent on their developmental needs at the time. More details are available on the US Youth Soccer website on both possible approaches to enhanced player development.

The Laws of the Game can be used as one of the tools in helping players improve their spatial awareness. Start young players understanding of the soccer field first with the actual markings on the ground; i.e., boundary lines, halfway line, etc. As they move up in age groups there will be new markings on the field for them to learn such as center circle, penalty area and so on. By the time they are in the U12 age group all of the markings from a senior soccer field will be seen.

Beginning with the U6 age group use maze games, and then beginning with the U10 age group add in target games, to help players get into the habit of lifting their head to see the field. In training sessions use dots, disks and cones to mark tactical spaces on the field in order to literally ‘paint the picture’ for the players. As players learn about the marks on the field of play they can be introduced to some concepts about the field that will impact how they play the game. For the youngest players it starts with understanding our half of the field and the other team’s half of the field. Progress this understanding by introducing abstract concepts about spaces on the soccer field kicking off with the channels on the field and concluding with the mental picture of the field as almost a graph paper grid layout.

While the first concept of space on a soccer field is horizontal, the halves of the field, the next to be introduced are the vertical spaces known as channels. Next to be taught to players are the horizontal spaces of the thirds. Finally, we end with subdividing the channels and thirds.

You can download the full document here:

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Decked Out

Susan Boyd

This past weekend I became aware of a fact that I knew intuitively but hadn’t really acknowledged consciously. I simply accepted it without consideration. I went to lunch with a 5-year-old soccer player named Will. He had just finished a match and thus came to the restaurant in his uniform.

The hostess greeted us and then bent down to Will and said, “Do you play soccer?” He replied with a “yes.”

As she gathered the menus and guided us to our table, she continued her interaction. “Did you just play a game? How did you do?”

Will brightened up, “Yes and I scored a goal.”

“Oh good for you.” Then she noticed his club emblem on the shirt. “My brother played for the Kickers. That’s a great club. What’s your team’s name?”

“It’s the Cobras,” Will beamed.

“Because you’re good strikers right?”

With a giggle Will sat in his seat, “I guess so.”

I was astonished. In the time it took to go from the hostess desk to our table, Will had not received validation for his sport, but had been included in a brotherhood of players and acknowledged for his good play. All because she noticed his uniform.

That’s the power of branding. We recognize how important it is for kids to identify with their favorite team and players. Kids clamor for jerseys, warm-ups, scarves and posters to make them feel part of something bigger than themselves, and to also aspire to something. Even a simple uniform can provide big pleasures and self-esteem. I learned that Saturday. The pride that 5-year-old strutted without conceit was disarming. He felt like he was the king of the world for at least one meal. I had to concede a truth I had ignored — what our kids wear can have as big an impact on their character development as what they actually do. If clothes can make the man or woman, then a uniform can improve the spirit.

When my daughters were young, they always wanted to do a fashion show after a shopping trip. They would cheerfully put on their new outfits and dance and twirl down an imaginary runway. They felt special and attractive while luxuriating in the “ooh’s” and “aah’s” from the audience, which was made up of my husband and I. Their new clothes contributed to a heightened sense of self-esteem and joy. Should any item be a well-accepted brand name, it added to the effect. We often don’t understand the allure of wearing something from Abercrombie and Fitch or Justice, shaking our heads at the prices and, in some cases, at the low quality. But those clothes are just a different kind of uniform, placing the wearer on the fashion forward team. I hated when the boys wore their pants sagging below their butts. I couldn’t figure out the allure of such a ridiculous and uncomfortable style. I encourage them not to be sheep, blindly following some trend, but my “moral” lesson fell on deaf ears. With music and sports idols dictating the style trends, the boys just wanted to be part of that lofty group. If they weren’t, they felt that it limited their social opportunities.

When I witnessed Will beaming with pride, I realized that a uniform can be an elixir of self-esteem. For the youngest players it provides an outward show of their interest and abilities. A uniform provides a catalyst for conversation, allowing young players to engage with people and to occasionally toot their own horns, which can be both cathartic and empowering, letting kids know that they are accepted and can have pride. A uniform also makes them a part of a club where they should be valued. On the reverse, leaving that club and giving up the familiar uniform can be wrenching to a young child. We may want to keep the uniform as a memento, while our child may see it as a taunt of their failure. So we need to be sensitive to the measure a uniform sends.

Uniforms can create unexpected rivalries as well. When the boys started playing, they joined our city’s recreational league. They played on a team made up of friends from school and neighbors. They practiced on our subdivision’s soccer field with parent coaches. It was a great place to start – safe among familiar peers. However, there was also a select club that a few of their friends belonged to. While the boys’ uniforms were inexpensive, bulk products without adornment other than jersey numbers, their friends had Adidas uniforms holding the club insignia, their name and a number. This imbalance created a visual rivalry that spilled over to a spoken rivalry. I could see that some of the kids felt second-class when compared to the select team members. A few years later when the two clubs joined, the bad blood made the transition difficult. Some kids moved down to B teams while some rec players moved up to A. The cohesiveness of the team was made more difficult.

Nevertheless, one of the soothing factors turned out to be uniforms. Out in public, the kids all wore the same uniform without visible distinction between A, B, or even C teams. Instead those around town saw these players as one cohesive, accomplished group. Naturally, they should be valued no matter what, but having the cache of the well-known and branded uniform gave these kids an extra public boost. All local soccer players were part of the “in-crowd” as evidenced by the jersey they wore.

Another aspect of uniforms is that they need to be maintained. We can use our children’s pride in their uniform as a means to teach them how to respect property. They can learn to spray with stain remover before throwing in the wash, to keep their uniforms folded and together in a bag, to protect their uniforms from damage and loss, and to respect what the uniform represents. We can offer a special jersey, warm-up, socks, or scarf as an incentive for careful maintenance of the uniform they have. It can be a tool for learning as well. Kids should research the crest of a professional team they support and learn the history of that club. Studying the statistics and life story of a favorite player might teach a child how to handle adversity or strive for stronger skills. Teams regularly change their uniform colors, so kids can share in the announcement of new designs. Likewise, they can participate in groups who celebrate “vintage” jerseys. These opportunities to actually learn from their uniform choices can be priceless.

As kids develop, they begin to take a greater interest in where the sport can take them. They watch college and professional teams, identify players they admire, and begin to dream about the day they might be that good. They want to feel a part of that energy and advertise their devotion, so they desire that special jersey. We’re happy to indulge them because we like that they are showing a passion for the sport and it does make an easy gift to buy. But beyond all that, kids develop a certain amount of pride connecting themselves to top teams and players. No matter where they travel, they are sure to encounter at least one other compatriot with instant recognition and connection. It’s great for kids to find this global community membership. It can extend beyond soccer into culture, politics, and travel. Sharing the colors of a favorite club or player opens up many other opportunities for our children.

Uniform can have the stigma of stifling individualism as the term implies conformity by definition. Schools hope to eliminate the competition of fashion by requiring standardized apparel, helping students to achieve some equality despite economic inequalities.

The point is to create a community that fosters inclusion without demanding a loss of individualism. Soccer allows kids to bond through passions, support, and friendship under the umbrella of shared clothing. We can further invest those uniforms with our interest and support, adding a layer of confidence to our kids’ accomplishments, by wearing spirit wear. Our children feel validated when they see us in a baseball cap or scarf sporting the team logo. We become part of their team which demonstrates our conviction in what they are doing. That simple action can do as much as our high fives after a match. It’s an evident representation of our support that extends beyond the pitch when we wear the gear to the grocery or the movies. Adding a decal to our car advertising a club alliance reveals our endorsement of both our children and their team.

Rather than limiting our children, uniforms can actually open them to a larger community where members share a specific interest but retain all the other variables that make them individuals. It may be why uniforms are called kits in Great Britain. While uniform implies restrictive conformity, kit implies something from which one would build or explore. Nevertheless, despite the term’s association with a standardized, unvarying image, uniforms don’t have to be restrictive. Even as they bind players through a common look and goal, they also allow players to go out in the world with the confidence that they are part of a supportive brother- or sisterhood. By revealing players’ allegiance both to a club and a sport, the uniform becomes a means to introduce them to a wider world of participants. When Will entered that restaurant in his uniform, he instantly became recognizable as a member of a larger citizenry. Even the age difference between the hostess and him was bridged by a shared experience revealed through the uniform. In a way, a uniform becomes a special language that thousands speak with pride.

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Use It or Lose It

Susan Boyd

Lately, I find myself in a rush to get through one day and on to the next like a child anticipating her birthday — anxious to reach the moment of cake and gifts. However, I don’t really have an objective — no major trip planned, no upcoming soccer tournament, no anniversary or special occasion.

Now I just bought one of those fitness trackers. Suddenly I want to get to the end of the day to record if I accomplished enough steps, attained the proper ratio of calories taken in versus calories expended and enjoyed a fully restful sleep. I check several times a day, measuring joy or despair over how many blinking dots flash across my display, and I begin to worry that I’m being unhealthy in my attempt to get healthy. It’s a need to move ever forward, never achieving but always producing. My life becomes cluttered by counting distance traveled and nutrition ingested while neglecting things like checking out the landscape as I hike past or savoring the taste of my meals. Even Ferris Bueller pointed out that “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

The TODAY show had a segment on teens obsessed with social media and how parents should deal with it. They used the example of a young woman who had over 2,000 Instagram followers and needed to regularly manage her account with extensive updates, responding to her followers, and staying abreast of media trends. The experts suggested the same things that have been repeated on a regular basis: Limit media time, enforce device-free zones like the dinner table and expect your child to give you access to their accounts. The problem is that parents are as egregious in their device addiction as their kids. Whenever I go to a restaurant or a movie, I see a majority of heads, both child and adult, bent over their phones with regrettably myself included. I went to a Broadway musical last month and an adult in the seats below me was regularly receiving and sending texts during the performance. Besides taking the user out of the magical theatrical experience, he or she took many of us out of it, as well.

We talk about multi-tasking, as if that means we are doubling or tripling up on our accomplishments, when in reality, we are probably missing out on the beautiful nuances and experiences of those tasks. I grew up in the era of the “Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Method,” which has been declared unviable, diminishing comprehension and even eliminating all together. Amazon just sent me an email touting their new “short versions” of bestsellers — introducing, for example, the 40-page version of “A Girl on the Train,” so we can avoid having to plow through the dense, rich imagery and ideas of the full novel (my words not theirs). They’re Cliff Notes for the new millennium. What will we really do with all that extra time we’re “saving?”

In the 1780s, Nicolas de Chamfort wrote, “Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.” How did he anticipate 150 years later our obsession with selfies, food photos, tweets that detail every mundane activity in our lives, and our narcissistic demeanors? We are busy being busy, but we never seem to really do anything. I worry that we parents are perpetuating this reflective existence.

Consider how often we watch our children’s soccer matches through the narrow lens of a camera. Since we can now take countless pictures easily without the need to have film developed, it gave us license to overdo. Instead of the freedom of watching a game unfettered by an SLR camera or smart phone, we clamp that device up to our eye. We don’t snap a picture or two to send to the grandparents; rather we memorialize the entire game because it costs us nothing but our attention, yet it is that very attention that is being compromised in those circumstances. Ironically, we are missing the big picture. We need to ask ourselves who appreciates all those photos. Even if we convince ourselves that we are creating a legacy for our children, the reality is that kids notice if they are receiving our full attention and much prefer that to some artificial reenactment of the day.

Likewise, when we concentrate on wins, we are missing out on the joy of the play. I always marvel at how the youngest soccer players seem to have no stake in the outcome of a match. They love to score and love the celebration a score permits, but at the end of the game they are far more focused on running gleefully to embraces on the sidelines and post-game snacks than on who won. Eventually, they understand the ramifications of competition and buy into the perceived importance of victory. However, kids need to know that they are not valued solely for their success but more significantly for how they pursue their talents. Winning has nothing to do with developing a moral and ethical person. Their character is never measured by conquest but by thoughtful and wise use of skills and considerate behavior while doing so. Abigail Van Buren told her readers that “the best index of a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.” Parents can set the best example by noticing and praising how players exercise both their skills and their principles during a match — making wins a welcomed but unnecessary element in how a match is played. All too often, wins are taken far too seriously. Elbert Hubbard joked at the turn of the 20th century that one shouldn’t take life so seriously because “you will never get out of it alive.” We must take both wins and losses in stride because ultimately they won’t impact how a child grows into an adult.

We can do a great service for our children if we teach them to both enjoy the journey of their lives and to never be afraid to challenge themselves. We shouldn’t focus on wins because we unintentionally instill the fear of losing. This may keep our children from trying something that could make their lives even richer. The old saw reminds us that there is no failure except in no longer trying. Edison said he never failed; he just found 10,000 things that didn’t work. We need to stop trying to find the safest path through life for our children and micro-managing their efforts so they can avoid disappointment and loss. Letting them experience consequences also lets them learn how to overcome hurdles rather than us stepping in to remove the hurdles. How will children develop the courage to take risks if nothing in their life is a risk?

“Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you,” says Bethany Hamilton, who survived the loss of an arm from a shark attack while surfing. She not only continues to surf but to stretch her horizons despite her disability. That’s an important lesson for kids to learn. It allows them to push for more experiences and to accept that there will be roadblocks while they trust that they have the ability to overcome those barriers. Oliver Wendell Holmes made the point very succinctly. He said, Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.” Kids may be afraid to live their lives to a full potential because they lack the confidence to take risks, and also because they are afraid to disappoint their parents. Kids remember one criticism over a dozen words of praise, so we need to be particularly conscious of how we approach our children’s efforts.

I worry that as we rush about getting to lessons, practices, games and events, we lose sight of the things that truly matter. Are our children happy? Have we noticed the unspectacular but important details? Are we building memories rather than just recording them? Are we giving our kids the tools to solve their own problems and accept risk? As we rush everyone through life, we may be depriving our children of the opportunity to just contemplate their surroundings. We need to distinguish between wasting time and enjoying time. The more we can slow down in order to recharge and reassess, paradoxically the more opportunities we will have to make the most of our time. We want to give kids a broad platform from which to launch their lives, but not a bland platform. We should embrace the beautiful imperfections that make life interesting. The conundrum comes about when we need to balance the opportunity to luxuriate in the simple pleasures of life and the drive to experience as much as we can. Children can best evolve when they have time to just be kids while they slowly integrate the ability to solve their own problems, set their own goals and take appropriate risks to reach their full potential. Our job is to give them the freedom to enjoy life and the room to seize opportunities. We can support without rescuing. We can stop doing things that simply fill time and instead choose a purposeful life that we share with our children and with others.

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