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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.

 

What Sport Means in America research report

Sam Snow

US Youth Soccer members participated in this survey that was conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in December 2009 through January 2010. There is an executive summary that starts on page 7 and finishes on page 9. The data confirms many of the details that US Youth Soccer has collected over the years.
 
A few interesting points from my first review:
 
1.       Coaches rank as the top influence in youth sports
2.       Parents cite personal and social values when describing the hopes for their children’s participation
3.       "…when sport is no longer fun, children and youth are more likely to stop participating."
4.      "…believe the top qualities that sport actually does reinforce are competitiveness and winning."

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"Weather" or Not

Susan Boyd

The Men’s NCAA Division I Championship will be Dec. 9 in Hoover, Ala. In 2006 the championship was in St. Louis, which had a blizzard and the game had to be played with 3-foot high snow piles around the perimeter of the field. A year later, the championship was played in Cary, N.C., which I attended in 35-degree weather. Then came Frisco, Texas, outside Dallas; back to Cary; Santa Barbara, Calif., and finally Hoover, Ala. for the past two years. Finding a suitable venue for the finals while still honoring the various regions of the United States and avoiding the white-out of St. Louis proves difficult in December. Next year the finals will be held in Chester, Pa., which leaves open the possibility for snow. Since the finals are always in December on the edges of winter, we have to be prepared for anything as far as weather goes.
 
Soccer is generally played year round. This means that soccer has to be played in all kinds of inclement weather. I think of weather as the 12th player on the pitch. But this player has no conscience and cannot be controlled by benching or bargaining with. We can be promised one kind of weather and get the complete opposite. We roll the dice when we see storm clouds overhead or hear that a blizzard blows nearby and try our best to get the game in. On the flipside, when the heat is so overpowering, we change the rules of the game and have water and shade breaks in the middle of each half. We sit in our cars to outlast lightning or avoid a deluge. Around the world weather creates the backdrop for our soccer games, affects outcomes and even controls the audiences. As we approach Thanksgiving and that unofficial kick-off to winter, Black Friday, it’s not surprising that soccer families begin to think about what winter will bring to the fields.
 
Here in the United States, those of us north of the Mason-Dixon Line have to content ourselves with indoor soccer for most of the winter and early spring months. Even our neighboring states to the south can’t count on decent weather for outdoor soccer once December arrives. There’s rain, low temperatures and even freezing weather to contend with. Yet we persevere, carving out time on the pitch whenever possible. I’ve been to youth games where parents had to shovel off the fields and then sweep off the lines during half-time. Of course Packer fans are used to pitching in on that duty, so I guess it’s not so surprising that in the Midwest we would power through, even in snow. Nevertheless, nothing is sure when it comes to winter weather. I’ve sat freezing in the rain at games in October and sat outside in balmy sunshine in December. So winter can be fickle when it comes to creating a window of opportunity to get in a two-hour game.
 
In Europe, the soccer season extends from summer into the following spring for most teams, so many of the games are played in the dead of winter, which is cold, rainy, snowy, or all three. Even Italy, Spain and Portugal can suffer from the cold. But think about Scandinavia, where the sun disappears with the winter and the weather guarantees deep snow. So, their season, which once followed the model of the rest of Europe, went from an autumn to spring schedule to a spring to autumn schedule. Of course, that plays havoc with their teams training for regional competitions, such as Champions League, Europa League, European Championship, UEFA Cup and World Cup Qualifying, since those leagues and preliminary games run well into winter. Canada and northern U.S. states suffer the same fate. Coming up against teams in the spring who have been practicing outdoors for six weeks can be problematic when your players haven’t touched the pitch yet. 
 
When those countries in the Southern Hemisphere are moving into winter they come up against teams that are deep into the heart of their season. It then turns vice versa as the year evolves. This throws a bit of a monkey wrench into global competitions. While the top half of the planet is sweltering in summer heat, the bottom half can find itself restricted by the colder weather. Most of Australia may enjoy balmy weather throughout the year, but it still experiences down time come winter or in the high temperatures of summer. New Zealand’s South Island can get slick with ice and drenched with rain in winter. Parts of Chile and Argentina get buried in snow and suffer from freezing rains. This is happening while participating in qualifying games for the World Cup.
 
We complain about heat and humidity in the summer for our soccer games. States in the Southwest and Southeast know how difficult it is to play when it’s 110 degrees out or 88 percent humidity. Many fields can be so dried out that players are kicking up dust and stressing out ankles and knees. The United States Youth Soccer Region IV Championships a few years ago in Nevada had to change the schedule due to the heat. The shoe soles of the sideline refs were literally melting on the hot artificial turf. Even in the Pacific Northwest, known for its comfortable summers, there can be a sudden heat wave that takes soccer by surprise.
 
The weather can affect the health of players, so despite the inconvenience we attach to weather, we need to also treat it with respect. We tend to worry more about heat. We protect against hyperthermia, dehydration and cramping in the heat by taking breaks, drinking plenty of fluids and using shade. However, we often don’t take the cold as seriously. While true hypothermia would be rare for soccer players to experience since it requires longer term exposure to the extreme cold, there are milder effects which can harm a player. In the cold, players need to protect extremities, especially fingers and toes. The body core may not drop much in temperature, but fingers, toes, ears and nose can get really cold, really quickly, causing tingling and circulation problems. Players should wear gloves to help hold the heat in around their fingers, and a thin sock under the soccer socks creates an air pocket to hold in heat on the toes. Heat is lost through the top of the head so a knit cap is a great idea to hold that heat in. Even a head band to protect the ears would be beneficial. Having Chap Stick in the soccer bag can be a life saver after a particularly windy cold game. Lotion takes care of chafing on the hands and knees. The players on the bench may suffer more than the players on the field because they are stationary and not generating heat, so having a few thermal reflective blankets to cover up with will help avoid cold injuries.
 
We may love the beauty of a fresh snow and appreciate the chance for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. But as soccer parents, we know that we are just as likely to have to snowshoe into a game because winter came early or left late. We can often curse the weather and just as often delight in it. We have no control over it except to be prepared for anything and, therefore, laugh in its face. Whatever this winter brings, I know it will infringe upon soccer. Yet, I also know I’m ready for it with my heated chair, hand warmers, foot warmers, down jacket, hat, scarf and down gloves. It’s just too bad our kids can’t be similarly decked out.

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Someone Has to Lose

Susan Boyd

Tuesday night, election night, we drove 3.5 hours through evening rush hour in Chicago to sit on cold, wet steel bleachers in 39-degree rainy weather to watch Robbie play in the first game of the Horizon League tournament. It certainly puts life in perspective. While the nation listened to pundits making "game day" predictions on which states would be blue and which red, we were watching two soccer teams battle it out for the privilege of playing again in the cold and rain later in the week. Sadly, Robbie’s team lost, 1-0, and he was devastated. That night lots of teams and individuals had the sweet experience of winning while an equal number had to face the dark demons of loss.
 
We parents know how difficult a loss can be, especially in a particularly significant game. A loss hurts as much at age 6 as it does at age 66. The only difference is that at age 6 the after-game snack usually wipes away all disappointment. Knowing what to say and when nothing should be said is really difficult. When Robbie came off that field Tuesday night we could see how hard he took this loss. He is the team captain and they had just beaten this team Saturday night to qualify for the tournament, so hopes were incredibly high that they could pull off another win. This tournament was the qualifier for a spot in the NCAA Division I bracket, and last year the team didn’t make it into the tournament. So, a great deal was riding on this win.
 
We told Robbie how well he played, which was true, but it was small consolation. What else could we say except, "You’ll get them next year." But those are empty words in a moment like that. For the three seniors, one of whom spent the last half of the season with a bad ankle injury and limited playing time, there won’t be a next year. This was the moment, and it was gone. On that election night, a bunch of candidates would lose and there wouldn’t be a next year for them either. I keep thinking there should be a club for those who lose big contests where they can commiserate.
 
So how do you approach your child after a loss? Gingerly! The swirl of emotions can make your child turn into Regan from The Exorcist, head spins and growl included. There is very little they can hear through the pulsing rage in their heads. They may reject any attempt on your part to be conciliatory and supportive, including hugs and kind words. Or they may show a deep need to be surrounded by your warmth. Only you can read their cues, and even then they could turn suddenly since this is an emotional occasion. The main thing about loss is that the feelings do dissipate over time, but that time could be long or short. You’ll never know. 
 
Hopefully the coach sets the right tone by being upbeat and not accusatory. No amount of blame will change the outcome. Later in practice, the coach can address what he or she saw as the weaknesses of play. By that time, players will be ready to hear suggestions and absorb criticism without being so raw. If the coach has been rough on the team following the loss, it would be a good idea for you to counter those comments in the things you say to your child. Let your player know that despite the coach’s assessment, you did see good things happening on the field. Be sure to come prepared to list those positives when you greet your child coming off the pitch. Hopefully he or she hasn’t been the brunt of direct blame from the coach, but if that does happen, you have to mitigate the sting. Even if the remarks have some truth to them, this isn’t the time to lay such a burden on your child’s shoulders. So talk about how the coach is as disappointed as the team, and sometimes when people are upset they say things out of frustration that aren’t appropriate. Let your son or daughter know how proud you are that he or she kept playing and worked through the setbacks that occurred during the game. Here’s when mentioning a positive such as, "you shielded the ball better than you ever have" goes a long ways to helping your player find some comfort.
 
Another obstacle might be the opposing team’s reaction to its win. If this is an intense rivalry, the winning team might be overly celebratory at the end. There may even be taunting or a show of dominance that rubs salt in the wounds. Therefore, I want to speak to the art of winning here. While the natural inclination when the win matters so much is to go wild with joy, having joy in the win is different from rubbing the opposing team’s noses in the loss. Remind your player that win or lose, their after-game behavior should be courteous, not snide, and non-confrontational. Coaches should prepare their teams for both a win and a loss, so the team’s behavior doesn’t skew into boorish or even cruelty.
 
Finally, as a parent you may be helpless to give immediate comfort in the face of a loss, but your constant support and positive outlook will smooth the path to "recovery." Don’t spend the ride home talking about the other team as if it came from the depths of hell or laying blame on some of your child’s teammates. That creates an unproductive atmosphere for moving past the loss. Sympathize without blame and let your child vent if that’s what he or she needs. You can agree if they express some frustration with the play of others, but let them know that no matter what play occurred, the game outcome can’t be changed. Therefore, they need to let the coach handle that aspect to help the team improve. For youth players, a distraction such as ice cream or a movie can usually wipe away all frustrations. For older players, they just need to work it out on their own over time. Either way, your role is to provide the steady, devoted support. During the course of their soccer careers, our children will face dozens of devastating losses and an equal number of surprising and satisfying wins. And none of them will mean as much as having their parents’ unconditional love. 

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Helping Out

Susan Boyd

Hurricane Sandy has left so many communities devastated without power, food or water. It’s difficult to talk about soccer knowing how many millions don’t have soccer as any kind of priority. My own brother lives in lower Manhattan and sends reports when he can. He and his wife have a nearly 3-year-old daughter and a dog living on the fifth floor without electricity and water. Luckily, 30 blocks north of them lives my sister-in-law’s brother, who has power, so they finally made the move there. Nevertheless, even those who have little damage still have battles to get gas, food, potable water and garbage pick-up. Seacoast communities are no longer underwater but are now dealing with being under sand with all the debris from the sea strewn about streets, yards and rooftops. Basic necessities are unavailable, so families are suffering. Those of us safe and secure need to reach out to help.
 
The American Red Cross, which provides tremendous and immediate on-site disaster relief, needs donations. You can donate online at https://www.redcross.org/donate. While immediate donations are needed, consider making a monthly commitment. Even $10 a month will go a long ways to restocking the funds dispersed for Sandy and prepare us for the next crisis. In addition, the Red Cross needs your blood donations. The hurricane disrupted blood drives that the Red Cross depends upon to keep blood banks fully stocked. Disasters always draw down the supplies due to injuries, and some areas without power and without back-up generators have totally lost their blood supplies. Go to http://www.redcrossblood.org/ to see how you can help. Consider volunteering or holding a fundraiser in your workplace or neighborhood. You can combine this with soccer easily. Ask friends, neighbors and coworkers to sign up for a contribution for each foot of your son’s or daughter’s dribbling distance or for the number of ball juggles they can do. Get the entire team involved to make even more money. 
 
The Salvation Army has swiftly moved into the distressed areas with furniture, clothing and food. However, they need both financial and goods donations. Donating money can be done on their website: https://donate.salvationarmyusa.org/disaster. If you want to donate clothing and furniture, both desperately needed by the families hit by Sandy, then call 800-728-7825 to find out how to get your gently used products to the right spot. I can guarantee there are families who lost all their soccer gear in this disaster, so consider finding those extra soccer cleats, shin guards and balls to donate. When you call Salvation Army, let them know that you want to donate these items directly to those who need them along the East Coast. Those of you with United and/or Delta miles can also donate those to Sandy relief. Go to the website for instructions: [LINK]. These miles will be used to bring volunteers directly to the areas in need and to help families move for temporary living with relatives outside of the hurricane zone while their homes get refurbished.
 
While people need the frontlines of help, there are thousands of animals, both wild and domestic, displaced by the hurricane. The Humane Society of America and the American Humane Association have sent teams to help with finding lost, abandoned and injured pets; to tend to them; and to hopefully reconnect them with their owners. In addition, many families who need to move to shelters can’t take their pets with them. These animal agencies are offering temporary boarding and care for those pets. They are also helping to trap and relocate wild animals that are roaming in neighborhoods looking for food and shelter after their habitats were destroyed. Donations can be made on their websites, http://www.humanesociety.org/ and http://www.americanhumane.org/, which support their mobile kennels and vet services. 
 
Soccer families are well-known for being prepared for anything. I’ve often written about keeping the soccer box in the truck of my car filled with supplies that can be needed at the fields. Sandy clearly demonstrated that this same level of preparation is needed in your home so that you can get through minor to major catastrophes. The federal government actually has ads that speak to this preparation, but unfortunately many of us don’t pay enough heed and aren’t ready should we suddenly lose power or find roads closed to heavy rains or snows. Those who were prepared are faring better than those who weren’t. Stock up on canned goods, which can survive up to five years; the less liquid in the can, the longer the shelf life. Unopened non-carbonated beverages such as water, sports drinks and juices have essentially an unlimited shelf life. While dry items such as beans, rice, flour and noodles can last for a long time, they all require water to be palatable. So they are good to have around for short-term emergencies, but for the longer term where you want to conserve water, they aren’t as optimal. If you think a possible emergency is coming, don’t forget to fill the bathtub for extra water. When water is cut off, you can use the bathtub water to "flush" your toilet by occasionally throwing a gallon down the john. That bathtub water can also be used for cooking if you boil it first. That means keeping a supply of Sterno available, buying some extra tanks of propane for your grill and making sure your grill is accessible, or buying a camping stove to use. Consider buying a small generator to keep your refrigerator, one small TV and power for cell phones running. Remember, you’ll need fuel for that generator. Experts recommend keeping nothing more than a five gallon container on hand long-term. But once you are forewarned of a possible calamity, fill up extra containers. Keep them outside and a distance from the house. Make sure you have enough flashlights, batteries, candles, matches and firewood. Store all flashlights without batteries, putting them in only as needed to avoid battery corrosion. Get a hand crank radio so at the very minimum you can keep up with the news. Many of these radios can charge your cell phone, as well.
 
As a soccer community, I encourage us all to come together to help those who need to get back on their feet. Three years ago, my home flooded, so I know first-hand the psychological, emotional and financial toll disasters take on people. The help our family received was invaluable to our recovery. I hope you readers will make even a minimal donation to one of the relief agencies I listed or another of your choice. I also hope you will seriously prepare for your own possible emergency. It doesn’t need to be a huge devastation like Sandy. In many cases, the problems can be localized but still impact your family on a serious level. So don’t wait, promising yourself you’ll get to it. Turn that "soccer preparation kit" into a "home preparation kit." You won’t be sorry. Even if you don’t need it, someone in your community may. Soccer brings the world together, so demonstrate our good neighbor policy by reaching out to help.

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