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Parents Blog

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

 

From Day One

Susan Boyd

Dick’s Sporting Goods has come out with a series of commercials under the umbrella catch phrase, "Be Untouchable." The ads focus on older youth sports, specifically high school-aged players, and have a strong emotional component showing the dedication and effort athletes must make to achieve success. One in this series really connected with me. It takes sports from boxing to wrestling to show young players with some type of weakness and how they work to overcome it. A female soccer player rubs the scar on her knee and then covers it with a brace. A young basketball player is practicing dribbling and shooting, startled when the lights all come on and his team arrives for the actual practice. The commercial runs for 90 seconds and tells dozens of stories in that time. Yet none of the stories end in some type of amazing victory. We see the soccer player pass the ball and later see her alone on the field practicing after removing her brace. The basketball player gets the chance to take the court where he dribbles and then passes to a teammate who goes up for a basket we don’t see made. It ends with text scrolling over the images: From day one, be untouchable — every tryout, every practice, every opportunity, every season.
 
The message is clear. This isn’t about winning but about taking charge of whatever talent and chances a player is given to improve. It’s an appropriate message for all levels of youth sports. We parents should be setting this tone for our children. No one disputes that victories make the effort worth it. But improving as a player should be as much of a child’s triumph as a league success. Teams can’t win every game (even the Miami Heat lose), but they can improve each game. Part of that improvement should be an emphasis on individual player development. Most kids won’t become elite athletes, but they do grow up to be citizens who need strong self-images and confidence. Pushing for improvement teaches young players to target goals and work toward them. Achieving any portion of that target gives young players self-worth. Using those improved skills to make a difference on a team gives young players confidence. Persevering through the various tests that tryouts, practices and games present teaches young players how to stay the course in any endeavor despite obstacles.
 
The phrase "be untouchable" can imply some sort of super human effort where a player becomes the best among peers. But I don’t think it’s just this type of monumental objective. I see being untouchable as rising above the slings, arrows, roadblocks and doubts of life. Players who have a passion for their sport need to also develop the ability to continue to exercise that passion despite detours created by injury, mental insecurities, competition and bad play. Some players will never develop a passion for sports, but they can still have fun. So the phrase "be untouchable" in those situations means insuring that the joy of playing isn’t tainted by overly competitive coaches, bad behavior by sideline parents and taunting by fellow players. We can help create the best environment for our kids to feel the exuberance of play by encouraging positive input which is so important in those years up through middle school. Statistics show 70 percent of youth players quit sports by age 13, and according to Michael Pfahl, executive director of the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, "The No. 1 reason (why they quit) is that it stopped being fun." The emphasis on winning begins to overtake the emphasis on enjoyment. It’s a logical step since the further up the sports ladder one climbs, the more competitive and demanding the sports become. Coaches, clubs and even schools can have a huge financial stake in winning games. But the activity of sports that offer the benefits of physical exercise, weight maintenance and developing interpersonal relationships shouldn’t suddenly end at age 13 for 70 percent of players. There needs to be an outlet for all players to be able to continue to have fun in sports. While being "untouchable" can seem contrary to this goal, placing undue pressure on average players, it can also mean that kids learn to overcome with our help those negatives that make sports no longer fun. Parents, who provide strong support in the form of driving to practice, attending games, and making sure that kids have the proper time to fit in all their demands including school, church, jobs, hobbies along with sports, allow their kids to feel empowered to handle life and retain joy.
 
In our family, we had a daughter who changed sports every season. She loved playing, but as her circle of friends expanded she would follow their sports selections. She did gymnastics, long distance swimming, basketball, softball and tennis. She had a blast all through high school and never developed anything close to a particular expertise in any of these sports. On the high school swim team, she wasn’t skilled or fast, so the coach asked if she would swim the 1000 meter free style which is 10 full laps of the pool or 20 half laps. She said sure. She came in last in every meet, yet never wavered from attending practices every day and leaping into the water at dozens of meets. She did it all because she enjoyed the social aspect of the team and because most team members didn’t criticize her efforts since if she didn’t do that event, someone else would have had to! 
 
Parents need to be aware of their players’ efforts and encourage them. One of the best ways is through praise. No matter the outcome of a game, by picking out a significant moment where a player showed skill, good sportsmanship, perseverance, sacrifice or team play, we parents can instill a sense of pride in effort. We can take this further. We can encourage our clubs to similarly focus on developing players’ athletic abilities and mental concentration. They should also be instilling the good values of a sport to players, such as fairness, humility, collaboration and sacrificing personal achievement in favor of the team’s success. How a coach handles a loss can speak volumes to what that coach and club value. A coach who ends up playing the blame game afterward won’t be the right person to keep your player from being touched by self-doubts, a miserable attitude about playing and reluctance to continue. Rather than being finger-pointers, coaches should be planners using the events of the game to teach how to be better next time.
 
Being able to not only rise to a stronger level of play but to also rise above the negatives players run into makes them untouchable. When I see a child playing with the wild abandon of joy and confidence, I see someone who has been supported to be, from day one, untouchable. Here’s to all the kids and parents who participate in youth sports because it is fun. Let’s hope more than 30 percent continue on the journey.
             

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A Study in Contrasts

Susan Boyd

Youth sports can be an uplifting and positive experience for most players. Kids learn leadership, compromise, humility, pride, perseverance, joy, how to make friends, how to set goals and healthy habits such as good nutrition and exercise. But every so often youth sports expose a dark underbelly of behaviors far removed from what we want our kids to learn. In June, such an event occurred in youth hockey. During the traditional handshake line following a game, the coach of the winning team stuck his leg out and purposely tripped a member of the opposing team, causing him to fall and, in the process, break his wrist. Yesterday, the coach was sentenced to fifteen days in jail, but he will probably also face a civil lawsuit from the parents of the boy he injured. The YouTube video of the event features the gasps and moans of the spectators who witnessed the action and total disbelief from the 12- and 13-year-old players on both teams.
 
Then, last week a redeeming story exposed the highest ideals of youth sports. During an end-of-the-season high school basketball game in El Paso, Texas between the Coronado Thunderbirds and Franklin High, the Coronado coach sent in his team manager to play the final two minutes of the game. The young man, Mitchell Marcus, is developmentally disabled and an avid basketball fan. The entire school cheered as Mitchell ran onto the court. Time after time the team fed Mitchell the ball in order for the young man to make a basket, and time after time Mitchell failed in his shots. In the waning seconds of the game, his team passed him the ball; it slipped through his hands and flew out of bounds, giving the opposing team possession. Then something remarkable happened. The opposing player who was to throw the ball inbounds called Mitchell’s name and sent the ball to him. While the crowd went silent in disbelief, Mitchell received the ball, turned and made a basket at last. The entire gym erupted in cheers. Mitchell’s team mobbed him and lifted him on their shoulders. This amazing act of sportsmanship left Mitchell’s mother in tears and overwhelmed the coach. The young player who passed him the ball, Jonathon Montanez, said, "I was raised to treat others how you want to be treated. I just thought Mitchell deserved his chance, deserved his opportunity."
 
These stories are a study in contrasts and ask the question: Which example would my children follow? I know I raised my children by the Golden Rule, but I have also been ravenously vocal during games applauding and encouraging a win. I would like to think that in the same situations my children would have never sabotaged a player and instead would have displayed sportsman-like sacrifice. The Thunderbirds had a 13-point lead at the time, so Franklin High really didn’t have a chance to snatch victory in the situation. But the action of Montanez certainly went against the philosophy of "it’s not over until it’s over." Risking both the loss, but more importantly the wrath of his fellow teammates and his coach, Jonathon ignored his own fate and focused on the positives of giving Mitchell his chance at a memory he will have forever. Have we taught our kids to be so selfless? Do they see examples of sacrifice often enough to be influenced by that behavior? As parents, what message do we send before, during and after games that might contradict being benevolent?
 
The emphasis on winning in youth sports can taint the positive lessons kids should be learning. The hockey coach’s team had won the game, but that wasn’t enough for him. He needed to humiliate one of the opposing players he felt had played with particular arrogance. After he tripped the young man, he turns and points at him with an air of "you got what you deserved." Emotions run high during a game and winning can be the most powerful of elixirs. So it’s important that coaches and parents teach players to celebrate victory with humility. Even if my children might not have passed a ball to a deserving opposing player for a score, I definitely hope that they would all delight in a win without animosity towards their opposition. Even if they lost, they should rise above any petty retribution or anger. Once the final seconds have ticked away, what should remain are friendships, pride in effort and the joy of playing. No matter the stakes in youth sports, games should just be games since most players will not advance further than the youth teams they play on. One could argue that players need to learn the intensity of pushing for a win if they are to become top competitors. I would agree for the top percentage of players that the later stages of youth development up the ante. But becoming competitive doesn’t have to mean leaving compassion and good sportsmanship in the dust. And for most youth players the need to develop a "killer" instinct just isn’t necessary. That’s not the point of youth sports and certainly not one of the benefits.
 
I’m sure most players wouldn’t do what Jonathon Montanez did. I’m also sure that most players wouldn’t do what that hockey coach did. The actions of our players fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes. Altruism in sports does go against most of the objectives of competition, but sports should be a small piece of what constitutes our children’s moral upbringing. So as parents we can try to instill in our kids the ability to discern moments when they should be unselfish. In truth that’s the actual definition of good sportsmanship — recognizing that good competition requires acts of humanity. When we learn that football players were paid for administering injurious hits or athletes used drugs to improve their performance, we need to discuss those issues with our children so they can learn to apply reason to the tough moral choices they will face in life. Likewise, when there are cases of good sportsmanship, we need to present those to our kids so we can discuss why those are significant decisions. Recently in a cross country race, the lead runner thought he had crossed the finish line so he slowed down and threw his arms up in victory, but the line was actually a dozen yards further down. The runner behind him could have easily caught him and won the race, but realizing the mistake slowed down and urged his challenger to keep running so he could win. What is even more amazing is that the race was being held in Spain and the second-place runner was Spanish. He would have gotten extra glory for winning this contest for his homeland. But as he said, "…because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well." What an outstanding statement. We would all do well to remember that we are capable of a "gesture of honesty" when the times call for it in sports or in life. 

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Football Coaches Association of Africa Nations (FCAAN)

Sam Snow

So what do a couple of soccer junkies do with a few days off?  They go to Africa and conduct a coaching course. On February 16 and 17, Terry Eguaoje and Sam Snow, along with Sam Okpodu, taught an "E" diploma course for the Football Coaches Association of Africa Nations (FCAAN) - http://www.fcaan.org/.

Dr. Eguaoje is the Technical Director for Mississippi Youth Soccer and Mr. Okpodu is the former executive director for South Carolina Youth Soccer, the former head coach for the Women’s National Team for Nigeria, a former player on their Men’s National Team and a NSCAA Instructor.

FCAAN looks to serve coaches across Africa with up-to-date coaching philosophies and methods. This was the inaugural course for the association. The course was conducted at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Lagos, Nigeria and there were 34 coaches in attendance from across Nigeria and Ghana. For most of the coaches this was their first formal coaching education. They proved to be quite receptive to the information delivered and are anxious for more.

The course covered:

  •  Introduction & Orientation
  • What is Football
  • Components of the Game
  • Principles of Play
  • Systems of Play
  • First Aid
  • Team Administration
  • Risk Management
  • Player Characteristics
  • Methods of Coaching
  • Field Session 1 & 2
 
Terry and I both conducted model training sessions as a part of the course. Terry covered the Principles of Defense and I ran a session on the Principles of Attack. A coach in the course provided players from his club in the U17 age group. We had 24 players at each of the model sessions.

For photos from the course click here: http://fcaan.org/gallery.php

The coaches in the course work with mainly players in their teens and early adulthood. As is the case across most of Africa, children do not play on organized football teams. until around the age of twelve the kids play in the neighborhood, at school or at local spots where regular kick-abouts take place. One such place, at least for older players, was in the parking lots surrounding the former national stadium, just outside the NIS. Improvise – adapt – roll the ball and let’s play!

Photo 1

Figure 1 - One of many pick-up games going on next to the former national stadium near the NIS
 

Organized chaos, which is the essence of a football match, takes place at schoolyard games across Nigeria. Students play – all in the same school uniform, but they know who is on each team. That environment demands a high level of mental concentration from the players. This is an aspect of most sandlot games. It is a quality that American clubs should allow when they have ‘street soccer’ days at the club. This will be a positive factor in the growth of the American player. Let us Americans always be open-minded to what we can learn from other footballing nations. Let’s not genuflect at the altar of foreign football, but let’s certainly use what is practical for soccer in the USA.

 

photo 2

Figure 2 - primary scholars playing football
 

After the course was concluded Terry and I took part in one live TV sports show, three taped TV shows and one live sports talk radio show. The newspapers also picked up on the event: http://www.sportsdayonline.com/sports/1769/display

I quite enjoyed my trip and I believe it was an educational experience for all involved. I look forward to the next FCAAN course in which I can take part.

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Soccer at Any Cost?

Susan Boyd

President’s Day weekend offers dozens of soccer tournaments around the country, even in Wisconsin — albeit indoors here. Returning from Las Vegas on President’s Day, I flew with members of two clubs out of Wisconsin who had attended a tournament there. It brought back memories of holidays spent on planes, trains and automobiles traveling to tournaments, league games and friendlies. As winter gives way to spring, clubs begin their annual push to retain their best players and find new players to try out for their teams. Every club knows it can’t actively recruit, but the ways around this rule are numerous and well-known: parents contacting parents directly, advertising on public bulletin boards and websites, high school coaches with connections to certain clubs, and blast emails advertising tryouts hoping to snare just a few select players out of the mass of players they contact. Selecting a club to try out for means considering lots of factors, such as playing time, competition, league rankings, national rankings, coaching and costs. It is the latter that I think most families ignore too often in the decision-making process. In the rush to get their child on the best team in the hopes of getting scouted by colleges, they sacrifice family vacations, extras, time with other kids and money.
 
I know what my ticket to Las Vegas cost, and I got the cheap web fare. Round trip was more than $400 and add to that three nights’ hotel, a rental car to get to and from the fields, food and incidentals. Even if you share those last costs with two or three other players, you still need an adult to drive the rental car, so at least one additional airfare. Conservatively, you might spend $650. Multiply that by four to six such tournaments a year, and you can see how rapidly the costs add up. If you have more than one player in a select youth sport, costs go through the roof.
 
Top clubs can begin at $1,500 a year for fees that don’t include the cost of travel, tournaments, uniforms or coaching expenses for tournaments. Those fees can be worth it if a family can afford them without a big sacrifice and their child shows promise. However, remember young players develop at different tempos, some achieving height and speed sooner or later than their peers, therefore judgments as to ability and future passion for the sport shouldn’t be made prematurely. Families might consider starting off slowly and not let ambition, vicarious dreams and unrealistic financial investments influence them until they know if their children truly want to take the next step in their soccer lives. It’s tempting to believe that the cost and prestige of a club should be the sole measure of its talent in producing top players. But if your child sits on the bench at a top club, what difference does it make? And assuming that a club has the power to make great things happen for your child can be a costly error. Strong players can be developed by less expensive and esteemed clubs. Families should not be asked to go above their financial limits or to go into debt for what can end up being a joyful hobby.
 
It’s also important that parents keep their child’s talents in perspective. All too often we end up with blinders on because we only watch youth soccer and often only in our home areas. The United States covers a lot of territory and talent. If we don’t get out there and see what talent exists outside of our immediate realm, we may have the false image of our child as a star. College games now appear regularly on the TV, or you can actually go to some local college games. When at tournaments, go watch other teams, especially those teams that have a high national ranking. Watch the players at your child’s position and be brutally honest in your assessment of how their talents compare. More importantly, watch as much soccer as you can. Remember what coaches will look for. Your child may score 56 goals in a season against weak competition. Coaches will want to see how your children play off the ball, if they’re ball hogs, if they understand how to develop plays, if they can play other positions if called upon to do so, if they have speed and technique, and if they are leaders or thugs on the field. We parents have to be cautious as to how highly we consider our children’s abilities. We can heap praise on them, but doesn’t attribute amazing talent if it isn’t completely there.
 
As your child gets older and better that may be the time to consider a more intensive club. If your player shows talent for college soccer and wants to be scouted, be sure that your club attends one or two college scouting tournaments a year. Some tournaments require a pedigree of the club, so it may also be the time to switch clubs. But in my experience even the tournaments with the toughest entry requirements end up a team or three short to make up the brackets, so clubs that want to enter can if they have an aggressive coach and/or manager who calls the tournament coordinator weekly to see if spots have opened up. Players can increase their personal odds by emailing the coaches of colleges in which they have an interest. They should be sure not to discount Division II, Division III, NAIA, and junior colleges. Building up a name for themselves in smaller markets with less competition can lead to the ability to transfer to the college of their choice in their sophomore or junior year. The pathway to success doesn’t always need to be paved in money.
 
The non-monetary costs settle out with less family time, neglected siblings, missed school, and sacrificing other activities and lessons. These factors make sense if your child is in the top 5 percent of players in the country since they most likely will be the ones who move on up the food chain. But most players do their sports because they love them and these sports offer an opportunity for friendship, collaboration, exercise and pride. Sports should be a family activity that adds to the entire family’s enjoyment and togetherness. But that’s hard to accomplish if the attention becomes overly focused on one child. Therefore, we parents have to carefully weigh the pros and cons of investing heavily in our children’s youth sports "career" against any and all sacrifices the entire family must make to facilitate their advancement. Everyone should share equally in attention, money and time. So you may want to find a way to throttle down on the intensity. Invite other family members to weigh in on how they feel about travel to tournaments to watch Lisa or Richard play without any other benefit to them. Consider finding events where the entire family can share in the fun such as Disney, Las Vegas, water locations, and resorts with tons of amenities. That also begs the question of expense, but perhaps families can combine a planned and budgeted vacation with a soccer event.
 
If your family has limited resources, don’t feel pressure to provide top-of-the-line soccer experiences. You might be better off, even if you can afford a more expensive club and club demands, to invest money in a college fund rather than in costly soccer expenses. Don’t be swayed by the pressure clubs will try to exert in these months leading up to try-outs. First, nothing is sure, even if they seem to be courting your child. The clubs will take the best players available, which they may not see as your offspring, or next year they could cut their relationship with your player. You need to do what is best for your family, both financially and emotionally. And you don’t need to feel guilty if you select the Chevrolet club that is more in keeping with your monetary and family goals rather than the Rolls-Royce club. After all, both cars get you from point A to point B.

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