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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". 

 

The New Normal

Susan Boyd

Remember those thick backpacks filled with blankets, peanuts, beverages and sun screen that we toted to watch our favorite professional teams? Those are now being swapped out for small, clear plastic bags that can be easily checked for harmful materials like guns, flares and bombs. We have seen our comfortable trip to the ballpark, courts or field reinterpreted as possible battlegrounds, and I’m not talking about the competition between teams. While the chances of anything negative happening (except maybe the Vikings beating the Packers) are low, authorities would rather err toward protection. This level of security hasn’t reached most of youth soccer, but it’s not inconceivable that we may find ourselves needing to reconsider complete openness at large tournaments.
 
Last week at the French Open, two protestors charged the courts during the men’s final. These jerks were actually fairly harmless since they were shirtless, wore masks, and carried flares, but the effect on the match was anything but harmless. Rafa Nadal had two double faults on his service game following the demonstration and his competition David Ferrer, who had been struggling anyway, found himself making several mental errors. It took at least three games before the players could settle back in, stop thinking about a possible attack from behind, and focus on the finals. In 1993, Monica Seles was stabbed in the back during a quarterfinal match in Hamburg. The attack kept her off the court for two years, not due to the actual injury but due to the psychological impact. She never returned to her old form.
 
Two months ago, we witnessed the horrifying bombing of fans cheering runners to the finish line at the Boston Marathon. This week, the Rock and Soul race in Milwaukee announced heightened security for the event, including no backpacks or athletic bags. Instead, at registration this week for the race each runner was given a plastic bag that will be the only authorized container for their clothing and gear. Spectators will be limited to bringing their belongings in a quart-size bag. Every bag will get a sticker to show that it has been inspected and there will be three check points before anyone can enter the race course. We will certainly see more of this as time goes on.
 
The NFL recently announced its own plans to limit what spectators can bring into the stadium. Not so long ago, the biggest "contraband" most fans tried to smuggle in was alcohol and food. Most security checkpoints politely looked the other way. But now fans will be limited to a 12-inch clear plastic bag or a clutch purse no bigger than your hand, difficult to stuff a six-pack into, but also difficult to hide any weapons or dangerous items. We are being asked to trade-off our ability to break the rules in favor of greater safety. The Green Bay Packers will enforce these new measures, but I’m just wondering how they’ll handle the bundled up fans who come for the December games in negative-20-degree weather. In the summer, it’s easier to see if someone has heavy pockets, but not so easy if someone is dressed like the Michelin Man.
 
Right now, Major League Baseball doesn’t have an across the board policy, leaving those decisions up to the individual clubs. When I recently attended a Brewers’ game with my visiting brother, I managed to bring in a bag stuffed full of peanuts, sunflower seeds, jackets and blankets. All the security guy did was pat down the bag from the outside, shake it a bit, and usher me right through the turnstile. I must have either an incredibly honest face or a face that looks way too old to cause mischief. I hope it was the former. In any case, people were moving through security fairly quickly and easily with little concern for what they were carrying. I’m happy that the Brewers’ organization feels Milwaukeeans wouldn’t attempt anything dangerous, but I also hope they won’t end up closing the proverbial barn door after the horse gets out.
 
What does this all mean for youth sports? There will be greater caution, certainly at the larger gatherings such as state high school tournaments, state, regional, and national events, and huge tournaments. Because so many of these events are held in wide-open spaces, it makes it difficult to control ingress and egress. Therefore, restrictions can’t be enforced unless security fences and gates are erected. Right now, the number of youth sport competitions enforcing more stringent controls are few, but the growing push for greater security will end up increasing both costs and inconveniences for young players and their families already strapped with high fees and travel costs. It’s an unfortunate sign of the times that clubs and organizations will have to add security committees to their planning boards. Most clubs have enough trouble ensuring the medical safety of players by having trainers on site and making sure that support personnel like ambulances and police are on notice that the event is on-going. Adding other security could make some tournaments unmanageable.
 
Our kids are astute enough to know that acts of violence and terrorism have increased. Part of that knowledge comes from our media savvy kids tweeting, texting, Facebooking and web surfing. We parents can’t really shield our kids from these unrelenting news stories, which are often sensationalized in order to keep them fresh and keep viewers hooked. So we need to address them head-on by pointing out how seriously authorities take these incidents. When we get delayed entering a sporting event, concert, amusement park or rally, we can take the opportunity to point out that the delay is helping insure everyone’s safety. It’s difficult to think that an enjoyable family outing could be interrupted by aggression. Such random acts of violence have been happening since recorded history, but we have the ability to know not only instantly about terror, but to have it splashed across our TVs, computers and smart phones rather than reading about it a week later in the paper or have a news bulletin on our radios. So it may seem as if danger is all around us even though it is still a rare occurrence. Our kids don’t have the context of understanding statistics and margins, so to them these acts are always just around the corner. Therefore, additional security should add some peace to their lives, but also brings home the possibility of risk.
 
If youth sports find it necessary to add more security to the larger events they sponsor then we need to be tolerant of the new requirements. Even though the chances are minute that we would be victims of thug or terrorist attacks we still need to be vigilant. The inconveniences can be outweighed by a greater protective confidence. With all the hubbub over the NSA telephone and computer monitoring, we can lose sight of how complex the aspects of keeping this large nation secure can be. Our freedoms create some vulnerabilities, so finding a balance between openness and restriction can be difficult. We often choose accessibility over limitations. The discussion will continue as long as terror exists. There is no easy answer, so some groups will err to the side of protection while others will opt for looseness. The day may come when even the games of the youngest players will be subject to bag searches and check-points. We can hope it doesn’t come to that, but we need to understand why it might. While some may call this paranoia, others will call it caution. No matter how we feel about these added security measures, we need to accept that due to a heightened sense of threat governments, organizations, schools, shopping malls, sports venues, and houses of worship may elect for stronger protective protocols. Let our kids know that a few simple steps can mean a safer environment for everyone. That’s going to be the new normal.

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Role Modeling

Susan Boyd

I live just outside Milwaukee, Wisc. I grew up in Seattle. In 1969, the Seattle Pilots were formed as an expansion team, lasted one year in Seattle, then were sold to Milwaukee investors and became the Brewers. Therefore, I have a particularly long-standing bond to the team. I was at the game where Robin Yount got his 3000th hit, attended when Miller Park opened and the All-Star game came to town, and I watched with dismay as St. Louis once again took away the Brewers’ chance to win the Division title and go to the World Series. Now another chapter has opened without anyone knowing how the book will end. Ryan Braun, who had doping charges dismissed (on a technicality), now finds himself back in the performance-enhancing drug (PED) limelight along with 19 other players. This recent investigation reopens the discussion on how much professional sports players need to accept and nurture their position as role models to youth players. Charles Barkley famously said that he was not a role model and shouldn’t be held to that standard. Robert Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University, stated that emulating sports figures and other celebs as role models is "ridiculous — Babe Ruth was a terrible role model." He continued by saying we shouldn’t look to them for how to live life. Unfortunately, young players don’t have the context or maturity to make those distinctions. In their eyes, these celebrities hold an untarnished spot on a pedestal that covers all aspects of life.

What exactly constitutes a role model? Media stars might be admired for exterior attributes such as clothes, hair styles, party life, cool attitudes, swagger and bling. For a true role model designation, we parents are looking for character in our sports stars. Certainly the ability to play the game well, show leadership on the field, maintain an aggressive winning attitude and demonstrating good sportsmanship are important aspects of that character, but we expect that anyone that achieves star status does so because of these attributes. The deeper aspects of character a role model exhibits are those moral qualities we all hope our kids grow up to possess such as honesty, kindness, loyalty, commitment, integrity and respect (i.e. men towards women and one race to another race). We know the likelihood of our children becoming elite professional players hovers somewhere around no chance to impossible. But the likelihood of our children becoming parents, co-workers, neighbors, volunteers and citizens of a community are nearly 100 percent. Therefore, we want the people they venerate to possess values that create principled adults.
 
Therein lies the rub. While there are plenty of examples of highly honorable sports and media stars, the press doesn’t feel there are newsworthy stories in highlighting good character. We occasionally hear about someone running into a burning building to save a woman or providing CPR to an accident victim, extreme stories that don’t necessarily illustrate character and only add to the "superhero" labels we place on these stars. Instead, we get the sensational stories of a fall from grace. "Oh, not again," escapes our lips all too often. We’ve watched Lance Armstrong be accused for, lie about and finally mince words concerning his use of PEDs. In 2003, a Baylor University football player murdered a fellow player, which on its own is repugnant enough, but then the team coach told his players to lie to the NCAA and say that the murdered player was a drug dealer. Of course, we all remember the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal that brought down one of the most revered college football coaches in the United States. We can go all the way back to 1919 to reference the White Sox World Series-fixing scandal involving Shoeless Joe Jackson leading to that apocryphal phrase uttered by a young Jackson fan, "Say it ain’t so Joe." Even without video, 24-hour news coverage and dozens of pundits weighing in ad nauseam, American youth witnessed their hero crumble before their eyes. Looking to their sports stars to offer guidance and ideals isn’t new and comes with the territory. Whether Charles Barkley wanted it or not, he is a standard bearer for youth players.
 
Naturally, our kids want to dress like their heroes, talk like them, and most importantly, play like them. Buying a jersey of or getting tickets to watch a player isn’t setting a bad precedent. When Robbie was 5 and 6 he wanted his hair cut like Edgar Bennett of the Green Bay Packers. Bennett changed his style every couple of weeks, so I got to be quite the expert with the hair clippers! These types of identifiers give kids a sense of pride and self-worth. Of course, if their idol has clay feet, it can be devastating to that self-image, making the kids feel bad for supporting a "loser" and occasionally having to bear the taunts of peers. Many of our children are too young to understand the details of these downfalls, but they do understand their ideal is now considered a villain. We can alleviate some of these worthless feelings by focusing on positives, such as how the player keeps his or her composure, any honesty the player expresses, and how the team has rallied in support of the player. But before anything negative happens, we can help our children look for and identify those character traits in the star that are inherent to becoming a good human being.
 
Everyone who loves soccer knows David Beckham. He can be pretty wild with his tattoos and underwear ads. He sets style with his clothing and his hair. His abilities on the field are legendary. But we can also point out his other strong qualities. He’s a family man who respects his wife and spends time with his four children, who all seem well-adjusted considering the money and the notoriety that comes with the Beckham name. He also participates in several charities, both actively as a volunteer and as a donator. On the field, he is regularly known for his sportsmanship, although early in his career he had some problems with ego and temper. But he learned from his mistakes and humbly has acknowledged his on-field behavior wasn’t always exemplary, including being sent off during the 1998 World Cup and giving the finger to the crowd for taunting him in 2000. But those shenanigans ended. The World Cup incident resulted in many fans accusing him of losing the Cup for England, and he received death threats. It was a wake-up call for him that he did have a responsibility as both a leader and a role model. Three "scandals" involving Beckham and infidelity all faded away when challenged. He handled them with dignity. We parents can remind our children of Beckham’s qualities beyond his strong right foot so that they learn to focus on the character aspects not on the just the media hype.
 
Christie Rampone of the U.S. Women’s Team can be idolized for her athletic ability. At age 37, she continues to be a strong force on the team and fills the role of team captain. However, we parents need to point out to our kids that Christie has other important characteristics that will last long beyond her playing career. Despite contracting Lyme disease in 2011, she persevered with training and playing, although she admitted to "taking more naps." She has two children who travel with her on the road and has been married for 12 years. She keeps up a busy schedule supporting charities that address autism, cancer and military groups that help veterans. She is well-respected for her leadership qualities and her good sportsmanship on the field.
               
Even players caught in scandalous situations can offer teaching moments for our kids. Ray Smalls, a player at Ohio State from 2006-2009, was caught in 2011 selling memorabilia and admitted to knowing about other players selling memorabilia in exchange for tattoos and receiving special deals at a car dealership. In addition, he was arrested for drug possession. He immediately agreed to cooperate with authorities even though it meant bringing down a program and a coach that had embraced him as a player. As he put it, "You can’t just keep having mistakes over and over." When apologizing for his actions, Small said, "I am truly sorry for my actions. . . I’m here today to speak up on my behalf and say I’m a man and I understand the things I have done wrong." Those words should be something we impress upon our children — that no matter what mistakes we make, we need to admit to them rather than offer defensive excuses, and accept the consequences of our choices. During an earlier PED probe in Major League Baseball leading to suspensions, several players admitted their blame and apologized. Mike Morse said, "First and foremost, I want to apologize to the fans, my teammates, the Mariners' organization, baseball and to my family. . . I took steroids while in the Minor Leagues. . . I was desperate and made a terrible mistake, which I deeply regret." Matt Lawton said this about his suspension: "I made a terrible and foolish mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life. I take full responsibility for my actions and did not appeal my suspension. I apologize to the fans, the game, my family and all those people that I let down. I am truly sorry and deeply regret my terrible lapse in judgment." Those apologies taking full responsibility for recklessness in behavior can do more to bolster the moral development of our children than any home run record or magnificent goal.
 
Kids do change their allegiances as new stars emerge or their interests become more focused. As parents, we can help steer their loyalties in the right direction, pointing out the weaknesses in some players’ characters and the strengths in others. Our children may not care that Alex Rodriguez took PEDs or that Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Matterazzi in the 2006 World Cup final. They may even see such behaviors as acceptable and even preferable in our winner-take-all society. So, we parents need to create a context in which those actions can be rightfully judged. Alex Rodriguez holds one of the largest contracts ever paid to a professional baseball player of $275 million over 10 years, eclipsing his previous contract of $252 million. He had plenty at stake to take PEDs and then to deny taking them. He finally admitted to using PEDs from 2001 to 2003, citing "an enormous amount of pressure" to perform after the threat of legal action was gone. He never apologized. Now he finds himself the subject of another investigation. He may have felt he had the need to perform, but the real motivator appears to be money and avoiding prosecution. Zidane said that Matterazzi had made lewd comments about his mother and sister leading to the head-butt. However, at the time, Italy and France were locked in a tough overtime game to decide the winner of the World Cup, so emotions were running high on both sides. His action came in the 110th minute. He refused to apologize to Matterazzi, but also accepted that what he did was wrong saying he "could never have lived with myself" had he been permitted to remain in the game. In lieu of a three-game suspension, since Zidane had already retired from professional soccer, he accepted a three-day participation in FIFA community service with children. This led to his involvement in dozens of charity soccer events all over the world benefiting the plight of impoverished children. He continues to pursue this charity work. His tale can illustrate to our kids several lessons: The person who retaliates is the person who gets caught. It’s important to accept the severity of an action. And we should use our mistakes to learn how to rise to a better pattern of behavior. We parents can provide past, present and future context to any faulty action of a celebrity and help our children to discover the important aspects of character that can be learned from those actions. In that way, we are not only providing the framework for a true role model, but we are also role modeling for our kids how to measure the behaviors of both heroes and peers.

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Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Susan Boyd

It may seem unremarkable and certainly not life-altering to have your child decide to quit the soccer team, but the decision often has far-reaching effects. Families find themselves at loose ends, social ties are broken and feelings of discontent can create a type of long-lasting gloom. How should a family handle the decision to leave a team in order to minimize its impact?
 
First of all, be sure the decision is based on reasoned consideration. Many times players will have temporary setbacks that can eat at them and create the desire to flee the situation. Teammates may have said something mean, a coach may have been particularly gruff, or the player may feel he or she is falling behind. The problem could be outside of soccer, like a bad grade at school or a fight with a friend that makes a child feel overwhelmed and anxious to control the few things he or she can control. Before agreeing to quit, parents need to explore what is motivating this desire. We should always emphasize the importance of a commitment and sticking it out both for the child’s sake and the team’s sake. Of course, this time of year the commitment is nearly over and players are anticipating try outs, so that particular encouragement won’t be effective. However, it’s possible that the anxiety over try outs may prompt our child to flee the challenge. So we need to talk to our kids about those feelings as well as finding out if they really want to play but are afraid they will "fail" when it comes to the test.
 
Second, discuss with your child the fact that quitting will probably be irreversible. Most state associations don’t allow players to change clubs in the middle of a season. Rules vary, but in general the policy states that the club has the final say. A player must be completely paid up for the club to even consider a transfer, which means most scholarship players won’t be able to leave. Soccer is a tight-knit community, so other clubs will know that a child has quit. They may regard that move as too risky for their teams to offer that player a spot. Quitting shouldn’t become the way to handle adversity when things get tough. Parents need to be sure that the reasons for quitting are legitimate and not transitory. One option might be to take a week’s break just to see how it goes. Give your child a few days to decompress then have a heart to heart laying out the options and the consequences. Be sure to let them know it’s their choice, but they should be considerate in making the selection. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child no matter the age. Even 6-year-old players can be articulate about why they don’t want to continue, and it’s important to mull over the reasons.
 
Third, if your child has been playing for just a year or for several years, suddenly being without the camaraderie of that sideline social group can put parents in a tailspin. Leaving a team can be akin to leaving a congregation, board, job or book club. Things and people you’ve been used to and formed attachments with are no longer in your social circle. Despite promises to stay in touch those rarely pan out since the basis for the relationships has gone. So parents need to understand that having a child quit a team can leave a void in their own lives. In addition, there’s that routine we complain about when it comes to practices and games, but we find it disconcerting when that’s no longer part of our lives. When Robbie left the Chicago Magic to spend his high school senior year with a local team, I would wake up in the middle of the night panicked that I had forgotten to drive him down to Chicago! Certainly, we all eventually adjust to the change, but we have to be prepared for feelings of loss and even depression. We also need to be careful not to pressure our kids into staying on a team for our own reasons. If quitting is really the best option, then we need to absorb the potential upset to our lives.
 
Fourth, find another activity for your child. Quitting soccer shouldn’t be the end of participating in youth pastimes. You don’t need to replace soccer with another sport, although you may find that your child craves the physically of sports, just not soccer. Some kids do better with team sports and some do better with individual sports. One of our sons hated the downtime of baseball and loved the continual movement of basketball and soccer. The other son loved baseball and hated basketball. So finding the right sport may require some trial and error (and therefore some quitting). However, consider other pursuits such as musical instruments, art, dramatics or forensics. Our nephew gave up rowing for a year so he could do school plays. We saw his performances, and he is quite good, obviously loving the change. His mother was a rower at Harvard, but wisely set her hopes aside to accommodate her son’s dreams. One grandson plays the trombone as well as playing baseball and football, but his parents agree he would probably give up the sports and just concentrate on his music, so that may be in his future. The important message here would be that every child needs an outlet for that creative/physical side beyond school. So find something that engages them no matter what that may be.
 
Finally, we can’t see quitting as a failure and we can’t convey failure to our children. If we go through the process wisely and thoughtfully, we can fully justify the decision. Sometimes we have to quit just to be able to move to the next adventure. The only failure would be in a knee-jerk reaction to a temporary or solvable situation. We need to teach our children that quitting has to be saved for very significant occasions. We should support the careful consideration that precedes a decision to quit so that we can ultimately support quitting if that is the end result. As our kids move through life they will sample several options and some will not suit their personalities or skills. We just need to be sure that those are the reasons for leaving. Because soccer is a fast-growing sport, there can lots of pressure from friends and neighbors to join a soccer team. As much as I love soccer, I realize it’s not for everyone. Therefore, we parents have to be ready for the words, "I want to quit soccer," even if we think it’s a wrong-headed idea. Take a deep breath, approach gently, and if the discussion leaves no other option than quitting, be prepared to say OK. If it’s not fun, there’s no reason to force participation. There are plenty of other options out there that can provide the fun our children may be missing in soccer.

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Eavesdropping

Susan Boyd

I admit to listening in to some conversations. A certain word or phrase will pique my interest, and I find myself straining to hear the discussion. At other times I can’t avoid what others are saying. They sit behind me at soccer games or walk nearby carrying on with loud, clear voices as if they want the world to join their dialog. No matter how I come across these snippets of advice, comments and criticisms, I can’t help but catalog the most memorable of these. Here is a compilation of some of those examples that show the wide swathe of ideas people express before, during and after youth games.
 
This weekend we traveled to Columbus, Ohio to watch our grandsons compete in several baseball games. They each play on three teams, but don’t ask me which team is which. There’s recreational baseball, travel baseball and Little League. One of these games proved a rich mother lode of comments. At one point, a player was in the batter’s box ready to hit when the coach started shouting, "Move left, left, left!" The player shifted with each "left" to his left. Then the coach said, "That’s right." What followed was a routine worthy of "Who’s on first." The player turned to the coach and said, "No, I’m moving left." To which the coach answered, "That’s right." Totally bewildered, the player began to move to his right thinking somehow he passed through the baseball looking glass and was now in an alternate universe. The coach shouted again, "No, move left!" At this point, the umpire, who had patiently waited through this exchange shouted to the coach, "Make up your mind" having also been confused by the instructions, and then told the pitcher to throw. The poor batter stood there unsure if he was right, left or middle, swung and missed. Then the instruction began again. "Move left!" followed by "That’s right!" It took the assistant coach to clear up the confusion and rectify the miscue by shouting "That’s correct!" Even then, I’m not sure the coach figured out the confusion he had caused.
 
Walking back to the car after another game, a father with two boys was walking behind us. The game had finished late, around 7 p.m., and the boys were complaining that they were STARVING! They begged and cajoled for dinner at several possible locations, all of which the dad nixed for various reasons. With each denial, the boys got more plaintive and higher pitched. Finally the dad, disgusted with their attitude barked, "Stop whining like 9-year-old girls!" I nearly whipped around to give him a piece of my mind, but didn’t want to embarrass our grandson who had gone ahead to the car. However, I wish parents would understand how comments that denigrate a group of people as somehow weak, stupid, lazy or otherwise inferior to themselves affect the future attitudes of our children. "You throw like a girl," "You sound like an immigrant," "You’re as slow as a fat kid" all buy into stereotypes that give our kids the impression certain groups have traits that prevent them from being amazing. If they begin to approach these groups with these preconceived notions, then they can’t give everyone a fair shake. These seemingly off-handed similes give kids the worry of being seen as the negative side of the "like" statements, not to mention giving them fuel to distrust or dislike certain groups. 
               
Several weeks ago a family sat behind me at a college soccer game. They happened to be a family from our opponents, but that didn’t excuse their constant barrage of criticisms. Every one of our players who went down was accused of "flopping," even the player who had to be taken off the field for stitches in the forehead. Every ref’s call was questionable no matter how obviously egregious the foul. The level of distrust, anger and negativity spewing from this family finally hit its climax when Robbie was taken down from behind with a crack that could be heard 30 feet away. As the ref issued a yellow card to the offending attacker, the father behind me once again shouted, "That was a flop!" Now my son has plenty of faults on the field. He’ll wait until the ref isn’t looking and use extra force to check a player out of bounds he feels has been particularly rough on a teammate. He’ll use whatever means to insure he gets the ball, some of which aren’t legal. But he will not flop. In fact, all his soccer career coaches have been begging him to flop in the box. When Robbie goes down we all know it’s for real. So with a mother’s justification I turned to the father and said, "That’s my son and he doesn’t flop." I know, I know — I preach don’t engage other parents — I admit I’m fallible. But the effect of my comment got this father to be quiet and I hope realize that these types of constant negative comments are not only uncalled for but can be hurtful. I added, "How would you feel if I accused your son of flopping every time he was tackled? Sometimes a tackle is a tackle." I doubt I made a life changing impact on him, but hopefully each time he opens his mouth to shout his poison, he’ll think a bit on my response. 
               
This example also makes the point that eavesdropping works both ways. When we make comments on the sidelines we have to remember that the families of these players are sitting or standing there. Saying something that they can overhear can be hurtful. I’m in an unusual position because I’m Scottish and Irish and my sons are African American, so people often don’t know they are commenting on my child. But that’s the point: you never know who’s in earshot of your comments. It could be grandparents, parents, siblings or friends. If I hear parents making some negative comment about a player’s ability with that child’s relatives right there, I’ll do the finger over the lips or even the slashing move across the neck to warn the speaker. It doesn’t always work. It’s worth remembering to be careful with our observations around people.
               
Sometimes I overhear questions about the game.  That’s a sticky situation. Do I let the person know I eavesdropped?  I don’t want to embarrass anyone by offering quick answers about soccer strategy or rules, but I also don’t want people to continue to misunderstand the game their child plays. Some of these comments are, "Aren’t they going to that goal down there? Why are they kicking the ball backwards?" or "He wasn’t offside when the ball was kicked" not understanding receiving the ball first after returning from an offside position. Out of bounds is a huge topic of conversation. Recently my brother came to visit and watch Robbie play. He knows nothing about soccer, so I got to see the game through the eyes of a novice. It certainly taught me some patience and tolerance towards those who don’t fully understand the game yet. After all, that was my brother who I love and respect. I should also respect others who are struggling with understanding the game. Those who are new to the game are the ones who will ultimately make soccer grow in this country. I usually try to respond to those who have questions by saying, "I couldn’t help but overhear your question. I think I can explain it if you’d like." Often they take me up on my offer and I even end up engaging them throughout the game talking about some of the more complex rules, the choice for team formations, and strategy. I’m not an expert by any means, but I do have the benefit of watching thousands of games, both those of my children and games on TV. So I have some perspective on the sport.
               
My favorite eavesdrop experience occurred at a youth football game. I was seated behind the platoon of players waiting to go on the field. The boys were fooling around and doing the usual 6th-grade jabs and non sequiturs. Suddenly one boy shouts, "Hey look at Jaden. You can totally see his butt." All eyes snapped to the field followed by comments like "Oh gross!" Then they realized that the team’s white pants revealed EVERYONE’s rear end. Briefs’ outlines or worse athletic cup straps were out there for all to see. This led to a serious examination of one another’s bums that came close to "Do these pants make me look fat?" The game was totally forgotten. All that mattered was the extent of the revelations and what that meant in terms of the boys’ modesty. Discussions were hot and heavy on whether or not people could see too much — so hot and heavy that the platoon missed that the offense was coming off the field and they were supposed to be charging onto the field. When the coach finally got their attention, they began to complain to him and ask his opinion on how transparent their pants had become. The squad coming off the field got immediately informed of what their teammates had seen which resulted in neck-craning to see for themselves how prominently their anatomy had been revealed. Then, naturally, someone realized that if you could see the rear, you might also see the front! The game was now merely a distraction to the examination of the relative opacity of their outerwear. Each boy had a comment that ranged from "I can’t see anything" to "It’s scary obvious." This discussion lasted until the end of the game, each crew charged with checking out whatever group was on the field. Like a bad episode of "Project Runway," the fashion police were out in force. Interestingly, after the game, the boys asked their dads about the situation, but not their moms, which speaks to the modesty they were now trying to maintain. I didn’t get involved and just observed, not wanting to add further embarrassment. But just watching and hearing the scene in front of me was entertaining enough.
               
What we overhear or say to be overheard can be hurtful, curious or humorous. We know we shouldn’t eavesdrop, but should try to maintain the privacy of the speakers. But we’re human, and when a comment makes an impression, it’s difficult to avoid listening in. There are gems of discovery out there that may justify our aural intrusion and there are teachable moments that eavesdropping offers. Out in the wide open of a sporting event or even the intimacy of a restaurant, it’s nearly impossible not to overhear other people’s conversations ranging from the young man in the theatre who informed his date that he would never use his soda can as a urinal to the child at the museum who told his mom as they gazed on a Picasso portrait that she was "much prettier than that." Unfettered conversation gives us great insight into our world. I plan to stay tuned in.

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