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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." 
 
 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.

 

Summer of Soccer

Susan Boyd

Right now, you could plop yourself down in front of the television and watch a world-class soccer match most days — beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET and continuing every two-and-a-half hours until 10:30 p.m. ET — as Copa America Centenario and UEFA Euro 2016 dovetail with one another. Copa America concludes June 26, while UEFA Euro 2016 continues to July 10. While I don’t suggest foregoing most of the summer parked indoors with a remote and a big screen, I do want to encourage parents and youth players to share several of these matches. They are an excellent opportunity to see how complex and fast the best tactical soccer unfolds. Copa America can be seen on Fox networks, and ESPN broadcasts and streams Euro 2016. While waiting for an airplane on June 11, I was able to watch the U.S. play Paraguay on my computer. Technology is awesome.

Americans are used to weeks and weeks of play-off competitions in every sport, beyond the regular seasons of football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Adding to the professional sports schedules, we can also watch hours of collegiate games. On average fans spend 8.5 hours a week viewing sports, according to a 2013 study. That compares to an average overall TV habit of five hours a day. Using those numbers, sports makes up nearly 25 percent of our video consumption. Young players develop their interest and ultimately their passion for a sport by watching teams who perform at the top levels. It’s that interest, which inspires a player and supports him or her when times are rough. When players immerse themselves in watching matches, they develop a keen sense of how tactics evolve in the course of a competition. They can key in on a particular player or position to watch how he or she reacts both on and off the ball. As young players mature, so will their sophistication when it comes to understanding the game and their role in it. Unfortunately soccer players have been at a disadvantage for many years because soccer hadn’t snagged a huge portion of sports broadcasting. Therefore, players had a better chance of watching any other sport than soccer. However, over the last ten years broadcasters have put a greater emphasis on “the world’s game.”

In 2013, NBC signed a three-year deal with the English Premier League to air 196 matches each season, with 20 matches being broadcast on NBC and the rest on NBCSports, CNBC and USA. This year, they doubled down on their commitment with a new six year deal, penning a $1 billion contract with the EPL. Compare that to ESPN’s yearly fee of $1.9 billion just to air several NFL games. For NBC, this soccer contract is a bargain. With sports accounting for 37 percent of all TV ad spending, NBC is delighted to secure a large niche of soccer broadcasting. Fox, who began their off-shoot cable channel as Fox Sports World in 1997, broadcast mostly rugby and Australian rules football with a slowly growing soccer schedule until 2006, when it shifted to Fox Soccer, dropping all other sports. However, it lost the rights to the EPL to NBC, and eventually moved all soccer to Fox Sports 1 and 2 — turning Fox Soccer into FXX, a second entertainment channel to FX. Fox has the rights to several college soccer matches and all CONCACAF games, including the Copa America. Where Fox will now shine is their contract with FIFA for World Cups 2018 and 2022 and the Women’s World Cup in 2019, plus several FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups. ESPN has focused on UEFA and will share MLS with Fox.

This increase in soccer coverage means that events the rest of world knew and looked forward to, such as the FA Cup and the FA Community Shield in England and the various other major European leagues like the Budesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), and Serie A (Italy), could be seen by American audiences. Since the United States is a country of immigrants, it makes sense that there will be a large pool of viewers for a myriad of soccer programming. The tremendous success of the Premier League contract for NBC has spurred other networks to look closely at what soccer communities exist in the US that would support a broader schedule of matches. For example UEFA covering Europe is one of the six confederations of FIFA. CONMEBOL is the South American confederation and is competing with North America’s CONCACAF teams in this year’s Copa America. CAF is the African confederation and AFC is the Asian confederation. All of these have Cups which help determine World Cup qualifiers and international country team ranking and these Cups are of interest to soccer fans from those continents and beyond. Therefore more and more of these events are coming to American television, which serves to highlight the significant influence of the sport around the world. As youth players become more and more exposed to the highest levels of the sport, they begin to understand what they need to achieve and how to reach those standards, just as young NBA fans learn from watching LeBron James pivot to avoid a defender.

What else this summer do we parents and our children have to look forward to?  How about the Olympics?  That schedule runs from Aug. 3-20. Young players can watch the best of both men’s and women’s soccer, although the U.S. Under-23 MNT failed to qualify for this Olympics. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of great soccer to relish. The U.S. Women’s National Team will be defending their Olympic title from London 2012 while introducing new players to American fans. Naturally, all the other sports of the Olympic competition will be worthy of our attention, but this will be a great time for young female soccer players to embrace old and new soccer icons while plunging for a month into the sport.

For fans of English soccer, the Premier League will begin Aug. 13 following the FA Community Shield game on Aug. 7, which pits the winner of the FA Cup (Manchester United) against the winner of the EPL (Leicester City). Leicester City is a Cinderella story, a team who was given 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the League (worse odds than Kim Kardasian becoming President). The club had never won the Premier League title in their 132 years and barely escaped relegation last season. However, they succeeded utilizing an incredible defense, who committed just 10 defensive errors all season, only one of which resulted in a goal. The offense came through when needed, racking up nine 1-0 games (11 is the record) to keep Leicester at the top of the bracket from April forward.

While our kids should be outside in summer practicing the game they love, taking a few hours to enjoy some of the top level soccer being played by the professionals enhances both their investment in and understanding of the game. Our children will appreciate sharing these events with us which helps acknowledge the activity they enjoy. We can all benefit as we watch and learn more about soccer - its history, its impact, its stars and its execution. The level of athleticism and commitment during these contest is intense and impressive. Our young players will find so much they can ascend towards and so many reasons to try. It’s important that they experience the power and universal standing of soccer in order to appreciate the special place they occupy in this phenomenon while finding a player they like or a country they support and watching those matches. It can be a special summer joining the world-wide soccer fellowship.

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Finding Memories

Susan Boyd

Last week, in a fit of spring cleaning fever, I decided to tackle our kitchen pantry. My dream is to one day convert it into a laundry room, so I figured if I could pare down the contents, I’d be that much closer to realizing my vision. For years, it had become a collection point for those bulky odds and ends that didn’t seem to make sense storing in linen, clothes or utility closets. I pulled out two dozen flower vases, large kitchen gadgets like a tomato grinder and a countertop apple/potato peeler of which I had two both unopened in their boxes, and scores of plastic storage containers. Mixed in with the canned goods and the cereals were picnic baskets, cheese boards, flashlights, and maintenance guides to every electrical product we’ve ever owned. Then, delightfully, I came across a collection of soccer trophies and patches tucked in a corner. Most of the boys’ trophies had found their way to cabinet shelves in their rooms displayed along with scarves, certificates and medallions. However, these had probably been set out on the kitchen table after tournaments from which I’d banished them to the pantry in a quick clean up, intending to retrieve them later to display upstairs. That obviously never happened.

Finding those soccer mementos reminded me of the good times surrounding the events the trophies and patches commemorated. I’ve been reminded a lot lately. We had a severe sewage backup in the basement, so everything had to be removed while the contractor repaired the damage. It gave me a good excuse to sort through all the photos, school art projects, soccer items and papers, and general memorabilia we’ve collected through the years. I’d always meant to organize the photos, separate things out for each of my four children, and label boxes, but life and inertia regularly intervened. Now that I was finally digging into it, I found myself cheerfully reliving some of our best family experiences. I found stacks of those tournament photos, regular photos, trophies, medals, certificates, news clippings, even World Cup items including bracket posters and sticker books. The boxes yielded a soccer bonanza.

Sometimes I wonder why we put so much effort in to holding on those scraps of our soccer past. Kids move on to other activities or just grow up and out of soccer. Yet those trophies, patches, and medals seem just too substantial and permanent to toss out. I’m not sure if my children will keep them long enough to share with their own children, but I really can’t bring myself to be the one to decide that by chucking them. They exist less as a symbol of achievement and more as a spark to memories. When I saw the faceplates and embossing I instantly remembered the event and all the contingent experiences:  where we stayed, the various games, the players and their parents, and the adventures we had. One badge reminded me of the great Starbucks search a group of us parents held before there was an app for that. A handful of us began pulling up the regional Google map on our phones and attempting to navigate in an unfamiliar location to reach our caffeine connection only to look up from our screens to see three other parents crossing the pitch holding the familiar green-logoed cups. Not all memories have to be for the kids. Another trophy reminded me of the final game between Robbie’s old club team and the club team he would join the next year. He scored the one and only goal in that game, defeating a Chicago team who had never lost to his club. When he joined that Chicago team, that’s all the parents could talk about. While the trophy represented an accomplishment, it also represented the atmosphere he entered.

Going through the World Cup collectables I was reminded not only of the competitions dating back to 1998, but of the boys’ reaction to witnessing the matches. Early on they had country allegiances based on favorite players and their own heritage. However as they progressed in the sport they developed more sophisticated interests. Unrolling bracket posters revealed the evolving understanding of soccer the boys had. Rather than picking teams because they were familiar, the boys researched the various teams and chose based more on data than devotion (though England and the USA were always there). I found World Cup booklets filled with notes on things like player and team statistics, outcomes of friendly matches, and bracket analyses. In 2005, Thierry Henry began the Stand Up Speak Up campaign against racism. Nike created wristbands to support the movement, and I found one among the World Cup materials. It was a strong reminder of how important the issue of race was just 10 years ago, and more importantly how much it impacted youth players who witnessed fans taunting some of the best players in world because of their race. That’s not just soccer; it’s a history lesson triggered by a simple band.

Looking through the tournament books I discovered how much we all focused on the outcomes. The books held notes on all the teams in our bracket, their wins, losses and goal differential. The notes visibly demonstrated how we were working out the scenarios that would allow our teams to advance. In some cases the books didn’t print the rules of the tournament, so there were cryptic lines like “FIFA rules” or “unlimited subs” reminding me of those games where Robbie or Bryce played different positions or didn’t play at all because of the rules. The booklets also were a reminder of the level of competition. Both boys competed against players who now are professional and on the Men’s National Team. Seeing the ads posted by proud parents congratulating their child and their child’s team or looking at team photos showed how many great players the boys came across. On occasion they could brag that they defeated those players. At one tournament where the final game came to PKs, Bryce in goal faced a player who just a few weeks before had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the top high school prospect and stopped his shot. That moment wasn’t commemorated by a photo or even a news story, but it was remembered through a college coach’s card stuck between the pages. He’d seen the stop and had expressed interest in recruiting Bryce. A proud moment for sure.

The best reminders are always photos because they steal an instant of an event, which somehow tells a bigger story. There are the tournament photos captured by roving photographers. When I see pictures of Bryce frozen in mid-air going for a save, I am reminded of how intense and athletic he was. When Robbie had dreadlocks, his photos invariably showed them flying behind him which even in a static shot told of his impressive speed. I especially loved coming across the team photos with players holding their medals or trophies or just those wonderful photos taken every year so we could buy copies to send to relatives. The players are always either smiling or acting goofy (occasionally both) bookended by tall, sometimes stern coaches. Looking at them season upon season, I could watch the boys and their friends growing up and slowing turning into men. They were a special reminder of great times, significant friendships and grand adventures. I also love the individual photos kneeling next to a soccer ball or standing with a foot on the ball. Again they create a picture of an entire history of playing. Nothing that shows their abilities or triumphs; just a simple reminder that they grew up playing a sport they loved.

Sometimes when I looked at the piles of soccer keepsakes I had amassed, I would wonder why I so diligently preserved them. I even had stacks of news articles, one sheets of team rosters for high school games, and team schedules. It seemed anything remotely related to the boys’ playing soccer was ferreted away for another day. When I pulled it all out, I got very nostalgic and I was surprised that the boys, seeing some of the stuff, added details I hadn’t been privy to originally. Who knows if they will maintain the giant box of things I saved. They are moving on in their lives and will soon both be finished with playing except the odd pick-up game or recreational adult league. Yet soccer was a significant part of their growing up, so I hope they keep some of the bits and pieces as a way of remembering the best of what transpired. What I am most happy for is that I don’t have any regrets about missing some of the soccer reminders. We all need to bear in mind how easily we can throw things out, but how impossible it is to reconstruct them. So I urge parents to be hoarders. I’m glad I was because it is all here now, even if some of the things found their way to odd hiding places like the kitchen pantry or the garage storage chest. I’m sure that someday we’ll move, and in the winnowing out process I’ll come across other hidden treasures. When that happens they will once again prick my mind and bring me some memories of a wonderful life with my kids.

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Mixed Emotions

Susan Boyd

Despite NBC’s gleeful countdown to their telecast of the Rio Summer Olympics, all is not well. Brazil is suffering serious political, ecological and economic problems, which will impact the summer games and by default our American athletes. President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment, which began with a bribe and graft scandal involving Petrobas Oil, where she is chair the board, and evolved into a condemnation of her handling of the Brazilian budget. Once the scandal broke, Petrobas reported losses of $7 billion due primarily to the number of bribes and kick-backs they had paid out. The stock dropped 30 percent and began an economic tumble in Brazil. Rousseff has been accused of accepting bribes in return for issuing contracts to Petrobas at highly inflated rates. In December, the Brazilian congress heaped on, accusing Rousseff of adjusting government accounts preceding her re-election in 2015 and corrupting the budget. The lower house voted to impeach her and after some confusing political shenanigans by the head of the lower house, first annulling and then reinstating the impeachment vote, the matter went before the upper house. On May 12, the senate agreed to move ahead with Rousseff’s impeachment trial.

This political upheaval on its own might be enough to make competitors wary of participating in the Olympics, but it’s probably the least concerning issue. As Brazil devolves into a political quagmire, it’s the actual ecological muck that is immediately concerning the athletes. In the lagoon selected for several of the events, including the triathlon and open water long distance swimming, raw sewage enters at a higher percentage than fresh water. Several athletes who competed in events here in 2007 came down with serious gastrointestinal diseases, so serious that swimmer Chip Peterson had to eventually have his colon removed. He will probably return this year, but views with skepticism athletes who state that winning a gold medal is worth a little diarrhea. He paid a big price for his infection. Even kayakers, sailors and rowers face severe pollution problems, including garbage debris all along the courses and constant skin exposure to viruses and bacteria through the tiny nicks from scraping their legs and calves on the boat surfaces while rowing. The International Olympic Committee has been trying to quash worries and offer solutions since Brazil has run out of time and money to resolve the situation. Athletes will have access to immediate showers after events along with anti-bacterial cleansers and prompt medical attention. Epidemiologists study the waters, the air, and the soil in an attempt to predict the environments during August, but the task is nearly impossible as the tropical setting changes conditions almost daily, creating data that is contradictory and often unusable. Competitors will have to decide for themselves with limited information whether or not to participate. Balancing years of training against an unknowable health outcome is not ideal or even realistic. Haley Anderson, an open water swimmer, says she will rely on the people she trusts – coaches and U.S. officials – to help her make the decision. Unfortunately, based on quickly changing situations those decisions can’t be made until the last minute. A convergence of heavy rains causing run-offs of sewage-filled waters, high winds pushing garbage into the bays, and low tide allowing trash to accumulate on the surface can’t be predicted. August should be relatively dry, but given the instability of the weather recently, that fact can’t be counted upon.

Athletes who don’t compete anywhere near the water still face concerns about contamination since public water isn’t always treated and food-borne bacteria are prevalent. Even more significantly, a new concern has arisen over the past six months in the form of the Zika virus. Carried by mosquitos, the virus can also be transmitted through sexual contact. It has been implicated in birth defects of the brain, eye sight, and hearing, although there is no definitive proof that babies who experience these got them as a result of Zika. However, the virus does cause mild illness much like the flu, which can be detrimental to athletes without the added dangers of effects on a fetus. Since August is a dry season, Brazil hopes that the mosquito populations will be greatly reduced. They have also engaged an aggressive spraying program to help reduce populations and encouraged citizens to get rid of any stagnant water which is a breeding ground for the pest.

Which finally brings us to soccer. The U.S. Women’s National Team expressed concerns about the health issues in Brazil, and individual members are considering whether or not they will participate. However, at the first announcement of Zika, the team was focusing on a far more immediate grievance. They had lodged a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission against United State Soccer Federation (USSF) for pay discrimination. Their complaint argues that despite doing the same type and amount of work and achieving at their jobs beyond the level of the men they were paid significantly less. That complaint has now moved to a court case in which the WNT has requested the right to set aside their collective bargaining agreement with the USSF and be allowed to strike. If the court rules in their favor, the WNT will have a major decision to make. They have won the last three Olympics and are favored in this summer’s contest. Should they strike and not attend, they will be risking not only their legacy as it relates to the Olympics but their standing as a role model for young soccer players. While the issue of equal pay for equal work is an important issue for women, it’s less pressing for the youth player than a gold medal and national pride. The case went before Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman in federal court in Chicago for first arguments on May 25 and will be under consideration for several weeks. Coleman could issue a ruling or she could require the two sides to go back to the bargaining table. If she does the latter then there will probably be no resolution prior to the Olympic Games. It will then be up to the women to decide how they will proceed. If they opt to strike in defiance of their contract, it could pile lots of bad press on a team that has been nothing but a source of pride for fans. On the other hand, they might opt to forgo the Olympics using the argument that the unsanitary conditions and unstable political environment make the trip unsafe. Their case will be tarnished if they are the only athletes who refuse to go on the basis of the problems at the Olympic venue.

Nevertheless, I am totally on board with the women’s case. In preliminary briefs to the court it was revealed that the men got a $9 million bonus following their World Cup appearance in 2014 although they didn’t make it out of the Round of 16. The women won their 2015 World Cup and only received a $2 million bonus. To be fair, that has a lot to do with payouts from FIFA rather than U.S. Soccer bonuses. Even more significantly, the MNT failed to qualify for the Olympics, although to be fair the rules work against them. Men must be U-23 to play on an Olympic team, reducing the pool of top players. There is no age limit for the women. Practices, games, travel, and personal appearances are parallel in terms of time and effort. What is different is the level of success. The WNT has won consistently, and if they don’t win, they usually make the championship match. They have regularly been underpaid when compared to the men, and they have a clear argument that the discrepancy is totally based on gender, not on ability. In terms of pushing ahead the agenda for equal pay, the WNT holds a significant and supportable position.

Where they differ from the men is on the professional side, where the women’s league is still struggling and the MLS has begun to snag big name players from successful overseas’ teams such as David Beckham, Henry Thierry, and Steven Gerrard. Women don’t have the same draw. The men are also participating in the other big sporting event this summer when the United States hosts the Copa America Centenario, a competition which brings together the national teams of the Americas. If American fans want to see some top level soccer, this is the event to visit this summer. Matches will be held in Houston, Seattle, Santa Clara, East Rutherford, Chicago, and Glendale, beginning June 3 with a match between the U.S. and Colombia. The variety of stadium locations guarantees a large percentage of the population will be within three hours of a match. On the other hand, you’ll need plenty of money. Even seats in the upper reaches will run at minimum $75. The lower level seats will cost in the hundreds of dollars. But you have the opportunity to see players like Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, compete for Argentina, and top players from Mexico, Brazil and Colombia – all eminent soccer powers. Watching the WNT compete in Brazil on TV will be a delight, but seeing these Copa teams live will be stunning. I encourage anyone who can to attend at least one match just to see how powerful the game can be when played at the highest level. Barring that, be sure to catch the matches on Fox, Fox Sports and Univision.

This will be an interesting summer, and like many I have mixed feelings on the Olympics. On the one hand, I look forward to seeing the best compete in so many amazing sports. With Brazil in an accessible time zone, we can look forward to seeing many of the events live. However I absolutely understand the quandary in which the athletes have been placed with all the pollution and political complications. That being said, it is important to note that the Beijing Olympics operated within horrible, choking air pollution, along with some serious safety concerns for athletes and visitors. The Sochi Winter Olympics ran under the veil of serious political unrest in Ukraine, only a few hundred miles away and in venues that were not completed on time. So while we wring our hands looking at Brazil and wonder if they will be ready, we also know that ready or not, Zika or not, contamination or not, the games will go on. The real wild card will be what the WNT decides to do. I’ll be really sad if they strike and don’t attend, but I’ll understand. Some issues are even bigger than a gold medal.

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Soccer Hacks

Susan Boyd

Not so long ago, a hack was considered a taxi or the office flunky. Occasionally, journalists were called hacks although the definition got confused with flunky. You might hack into underbrush. Lately, when we speak of hacks, we’re talking about tech geeks who can break into the dense tangle of computer code and steal our identity. To hack can also mean to cope or succeed, which I imagine is how the term “life skill hacks” evolved. Type “hack” in a search engine and you’ll find ones for cooking, applying make-up, doing exercise, even dog walking on Dogster.com. I’ll add to the conversation with some tried and true soccer hacks that I’ve found useful. Hopefully these can alleviate some of the stress and frustration surrounding the logistics of our children playing a busy, messy and far-ranging game.

Storage Hacks – My garage, mudroom, boys’ bedrooms, and even my family room could end up looking like an explosion in a Nike factory. Keeping gear readily available, yet out of sight, often proved difficult. My best tool was a canvas over-the-door shoe holder. There are usually at least sixteen nice pockets that can hold tons of equipment like shin guards, shoes, socks, water bottles and hand pumps. You can write on the canvas with a Sharpie, labeling pockets for specific items and kids’ names. If it sits on the back of the mudroom door, players can throw things into it or take them out as they come and go from matches. Some models of these bags have two reinforced grommet holes that allow you to mount it on a wall if that would work better. Another option is to keep those boxes that the new cleats come in. They can be covered with construction or wrapping paper and labeled to sit on shelves in the garage or mudroom to hold extra uniforms, practice jerseys, cleats, shin guards, and odds and ends of the sport. You can also use a shoe box to hold first aid supplies. The box can sit on the shelf and be picked up as you head to a practice or game.

Those long trips with electronic devices can eat up the batteries. Transport them accessibly by using a tackle box. The various compartments seem tailor-made for holding AAA to D batteries. They don’t rattle around loose.

A great hack for amazing ball storage can be easily created in a corner of the garage. Build two U-shaped wood braces from 1’ x 3’ with the U at least big enough to surround a soccer or basketball. Attach the braces to the wall one over the other at least 3 feet apart and leaving a 2” space between the floor and the bottom brace. Stretch bungee cords between the braces (two or three for each side which isn’t bordered by a wall) to create a “cage” for the balls. Kids push the balls in and out as needed, and they won’t unexpectedly fall as they might from a shelf or a full bin rolling out the door and down the street.

Dark and Stormy Hacks – All too often, soccer is played in the rain and mud. Dealing with the mess can be never-ending. Here are a few hacks to save your sanity. Packing up muddy cleats as soon as possible in a plastic bag will save the car carpets and the inside of a soccer bag. Having those bags handy is much easier if you repurpose a rectangle facial tissue box to stuff it full of those thin plastic bags you get from the produce department. You can pull out what you need while the rest stay nicely packed away under your front seat. You can also store some 13 gallon kitchen trash bags in your back-of-seat pockets and lay them down on the seats and the floor to save upholstery and carpet from the evils of a mud bowl match.

Since soccer bags tend to hold old socks and wet shorts, they can smell pretty foul. You could spray them with a freshener, but it tends to expensively mask rather than destroy stench. A great hack is to put one or two charcoal briquettes in a sandwich bag and leave it open. Pop it into the bag. It will not only help prevent mildew by leaching water out, but it is also a natural odor destroyer.  

Fill plastic snack zip bags with laundry detergent so you can do a load for the team while on the road. You can do the same with softeners and stain removers. Carry the smaller bags in a quart-sized zippered bag or a lidded plastic container to ensure no leakage. We all have old pillow cases sitting in the linen closet. Throw one into the soccer bag to hold the wet, filthy uniforms kids change out of at a match. You can wash the case along with the uniforms and place both back in the soccer bag. Much more environmentally responsible than plastic bags.

Gear Hacks - Pack a white and a dark T-shirt along with some black tape into a gallon zipper bag, which will suffice as emergency jerseys readily available should any team member forget or have a shirt damaged by the elements.

How often do we watch our little ones running across the pitch with their shoe laces dangling? There is a rubber strap you can buy to slip over the cleat and the laces to hold them in place, but getting the strap on can be difficult. An easier and less expensive method involves using the mini rubber bands that are sold in bags of 100. They are about the size of a dime. Slip the laces through the band before tying, make your bow, and then tuck the loops over and back up through the rubber band. The knot should last an entire match or practice.  

There’s nothing worse than losing a shin guard, whether it may be completely lost or just drifting loose somewhere in the tangle of a soccer bag. Take the thick blue rubber bands that are wrapped around bunches of asparagus spears or romaine lettuce and place one over a shin guard. Kids can wear the guard with the band in place and after removing them, slide the two together through the band.

My boys loved knocking the turf and mud off their cleats on the floor of the garage no matter how often I pointed out that the lawn was just a few feet away. I put a paper shopping bag between the cars in the garage and the boys then held and clapped their cleats inside the bag. Every few uses, I’d just dump out the clumps in the garden and put the bag back in the garage. This saved me not only from sweeping but also from the boys tracking into the house the grit they left in the garage.

Snacking Well – Keeping kids hydrated and satiated can be done cheaply and still be convenient. Rather than buying Gatorade or Powerade in six and eight packs, leaving you with lots of empty containers, you can buy either liquid drops or cans of powder and mix your own in a permanent water bottle that you can rinse and reuse. The cost is pennies on the dollar and doesn’t dump a huge pile of plastic on the planet.

Those snack bags of chips, raisins, trail mix or pretzels are convenient but pricey. Buy them in bulk and use wax sandwich bags to create your own bags. Fold the top over and use a single strip of tape to hold it close. The wax bags are biodegradable. A gallon milk carton can be repurposed as a carrier. Cut the top off at an angle, preserving the handle, which will create a waterproof holder you can fill with ice and drinks that won’t leak unto your floor or upholstery. You can even set these in a regular chest cooler to keep melting ice from soaking other items in the cooler and can be pulled out as convenient servers.

Oranges are a soccer staple. Here’s a tip to quickly make orange wedges. Slice off the top and bottom stem ends of the orange, then slice the remaining piece along the latitude only to the center. Spread (unroll) the orange into a strip where the orange wedges are now separated and easy to peel off.  You can serve that way or cut the strip into a few pieces.  

If you regularly hand out popsicles or ice cream treats for after game treats, you can save them from dripping on everyone’s hands and clothing by putting the stick through cupcake baking cups which will catch all dribbles.

Create a snack sampler with a plastic jewelry organizer. Fill each compartment with a different snack to have available during a long trip. Kids will love the variety as they get a little sample of everything from pure junk food to healthy options so that they don’t feel limited. They may even end up creating their own crazy snack combinations. Everything stays put in a tightly sealed container.

Soccer isn’t all that complicated in terms of equipment needs, so storage, travel and playing have fewer chances for thorny problems. Nevertheless it’s always nice to be able to simplify any of our needs. I’m grateful for friends who have turned me onto some of these hacks, especially when I was getting frustrated with clutter and constant insults to my car’s interior. We have apps to handle many of our day-to-day tasks, so having a few hacks to improve our soccer planning and implementation seems reasonable. Our kids may not appreciate them, but we certainly can.

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