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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". 

 

Now for a Word from Our Sponsors...

Susan Boyd

How many soccer players fit in a Smart Car? Not nearly enough! That’s why you never see any of these tiny models in the parking lot. Look around and you’d think you were standing in the minivan section of CarMax. It’s not that sedans and compacts aren’t viable automobiles; it’s just that most soccer families need a seven-passenger vehicle to handle carpools, soccer equipment and the sideline paraphernalia of parents. While we may want to be as green as possible, our loyalty has to be to the green of the pitch for those years we act as soccer parents. We need those minivans, SUVs and crossover vehicles to facilitate our family activities. I’d like to challenge dealerships to offer a "youth sports" discount to purchasers or at the very least sponsor some youth sports teams.
 
This got me thinking about all the products that enjoy a symbiotic relationship with soccer families. Companies benefit from not only the on-going popularity of youth sports, but also from the explosive growth of sports like soccer. Giving back to the very families who support their products and services seems almost expected. I suggest we families could have a huge financial impact by controlling where we spend our money. Here are some logical products and services which soccer families would use that give back to the community with sponsorships.
 
Starting with US Youth Soccer, its sponsors include Baymont Inn and Suites, Degree deodorant, Fox Soccer Channel, Kohl’s Department Stores, KwikGoal, Liberty Mutual Insurance, National Guard, YoCrunch yogurt, SKLZ and Sports Authority. These sponsors offer products and services that soccer families use and need. I am particularly drawn to Degree because with two sons who sweat, having that protection pre- and post-game is invaluable in a closed car on a three-hour trip home from a tournament! I got to try YoCrunch recently, and it is a great way to start the day or add some energy in the middle of the day. There’s a container of yogurt with various flavor options topped by a container of different toppings such as cereal, granola or even cookies. Pop them in the cooler for a snack on the road or after the game. These companies have stepped up to provide money to support youth soccer on a national level. Families should support these sponsors as much as possible.
 
I looked at various clubs around the country to see who they had for sponsors. I was amazed at some of the great contributors these clubs got. Oshkosh (WI) Youth Soccer, for example, has more than 100 sponsors (kudos to the club for getting out there and soliciting those sponsors). The list includes two car dealerships, wisely supporting those who will be seeking new vans, and restaurants where families often gather after a practice for dinner and some conversation. Durango (CO) Youth Soccer Club has sponsors from a landscaping company (someone has to cut the field grass), restaurants and a college (eventually those youth players will move on to higher education). Middletown (RI) Youth Soccer club’s sponsors include a dentist, contractors and a screen printing company (for those tournament t-shirts). Big Sun Youth Soccer in Ocala, Fla. has sponsors from sports equipment stores and Ocala Recreation and Parks.
 
So how do you get sponsorships for your club? First think about local businesses that enjoy a benefit from a connection with your club. They would include sporting goods stores, sports facilities (especially indoor facilities), the maker of your uniforms and restaurants nearby your practice fields. Also consider businesses that might benefit from your membership because of services they could offer, such as insurance, car repair, dentistry, legal services and accounting. Finally, any companies with which your club directly does business should be added to the list, such as the firm that insures your club’s property, the landscaper who maintains your fields, plumbers who maintain and repair your bathrooms and clubhouse, and any vendor who stocks your snack bar or vending machines. Once you know who you want to specifically target, brainstorm further to find other businesses "outside the box" that could have or benefit from a connection with your club.
 
You will need to call the businesses to find out who makes decisions concerning sponsorships so you can target a sponsorship letter. In the letter, explain the levels of sponsorship available and what the business will get at each level. For example, you might display banners around the fields, give naming rights to permanent goals for the life of the goal, provide a mention and link on your website, print ads in a tournament program and, of course, print ads on uniforms. Create a tier of prices. Design your letter to clearly identify the prices, what businesses get for those prices and the length of the sponsorship. At the end of the letter, let the business know that someone will be personally following up on the opportunity. Once you send out the letters, wait a week and then contact the businesses by phone to set up a time to meet. Be prepared for rejection, but also be prepared to argue the benefits of a sponsorship. It would be a great idea to send someone from your club who has a personal connection to the business. For example, I got my mechanic to agree to an ad for our tournament program because our family took three cars regularly to his shop for more than 12 years. He could hardly say no to such a good tripled chunk of his business.
 
Have a sponsorship agreement that the sponsor and club signs, so there will be no confusion on what each party is getting. Most importantly, follow up all contacts, whether they result in a sponsorship or not, with a letter. For sponsors, it should be a thank you for the donation, and for non-sponsors, it should be a thank you for the meeting while expressing hope that they will reconsider during the next push for sponsorships. These letters show that businesses are dealing with professionals, which helps them justify spending money. If you have a club website, have a link to your sponsorship information and a downloadable sponsorship contract. You never know who has a nephew, granddaughter or neighbor in the club who will be surfing the web and come across your plea. Once you have the sponsorships, encourage the club membership to frequent the businesses or purchase the products. 
 
Don’t be shy about asking big companies to be sponsors. It helps to find a connection, but that’s not always necessary. If you don’t ask, you can’t get a reply. You never know if a company is looking to make inroads in your community because it plans to build a store there or expand its product line to fresh markets. If your club sends teams to lots of out-of-state tournaments, use that to get sponsorships from restaurants and hotels that may not be in your area but do exist where the tournaments are. See’s Candy, for example, doesn’t have any stores in Wisconsin, but it considered a sponsorship because during major holidays it opens a temporary kiosk at a large mall just outside Milwaukee. Contact outlet malls, amusement parks and tourist locations that are on travel routes to tournaments. In other words, be creative in how you identify potential sponsors and don’t rule anything out as impossible if you can find a good reason for the sponsor to consider your club. After all, most sponsorships are an inexpensive way to reach hundreds of possible consumers multiplied by word of mouth, and a good marketing director will consider it a bargain to buy that exposure and a great way to be a good neighbor.
 

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Changing the soccer education paradigm

Sam Snow

This presentation is thought provoking: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms.html. With just a little bit of extrapolation on your part you can make the connections between the youth academic environment and the youth soccer environment. As I viewed the clip these dots connected for me:
 
  • If we cannot predict the future for education or finances then what makes us think we can do so in soccer? Why do we insist on the lunacy of selecting younger and younger children for "elite" soccer? Can we show a little maturity and patience by waiting to give them that player development pathway when they are teenagers?
  • Can we embrace and use to our benefit the soccer cultural diversity we have here? Can we – should we – foster a variety of styles of play which then gives the American player versatility? Can soccer be "globalized" here? Or is it already happening despite us?
  • Is doing what we did in the past in schools the equivalent of us pursuing drills during training and joy stick coaching during matches? If we carry on with coaching in the manner of #3 passes to #5 and #7 makes an off-the-ball run to receive a pass from #5 are we really going to develop players who can think for themselves or simply be robots in pattern play?
  • If we doggedly stay with our past approaches to the youth soccer experience will children continue to drop-out of the sport? The sports structure of America was designed in an age now past. There’s an old saying that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Interestingly Eton College had no adult coaches. Eton students were members of the privileged who were expected to become leaders of their country. Since one of the things that leaders do is organize things, the kids were expected to organize their own games, which they did. In the United States, youth sports evolved with greater mass participation. The goal of the nation’s influence was to turn non-elite youth into "compliant factory workers" (cookie cutter soccer players). It is not surprising that youth sports in the United States started as a highly organized activity with adults in charge and kids expected to do as they were told and perform on command. In many ways, things have not changed all that much.
  • The comment on social structure in the presentation might correlate to our super clubs or volunteer clubs. Are they not a sport infrastructure of a fledgling soccer nation – not the one we are today?
  • In our current mode are the smart people the elite players, coaches, referees and administrators and the non-smart people the recreational masses? Do we have players in the non-smart group who could grow into talent?
  • Boring stuff = drills at training sessions and kick-n-run tactics at matches. All reflective of pouring the game into children like Ritalin. Letting the game grow naturally is messy and takes longer, but I think we improve the average player in this way.  In the words of Rinus Michels if you want to improve the élite player then raise the level of the average player.
  • Is the aesthetic experience the ‘beautiful game’?
  • Is not so much of what goes on in youth soccer the factory line approach? If instead we take a somewhat more "artistic" approach we could produce creative players.

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Food for thought for soccer leaders

Sam Snow

OK, after I watched this video the educator in me took over and it strikes me that our decision makers, of every capacity, would benefit from viewing this clip; be those leaders at the national, state or local level.  I am sure that in one fashion or another we all will be involved in the development of the American game. So here’s the food for thought…
 
I want to share with you the latest Sir Ken Robinson talk:
http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html.
 
I am enjoying this one – it helps that Sir Robinson is such an engaging speaker. I think that we should share this not only with our coaches, but our administrators too. Is not youth soccer in America at a point of needing revolution thus allowing us to evolve?
 
From what is taught in the National Youth License coaching course he touches on the Flow State Model and on the deleterious effect of drills. In paraphrasing one of his comments I see how player development is an organic process. We cannot fully predict the outcome. You can only create the conditions under which players can flourish.
 
So in watching the clip closely I feel that if one can think about the education of players, coaches, referees, administrators and parents in the youth soccer context as Sir Robinson speaks about academic education, then one can see the parallels to the daily environment of youth soccer.
 
The take away message from Sir Robinson’s talk is that we have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it's an organic process. You cannot predict the outcome of human development; all you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish. I believe that this is the approach we should take in our efforts to impact the continuing development of participants in youth soccer.

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Playing Up

Susan Boyd

Every season, teams face the question of if they should allow kids to play up. When youth players show promise, parents and coaches put pressure on clubs to allow those kids to move up a year, or even two years, in the training ranks. Having been on both sides of this issue, I can clearly say there is no right answer. The problems with playing up can overshadow the advantages. In really small clubs, teams often don’t have a choice but to offer opportunities for better players to help fill out older teams. But most clubs have enough kids to fill teams at the appropriate age levels, so bumping players up would only be done under special circumstances. Naturally, all parents believe their child is worthy of those special conditions. Before you buy into playing up as an appropriate choice for your child, consider some of the significant factors that will impact that choice.
           
Some coaches argue that playing up for a strong player will only make that player stronger. Getting that tougher competition, being on a team whose players have an additional year of experience, and having a higher standard to meet can be the elements that improve your child’s play. However, competing at that level could also be overwhelming pressure for a young psyche. If your child is shy, cries easily, doesn’t deal with disappointment well and/or seems attached to friends on his/her present team, then your child is probably not mature enough to play up. Even though a player might exhibit excellent skills beyond his or her age level, the player may not be emotionally ready to handle that advancement. If the youngster holds back or begins to dread attending practice, then it won’t matter how advanced his or her skills are.
           
You also need to consider size. Younger players are often smaller than their year older counterparts. They may also not be as aggressive and risk injury, even if their size is appropriate for the older ages. Being smaller can make a move up intimidating, which would make a child hesitant to play, even fearful. When Robbie played up, size was an important factor because he is already on the lower end of the height chart. Luckily, his first experience playing up was with his entire U-10 team, so he was within the size margins of his fellow teammates even if he met much larger players during games. Nevertheless, I had plenty of heart in the throat moments as he got tackled to the ground. The entire team had to deal with lots of disappointment as it couldn’t always keep up, but the coach did it because he wanted the kids to play on a full field. This was the transition period to small-sided teams, and he didn’t want this particular team to be split up for a year and then get back together for a full team.
           
That’s another major consideration in playing up. Now the standard for teams is small-sided until U-12. For U-8, there are four players on the field and no goalkeeper. At U-9, there are five players on the field with one being the goalkeeper. U-10 has six players on the field with one being the goalkeeper. By U-11, you will find eight players on the field with one being the keeper. At each level the field size increases until, finally, at U-12 teams have a full complement of 10 players on a full field with the 11th player being a goalkeeper. Some recreational teams will continue to play with eight players, but if you are considering your child playing up you are probably looking at a select team. The advantages of playing on a larger field with more players would be growing the endurance for large field play, tactical understanding of full team formations and learning a position.  The downside would be the inability to keep up or learn complicated tactics and skills, as well as being locked into a position before exploring all the choices.
           
If your child showed a propensity for mathematics, he or she may not be ready to skip up to the next grade in the other subject matters. It might be better to just get accelerated math classes and stay at the same grade level. That’s also true with soccer. It might be best to get some private coaching to work on the abilities your child has without assuming that he or she is ready to move up to faster and bigger team play. If your child happens to be big for his or her age, it’s possible that size is becoming a far too significant part of the decision to play up. Bigger players often look very skilled because they can bulldoze their way through players to the goal. However, in truth they haven’t developed advanced skill levels and a strong understanding of advanced team tactics. Therefore, playing up is being driven by incorrect factors. The best choice for most players is to stay at their appropriate age level so they can learn the skills and tactics necessary to surge ahead. If they play up, they may actually end up getting left behind because coaches assume they already know how to do a step-over, shield the ball or perform a proper header. If they don’t get the training necessary for the skills they haven’t yet developed, they may never get it, leaving them ironically worse off.
           
Most importantly, be sure that your decision to have your child play up isn’t being driven by ego. Parents often feel that their children are being short-changed if a peer gets the nod to play up, but their child doesn’t. It’s natural for us to ask, "What’s wrong with my kid?" We don’t want our kids to miss out on any opportunity that might give them a better chance to move up the soccer ladder. That’s why we have to be ruthlessly realistic about our child’s abilities and whether or not playing up would augment those abilities. We absolutely resisted Robbie playing up at U-13 because he hadn’t grown very much and most of his peers were bigger and stronger. Add another year of growth with U-14 players, and Robbie would have been dwarfed. However, at U-14 he did try out for a U-15 team, and then decided on his own not to play up because his team was very strong and already playing at a top level. It was a great choice for him. He did have a player on his team who was playing up, played for the U-17 Men’s National team and now plays for the MLS. Robbie wasn’t up to that level at all.
           
In smaller communities, playing up can be a way for players to get the competition and training they might not get at their age level. Overall, I would caution parents to err on the side of temperance. Kids who play up need to have strong maturity and skill. Make sure you evaluate your child properly. Don’t be jealous of players who are playing up. Understand that they may well be struggling, losing playing time to older, stronger players and feeling overwhelmed. Players who advance to high school, college and even the pros aren’t necessarily players who spent their lives playing up an age level. Most played at their age level and made the choice to find the most competitive teams and leagues rather than playing with older teammates. Be sure to consider training like the Olympic Development Program or a Developmental Academy team to insure that your child plays at the top levels. Ask if your club participates in Regional League, National League, Kohl’s American Cup, President’s Cup and the National Championship Series. Look at the team’s tournament schedule to determine how competitive it hopes to be. Does it play in Premier League in your state? All of these choices can create a strong environment both for advancing individually in soccer and for getting noticed by college coaches.
           
Playing up ultimately doesn’t affect much in your child’s soccer future in terms of how college coaches view him or her. Coaches are far more interested in how skilled a player is, how well a player understands various team formations and can function within those formations, and how passionate he or she is about soccer. Therefore, the choice to play up should be based on factors that can’t be found in your community in other ways. If you do decide to have your child play up, keep a close watch on how that choice affects the child’s play and temperament. If your child seems to be faltering, then reconsider the decision. No matter what you decide, make sure the choice is equal parts your child’s and yours. Don’t dictate. Remember that once you sign on to a team, your child is committed for at least one season and possibly a year. So proceed with care.

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