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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". 

 

Keeping Up the Standards

Susan Boyd

The first time I ever saw a Peapod grocery delivery truck roaming our neighborhood, I said in my most superior voice, "I will never order food online to be delivered." Embedded in that statement were the unspoken judgments about parents who don’t care enough to go to the store and shop, who are too lazy and who are disorganized. As I write this, I am waiting for my Peapod order to be delivered. What created my change in attitude? Lots of things contributed, including developing a less judgmental attitude toward the process. Over the years of raising my children and juggling work, writing, housecleaning, carpooling, soccer trips, meals and laundry, I’ve had this desire to be the perfect mom with perfect organization and perfect execution. I’ve fallen short so many times that it’s a wonder I have any self-esteem left.
 
My own mother raised five children while never failing to have dinner on the table at 6:15 every single night. Fast food for our family was a gourmet meal enjoyed only for lunch and only once or twice a year. She oversaw all our homework, corrected our papers to a point we didn’t appreciate until much later in life, grocery shopped after dinner because we only had one car and my dad used that to go to work. She ran her errands Saturday afternoons, recorded books for the blind, did thousands of elementary school eye screenings throughout the Seattle area using taxis, buses, or friends for transportation, served on the Alaska-Northwest Synod of the Presbyterian Church, and kept an immaculate home. She was a difficult role model to live up to! So it’s not surprising that every time I compromised on her standards I felt huge pangs of guilt.
 
We parents carry around a lot of expectations for ourselves, which have been formed by our upbringing, the media and even ads. Imagine the shame "ring around the collar" 1960s housewives had to bear giving way to "Choosy mothers choose Jif" in the ‘80s, capped off with "You’re not as clean as you think" from Dial a few years ago. We are constantly reminded we aren’t measuring up to an ideal. Keeping a stack of pizzas in the freezer became a silent rebuke every time I opened the door — "you are a terrible mother to let your kids eat something so high in salt and fat!" Squeezing soccer practices, school work and home-cooked meals into the four hours following after-school activities meant that we often grabbed dinner and did homework at a family restaurant between the soccer fields and home as the recriminations flooded my brain. I managed to resist McDonald’s for 10 years, but in a moment of panic on a trip down to Chicago when Robbie was suffering from low blood sugar I pulled into the drive-thru and upped not only his sugar, but his fat and preservative intake, as well. Before long, that toll road oasis stop became regular, as did my self-loathing.
 
How many of you have typed papers for your kids because you really wanted them to get some sleep? That’s like entering the first ring of hell. These types of moral dilemmas can eat away at our confidence as parents. We can justify with some pride giving our kids an extra hour of sleep while suffering through the guilt that we aren’t teaching them to do their own work. Child psychologists tell us again and again how our job as parents isn’t to rescue our kids. If they forget their lunch or homework when they leave for school, we’re not to race down and give it to them. If they aren’t prepared for a test, we’re not to let them stay home "sick." If they have a project for school, we’re not to help other than to get the poster board and glue. I’ve broken all of these and so much more. I’ve also said publicly that our schools don’t do enough to teach our kids how to problem-solve while totally undermining that concept by rushing to the rescue. Asking our child "How could you solve this?" isn’t worth listening to the whining and the pouting when we can simply tell them what to do. I hate conflicts, so I tend to do whatever I can to avoid them, even as my parental pride is oozing away like the wicked witch in Oz.
 
Year by year, day by day, I have found myself faced with the catch-22 of compromising my parental expectations for quick fixes or necessary evils. My mother passed away many years ago, and I regret not asking her what she compromised in her parenting. I’m sure she did, I just never saw it. I only witnessed her amazing ability to maintain certain standards in running the household and the family. However, I’ve come to realize some things in the intervening years. First of all, if we kids couldn’t walk or bike to it, we didn’t do it. My mother never drove us to a single game, lesson or activity. For those of us who played sports, my parents never came to watch a game, nor did our friends’ parents other than those who coached. We lived high up on a hill, more than a mile from the nearest community buildings, fields, stores and schools, but we got ourselves to our events and then back home again, even if it was already dark. Today’s parents worry about kids going places alone over such distances and are more heavily invested in attending their children’s events. Second, going out to eat was rare no matter what other standards a family had. I remember in our town we had four sit-down restaurants, two of which were fine dining. If our family tried to go out to eat it would have cost a fortune. So eating at home was the logical and necessary option. The town I live in today is about the same population of the town I grew up in, and we have 35 sit-down restaurants, only two of which are expensive retreats. And we have dozens of fast food options. Getting a meal on the fly is not only easy, but also, if done once or twice a week, won’t bust the food budget. Third, kids have far more options for activities and sports than they ever have. They can participate in self-defense classes, art, science, tutoring courses, scouting, service projects and after-school clubs. Parents are warned not to over-schedule their kids, but it’s hard to whittle things down when friends are doing a number of diverse activities. So that’s another whip we can haul out for self-flagellation.
 
While we probably shouldn’t resort to expediency in every tough situation, we do need to forgive ourselves when we do. All that guilt I felt for not cooking every night was moderated by the fact that when I did cook I usually got met with at least one person’s displeasure with part of the meal. I found myself resorting to that horrible fall-back of "When I was a kid we ate what was put in front of us," which was rarely effective (actually never effective). While the guilt flows thick and often around us for our food choices, how we discipline, what we tolerate, what we expect, how and when we intervene in our kids’ lives, we make our decisions based on what works best with all the factors in our lives. I grew up with June Cleaver for a mom, but my best friend had Lois from Malcolm in the Middle as her mom. I was often jealous of what she got away with, given the strict discipline of my parents. Her room, and her house for that matter, was always a mess, meals were self-prepared whenever someone was hungry, she had dozens of Barbie dolls while I wasn’t allowed to have one, and she got to listen to rock music, which I had to do in secret under my bedcovers. Nevertheless, we both grew up to be productive adults who moved closer to a middle ground in our parenting. Still, I insisted my sons would never have toy guns, and then I ended up dealing with guns constructed from Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, sticks, screwdrivers, and even the dog’s chew bone. So although I didn’t compromise my stated position, I was just fooling myself. My friend told me once that she couldn’t get her daughter to play with Barbie. Go figure!
 
The lesson appears to be that, as long as it isn’t abuse, parenting is whatever you make of it. We can whisper under our breath about how the Smiths have their kids in too many activities or the Johnsons let their kids watch R-rated movies, but the truth is that both the Smiths and the Johnsons are probably discussing our parenting as well. I have known wild children, stressed children, overly sensitive children and shy children, all of whom have grown up wonderfully, despite any doubts I had when they were young. This brings me to Peapod. About three months ago, I realized that shopping online allowed me to read all the labels, to carefully pick products I feel will be the healthiest and most cost-worthy I can find, provide a wider selection of products, and keep me from impulse shopping because there were no kiosks touting the latest crackers, cereals, chips and candies. I still get my produce and fresh meats and fish from our local grocery — that’s part of my guilt, too, wanting to be sure I can select the right cuts. The fact is I wish I had done this a year ago. While it takes away from that image I have of the June Cleaver mom who cheerfully skips down the aisles of the grocery providing her family with the best of food chosen with love and attention, I have realized that we never saw June Cleaver shopping. For all we know, she may have had her groceries delivered to the house. I’m clinging to that idea. But it really doesn’t matter because I’m not June Cleaver. I don’t own heels or a string of pearls. Instead, I’m simply a caring mom who, like all of us, needs to accept that I must compromise in order to get through the day. That means we all need to cut ourselves some slack. Caring doesn’t require a shopping cart and the standards shift with the times.

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Get Snacking

Susan Boyd

Spring officially began March 20, despite the six inches of snow creating a hard frozen crust on my frontlawn and record low temperatures. Spring soccer begins soon, and with soccer comes the commitment to provide healthy snacks for your child and, at least once in the season, for the entire team. Figuring out what to provide in a society that is now in tune with kids who need to be nut, dairy, gluten, sugar and fat-free. I have a grandson with a peanut allergy, so I know how disappointing it is for him when a child in his classroom has a birthday and brings in Snicker brownies to celebrate. He also realizes that his fellow students can’t be held hostage by his allergy, so he stays upbeat. Still, if we can accommodate all the kids on the team, why not? What should we pack for those individual and group snacks? What are some easy, affordable, healthy options?
 
First, you need a good way to transport those snacks to the fields. It’s less difficult on the cool days, but eventually the temperatures rise. We can use the standard cooler, but that can be awkward and messy with a heavy large container filled with melting ice. I’ve discovered some great options to that cooler. For a single child, there’s an insulated bag filled with gel that folds up into a rectangle the size of a small photo and an inch thick. You store it in the freezer and pull it out to use when you need it. It opens up to a large lunch sack with the frozen gel interior cooling around ten hours. Called PackIt, the sack costs $20 and is available on Amazon in a variety of colors and designs. For the group, there are two choices, both of which are collapsible. The Picnic Time Insulated Cart Cooler ($50), with removable trolley, is a 25-quart bag that could easily accommodate enough juice boxes and snacks for a team. It can be transported either with the attached handle or by the wheeled trolley. Using gel packs to keep it cool allows you to avoid the mess of melting ice and the soft-sided collapsible construction saves lots of room in the garage. It comes in five colors and can be ordered on Amazon. Another option is a large canister that holds up to 60 cans, yet collapses to a disk that lies flat on a shelf. EpicSports.com offers the Picnic Big Dipper in Royal Blue or Mint Striped and is the least expensive at $26 of the dozens of options available. It has two side handles to transport it, but you could also use a luggage cart to move it easily. Again, frozen gel packs offer a means for neatly layering the cold throughout the bag.
 
Next come beverages. These seem an easy choice considering the multitude of juice boxes, juice bags, sports drink bottles and cans available on the grocery shelves. However, many of these options contain lots of sugar. Neither you nor your fellow parents would appreciate taking home a child in the car with a sugar high on top of a game high! Apple and Eve Fruitables offer great-tasting fruit and vegetable drinks with only 9 grams of sugar per serving (compared to Capri Sun with 16 grams or Juicy Juice with up to 26 grams). Honest Kids has pouches of apple juice, pink lemonade, and grape fruit juice with just 9 grams of sugar. Sunny D orange drink has 11 grams of sugar and 80 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C per serving. The 8 oz. bottles of Gatorade G have 14 grams of sugar, which push the boundary. However, compared to Powerade’s 34 grams, it’s rather tame. A wiser choice for Powerade would be the Zero option, which has no sugar opting for sucralose instead. Then, of course, you could just opt for water. In all cases, be sure to encourage the recycling of bottles.
 
Snacks cover a wide variety of choices. Fruit is always a great option as it is healthy, non-allergenic and usually well-liked by all. Right now is the season for tangerines and mandarin oranges, which are easily transported and relatively inexpensive. There are the traditional orange or apple slices, but these require preparation and packaging. However, Earthbound Farms offers packs of apple slices for $0.99 each and Chiquita has apple bites with caramel dip (contains dairy) for $1.29 each. A good substitute for fresh fruit is dried fruit and fruit chips such as apple, mango, apricots, raisins and craisins. You can buy these in individual packages. These are sold under the brand names of Ocean Spray, Dole, Sunsweet, Sun-Maid and Nature’s Promise, among others. Fruit snacks and fruit leather remain popular choices. Kids do love these, although dentists will tell you that they cling to enamel with damaging acids and sugars. On the plus side, most contain less than 16 grams of sugar per serving. Kids also like carrot and celery sticks, which can be bought in packs. Bolthouse sells a four-pack of baby carrot sticks for $1.49, and Del Monte has celery sticks. There are several brands of carrot and celery sticks packaged with Ranch dip, which contains dairy and could be messy in the car, but kids do love dipping.
 
Crackers and pretzels provide quick energy and tummy-filling fiber. You can find many options that are gluten and dairy-free. Jay’s and Snyder’s of Hanover Variety pack has chips and pretzels that are gluten, dairy, egg and peanut-free. You get 20 bags for $10. Nabisco leaps into popular culture with Angry Birds Honey Maid Grahams. These sell in 12-pack containers for $6.50 and are dairy, egg and peanut-free. It may be a stretch for kids to enjoy these, but rice cakes are a great source of fiber and come in various flavors. Quaker Oats has eight individual bags in caramel, apple cinnamon and chocolate flavors for $5 that are gluten, egg and nut-free. If no one on the team has any dietary restrictions or you are willing to offer several choices, then cracker sandwiches are a great snack. Keebler and Nabisco have options such as cheese, peanut butter and chocolate, plus dipping cracker sticks. Most come in packages of eight for around $3. Entemann’s has bags of Little Bites in muffins and brownies. These are peanut-free and cost $3 for five individual bags.
 
Dairy-based snacks provide bone-building calcium and are low in sodium. Yoplait’s Go-Gurt comes in several flavors and costs around $3 for eight tubes. One of US Youth Soccer’s sponsors is Yo-Crunch, which has created yogurt packs that include crunchy toppings from M & M’s to Honey Bunches of Oats. These make an excellent energy booster to keep on hand between tournament games or the trip home. You’ll need to provide spoons. String cheese is an easily, portable and enjoyable snack. Sargento, Kraft and Frigo are three brands among several that have string cheeses individually wrapped. Kraft also has Jack and Colby cheese cubes that could be combined with some crackers.
 
For a full, quick meal, many families will turn to Lunchables. These can be not only handy but tasty. However, some Lunchables have extremely high sodium up to more than 1/3 of daily requirements. So be sure to carefully read the labels. The best one is Lunchable Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly with fruit, which has only 14 percent daily sodium content. Smucker’s Uncrustable sandwiches (box of four for $3) can be augmented with a juice and some fruit. Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea make individual tuna salad packs with crackers that cost between $1.50 and $2. Some kids really love meat jerky, but keep in mind that this is a high sodium option for a meal. An alternative might be Old Wisconsin Sausage Snack Bites in either turkey or beef. These are much lower in sodium and are a great source of protein. Both jerky and the sausage bites are low fat.
 
Buying snacks can be an eye-opening experience. Look at the labels to educate yourself to the levels of sugar, sodium and fat. There’s no perfect option out there, but some are decidedly better than others. No matter what you choose for drinks and snacks, be sure to keep in mind any restrictions other children on the team might have. Providing a variety of choices for the kids insures no hurt feelings. Most kids are pretty savvy about their diets, so be sure to provide them with the information they need so they can choose wisely. Parents and kids will appreciate you being in tune with the restrictions and allergies that exist. But most importantly, do whatever is best for your time and budget. Kids will appreciate any treat they get because for many of them it ends up being the highlight of the day.

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From Day One

Susan Boyd

Dick’s Sporting Goods has come out with a series of commercials under the umbrella catch phrase, "Be Untouchable." The ads focus on older youth sports, specifically high school-aged players, and have a strong emotional component showing the dedication and effort athletes must make to achieve success. One in this series really connected with me. It takes sports from boxing to wrestling to show young players with some type of weakness and how they work to overcome it. A female soccer player rubs the scar on her knee and then covers it with a brace. A young basketball player is practicing dribbling and shooting, startled when the lights all come on and his team arrives for the actual practice. The commercial runs for 90 seconds and tells dozens of stories in that time. Yet none of the stories end in some type of amazing victory. We see the soccer player pass the ball and later see her alone on the field practicing after removing her brace. The basketball player gets the chance to take the court where he dribbles and then passes to a teammate who goes up for a basket we don’t see made. It ends with text scrolling over the images: From day one, be untouchable — every tryout, every practice, every opportunity, every season.
 
The message is clear. This isn’t about winning but about taking charge of whatever talent and chances a player is given to improve. It’s an appropriate message for all levels of youth sports. We parents should be setting this tone for our children. No one disputes that victories make the effort worth it. But improving as a player should be as much of a child’s triumph as a league success. Teams can’t win every game (even the Miami Heat lose), but they can improve each game. Part of that improvement should be an emphasis on individual player development. Most kids won’t become elite athletes, but they do grow up to be citizens who need strong self-images and confidence. Pushing for improvement teaches young players to target goals and work toward them. Achieving any portion of that target gives young players self-worth. Using those improved skills to make a difference on a team gives young players confidence. Persevering through the various tests that tryouts, practices and games present teaches young players how to stay the course in any endeavor despite obstacles.
 
The phrase "be untouchable" can imply some sort of super human effort where a player becomes the best among peers. But I don’t think it’s just this type of monumental objective. I see being untouchable as rising above the slings, arrows, roadblocks and doubts of life. Players who have a passion for their sport need to also develop the ability to continue to exercise that passion despite detours created by injury, mental insecurities, competition and bad play. Some players will never develop a passion for sports, but they can still have fun. So the phrase "be untouchable" in those situations means insuring that the joy of playing isn’t tainted by overly competitive coaches, bad behavior by sideline parents and taunting by fellow players. We can help create the best environment for our kids to feel the exuberance of play by encouraging positive input which is so important in those years up through middle school. Statistics show 70 percent of youth players quit sports by age 13, and according to Michael Pfahl, executive director of the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, "The No. 1 reason (why they quit) is that it stopped being fun." The emphasis on winning begins to overtake the emphasis on enjoyment. It’s a logical step since the further up the sports ladder one climbs, the more competitive and demanding the sports become. Coaches, clubs and even schools can have a huge financial stake in winning games. But the activity of sports that offer the benefits of physical exercise, weight maintenance and developing interpersonal relationships shouldn’t suddenly end at age 13 for 70 percent of players. There needs to be an outlet for all players to be able to continue to have fun in sports. While being "untouchable" can seem contrary to this goal, placing undue pressure on average players, it can also mean that kids learn to overcome with our help those negatives that make sports no longer fun. Parents, who provide strong support in the form of driving to practice, attending games, and making sure that kids have the proper time to fit in all their demands including school, church, jobs, hobbies along with sports, allow their kids to feel empowered to handle life and retain joy.
 
In our family, we had a daughter who changed sports every season. She loved playing, but as her circle of friends expanded she would follow their sports selections. She did gymnastics, long distance swimming, basketball, softball and tennis. She had a blast all through high school and never developed anything close to a particular expertise in any of these sports. On the high school swim team, she wasn’t skilled or fast, so the coach asked if she would swim the 1000 meter free style which is 10 full laps of the pool or 20 half laps. She said sure. She came in last in every meet, yet never wavered from attending practices every day and leaping into the water at dozens of meets. She did it all because she enjoyed the social aspect of the team and because most team members didn’t criticize her efforts since if she didn’t do that event, someone else would have had to! 
 
Parents need to be aware of their players’ efforts and encourage them. One of the best ways is through praise. No matter the outcome of a game, by picking out a significant moment where a player showed skill, good sportsmanship, perseverance, sacrifice or team play, we parents can instill a sense of pride in effort. We can take this further. We can encourage our clubs to similarly focus on developing players’ athletic abilities and mental concentration. They should also be instilling the good values of a sport to players, such as fairness, humility, collaboration and sacrificing personal achievement in favor of the team’s success. How a coach handles a loss can speak volumes to what that coach and club value. A coach who ends up playing the blame game afterward won’t be the right person to keep your player from being touched by self-doubts, a miserable attitude about playing and reluctance to continue. Rather than being finger-pointers, coaches should be planners using the events of the game to teach how to be better next time.
 
Being able to not only rise to a stronger level of play but to also rise above the negatives players run into makes them untouchable. When I see a child playing with the wild abandon of joy and confidence, I see someone who has been supported to be, from day one, untouchable. Here’s to all the kids and parents who participate in youth sports because it is fun. Let’s hope more than 30 percent continue on the journey.
             

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A Study in Contrasts

Susan Boyd

Youth sports can be an uplifting and positive experience for most players. Kids learn leadership, compromise, humility, pride, perseverance, joy, how to make friends, how to set goals and healthy habits such as good nutrition and exercise. But every so often youth sports expose a dark underbelly of behaviors far removed from what we want our kids to learn. In June, such an event occurred in youth hockey. During the traditional handshake line following a game, the coach of the winning team stuck his leg out and purposely tripped a member of the opposing team, causing him to fall and, in the process, break his wrist. Yesterday, the coach was sentenced to fifteen days in jail, but he will probably also face a civil lawsuit from the parents of the boy he injured. The YouTube video of the event features the gasps and moans of the spectators who witnessed the action and total disbelief from the 12- and 13-year-old players on both teams.
 
Then, last week a redeeming story exposed the highest ideals of youth sports. During an end-of-the-season high school basketball game in El Paso, Texas between the Coronado Thunderbirds and Franklin High, the Coronado coach sent in his team manager to play the final two minutes of the game. The young man, Mitchell Marcus, is developmentally disabled and an avid basketball fan. The entire school cheered as Mitchell ran onto the court. Time after time the team fed Mitchell the ball in order for the young man to make a basket, and time after time Mitchell failed in his shots. In the waning seconds of the game, his team passed him the ball; it slipped through his hands and flew out of bounds, giving the opposing team possession. Then something remarkable happened. The opposing player who was to throw the ball inbounds called Mitchell’s name and sent the ball to him. While the crowd went silent in disbelief, Mitchell received the ball, turned and made a basket at last. The entire gym erupted in cheers. Mitchell’s team mobbed him and lifted him on their shoulders. This amazing act of sportsmanship left Mitchell’s mother in tears and overwhelmed the coach. The young player who passed him the ball, Jonathon Montanez, said, "I was raised to treat others how you want to be treated. I just thought Mitchell deserved his chance, deserved his opportunity."
 
These stories are a study in contrasts and ask the question: Which example would my children follow? I know I raised my children by the Golden Rule, but I have also been ravenously vocal during games applauding and encouraging a win. I would like to think that in the same situations my children would have never sabotaged a player and instead would have displayed sportsman-like sacrifice. The Thunderbirds had a 13-point lead at the time, so Franklin High really didn’t have a chance to snatch victory in the situation. But the action of Montanez certainly went against the philosophy of "it’s not over until it’s over." Risking both the loss, but more importantly the wrath of his fellow teammates and his coach, Jonathon ignored his own fate and focused on the positives of giving Mitchell his chance at a memory he will have forever. Have we taught our kids to be so selfless? Do they see examples of sacrifice often enough to be influenced by that behavior? As parents, what message do we send before, during and after games that might contradict being benevolent?
 
The emphasis on winning in youth sports can taint the positive lessons kids should be learning. The hockey coach’s team had won the game, but that wasn’t enough for him. He needed to humiliate one of the opposing players he felt had played with particular arrogance. After he tripped the young man, he turns and points at him with an air of "you got what you deserved." Emotions run high during a game and winning can be the most powerful of elixirs. So it’s important that coaches and parents teach players to celebrate victory with humility. Even if my children might not have passed a ball to a deserving opposing player for a score, I definitely hope that they would all delight in a win without animosity towards their opposition. Even if they lost, they should rise above any petty retribution or anger. Once the final seconds have ticked away, what should remain are friendships, pride in effort and the joy of playing. No matter the stakes in youth sports, games should just be games since most players will not advance further than the youth teams they play on. One could argue that players need to learn the intensity of pushing for a win if they are to become top competitors. I would agree for the top percentage of players that the later stages of youth development up the ante. But becoming competitive doesn’t have to mean leaving compassion and good sportsmanship in the dust. And for most youth players the need to develop a "killer" instinct just isn’t necessary. That’s not the point of youth sports and certainly not one of the benefits.
 
I’m sure most players wouldn’t do what Jonathon Montanez did. I’m also sure that most players wouldn’t do what that hockey coach did. The actions of our players fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes. Altruism in sports does go against most of the objectives of competition, but sports should be a small piece of what constitutes our children’s moral upbringing. So as parents we can try to instill in our kids the ability to discern moments when they should be unselfish. In truth that’s the actual definition of good sportsmanship — recognizing that good competition requires acts of humanity. When we learn that football players were paid for administering injurious hits or athletes used drugs to improve their performance, we need to discuss those issues with our children so they can learn to apply reason to the tough moral choices they will face in life. Likewise, when there are cases of good sportsmanship, we need to present those to our kids so we can discuss why those are significant decisions. Recently in a cross country race, the lead runner thought he had crossed the finish line so he slowed down and threw his arms up in victory, but the line was actually a dozen yards further down. The runner behind him could have easily caught him and won the race, but realizing the mistake slowed down and urged his challenger to keep running so he could win. What is even more amazing is that the race was being held in Spain and the second-place runner was Spanish. He would have gotten extra glory for winning this contest for his homeland. But as he said, "…because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well." What an outstanding statement. We would all do well to remember that we are capable of a "gesture of honesty" when the times call for it in sports or in life. 

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