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

 

Skipping Ahead

Susan Boyd

Few of us can be faulted for seeing our pint-sized soccer dynamos as the next Abby Wambach or Landon Donovan. They look so fierce and dedicated as they scoot up and down the pitch mastering the moves they watch their much older idols executing. We naturally see all kinds of promise in their skills and passion. Since youth soccer has a focus on development, the players advance slowly within a prescribed series of team and field size increases in tandem with incremental skills training. It’s likely that as our kids progress we may become impatient with the developmental program. We decide that they are ready for a bigger challenge. So the issue of our children playing up a year or two surfaces regularly. US Youth Soccer Director of Coaching Sam Snow addressed this topic in a 2010 blog. He came at it from a coaching perspective and had several good points, which I’ll summarize here. However, I can also speak to the subject from a parent’s point of view. What’s important to remember is that moving a player or a team ahead has to offer significant improvements over the system in place and has to have the full agreement of club, coaches, parents, and in particular the player.

As Snow detailed, challenging players and teams will always be a goal of state associations, the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and clubs. Associations should not be so dogmatic as to restrict a player’s “option to play at the appropriate competitive level.” He argues rightly that development requires players “be exposed to levels of competition commensurate with their skills…in order to aspire to higher levels of play and maintain their interest in and passion for the game.” However, the process of development created and approved by the United States Soccer Federation came from long and careful study of how to best develop soccer players and teams. Parents need to appreciate the value of these development programs and not always be in a rush to bypass the process since it could be detrimental to the child’s progress. Likewise organizations should not insist on a “one size fits all” system which limits the strongest players from advancing to the proper level of competition and training. Playing up should be an option, exercised with proper evaluation by coaches and parents.

Furthermore, kids may not need to play up in order to achieve the benefits of advanced training. Clubs can do more open training that shifts players around during practice giving kids a chance to test their abilities in a safer environment than in games against older, more skilled players. It also gives coaches an opportunity to evaluate a player’s readiness to play up. Snow places the responsibility for the “development of players and advancement of the overall quality in the United States” on the youth coaches, administrators and policymakers. It is their “obligation to provide an environment where every player is given the opportunity to improve and to gain the maximum enjoyment from their soccer experience and ultimately, what is best for the player.” On the flip side, parents can be advocates for their children’s talents, but should also defer to the judgment of those long trained in the recognition, development, and promotion of youth players.

One solution that Coach Snow offers is for “club (playing) passes” rather than team rosters. This allows coaches to slowly introduce players to higher levels of competition without overtaxing them or risking injury when they go up against bigger, more aggressive opponents. As he puts it, it “allow(s) for a more realistic and fluid movement of players between teams and levels of play.” It’s also a system that helps reduce the overall resentment of a player being singled out to play for an older team or a player having to permanently leave his or her circle of friends to play up. In general, the discussion of whether or not a child plays up should be initiated by the coach, not by the parent. Most coaches are actually motivated to move players to the highest levels they can play. However, Coach Snow also cautions coaches not to “exploit or hold players back in the misplaced quest for team building and winning championships.” He asks parents not push their child. Playing up may not preclude returning to an age-appropriate team, which “should not be interpreted as a demotion, but as an opportunity to gain or regain confidence.”  This entire situation is best handled by the “club pass” option since it does make playing up a flexible process that doesn’t imply a “final” placement. Instead, players are given opportunities to stretch their soccer abilities with less risk and more support leading to stronger skills and mental focus.

Playing up has long been a tradition in soccer. Many of the most famous professional players began playing on adult teams while still in high school. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of players achieving at the highest levels of the sport but doing so on the regular developmental track. Climbing to the top of the “soccer pyramid” doesn’t have to happen right away for a player to achieve long-term success. There are a huge number of factors to consider before playing up. Kids develop physically at far different rates at the same age. Therefore, a player may be quite skilled, but coaches are reluctant to move her up because she is small for her age. Playing against much larger opponents could result in injuries that have career-shortening effects. Likewise, that player may become so overwhelmed that he or she loses confidence, a mental state that directly affects play. Coaches will also consider how much support the player will get from other team members, which will influence team dynamics and the player’s adjustment. If the team has weak tactics, they may not be the best place for a player to develop. Finally, players do become attached to their teammates, so playing up with kids who have a different maturity level could be isolating for a player, affecting both mental and physical development. Coaches can best evaluate this during practices and with players filling an occasional “guest player” slot.

As a parent with sons who played up, I can attest to both the advantages and disadvantages of the opportunity. I primarily caution parents against rushing the process. We always have the option of having our children try out for older teams, especially if we feel our club is holding our child back. However, be sure it’s for the right reasons and most importantly that the player is fully on board. Kids can easily get overwhelmed by the bigger, more mature, more skilled teammates of an older team, even if they are perfectly capable of playing at that level. The first time Robbie played up was when his entire team registered in a U-12 league while only U-10 so that they could play 11v11 on a full field. The experience was generally positive. The kids didn’t win many games, but they definitely learned how to trust one another, refine their team tactics, and enjoy just playing because wins were basically off the table. By the time the team grew into being a true U-12 team, it was so strong that the players found success as a team — eventually winning state. They learned to delay gratification, so the experience went beyond just soccer. Even today, Robbie is really good about being patient for things to come his way, and I chalk that up to two years of slogging away towards a team goal of eventually being one of the strongest in the league. However, as a freshman in high school, Robbie was the first starting freshman on the varsity soccer team in 20 years. It was a tremendous honor but came with some difficulties. Most of the players were all driving and Robbie was two years away from getting a license. It also meant most of the players were partaking in far more “adult” get-togethers, which included alcohol. Finally, there was strong jealousy from players and parents that Robbie has “stolen” a slot from deserving upperclassmen. Luckily, his older brother was the goalkeeper on the team, so Robbie had support. Also, he’s just a likable guy, so eventually he won over the team. But it was isolating and frustrating for him on many occasions. All of his friends either played for the freshman or JV team. Their games were during the afternoons when Robbie was practicing with the varsity team so he couldn’t even attend to support his buddies.

Likewise, Robbie was not allowed to even try out for the older team on the two main clubs in our area because their teams at Robbie’s age level were not strong. They wanted Robbie to play age appropriately to strengthen those teams, something Snow counsels against. That was frustrating for him because his high school teammates were on the older teams, and he wanted to continue those connections. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop these teams from asking Robbie to guest play with them when they were short-handed for tournaments. Playing up has political elements, which can’t be ignored. Parents need to recognize how that will impact their family and especially their player. That’s why I’m so in favor of the “club pass” system. It removes much of the “gifted” aura attached to playing up and puts it in the right perspective – an opportunity for any player to test his or her abilities.

In Bryce’s case, playing up was completely positive. His U-14 club team dissolved just before U15 tryouts. As a goalkeeper he had very few options where he could play. Luckily, a U-16 Serbian team desperately needed a keeper, so Bryce found a wonderful home. He knew several of the players from his high school team and he loved the chance to test his keeper abilities against bigger and faster players because the entire U-16 team was actually playing up in a U-17 league. He got early exposure to college scouts, stepped up his game significantly, and made a whole new set of friends. Luckily, Bryce was fully grown at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds. so he had no problem keeping up with the players on his team and in the league. For him, the opportunity had huge benefits, and were every players’ case like his, I’d be on board for widespread playing up. However, he never faced any of the resentment from parents for gaining a place on a more elite team because no one was left to care. His size afforded him the safety to play up. And finally, he was psychologically ready for the challenge.

The younger a player is, the more difficult it is to play up. We parents need to remember that our big kid at U-8 may end up a comparatively small kid the next year due to the uneven physical development of young players. Therefore, playing up may seem like a good idea that quickly dissolves. Again, we parents shouldn’t be in a rush to have our kids scaling the pyramid too quickly. Small-sided games at the youngest ages allows kids more playing time and an opportunity to try out a variety of positions. Moving through the well-studied and approved levels of development serves the majority of kids to keep them growing their skills and their passion while still challenging them. There is such a thing as a “soccer brain” and kids with a well-developed one are the best equipped to play up, but they have to be supported by their physical size, the ability to take coaching, their compatibility with teammates, and their maturity to handle the increased pressures. Parents aren’t always the best and most unbiased judges of these factors. We need to depend on coaches to make decisions on a child’s readiness to play up. If a coach opens the conversation, we should feel free to jump in, but on the whole we should not be aggressive advocates for our child playing up. Rather we should talk with coaches at the end of a season to discuss our kids’ progress and possible proficiency to play up in the future. The discussion should dissolve into an argument to persuade a coach, rather it should be the time to listen and learn how our children are seen in a coach’s eyes. Once we have that information we can decide how to proceed going forward. Should our child tryout for an older team? Does our child want to play up? How will playing up impact our family (loss of friends, jealousies, car pool disruptions, and unknown territory)? What are we expecting playing up to achieve for our kids (improved skills, praise, future success, and/or bragging rights)?  Is our child prepared to play up in every aspect (size, temperament, maturity, and skills)? Once we assess these factors and fold in coaches’ recommendations, we can best decide if playing up is right for our sons and daughters.

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United States Olympic Committee ADM

Sam Snow

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting held by the coaching education department of the United States Olympic Committee. The meeting was held at the wonderful facilities at the University of Delaware.  Dr. Matt Robinson hosted the two day meetings.  Dr. Robinson teaches at the university as a Professor of Sport Management, Director of the Sport Management Program, Director of Sport Research, Center for Applied Business and Economic Research (CABER), Chairman of the Delaware Sport Commission, Director for the International Coaching Enrichment Certificate Program (ICECP) at the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. 

These national organizations took part in the meetings.

National Governing Body (NGB)

Lakeshore Foundation

NSCA

University of Delaware

US Lacrosse

US Tennis Association

US Youth Soccer

U.S. Figure Skating

U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association

U.S. Soccer Federation

USA Curling

USA Diving

USA Fencing

USA Football

USA Hockey

USA Swimming

USA Triathlon

USA Wrestling

USA Ultimate

USA Volleyball

USOC

 

The following topics were covered during the meetings.

ADM/LTAD IN NGBS, PRESENTATIONS FROM NGBS

Various NGBs

NGBs will present short 15-20 minute presentations that outline what they have been doing around LTAD/ADM and look to gain feedback and spark questions from peers.

GOAL: Share what many are doing and gather information for all to use.

ADM IN US CLUB SPORTS

Matt Robinson, Professor – Sport Management

A presentation on the research and case study findings when club sports programs around the US were interviewed and analyzed for how they are utilizing LTAD/ADM concepts to grow their brand, retention and profits in the club arena of sports.

GOAL: To explore the business benefits of LTAD/ADM and see how the public sector is using the science to profit.

SPORT CLUBS AND ADM/ PANEL DISCUSSION

Matt Robinson, Moderator

3 sport club program administrators/coaches will join for a panel discussion around how they are using LTAD/ADM in real life and being successful. Will be an opportunity to talk to programs in the field that are the target of our sports.

Goal: Q and A with organizations and gather feedback around how they are or would use, profiting, and growing their sport with the concepts. Explore what REAL APPLICATION of the concepts really looks like in the US.

Sport Sampling, Multisport and Talent Development

Scott Riewald, USOC High Performance Director

Group discussion lead by Scott Riewald of the USOC High Performance staff. Taking a look at where sport sampling, multisport play and talent development really stand in our sports organizations. Discussion will revolve around how do these ideas and concepts get presented to the public and used in a manner that benefits the athlete’s future, the NGB and our own sport promotions.

BREAK OUT GROUPS

ALL

Breakout topics will be circulated and groups will be formed. Groups will then break out to work together around topic and discussion areas that will then get reported back to the full group at the end of the session. Paralympic NGB representatives will work together in a breakout group as well around their own specific topics.

NGB GROUP SESSION: NEXT STEPS FOR SUCCESS

Chris Snyder, USOC Director of Coaching

Group will brainstorm and work through conversation topics form the workshop, to identify key next steps, resources and universal assets that NGBs and the USOC would like to see produced, in order to advance the ADM/LTAD concepts in the US.

Goal: Come away with action items, resource needs and any additional requests for success in the future.

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Packing It All In

Susan Boyd

Spring break is fast approaching. Not fast enough for our kids, who believe winter break was eons ago, but for us parents who have to deal with travel plans it’s coming far too soon. Many soccer clubs attend major tournaments in the weeks before, during, and after spring break — creating significant headaches for families. In the first place, all of our children seem to have completely different vacation schedules. Even within the same school district, dates can vary. Parents are put in the position of having to decide if a family trip to Florida or Texas or California for one child’s tournament trumps perfect attendance for all the siblings. That quandary is only compounded if more than one child has a tournament and they are in different states. To save money we may decide to drive, but that also adds days on to the trip making it more likely that our children will be missing school. Naturally, the travel is during peak season, so everything from planes to hotels to meals to rental cars has a premium attached. Getting soccer bags to their destination can cost extra as well. The trip will be fun, the tournament most likely satisfying, but the planning and sacrifices are gruesome.

Going to a match at home is fairly easy. Usually the car is already packed with what’s needed, so we just arrive at the field, unload our gear, and settle in to watch. The events are the same at an away tournament, but the logistics are quite different. Even if we drive to the tournament, we need cargo space for luggage, coolers, possibly even air mattresses and sleeping bags. We need to consolidate and plan carefully. What I have discovered is that there is an inverse relationship between the distance we have to travel for a tournament and the amenities available at the tournament. For example, many of venues lack bleachers. Lugging soccer chairs onto a plane isn’t possible these days and usually soccer chairs are the first thing thrown out of the trunk when pressed for storage space. This is just a tiny sliver of what we face in our planning. Our decisions haven long-term impacts. Do we sacrifice school, budget and family vacation for a tournament? What mode of transportation should we use? How do we realistically accommodate all our gear?

The first question can only be answered by each family. My advice comes from straddling the dual roles of teacher and parent, but has to be viewed through the lens of each person’s experience. As a teacher, I absolutely hate when students miss class. I teach using collaboration in small groups, and when group members are missing, things fall apart. However, I am guilty as a parent of letting my boys miss a day or two of school in order to accommodate an away tournament. So I accept the title of “hypocrite” reluctantly, but honestly. In general I expected my sons to keep up their grades and if they faltered then the opportunity to miss school for soccer flew out the window. I’d advise that standard as a good measure of whether or not to extend a vacation. One piece of advice from the teacher side of things:  teachers don’t appreciate a parent asking them to “put together” a package of assignments when a child is skipping school. It’s rubbing salt in the wounds, and not a good plan for getting teachers on your side. It’s lots of extra work, and when several students ask, it’s a ton of extra work. In this age of electronics, internet, and easy transference of data, ask a fellow student to record lectures and send on assignments via email. Schools usually have a “firm” policy about taking off days before and after scheduled breaks, but they also have to be pragmatic. Families are scattered around the country due to job relocations, retirements, health concerns, and marriages. Vacations are peak times so have premium prices. Therefore families can be forgiven for looking for a financial break by scheduling travel during less expensive times. From experience I know the best approach is forewarning teachers and schools of your plans but not asking for special treatment. Luckily many tournaments are in great family vacation locales, so bringing along the troupe and having a lark of it makes sense. Usually you’ll only have one game a day, so there will be plenty of time to swim, explore, and have adventures. Thinking outside the box can provide some great savings. Our club would book with condo associations at several of the tournament locations, which gave us huge apartments for less than hotel rooms and some great amenities such as reduced greens fees for golf and a variety of pools. Resort locations usually have dozens of condo rooms available for rent, especially in those warm weather destination states. So check out those possibilities. We could often accommodate six boys in one room and had the use of kitchens to reduce food costs as well.

Deciding between driving, flying, or other transportation means juggling several options. If you drive you can save the costs of rental cars at your destination, but you will also put wear and tear on your vehicle, as well as adding days to the travel. The advantage of driving will be that you can get gear down to the tournament without much difficulty. Since so many airlines charge for checked baggage, you’ll need to factor in that expense. Some clubs will rent 15 passenger vans, but that means that families can’t join in easily. Lower gas prices allow driving to become more cost effective, especially the more passengers involved. You might even consider sharing the driving so you can motor straight through, saving a motel cost on the way. Caravanning can make the journey safer, allowing for support during the trip. I really suggest making the small investment in a AAA membership which will provide for roadside assistance, maps, and travel advisories. If your family can’t join the adventure, consider creating “team” families where those traveling take along those whose parents and siblings can’t come. If you travel by plane, check on group rates, which can be much cheaper. Most airlines will gladly accommodate your group if you plan far enough ahead. Likewise, rental car companies will provide a group rate if you promise a rental car offices that aren’t associated with an airport, rates are generally lower, sometimes even half of what you’re charged when you rent at the airport. So check their websites for locations in the city or even in the suburbs. Don’t forget about trains and buses. They can have some attractive rates if you are going from one major metropolitan location to another. The main problem is transfers to different lines can be inconvenient, but packing and shipping are much easier than by plane.

When it comes to getting your gear to a tournament, that task poses some big problems, even if you’re driving. Soccer bags are notoriously bulky. Cleats seem to explode, balls can actually explode in the changing pressure of an airliner, you need both a home and an away kit, and there’s socks, shin guards, and gloves to pile on. Then there’s the weeks’ worth of clothing, toiletries, and shoes to match. Coaches will want to bring along practice supplies, extra balls, and additional equipment. Airlines have made it more and more difficult to check unusual items due to safety and inconvenience so that baggage comes with additional costs. Forget about bringing along the soccer chairs, even umbrellas. You can purchase inexpensive things once you arrive at the tournament, but who wants the additional cost and then the waste when those items get tossed. Walk across tournament fields on the last day and you’ll seen garbage bins filled with chairs, umbrellas, and canopies. Sometimes located by the big box stores where you buy your items will be a donation bin for Goodwill, Salvation Army, or St. Vincent DePaul, which is a better way to dispose of this gear. I’ve found a great substitute at many of the sports stores such as Dick’s or Sports Authority which are very stable folding stools small enough to pack in a suitcase. They run around $19 and come with carrying straps. They will support up to 250 lbs. and are comfortable enough for a 90 minute match. I truly recommend them for travel, and they fit well in a car trunk, not taking up too much space. Collapsible travel umbrellas are great, however, look for ones that have a UV rating which mean they protect you from the sun. Which brings up another significant issue when traveling. With airline restrictions, it’s often difficult to transport sunscreen, bug spray, and lotion. So those are items you could purchase at your destination, but you will probably end up tossing much of these. Therefore, I suggest buying some 3 oz. travel bottles. Even if you check these items, you risk them leaking. So be sure to put all liquids in sealed plastic bags. There are some very nice protective bags you can buy from a luggage store or online travel gear web sites. Finally if you fly, let the air out of the soccer balls and bring along a hand pump to inflate them since changes in cabin pressure can cause balls to expand and put stress on the seams.

I’m a big advocate of away tournaments because they expand the pool of competition which is exciting for teams to test themselves against and provide some interesting locations to explore. Therefore, I think missing a few days of school if the player is keeping up with his or studies can be excused in order to have an out-of-classroom lesson. It’s difficult to balance all the factors of school, budget, family time, and team loyalty, but sometimes you do have to say no. In that case you don’t need to make excuses or feel guilty. Sports are ultimately an extra in life and shouldn’t put a family in debt or place a student behind in studies. You may get some pressure, but you have to do what is best for your situation, not for everyone else’s. When you do make the decision to attend a tournament, then you can work with others to make the trip as reasonable and unobtrusive as feasible. When possible, help out other team members by sharing a room or a ride to make the trip affordable for everyone. One of the great perks of playing a team sport is the opportunity to visit different locations, cultures, and geographies while competing. Taking advantage of these opportunities adds to our children’s life experiences, so they can be worth a few sacrifices and inconviences.

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Those Were the Days

Susan Boyd

It’s a special kind of delight to watch our youngest players in their first games. They have such an eagerness, abandon, and audacity it’s impossible not to share in the giddiness. Despite all admonishments that scores and wins don’t matter, we can’t help posting the picture of Lucy nudging her first goal into the net as we quietly cheer “yay” on the sidelines. We form parent tunnels for the kids to run through after a game and provide some nutritious and special treats. In those early years, we have no judgment and no expectations. Somewhere along the way, that all changes. We become more involved in improvement, success and rewards. Until that shift arrives, there is something truly magical about youth sports, a magic I relive through great memories.

We went out to dinner as a family last weekend, a crowded and popular Mexican restaurant that played loud music along with serving its excellent food. The lone TV above the bar was showing a soccer game even though college basketball was in full swing. The evening led to lots of amazing memories spurred by all the sensory elements of the outing. I was in heaven. The soccer game alone initiated a raft of recollections, but when Smash Mouth’s “All Star” blared over the sound system, we all perked up. That was the song we played at top volume on our way to games and practices so the boys could get pumped up. They were playing recreational soccer, and so keen on the experience. The song would play and they’d bounce around in the car, shouting out the words, getting ready for “battle.” That night as the song’s familiar lyrics and melody reverberated the boys reenacted their exuberance, much to the delight of the other diners. To see that old joy on their faces took me back to the years when soccer was simple and they played just for the fun of it. The game airing across the room elicited lots of comments both about the skill of the players in the game and the deep idolatry they had had for professional players when all they had were faint dreams of attaining that level of adulation. They reflected on the fact that their dreams then were both silly and significant giving them both fantasy and goals – the former ethereal wishes and the latter solid objectives. Even the food added to the memories. We had a favorite restaurant we would stop by after practices. Tuesday night was Mexican specials, and the boys usually had practice on Tuesday, so we ate a lot of south-of-the-border treats over time. There were always only two or three choices that changed weekly, so we ended up eating a wide variety of delicacies, which ultimately informed our tastes that night at the restaurant. After years of soccer being a job for the boys, the sport was suddenly returned to that light-hearted romp that kept us all grinning.

The cliché of course is that the years of childhood are fleeting. Speaking as the mother of four, I can attest to the truth of that statement. Looking back at photographs, hearing a song, driving by a youth game, smelling the mustiness that mimics the indoor arena, tasting the same pepperoni pizza, all bring back memories of those early years. We need to keep those moments alive for as long as possible because they are so joy-based. As the boys progressed in soccer I do remember the big wins, devastating losses, significant saves, and powerful goals, but as they grew older and played on more select teams we began to lose the memories based solely on moments untethered to outcomes. I cherish those reminiscences because they can be appreciated by anyone whether or not they understand soccer, and those anecdotes don’t involve any hint of bragging or sour grapes. At one tournament in Florida we had three teammates traveling with us. During one long rain delay, we holed up at a funky restaurant that had a really unusual menu. We challenged our sons and the three teammates to eat at least three bizarre foods, which included alligator, frog legs, rattlesnake, catfish, pickled pigs’ feet, pork scrapple, and chitterlings (pig intestines). We ordered one serving of each for the table and then watched as the boys picked and grimaced through the plates. It was a wonderful hour of laughs and some discoveries, such as chitterlings smell awful but actually taste pretty good. In the end, two of the boys just couldn’t manage three trials although one boy put several choices up to his lips and then chickened out. I don’t remember any of the matches we played that tournament or even if we placed at all, but I definitely remember that afternoon at the restaurant. I remember the kids’ faces and comments, where they sat at the table and the décor. I have a vivid image of the Claw Machine at the door because we rewarded the boys who tried at least three delicacies with a buck to try the Claw. We left with three stuffed toys. Unbelievable. These experiences inform our pasts with delight because they spring from moments of unbridled joy.

I love watching the youngest kids cavorting on the soccer pitch. I saw a little girl who did cartwheels up and down the field during the entire game. I giggle at the enthusiasm of kids who will score goals wherever there’s a net even if it’s the wrong end or even if it’s on another field. At one game, a 6-year-old got the ball, make a sharp right and dribbling through the parents on the sidelines then skittered amongst a team on the adjoining field to triumphantly score a goal. Amazingly the kids on the invaded field broke into cheers and slapped the scorer on the back before suddenly realizing he wasn’t on their team. His coach had to go retrieve him and the ball, even as he was celebrating. Everyone was delighted, no one was angry, and people just had fun watching this spectacle unfold before them. Kids will fall on their behinds kicking the ball and bounce right up. Bryce used to always kick and fall down, and when we asked him why, he responded, “Because it’s fun.” That’s the point. Youth sports should be joyful and the memories from them shouldn’t be focused on wins or accomplishments – those things will fluctuate widely in youth sports. But precious moments of delight and abandon will disappear as they grow older because they become more self-aware, they want to avoid embarrassment, and they get more driven. When that happens we parents will see fewer and fewer of these carefree moments.

What I loved so much when the boys began to reminisce was how they focused on these nuggets of enjoyment. They remembered having somersault contests on the hill next to the field while waiting for their turn to play, much to the frustration of their coach, they remembered when they discovered the bog in the woods at the back of the big field and Bryce ended up permanently losing a cleat in the muck. They remembered the thunderstorm when they gathered under the clubhouse canopy and watched the fury happening just a few feet from them. The discussed the stupid clothing choices they made that they thought were so cool – head bands and wearing their shorts pulled down. I was glad that as time has gone by the soccer captured in their hearts is now the soccer of delight, which is what I hoped we had created – a lifetime of positive memories they could share with their future spouses, children, and non-soccer friends. Playing youth sports may turn into something more intense and goal-oriented, but it should always be based in joyfulness so when our kids get tickled by some sensory cue it will elicit a memory worthy of being embraced, relished, and repeated.

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