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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". 

 

Lemonade Out of Lemons

Susan Boyd

Okay, show of hands — how many of you have spent your vacation time and dollars this past year on trips for youth sports events? Plenty of you. As youth sports become more and more sophisticated, so do the tournaments, leagues and games, often spreading out miles away from the home field. It’s not unusual to end up spending precious family vacation time in locales such as Petaluma, Calif., Muscatine, Iowa, or Odessa, Texas, fine cities all, but not exactly the names that leap off the pages of Travel and Leisure Magazine. In planning a vacation, we’re more likely to either visit family or pick a destination with more vacation allure like Orlando, Oahu or Myrtle Beach. Yet, once our kids start playing competitive youth sports, we have those vacation decisions made for us. We don’t begrudge our children the chance to play their sport against strong teams in spirited events, but these trips cut into the more relaxing and traditional vacation opportunities. As summer tournament season winds down, giving way to fall season events, there is some hope for rescuing a great vacation from the jaws of dictated destinations.
 
One: It’s the Journey, not the Destination. This may sound like Confucius became a cruise director, but it is sound advice. Take the time to make discoveries both as you travel to and from an event. Once you know where you are bound, fire up the search engines and find out what lies between home and field. There’s a "Friends" episode where Joey is going to drive from New York City to Las Vegas in Phoebe’s grandmother’s cab. He’s conflicted about the route he should take. If he goes north he can see the largest ball of twine, but if he goes south he can see a chicken play tic-tac-toe. It sounds goofy and unsophisticated, but those kinds of choices end up creating some really memorable family moments. While heading to Des Moines one year for the US Youth Soccer Region II Championships, we discovered a soda fountain in Wilton, Iowa that this couple had run for 60 years, never taking a vacation. They served soups, sandwiches, and of course, lots of ice cream treats. The sandwiches were on thin sliced Wonder bread and brought back memories of being called into lunch by my own mom on a lazy Saturday afternoon. The shakes were thick and made the old-fashioned way, and the root beer float foamed on top with creamy drizzles sliding down the outside of the glass. The place was filled with mementos and our boys still talk about going there. Getting off the interstate system and going into small towns along the way can reveal some very interesting and enjoyable discoveries. Include your kids in the planning and don’t forget about that old stand-by AAA when doing your research. Their Trip-kits include plenty of options for fascinating finds that can’t be located on a 65 m.p.h. roadway. In the Midwest and South all summer and fall are long stretches of old state highways that host "the longest flea markets." For example, along Highway 30, also known as Lincoln Highway, in Indiana and Ohio is the By-Way Yard Sale this Aug. 8-10. You can pick through some really wild selections of knickknacks and whatchamacallits. Giving the kids $5 each and then at the end of the day figuring out who made the best deals can be a great way to make a trip stand out. No matter how hokey something sounds, don’t dismiss it because it’s exactly these kinds of stops that prick our jaded veneers and give us memorable moments.
               
Two: Get Out of the Hotel Room. The game is over, the kids are on an adrenaline rush from either winning or losing, and now you have a 350-square-foot room to look forward to, crowded with the smells and energy of pre-teens and teens at loose ends. Rather than playing video games or fighting over the remote, find an activity outside of those four walls. Before traveling, check out your location to find out where there are bowling alleys, parks, museums, even movie theaters. You may not have the privilege of standing 60 minutes in line at Tower of Terror, but you can get 10 frames of bowling in for the same investment in time. If there are going to be unobstructed expanses of beaches or parks consider having the team members bring along kites for flying or Frisbees for golf, creating your own course using string to form target "holes." There may be a fun hike to be found in the area or you could hold a bird-watching contest. Instead of players banging balls down the hallways and against guest doors, take them to a park for some dribbling races. Check out outlet malls that can’t be very far away from any place you land. Ask the front desk for suggestions on how to spend an afternoon in their town. They may well know a place not readily found through the internet that can be fun. Summer Stock Theater or a local band concert might offer a relaxing evening under the stars. Organize a team dinner by calling ahead to a restaurant and asking if they can serve a meal "family style" for everyone. Lots of diners will accommodate large groups in this way. Or find a buffet such as Golden Corral, CiCi’s Pizza, or Sweet Tomato’s, where the team can eat together easily with all-you-can-eat options. If you’re really organized, you can find coupons online for these places.
               
Three: Use the Hotel Amenities. For many events, hotels are assigned to a team, so your options for that extra-large room or a free hot breakfast can be restricted. Wherever you land, every hotel has something it can offer you and your team from a pool, to a game room, to conference rooms for some indoor game play. In Dayton, we were assigned to a Radisson that had definitely seen better days. There was no breakfast, but it was a business hotel so there was a catering manager. We managed to arrange for a cold breakfast every morning that included cereal, cellophane-wrapped muffins, fresh fruits, juices, milk, and coffee for $3 a person. The first night there, the catering manager put together a pasta dinner with spaghetti, tomato sauce, meat sauce, garlic bread, salad, and cookies with bottled beverages for $7 a person. They usually need at least 48 hours warning but would probably appreciate a week’s notice. If there are large conference rooms available, see if you can procure one with a DVD player and projector to show movies to the team. The hotel might be able to provide a small "buffet" of popcorn, chips and soda to accompany the event for a modest price. Definitely get the family out to the pool to burn off energy, have some together time and take you out of the confines of your room. Some coaches adhere to the "no swimming" theory of downtime, so check with the coach, but in fact unless the pool is kept at 102 degrees, the effect on muscles just doesn’t exist. Check to see if the hotel has a ping pong table or air hockey that they keep in the back and only bring out on request. We found one at the Dayton Radisson, which saved the day for providing an activity. Sometimes hotels will have arrangements with health clubs in the area that you can use for free or for a small fee. And don’t forget about laundry! If the hotel doesn’t have guest laundry available, they should know where a Laundromat is located nearby. Use the trip to check out other far more interesting activities in the town while your laundry washes and dries.
               
Four: Don’t Feel Guilty. If these sports trips are all you can afford for vacation, then embrace them. While you may not have dreamed of visiting Ashtabula, Ohio, where my oldest grandson and family are now ensconced for the Ohio Little League State Tournament, you can make Ashtabula a great memory with preplanning and an open mind. After all, the point of a family vacation is that you are all together doing something different and relaxing. While sitting in a cabana on a sun-streaked beach may be more what you had in mind, how about sitting in the giant two-story rocking chair in Austinburg, Ohio or visiting the Victorian Perambulator Museum in nearby Jefferson, Ohio? You can lounge on any number of similar beaches, but seeing 250 baby carriages all in one place can only be experienced when you find yourself in Ashtabula! These are family times that provide a unique encounter with the environment and one another. Be sure to make a long list of what’s available in the area and let everyone have a say in where you visit. You can find great resources at americaonwheels.com, sillyamerica.com and everysingleplace.com, which list the smallest of towns giving you links to everything in the area. Pack a picnic lunch to share at a historic marker or an overlook. Laugh, sing, play silly games, get reacquainted. It won’t be a waste of good vacation time if you are making memories and finding positive experiences. If you ask the kids if they want to see the largest ball of twine, they may look at you like you lost all your marbles, but if you astonish them with the stop, you may be pleasantly surprised with the reaction. We once stopped at Metropolis, Illinois, home to Superman. It was disappointing to say the least – a tiny dairy town that had more in common with Smallville than Metropolis, but just outside of town was Fort Massac that offered nearly two hours of exploration and a great park for a picnic lunch. While our boys remember the giant Superman statue in town, they remember even better the wooden guard towers they could climb and the tiny slits through which the soldiers had to fit their rifles. In fact, the next year when we had to travel to the East Coast, the boys asked if we could go on a fort tour, which proved to be really fantastic. They even got to raise the "Stars and Stripes" over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the birthplace of our "Star-Spangled Banner." Have fun planning, executing and enjoying these sports- enforced vacations. They can be more memorable than any theme park and a lot cheaper.

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Standards and Practices

Susan Boyd

I just discovered that FIFA has a 10 Commandments of the Game. I think they are worth posting here because they have meaning for players of any age, their friends and family, and all coaches and officials.
 
1.       Play to win
2.       Play fair
3.       Observe the laws of the game
4.       Respect opponents, teammates, referees, official and spectators
5.       Accept defeat with dignity
6.       Promote the interests of football
7.       Reject corruption, drugs, racism, violence and other dangers to our sport
8.       Help others to resist corrupting pressures
9.       Denounce those who attempt to discredit our sport
10.      Honor those who defend football’s good reputation
 
These are lofty goals for anyone playing a sport that offers our young people the opportunity to set some standards for themselves and their team beyond winning a game or a championship. While few 6-year-olds will need to concern themselves with numbers 6 through 10, the commandments can progress with them as they reach the maturity to consider issues such as drugs, violence and reputation. Parents can certainly benefit by paying attention to what the governing organization of world-wide soccer considers important elements of the sport. We can use these commandments as a springboard to discuss with our kids the various on-field behaviors of players, especially with the World Cup fast approaching. While I personally find these commandments a bit stilted and stifling, I still see their overall benefit in providing a moral backdrop for the game and our developing players.
               
We don’t often talk about the ethical aspects of the game, except when something monumental happens on the field. We’re quick to denounce slide tackles from behind or overt jersey grabs. But we may be missing the opportunity to look at some bigger issues with our kids. I wrote last week about swearing. How often have we opened up a dialog with our children about the language they are hearing on the pitch? We would certainly be surprised to find out how often and when young players begin using foul vocabulary. In addition, we should be inquiring how often our kids hear other players using slurs directed at opponents whether ethnic, mental, sexual, religious or gender-based. Several terms that would never have been considered spoken in the past have become part of our regular lexicon without regard to the residual impact the language has on members of particular groups. When our kids hear those words used without restriction or consequence, they learn to accept it as a normal part of the on-pitch banter. As parents, we can provide the contextual understanding of what these terms actually mean and who they hurt. We can also convey the message that we won’t tolerate our children using loaded language. That means we need to watch our own language, which in the heat of excitement or frustration may cross a boundary during a game. The most important factor is to keep a dialog open with our kids, so they can help you understand what happens and how it affects them.
               
These commandments also got me thinking about what inspires our kids. Commandments can be a drag — restrictive rather than liberating. While it should be a good thing to have guidelines, kids also need motivation and vision when persevering through tough times. I don’t know if Albert Einstein ever played or even watched soccer, but he did make a good point when he said, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." He didn’t talk about success or achievement or triumph, but only about the possibilities that exist in our lives that we can transform to a positive degree if we are willing to work through adversity. Our kids need to find and seize the opportunities without expectation. We can teach them how to look for and appreciate the moments handed to them to simply try. Sometimes trying will end up with success and sometimes trying will end in failure. Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player of the all-time, pointed out that he missed more than 9,000 shots, lost more than 300 games, and missed 26 game-winning shots in his career. "I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed." We parents need to take the harshness away from failure and instead present it as another opportunity. What might our child or her team have done differently? How can she build her skills and confidence using the lessons from the unhappy event? Tell our kids that there are really only two options: giving up and passively accepting defeat or making plans and plowing ahead. As Ayn Rand said, "The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me." We can nurture our children’s efforts in such a way that they don’t become their own roadblocks. The truth is that however our kids consider themselves, winners or losers, they are right. We want them to consider themselves winners.
               
When we talk about the 10th commandment — "honor those who defend football’s good reputation" — we are actually talking about how our kids can honor their own reputations. The stronger they become as players physically, mentally and morally, the more they honor the game and by reflection themselves. Aiming for their highest soccer-playing goals will serve them well as they approach any objective in their lives. That will be the strongest benefit of learning to seize opportunity and persevere in soccer. Soccer should be fun. It should also be honorable and character building. Anything else is icing because few will rise to the highest levels of play — not because they lack determination, but because they have already arisen to their highest level of skill. Therefore, we parents need to support their dreams by also shaping their character. Helen Keller stated, "Character cannot be developed in ease or quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved." Soccer offers our kids plenty of experiences that fulfill trial and suffering. What our children make of those experiences depends a great deal on how we parents approach those experiences. We can inspire, we can honor, we can teach and we can encourage, or we can be negative, defeatist, accusatory and angry. The latter behaviors convey to our children that failure is unacceptable rather than an opportunity.         
 
No one wants to experience defeat, an injury, an insult, a dressing down, or lack of playing time, but those things do happen both in soccer and in life. Like the bumper sticker says, "Giving up on your goal after one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat." We can help our kids learn how to change a tire by pointing out opportunities. We can give them a framework for honorable play with the FIFA Ten Commandments. We can build their character by engaging them in discussions of what constitutes proper deportment on the pitch. But most importantly, we can provide a strong, personal example of how we exercise these factors in our own lives.

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Bitter Words

Susan Boyd

As a writer and professor of writing, I am deeply saddened by the level of language to which we English speakers have stooped. The increasing assault of swearing that erupts on the soccer pitch pains me. In the first place, I’ve heard far too much of it during games between teams of players who are too young to spell or read the words buzzing around them. Second, I celebrate English as a highly nuanced and sophisticated form of communication that gets reduced to less than a dozen vulgar nouns and adjectives describing everything from the weather to a political candidate’s worthiness to how an outfit looks. It’s as if we can only speak about issues and events using the term "bad," as in that shirt is bad or that bad ref made a bad call that hurt us badly or how bad was that. As these vulgarities waft up and over the sidelines and stands, we know our kids take this all in. Since "adults" speak this limited, dark language, kids want to emulate that behavior. We need a better standard.
 
I recently watched David McCullough in an interview on 60 Minutes. Mr. McCullough is an historian who has written biographies of American Presidents and books on things as diverse as the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence. In the interview, he lamented how woefully uneducated our children are on even the most basic facts concerning history. He spoke about a college student coming to him and stating that until she had heard his speech that day she was not aware that all the original 13 colonies were located on the East Coast. Another college student had no idea that Ben Franklin had never been our President. I was introduced to McCullough’s work by my father, who devoured his books. My historical education and knowledge can be traced in large part to reading McCullough’s books, as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bruce Catton and Gore Vidal. Not only did I get a fantastic tutelage in history, but also in language. What make these writers great isn’t just their grasp of historical events and context, but their ability to craft their writing with impactful and elegant language.
 
I would echo McCullough’s concerns about ignorance in history with my own concerns about ignorance of the English language. Too many of my college students — and I teach at a private school with high academic requirements — can’t form sentences with subordinate clauses or employ complex transitions. With truncated vocabularies and no confidence or real experience in developing argument, they flounder. But get them out of the classroom and suddenly they have all the language they need to express themselves. Unfortunately, it’s the limited language not fit for young or tender ears. Their main argument ends up being "whatever." Their mode is the abbreviations of texting, so spelling is now a dead art. They don’t even bother to correct spelling in their college essays that is underlined by their computer software. I struggle getting them to develop a coherent piece of writing that has clear argument with support (not anecdotes), smooth transitions between ideas, refined and accurate vocabulary, a distinctive voice, and correct spelling and grammar. They don’t see the point because all they really need is a thought and a few swear words to communicate that assertion without regard to whether or not their point is valid or factually correct. Spelling and grammar — who needs it? Words that can be precise verbal surgical instruments to dissect ideas and open them up to argument — an unnecessary encumbrance. Facts — oh please! If I say it, it’s true. 
 
In an age where we can listen nonstop to talking heads spew forth any collection of words and ideas, we accept the validity of those ideas that are repeated as fact so often that they enter the lexicon of everyday discourse. Often these shows disintegrate into provocation rather than discussion. Our kids learn that this is the new argument — he who shouts louder, wins. Amid all this shouting, inventiveness in language takes a back seat to crude observations. Trying to get any young person (or adult for that matter) to carefully weigh what is being said has become a battle. So many people don’t have the language tools to be able to pare down an assertion and to test it for truth. When Tums says it is the only antacid with calcium and all the others have magnesium, we immediately accept the premise that calcium is better than magnesium because that is what is implied in the assertion. We don’t bring any skepticism to why Tums is the only one with calcium while all the others have gone with magnesium. We don’t research to find out what is better. We don’t question the statement. This is a fairly simple example, but think of all the complex political campaign assertions, financial come-ons, insurance comparisons (does cheaper insurance really have the same level of claim protection as more expensive insurance?), food claims (don’t get me started on fat-free), and car ads that offer zero percent interest but in the small print only about 10 people in the United States qualify. How do we avoid being swayed by the claims? We have to use our language and reasoning skills to evaluate them completely.
 
As we resort to vulgarities to get us through our daily conversations we end up destroying the very tools we need to sort out ideas. There’s obviously the main issue that we’re exposing our children to language that has no place in their young lives. We adults forget about our audience as we scream at the driver who cut us off or "instruct" the referee on her error in judgment. Kids are absorbing those experiences as not only proper, but part of the rite of passage to adulthood. Even more significantly, we end up with students who don’t have the ability to be analytical in their approach to issues because argument is couched in vulgar attacks without regard to development of a reasoned response. We need to have the tools to create the discussion and to search for the answers. George Carlin’s seven words we can’t say on T.V. aren’t enough to accomplish this analysis. We’ll never get rid of swearing. That’s been around since the first cave man dropped a stone on his foot. However, we too easily substitute swearing for coherent, well-chosen language. In doing so, we begin to lower the standards of discussion to "is to…is not" because we don’t have any better tools at our disposal. Even Justice Scalia, who should have a huge arsenal of language and reasoning at his disposal, resorted to nonsense in frustration calling the majority ruling on DOMA a case of "legalistic argle-bargle," whatever that means. Kids on the soccer field are beginning the long journey to adulthood and need to have great weapons at their disposal in order to advance through the maze of ideas and roadblocks they will encounter.
 
McCullough said in the same 60 Minutes interview that he felt part of the disintegration in historical knowledge and language skills comes from the loss of the family dinner. The table should be a place for presenting ideas and arguing them through. Now we are so rushed we don’t have the time to savor the intellectual moments of a meal. At our table, my father would sometimes read a passage from a book or present an interesting dilemma for us to discuss. My mother was in the League of Women Voters, so every election we got the pamphlets to read and talk about at the dinner table. I agree with McCullough even though I shamefully admit I didn’t do as good a job of creating that Algonquin Round Table atmosphere for my kids growing up.
 
Two things we can do to insure assimilation of more sophisticated responses. First, purchase a good thesaurus rather than depending on whatever our computer word program offers. Encourage your children to look up words to discover the various shades of meaning for shaping their arguments. I remember the day I stood in our kitchen and said the word "crap." I was around 10 years old. My mother said, "Do you know what that word means? Go look it up." I was shocked to discover its true meaning rather than being a harmless expletive. Then she asked me what else I might say instead of "crap." So I had to figure out what would express my feelings of frustration while avoiding what I now knew was not a very nice descriptive word. As the years progressed, I learned to depend on that thesaurus to help me discover how to say exactly what I wanted to say. I also began to naturally develop a stronger vocabulary, which helped me in so many circumstances including my SATs, writing and handling classroom discussions. Secondly, we can challenge our children to answer "why" more often. "Why was that a bad call?" "Why should you have those expensive shoes?" "Why do you hate math?" "Why do kids bully?" There are so many circumstances where we just nod while our kids are speaking without stimulating their reasoning skills. Help them understand the difference between an assertion and an argument. That includes us, as well. "Because I said so" doesn’t cut it in the reasoning department, although I understand the frustration when kids come at us with unformed argument and we’ve had enough. "I want those shoes because they are the best soccer shoes." "Really? What is that based on?" Then help them do the research. The statement may be true, but just saying the shoes are the best isn’t proof. Kids need to learn to question statements made by others by demanding support for the stance. If Landon Donovan endorses a type of cleats, our children need to figure out if that product is really the right one for them. Of course, you may create a monster who can argue better than you can, but at least their arguments will be both substantial and substantiated.
 
With so many words and meanings to choose from, we can help our kids avoid settling for the easiest and least powerful. When faced with something they feel is unfair on the pitch, they can express their unhappiness in a reasonable and crafted way rather than a knee-jerk explosion of profanity. They still won’t win the battle with the ref, but they will earn his respect. As they grow up, they’ll learn how to shape their responses in such a way as to truly sway someone by utilizing strong language that isn’t irreverent. They also learn how to recognize reasoned argument and powerful word choices. The more articulate they can be, the farther they will go in any profession and certainly in life.
 

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Youth Awards

Sam Snow

A youth coach asks:

"I am looking for some guidance on coaching Under-9 boys’ soccer. Specifically, is it acceptable to give out player recognition/accomplishment awards to some players (i.e. sportsmanship, MVP, coaches award etc.). I was advised by one parent that soccer is a team sport and these types of awards should not be used. Can you comment on this or provide me with a reference from which I can get some advice? I would not want to use this type of player recognition if not advisable by your organization."

I think that for 8 and 9-year-old kids the focus should be on their participation in the game, growing their love of the game, making friends in the team, getting healthy exercise and learning some life skills along with soccer skills. The coaches giving recognition for good play during training sessions and after a match to individuals is fine, as opposed to a formalized awards ceremony. I also suggest that during the course of the soccer season you look for a chance to give public praise to each kid on the team.

Additionally, a private word of encouragement, recognition or praise will go a long way in building self-confidence. But, it has to be earned and sincere; no cheerleading so to speak.

If you want to have an end of the season picnic for the team and its supporters that would be the time for public recognition of group accomplishments.

Generally wait until the teenage years to give individual awards as you describe in your message, as it will then mean more to the players. They will have achieved at this age a better understanding of the award and its significance.

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