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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.


Receation Programming

Sam Snow

My friend and colleague Julio Paiz is the Director of Coaching for the Louisiana Fire in Kenner.  The club is in the process of hiring an administrator for the club’s large recreational program. He and I exchange some ideas on points to help standardize a recreational program in today’s soccer club. Here are the points that I made:

If I were undertaking such a project I would consider these points:

1.    All players, coaches and team managers must register centrally with the club

2.    All teams must use the club colors and name

3.    All team equipment must be ordered through the club

4.    At least 50% of a team roster will be scrambled annually to keep coaches from building up “dynasties”

5.    All adult personnel with the recreational teams must undergo a background check

6.    All adult team personnel must pass the CDC concussion course

a.    Heads Up: Concussion in Sports Intro Course - To learn more about concussions take the CDC’s FREE "Heads Up! Online Training for Youth Sports Coaches." This training will help you with a basic understanding of concussion.  Simply go online and take the self-guided training. Once you complete the training and quiz, you can print out a certificate, making it easy to show your league or school that you have completed this intro course offered by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) and US Youth Soccer.

7.    All coaches must hold the “F” license at a minimum and they must do so within 48 hours of being named a team coach (the course is 2 hours long and entirely online) -

8.    All Zone 1 age groups must play in accordance with the small-sided games mandate from U.S. Soccer

9.    All players of every age group must be recorded by the U.S. Soccer mandate of birth year registration

10. All parents of the players will be required to take a brief on-line clinic and supply the certificate to their team manager or coach

a.    Parents’ Guide and Introduction to Youth Soccer - The guide is designed to assist parents new to the game of soccer in growing the spirit without limiting the child. Chapters cover information from the basics of youth soccer and making a positive impact on children to roles of coaches and referees to lending support to your child.

11. Team managers and coaches will be encouraged to show the Positive Parenting DVD at their initial team meeting:

12. So that they can appropriate guide their child’s sport nutrition habits the parents will be encouraged to take the free on-line clinic:

a.    Coaching Healthy Habits - Did you know that there are three simple things you can do to help your players stay healthy and perform their best? Learn how you can encourage players to Drink Right, Move More and Snack Smart in the Coaching Healthy Habits course, developed by US Youth Soccer and Healthy Kids Out of School. In two brief chapters, you’ll learn about basic nutrition and physical activity for young athletes and find practical tips to implement these healthy principles at your trainings and matches.

13. Coaches will be asked to sign up for the free e-newsletter: Coaching Advisor

14. Players and coaches will be asked to watch the skills videos:

15. All parents and any novice coaches will be guided to use the Pocket Guide:

Here’s the job description and duties from Coach Paiz:

Louisiana Fire Soccer Club

Title: Louisiana Fire Recreational Coordinator

The position of Recreational Program Director serves as an important role within the Louisiana Fire Soccer Club to support, stabilize and strengthen our recreational soccer program consisting of 800 players and 100 volunteer coaches as well as promote the program in our community in accordance with our club mission.

Key Responsibilities:


  • To manage the administrative aspects of the Recreational Program.
  • Ensure that all policies of Louisiana Fire Soccer Club are adhered to and enforced.
  • Responds on a timely basis to calls and inquiries related to the Recreational Program.
  • Work with DOCs in updating and maintaining the “Rules and Regulations” for recreational program.
  • To educate parents on program goals, objectives, strategies and related details through appropriate channels to ensure the highest quality soccer experience possible for recreational program participants and their family members.
  • Player Retention: Responsible for tracking player retention and success including identifying talented players and ensure that players are provided with the best possible instruction and support to encourage respect for the sport of soccer. 
  • Plan, organize and direct the set-up of player seasonal registration.
  • Work with DOCs in creating a strategic marketing plan to target the growth of the Sparks, U6 & U8 programs.
  • Create a calendar year timeline for all recreational activities.
  • Prepares and posts content and other relevant information on the club website in a timely manner.
  • Create an online resource library, including age appropriate training activities and plans, to assist volunteer coaches and encourage meaningful instruction at team events throughout the season.
  • Maintains a database of coaches actively engaged in the club as well as prospective coaches eager to participate in the recreational program.
  • Create and maintain all club manuals relating to recreational teams.
  • Work with DOC in managing age group directors in order to ensure the highest quality of training services available to the target audience in the Recreational program.
  • Work with DOC in organizing and chair quarterly Recreational Meetings with age group directors.
  • Work with DOC and age group directors to identify, recruit, train, schedule and monitor the performance of all volunteer coaches and assistants.
  • Work with DOC and age group coordinators in scheduling, organizing and developing pre-season coaching clinics for recreational volunteer coaches.  
  • Work with age group directors to ensure that all volunteer coaches complete a background check.
  • Work with DOC in organizing end of the year Festival and other identified events.
  • Work with age group directors in providing an end of season evaluation for volunteer recreational coaches.
  • Work with age group directors in collecting a grade for each individual player at the end of the season (e.g., 1-very good, 2- good, 3- need improvement).
  • Assist in the ongoing evolution, implementation and evaluation of youth referee program by providing support to the referee assignor in planning and conducting programs for youth referee training and development.
  • Plan, organize and direct a school clinics program (Should include 20 school visits a year).
  • Create a quarterly newsletter for the club.  It should include recreational, YDP and competitive content.
  • Build working relationships with key constituents within the club and state and national soccer coaching communities. 
  • Participate in local and regional soccer educator seminars, workshops and professional development opportunities.


My questions to the reader are:

  1. What points do you think should be considered as a club works to standardize its recreational programming?
  2. What should be the duties of the administrator in the club charged with overseeing the recreational program?

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Carpool Survival

Susan Boyd

Any of us who have children in sports knows that we can’t survive the schedules without participating in and depending on carpools. The more kids we add to the mix, the exponentially more we are tied to car pools. They are a boon when we aren’t driving and can be a bit of a nightmare when we are the drivers. On the other hand, carpools can be an interesting window into our kids’ lives as they chatter in the back and we can be a fly on the wall. Surviving the complicated social and logistical tangles of carpooling can make for some stressful and interesting experiences. There’s some tried and true methods for tackling the necessary evils, but first you have to understand the “Laws” of carpooling.

  1.  A truck filled with watermelons or chickens or used frying oil will lose its load three cars in front of you;
    1. Corollary A:  This will happen 200 yards after an exit and two miles before the next possible exit.
    2. Corollary B:  You will never have cell service when this happens.
    3. Corollary C:  One of your passengers will either need to pee or to vomit immediately.
  2. Your day to pick up from practice will be just three hours after a soaking thunderstorm when every kid is covered head to toe with mud.
    1. Corollary A:  You just had your car detailed.
    2. Corollary B:  The field is also covered in goose droppings.
  3. When it isn’t your carpool day, the assigned driver will cancel at the last minute.
  4. No matter how often you step in to help at the last minute, you will always be made to feel guilty when you can’t.
  5. Someone will forget something vital and realize it 20 miles down the road.
  6. The noise level in the car is directly proportional to the level of your headache.

Corollary A:The music choices will always metaphorically use more “cow bell.”

Corollary B:All kids will sing along and none have any musical talent.

  1. When you drive in temperatures above 80 degrees, the snack will be either Hershey Bars or popsicles.
    1. Corollary A:  You just had your car detailed.
    2. Corollary B:  No matter how many napkins or paper towels you have, they are never enough.
  2. If your car is due for a major breakdown it will happen when you have five kids late for a big game.
    1. Corollary A:  You will never have cell service when this happens.
    2. Corollary B:  All five kids will continually remind you that they are going to be late.
  3. Your turn to drive will invariably be for the event farthest away and the most difficult to reach.
    1. Corollary A:  As with most soccer fields, the address is never precise.
    2. Corollary B:  Your GPS will do a best guess on location which is often incorrect.
    3. Corollary C:  Even with accurate directions, there will be an unexpected detour.
  4. Kids will say thank you and all too often parents won’t.

When you join a carpool, and most of us belong to at least two, there is an implied contract that has some delicate social parameters. Kids will be brutally honest with one another, so their conversations will be not only revealing, but possibly embarrassing as well. You will hear about fights that parents had, things the coach said, gossip on dozens of friends, and scores of tasteless jokes that everyone will find hilarious. The policy of “What’s said in the car, stays in the car” should always be honored. It’s best to remember that when someone else is driving they will be hearing about your family secrets. Likewise, you need to be careful about your comments. If you criticize the coach, another player, or another parent it will get back to them even if the ties to your passengers is tenuous at best. Imagine my shock when one kid once informed his coach while I was in earshot, “Mrs. Boyd says you don’t really give everyone equal playing time.” So mum’s the word when in the car. Then there are the things you don’t expect would cause problems. I found out that a song we played, “All Star” was taboo for one of my passengers when confronted by his mother. It didn’t have bad words, it wasn’t rap, but apparently it conveyed the wrong attitude by stating “she had an L in the middle of her forehead” i.e. she was a loser. If I decide to stop to get the kids a treat on the ride home I need to be sure that I’ve covered all the allergy and dietary restrictions. I discovered the hard way that what I thought was the perfect healthy snack, sugar-free frozen yogurt, turned out to be unacceptable for my one (unknown) vegan. Therefore, as a carpool driver you should politely check with every parent before doing what you think is something nice. It can unfortunately backfire otherwise.

The compact you “sign” when you join a carpool can truly be complex and unfair. For example there are three types of carpool parents:  those who pull their weight; those who pull more than their weight; and those who vaporize when their turn comes up. I often wonder if these latter adults have some type of “Beam me up Scotty” device that transports them, sans children, to a destination far removed activated with just the word “carpool” being spoken. They are the parents who claim to be incredibly busy though busy often translates into attending spin class and having a pedicure. The rest of us, who really are busy juggling several children’s schedules, a job, and getting uniforms washed, manage to handle the duties. Don’t expect these ghosts to feel any guilt; that vaporizes as well. But they are experts at slathering on the guilt to everyone else. When you join a carpool the concept of fairness doesn’t apply. I know when I was offered the straws, they were all short. You’ll get the longest trips, the games that get cancelled as soon as you arrive, the kids who get car sick, the kids who hate each other yet sit next to each other, the last-minute emergencies, and the hysterical child who loses his homework at the field. The best way to handle this all is to take a lesson from “Frozen” and let it go. Carpools are necessary evils that, despite the rough roads, at least ensure that your child always gets to travel. You won’t be able to negotiate better terms, but you will get some really precious moments that ultimately outweigh all the troubles.

I’m talking about being an important part of the conversation and activity that goes on in the car. Making connections with their friends in this safe and confined environment means that you have links with them well into their teens. Your own children somehow feel freer to open up to you as if you are now one of the gang. Something magical happens when those doors close. I loved monitoring and occasionally joining in on the conversation. My repertoire of ridiculous jokes doubled:  Where does the Easter Bunny eat breakfast? IHOP. My repertoire of bodily function jokes quadrupled:  Why did Tigger stick his head in the toilet?  He was looking for Pooh. I also got the chance to nip bullying and disrespect right when they happened, the best way to teach object lessons. “You guys don’t need to resort to name-calling. You’re smarter than that.” Getting to know the teammates on a more personal level gave me a greater investment in the games. I got to cheer on Teddy who had the bright idea to try to open my sliding van door while we were moving. It didn’t open but it set off an alarm that dinged for the 10 minutes it took to reach the field. Teddy whose red face matched his red hair ran onto the pitch while everyone else was still laughing at his shocking (potentially dangerous) behavior. I learned how much Michael wanted his dad to like soccer and come to just one game, so I cheered extra hard for him. I found out what girls like my sons and which girls they liked, usually not the same. Clear into college when I’d run into kids from the various carpools they would remember some fun detail from our trips back and forth. So you can relish those moments that are solely yours, fleeting, and special. I could do without the number of jokes crowding my brain, although those jokes do make me a bit of hit with my grandkids.

If we have kids, we are almost assured of joining a carpool at least once in our youth sports experience. It’s a given that you’ll have a ton of frustrating incidents that usually stem from adults rather than the kids. Keeping a sense of humor helps; certainly the kids have a sense of humor albeit a bit warped. If you expect thanks from your peers, disavow yourself of that fantasy. In fact the thanks you receive from them is generally inversely proportional to the effort you expend to transport their kids. On the other hand kids almost always shouted “Thanks Mrs. Boyd” as they leapt from the car. No matter the trouble and the thanklessness, I loved the carpools I did, loved the kids I drove, and learned to love the quirks of the parents because I’m sure they felt I was also quirky. If you aren’t in the right mood when it’s your turn to drive, here’s a few jokes to perk you up.

  1. What sounds do porcupines make when they kiss?  Ouch!
  2. What do you get when cross a chicken and a pit bull?  Just the pit bull
  3. The teacher asks the class to use fascinate in a sentence. One boy eagerly raises his hand. “My coat is so small I can only fasten eight of the buttons.”

Those should give you a good head start in surviving any carpool.

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Some Light Reading

Susan Boyd

I hope all of you have been watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup. There’s been something for everyone’s sense of drama: upsets, bad calls, nail biters, extraordinary play, and stupendous feats of athleticism. By the time this is published, we’ll know if the U.S. Women’s National Team will be playing in the semifinals. The great news is that FWWC is pulling in record viewership. The U.S.-Columbia game had 4.1 million tuned in with a peak of 6.4 million. Only two other broadcasts had higher numbers on Fox Sports 1: Game 4 (5.1 million) and Game 5 (4.9 million) of the 2014 National League Championship Series between St. Louis and San Francisco. Likewise, Canada nearly drew more viewers for their opening game vs. China than the Stanley Cup game that evening. Quite a spectacular outcome given that hockey is the national sport. Even Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Benoit couldn’t put a damper on the upswing of interest in the event when he tweeted that “Women’s sports in general [are] not worth watching…Women are every bit as good as men in general, better in many aspects, their sports are just less entertaining. TV ratings agree, btw.” Apparently he missed the reports on the Women’s World Cup, as well as the ratings athletes like Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey pull in.

While watching the matches, I couldn’t help but notice the various scrawls on the message boards surrounding the pitch. While FIFA has suffered a tarnishing of their image, there were several reminders of their charitable programs and social platforms. I wondered if these millions of viewers in the U.S. (estimates are 1 billion world-wide) had: A. taken note of the advertisements, B. looked the programs up, C. acted on anything they had learned. After all, there was plenty to watch on the pitch, so people would be forgiven for not heeding the constant verbiage scrolling in the background. I decided to look the programs up, curious as to what FIFA was touting. There were four agendas:  Football for Hope, Football for the Planet, Say No to Racism, and Fair Play. Each of these has a particular purpose in promoting FIFA’s image which certainly needs some propping up. Adding to the quartet is adidas’ campaign #BetheDifference.

Football for Hope started in 2005 to promote the issues of children in impoverished areas. FIFA works through local private and community-based organizations supporting the resources used to foster the social development of youth. Much of FIFA’s support comes in the form of football-based programs. During the Men’s World Cup in Brazil in 2015, FIFA sponsored a festival with delegates from 32 of some of the 108 world-wide organizations involved in the Football for Hope initiative. The projects span a variety of social issues, from homelessness in the UK and landmines in Laos, to HIV/AIDS education in South Africa and responsible citizenship in Brazil. For the World Cup, Football for Hope focused its resources in Brazil, donating $1.05 million to programs in Brazil and an additional $2.05 million world-wide. FIFA encourages the communities receiving funding to hold matches where there are no referees. All conflicts are resolved through agreement either by admission or through dialog which FIFA believes promotes personal development and mutual understanding. Likewise, representatives from the communities being served meet regularly to discuss ways to use football to advance and improve social concerns. While the money FIFA contributes is substantial, it pales to what they made alone from the 2014 World Cup, which was $2.6 billion – that’s billion with a B.

Football for the Planet is the official environmental program for FIFA started in 2006 during the World Cup in Germany. The program has evolved over the past decade to embrace some fairly sophisticated efforts in off-setting the ecologic impact of the World Cup matches on the host country’s environment. For the 2014 competition in Brazil FIFA worked on three fronts to reduce the harm an influx of millions of fans would have on the environs. First FIFA worked to offset carbon emissions which have the largest effect on climate change. They estimated that the World Cup would produce 2.7 million tons of CO2 emissions of which FIFA had control over 250,000 tons. Using local emission programs, FIFA offset all of their CO2 emissions. Second FIFA required that new stadiums in Brazil be sustainable. For example they encouraged the installation of solar panels and expected the stadiums to earn the maximum points of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for green building which encourages sustainability and efficiency. To that end they sponsored training sessions in building green for the architects and contractors of each stadium. Third, FIFA developed waste management programs for the stadiums helping vendors to institute proper waste disposal to include strong recycling efforts. Additionally FIFA used its mascot to instruct spectators on responsible waste disposal.

Say No to Racism is an education program that grew out of FIFA’s article 3:  Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion. For many years this article was not clearly and consistently enforced, but over the last decade more incidents of discrimination and hate speech appeared at FIFA-sponsored events. Black players regularly face abuse which includes bananas tossed at them from the stands, racist chants from fans, and racist taunts from other players. Anti-Semitism comes in the form of fans openly waving Nazi flags at matches and taunting Jewish fans and players. For many years, FIFA simply turned a deaf ear and blind eye to these overt acts, choosing to let “boys be boys.” However, with riots at Egyptian matches based on deep religious divides, dangerous anti-black sentiments in Europe, and hooliganism based on racial biases, FIFA realized it needed to act. More dangerous to the organization is the threat by several African nations and individual black players to boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia if racism isn’t addressed. To that end, in May 2013 the FIFA Congress adopted a resolution on the fight against racism and discrimination which highlighted the need for strong punishments to support the position that racism has no place in football. FIFA has joined with the continental soccer governing organizations such as UEFA and CONCACAF to sanction teams, players, and administrators who practice or condone racist actions. Sanctions based on prejudicial behaviors have now come regularly and without mercy for the offenders. Unfortunately the idea of solving such a complicated issue as bigotry by just “saying no” is about as effective as Nancy Regan’s campaign to just say no to drugs. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that FIFA is taking the issue seriously and encouraging fans to recognize the harmful effects of bigoted behaviors on the sport.

Fair Play has ironic implications considering the level at which FIFA’s integrity has come under attack. The program uses the slogan “My game is fair play” to promote respect on and off the pitch among all players, officials, coaches and fans. The purpose is to play the game peacefully with integrity, fairness, dignity and respect. FIFA might want to take a page from its own promotions to find ways to conduct their activities with the same four cornerstones of behavior. Once a year they dedicate a week to highlight the people who best exemplify the principles of fair play. One person or group is recognized for special acts with the annual Fair Play Award. At every FIFA tournament teams are judged on their behavior and one team is selected for the tournament Fair Play Award. FIFA also encourages individual clubs all the way down to youth soccer to promote fair play both on and off the pitch, asking clubs to be sure to highlight those who exemplify honorable behavior.

Although not directly a FIFA program, adidas sponsors the “Be the Difference” platform. Obviously created to sell more shoes, it highlights the energy required to be a top soccer player. As adidas states, “Soccer is changing. In the style and way it is played and in the types of players who grace the game. For a team to be successful, you need two types of players – Playmakers who orchestrate and control everything, and Game changers who smash the defense and cause chaos. Pick your side and be the difference.”  While an advertising ploy, the statement is powerful for young soccer players who may feel that they are marginalize if they play any position other than striker. The commercial purposely doesn’t identify impact by a particular position, rather by performance which supports the idea that every child makes a significant contribution to the success of a team. I think besides getting kids salivating about a particular boot, the campaign elevates the importance of every player by exposing the ability to make a difference comes through passion for and investment in the sport.

If you remember while cheering on your particular team or player at any FIFA event, check out the boards around the pitch. There are mostly advertisements displayed there, but occasionally there are some interesting statements being made about soccer beyond the competition. I will agree with FIFA on the point that we need our kids to see how we behave in our soccer lives needs to mirror how we behave off the pitch. We can be part of the solution of many of the world’s problems by simply applying some of the principles we learn while playing:  cooperation, respect for authority, charity, fairness, integrity, tolerance, and accepting success with humility and defeat with dignity. Sometimes what appears in the background can be a good read to remind us of these values.

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Nothing to Sneeze At

Susan Boyd

It may seem a bit hyperbolic to say, given all the scandal coming out of FIFA in the last month, but the biggest FIFA outrage surrounding the Women’s World Cup has been the use of synthetic turf fields for the competition. This is the first Cup, both men’s and women’s, to be played on artificial surfaces, and the women have complained mightily filing a lawsuit against FIFA to force them to switch to natural grass. The suit was eventually withdrawn and the event went forward using engineered turf. Sadly, two beautiful grass fields were dug up and replaced with artificial turf because FIFA rules require that every pitch be exactly the same. Ironically, if Canada wants to bid to sponsor the men’s Gold Cup or World Cup those two fields will need to be returned to natural grass. Others outside of soccer joined the protest, including Tom Hanks and Kobe Bryant who tweeted a photo of USWNT player Sydney Leroux’s torn up legs after a game. A boycott was considered, but many teams were unwilling because the World Cup is the top stage for players, and many nations get very few chances to compete on such a revered international platform. Other than a successful legal challenge, the women athletes felt they had no choice but to play on the surface dictated by FIFA.

Here in Wisconsin, most of the college pitches and many of the high school fields have switched to artificial grass. It is less difficult to maintain in our weather extremes and extends the outdoor playing season from February into December. Grass would be far too fragile during approximately six months of the year. Some institutions that can afford it have artificial practice fields installing grass on their competition pitch. Clubs conduct fund raisers to be able to construct at least one synthetic surface field and use that fact to tout themselves as a great choice for young players. For many people artificial grass has been seen as a tremendous advance which reduces field maintenance, although not necessarily costs, provides for a longer season, and gives players a consistent pitch. It could be the panacea for a dozen woes, yet professional players are increasingly adamant about refusing to compete on artificial surfaces. David Beckham refused as early as 2007 when the LA Galaxy played the Toronto FC on their engineered field. Which brings us to the Women’s World Cup and FIFA’s decision to require artificial turf in all stadiums and the women protesting that decision.

Artificial turf began in 1965 with the installation of ChemGrass at the Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island. ChemGrass became known as AstroTurf in 1966 when it was laid in Houston’s Astro Dome to much fanfare and great expectations. Artificial grass has undergone several generations and its newest best form, the one used for the World Cup, is called 3G pitch system which has been approved by FIFA. Artificial turf opened the floodgates of indoor facilities which obviously couldn’t support grass so depended on wood and concrete surfaces. Some places used what could only be described as a “carpet” stretched over concrete. It was cheap, and like a carpet it would stretch leaving gaps between seams and ridges where it bunched up. It was unsafe to play on and unsafe to fall on since it rarely had under padding. So having a grass substitute seemed like Nirvana. And for many of the indoor arenas and sports parks it has been created a huge advantage providing year round opportunities for all athletes. Batting cages, lacrosse fields, and soccer all depend upon these engineered products to provide an indoor experience as close to grass as possible.

However, as more and more artificial turf facilities cropped up, the criticism of the surface increased. Players complained of increased injuries, especially ligament damage, joint stress, and turf toe. On top of that, the bristles that substitute for grass tear up the skin with rug burns, cuts, and bruises. Athletes felt that the surface shortened their playing lives, endangering the years of careful training they went through to ensure the safety of their bodies. Football had led the way with artificial turf but now the 21 teams who don’t have full grass fields use a mixture of grass and synthetics called FieldTurf. The surface is fairly close to real grass and requires the same maintenance as regards to watering, mowing, fertilizing and sunlight. New types of turf had to be developed because NFL players had the same complaints that the women soccer players are expressing for this World Cup. FieldTurf eliminates many of the concerns as far as injuries and discomfort. However, FIFA has not approved this product and instead has only endorsed the full 3G turf, which is what is being used in Canada.

Artificial turf also has the problem of absorbing and holding heat especially under direct sunlight. At one of the recent World Cup games the field temperature was 130 degrees Fahrenheit, when the ambient temperature was only in the 80s. It’s ridiculous to play under those conditions. At a tournament Bryce attended in Las Vegas in August, the turf got so hot that the soles of the ARs melted if they stood in one place too long. Eventually, the sponsors had no choice but to change the schedule to play games only in the early morning and after 7 p.m. It’s hot in Vegas in August, but grass fields would have never been unplayable in the heat. They may have withered, but they would not have retained and bounced back heat at intense levels.

Any artificial surface, even FieldTurf, uses granules and sand to give the surface buoyancy and depth. Many of the granules are made from recycled ground tires which contain heavy metals which are recognized carcinogenics. Players get these bits ground into their open cuts and sores, breathe them in, and even “eat” them. Lately, census studies done on athletes who compete primarily with fields holding these pellets has shown a strong link to blood cancers, especially in goalkeepers. No scientific study has been done yet, but the numbers are staggering. Ethan Zohn, a goalkeeper and winner of the third season of Survivor who founded Grassroots Soccer with his winnings, discovered he had Hodgkin’s disease. He didn’t make any connection between his cancer and goalkeeping until he met other keepers with cancer. Goalkeepers are most susceptible to contact with the rubber beads since they spend more time on the ground and have them kicked up into their faces and mouths. He began to keep a list which has grown to over 50 players in five years. He then met Amy Griffen, the assistant coach at the University of Washington, who had discovered on her own the same connection. While visiting a goalkeeper in the hospital getting treatment the nurse stated, “You’re the fourth goalkeeper I’ve hooked up to chemo this week.” Together Zohn and Griffen have been pushing the scientific community to look into these cases and do a controlled study. Additionally under constant sun the fields exude a strong chemical scent which critics say isn’t natural and could be toxic to everyone, fans included.

On the other hand, artificial turf has proponents. Players who suffer from allergies are grateful for the artificial surface which doesn’t aggravate their hay fever and skin reactions from grass. Kids with asthma have far fewer attacks when they play nearly exclusively on artificial surfaces. Despite the rough surface, fake grass does offer a consistently flat surface for play allowing kids to develop dribbling, passing, and running skills with reliable repetition. For the youngest player these plastic turf fields also eliminate the divots and rocks that plague grass fields. For those young kickers the toughest impediment isn’t rug burn, it’s those little bumps and holes that trip kids up and make soccer less fun. The best reason to support the use of artificial turf is that it does extend the playing season either by making outdoor fields playable in most weather or by offering superior indoor facilities with a cushioned playing surface rather than a hard surface. These increased opportunities offer our young players better and more consistent training.

We parents have to read the literature and make the decision on how safe we think the artificial surfaces are for our kids. There are definitely some serious concerns, but there are also advantages. The real issue for the World Cup players is the basic unfairness of the FIFA decision. While no men’s competitions are dictated to be played on artificial turf because the men have the same concerns as the women, FIFA ignored these concerns when it came to the women. Although the ball rolls faster, the surface allows for a quicker pace, and the synthetic fibers can withstand heavy rains, adult players still prefer the natural surface. They like the quirks that different pitches offer because it makes the game not just against the opponent but also against the elements. However for younger players they need the even and all-weather practice surfaces that allow for development of skills which can then be extended with indoor facilities. My sons heartily favor natural over artificial surfaces, but they also appreciated the synthetic pitches. In college they played on artificial turf, and in fact their college field was only the sixth one in the US officially approved by FIFA for FIFA-sanctioned games. So they had the experience of playing on some of the best of the fake. But they also both agreed that the burns, slashes, and cuts they got on those surfaces left scars they carry today, and their ankle stresses were certainly due to the less forgiving underlayment of artificial turf. Robbie suffers from hay fever, so he does agree that he had better breathing when on synthetic surfaces. I’d say the pros and cons are fairly even – it’s a draw for most players but unfortunately a defeat for the World Cup women.

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