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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 Biggest Stage

Susan Boyd

First off, congratulations to the U.S. Women’s National Team for its World Cup Victory last Sunday. It was an historic win in an exciting competition. Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick, the first ever in a Women’s World Cup final. It also avenged the penalty kick loss four years ago to Japan with this year’s decisive 5-2 win. And the U.S. managed to score four goals before the 20-minute mark. Hope Solo only allowed three goals the entire tournament with 540 minutes between the first goal allowed in the first game against Australia and the second in the 27th minute of the World Cup final. Amazing! The team came to Canada to win and stayed focused on their goal. The defense shone throughout the month. The real test was supposed to be Germany in the semis, but after a foul in the box, the U.S. scored the PK and never looked back. Even England rallied against Germany in the 119th minute of overtime to score and beat the Germans in the consolation game. The tournament awarded fans with spectacular play, a couple major upsets such as Australia beating Brazil 1-0, and examples of true determination. We have to wait another four years for the next Women’s World Cup in France, but there are plenty of opportunities to watch the women of the world play again, especially in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

World-class soccer gives our youth players not only something to strive toward but an important validation of their own choices. As more and more U.S. broadcast channels, announcers, and fans embrace soccer, players can take great pride in being a part of that movement. They also realize they play a sport which dominates the world stage in a way no other American sport does. Just for fun I entered the word “soccer” on my TV provider’s search engine and for the next week there are 279 opportunities to watch soccer games, and this is a slow soccer month. Once September arrives there are a myriad of international games that can be viewed, not to mention the beginning of men’s and women’s college soccer and the last third of the MLS season and then their championship playoffs. The broad spectrum of channels carrying matches mirrors the international nature of the sport: Bein (Middle East), GOL (Spanish Language), Telemundo and Univision (Mexico), Sky Sport (Europe), Setanta (Italy), and U.S. national and local sports stations such as ESPN and Fox Sports. Fans can watch English, Scottish, Italian, French, German, Japanese, Argentine, Columbian, Mexican, and Canadian soccer matches regularly along with our American matches including MLS, college, and even local high school. Youth players can and should be part of this international community because it opens up the competition to aspects greater than wins and losses such as the politics and culture of the nations involved.

Despite the recent problems facing FIFA, there is one area where the organization has truly benefitted the sport. FIFA established rules for soccer that cross all boundaries and equalize all playing options. The penalties our players get disciplined for are the same ones a child in Ghana or South Korea would receive. By standardizing the rules for the entire globe, FIFA has insured that soccer can be played anywhere by anyone in the same format and fair play. Further, by governing the sport since 1904 FIFA provides an impartial and regulated arena to air and resolve disputes. Players and teams who want to play internationally need to adhere to these rules and this oversight. It may seem constricting, but it is no more so than that of the NFL, NBA, or MLB. The framework provides an even playing field all around the world. Countries who can’t agree politically or religiously, all adhere to the FIFA model. It’s gratifying to see 209 nations (60 of whom were added between 1975 and 2002) all agreeing to a single set of rules and a single court of resolution. Countries actually clamor to be a part of FIFA, giving the organization tremendous power to require compliance and to do good. The only major international item unresolved is the inclusion of Israel in the Middle East confederation. Due to the internal restriction of Israel and other Arab nations which don’t allow Israel to play in Arab countries and vice versa, FIFA moved Israel to the European conference. Even that decision shows that the organization can resolve conflicts and maintain peace across the borders. FIFA even attempts to handle issues such as racism and poverty, not always in the most powerful ways, but they recognize that they can bring a universal message and use soccer to promote that message.

Since soccer is played world-wide, kids have the opportunity to travel anywhere to play. Soccer is a conduit to discovering new cultures, spectacular architecture, and political differences. There are a variety of organizations that offer various tours based on soccer but not necessarily exclusively for just training in or playing soccer. The exciting part of going anywhere in the world is that soccer becomes a universal language. One of my favorite documentaries which has a companion book is Pelada which chronicles the journeys of four 20-something soccer players. They brought their play to different countries across a wide spectrum of socio-economic conditions. The film details how quickly kicking a ball around on a patch of grass or a city center fountain square could draw a group of players. Although the four travelers often didn’t speak a word of the country’s language, they communicated with the citizens through a shared love of soccer. In Jerusalem they organized a game among Arabs and Jews that transcended politics and resulted in a joyous afternoon of laughter and happy competition. They played in the slums of Nairobi where the same exuberance emanated on the pitch as was seen in the wealthiest suburbs of Dubai. Youth players, if they can, should venture out into the wide soccer world to test their abilities, to learn the various tactics played in different nations, and to share a passion with strangers who become friends.

Recognizing the extensive net soccer casts in the world gives young players a wider perspective on the power of the sport. Dozens of international and continental competitions are played out every year with the granddaddies being the Men’s and Women’s World Cups and the Olympics. Right now through July 26 the CONCACAF Men’s Gold Cup is being played in the United States. This competition brings together national teams from North America and the Caribbean. With three years to go before the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia teams are jockeying for bids. The Gold Cup performances will factor into who earns enough points to make the World Cup list. Therefore these games will be hotly contested with the best players each nation can bring to the pitch and thus a great representation of international soccer. CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, recently completed their continental competition which had many of the games televised in the United States. On August 2nd, Arsenal will meet Chelsea in the FA Community Shield game which is held annually between the winner of the FA Cup (Arsenal) and the first place team in the Premier League for the previous year (Chelsea). This is akin to our Super Bowl and will be broadcast in America on Fox Soccer 1.

Letting youth players step onto the large international stage that defines soccer gives them not only some goals to shoot for but also an entry to the global community. Soccer can encourage players to learn other languages, travel to exotic locations, or study up on the history of a country. Often during international games, the commentators will highlight some of the struggles of the individual players or the team’s country which might inspire kids to research more of the details. Understanding that soccer crosses borders means understanding that borders don’t need to limit us. Kids can celebrate their athletic choice anywhere in the world and know that they will be joined by scores of other youth players. The soccer community can be very small and personal when kids play with their friends but can expand to include us in a larger world. We can be included by watching international competitions or by actually traveling to another country to play. When Robbie went to Kenya for a study abroad program he engaged groups of kids, most of them orphans suffering from extreme poverty, in games of soccer. The fields were rocky, overgrown, and without lines or goals. Yet he could connect with them through the sport and ultimately help to educate them about public health issues once they trusted him as a fellow player. That’s the power of soccer – to bring us together transcending borders.

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Carpool Survival

Susan Boyd

Any of us who have children in sports knows that we can’t survive the schedules without participating in and depending on carpools. The more kids we add to the mix, the exponentially more we are tied to car pools. They are a boon when we aren’t driving and can be a bit of a nightmare when we are the drivers. On the other hand, carpools can be an interesting window into our kids’ lives as they chatter in the back and we can be a fly on the wall. Surviving the complicated social and logistical tangles of carpooling can make for some stressful and interesting experiences. There’s some tried and true methods for tackling the necessary evils, but first you have to understand the “Laws” of carpooling.

  1.  A truck filled with watermelons or chickens or used frying oil will lose its load three cars in front of you;
    1. Corollary A:  This will happen 200 yards after an exit and two miles before the next possible exit.
    2. Corollary B:  You will never have cell service when this happens.
    3. Corollary C:  One of your passengers will either need to pee or to vomit immediately.
  2. Your day to pick up from practice will be just three hours after a soaking thunderstorm when every kid is covered head to toe with mud.
    1. Corollary A:  You just had your car detailed.
    2. Corollary B:  The field is also covered in goose droppings.
  3. When it isn’t your carpool day, the assigned driver will cancel at the last minute.
  4. No matter how often you step in to help at the last minute, you will always be made to feel guilty when you can’t.
  5. Someone will forget something vital and realize it 20 miles down the road.
  6. The noise level in the car is directly proportional to the level of your headache.

Corollary A:The music choices will always metaphorically use more “cow bell.”

Corollary B:All kids will sing along and none have any musical talent.

  1. When you drive in temperatures above 80 degrees, the snack will be either Hershey Bars or popsicles.
    1. Corollary A:  You just had your car detailed.
    2. Corollary B:  No matter how many napkins or paper towels you have, they are never enough.
  2. If your car is due for a major breakdown it will happen when you have five kids late for a big game.
    1. Corollary A:  You will never have cell service when this happens.
    2. Corollary B:  All five kids will continually remind you that they are going to be late.
  3. Your turn to drive will invariably be for the event farthest away and the most difficult to reach.
    1. Corollary A:  As with most soccer fields, the address is never precise.
    2. Corollary B:  Your GPS will do a best guess on location which is often incorrect.
    3. Corollary C:  Even with accurate directions, there will be an unexpected detour.
  4. Kids will say thank you and all too often parents won’t.


When you join a carpool, and most of us belong to at least two, there is an implied contract that has some delicate social parameters. Kids will be brutally honest with one another, so their conversations will be not only revealing, but possibly embarrassing as well. You will hear about fights that parents had, things the coach said, gossip on dozens of friends, and scores of tasteless jokes that everyone will find hilarious. The policy of “What’s said in the car, stays in the car” should always be honored. It’s best to remember that when someone else is driving they will be hearing about your family secrets. Likewise, you need to be careful about your comments. If you criticize the coach, another player, or another parent it will get back to them even if the ties to your passengers is tenuous at best. Imagine my shock when one kid once informed his coach while I was in earshot, “Mrs. Boyd says you don’t really give everyone equal playing time.” So mum’s the word when in the car. Then there are the things you don’t expect would cause problems. I found out that a song we played, “All Star” was taboo for one of my passengers when confronted by his mother. It didn’t have bad words, it wasn’t rap, but apparently it conveyed the wrong attitude by stating “she had an L in the middle of her forehead” i.e. she was a loser. If I decide to stop to get the kids a treat on the ride home I need to be sure that I’ve covered all the allergy and dietary restrictions. I discovered the hard way that what I thought was the perfect healthy snack, sugar-free frozen yogurt, turned out to be unacceptable for my one (unknown) vegan. Therefore, as a carpool driver you should politely check with every parent before doing what you think is something nice. It can unfortunately backfire otherwise.

The compact you “sign” when you join a carpool can truly be complex and unfair. For example there are three types of carpool parents:  those who pull their weight; those who pull more than their weight; and those who vaporize when their turn comes up. I often wonder if these latter adults have some type of “Beam me up Scotty” device that transports them, sans children, to a destination far removed activated with just the word “carpool” being spoken. They are the parents who claim to be incredibly busy though busy often translates into attending spin class and having a pedicure. The rest of us, who really are busy juggling several children’s schedules, a job, and getting uniforms washed, manage to handle the duties. Don’t expect these ghosts to feel any guilt; that vaporizes as well. But they are experts at slathering on the guilt to everyone else. When you join a carpool the concept of fairness doesn’t apply. I know when I was offered the straws, they were all short. You’ll get the longest trips, the games that get cancelled as soon as you arrive, the kids who get car sick, the kids who hate each other yet sit next to each other, the last-minute emergencies, and the hysterical child who loses his homework at the field. The best way to handle this all is to take a lesson from “Frozen” and let it go. Carpools are necessary evils that, despite the rough roads, at least ensure that your child always gets to travel. You won’t be able to negotiate better terms, but you will get some really precious moments that ultimately outweigh all the troubles.

I’m talking about being an important part of the conversation and activity that goes on in the car. Making connections with their friends in this safe and confined environment means that you have links with them well into their teens. Your own children somehow feel freer to open up to you as if you are now one of the gang. Something magical happens when those doors close. I loved monitoring and occasionally joining in on the conversation. My repertoire of ridiculous jokes doubled:  Where does the Easter Bunny eat breakfast? IHOP. My repertoire of bodily function jokes quadrupled:  Why did Tigger stick his head in the toilet?  He was looking for Pooh. I also got the chance to nip bullying and disrespect right when they happened, the best way to teach object lessons. “You guys don’t need to resort to name-calling. You’re smarter than that.” Getting to know the teammates on a more personal level gave me a greater investment in the games. I got to cheer on Teddy who had the bright idea to try to open my sliding van door while we were moving. It didn’t open but it set off an alarm that dinged for the 10 minutes it took to reach the field. Teddy whose red face matched his red hair ran onto the pitch while everyone else was still laughing at his shocking (potentially dangerous) behavior. I learned how much Michael wanted his dad to like soccer and come to just one game, so I cheered extra hard for him. I found out what girls like my sons and which girls they liked, usually not the same. Clear into college when I’d run into kids from the various carpools they would remember some fun detail from our trips back and forth. So you can relish those moments that are solely yours, fleeting, and special. I could do without the number of jokes crowding my brain, although those jokes do make me a bit of hit with my grandkids.

If we have kids, we are almost assured of joining a carpool at least once in our youth sports experience. It’s a given that you’ll have a ton of frustrating incidents that usually stem from adults rather than the kids. Keeping a sense of humor helps; certainly the kids have a sense of humor albeit a bit warped. If you expect thanks from your peers, disavow yourself of that fantasy. In fact the thanks you receive from them is generally inversely proportional to the effort you expend to transport their kids. On the other hand kids almost always shouted “Thanks Mrs. Boyd” as they leapt from the car. No matter the trouble and the thanklessness, I loved the carpools I did, loved the kids I drove, and learned to love the quirks of the parents because I’m sure they felt I was also quirky. If you aren’t in the right mood when it’s your turn to drive, here’s a few jokes to perk you up.

  1. What sounds do porcupines make when they kiss?  Ouch!
  2. What do you get when cross a chicken and a pit bull?  Just the pit bull
  3. The teacher asks the class to use fascinate in a sentence. One boy eagerly raises his hand. “My coat is so small I can only fasten eight of the buttons.”


Those should give you a good head start in surviving any carpool.

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Some Light Reading

Susan Boyd

I hope all of you have been watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup. There’s been something for everyone’s sense of drama: upsets, bad calls, nail biters, extraordinary play, and stupendous feats of athleticism. By the time this is published, we’ll know if the U.S. Women’s National Team will be playing in the semifinals. The great news is that FWWC is pulling in record viewership. The U.S.-Columbia game had 4.1 million tuned in with a peak of 6.4 million. Only two other broadcasts had higher numbers on Fox Sports 1: Game 4 (5.1 million) and Game 5 (4.9 million) of the 2014 National League Championship Series between St. Louis and San Francisco. Likewise, Canada nearly drew more viewers for their opening game vs. China than the Stanley Cup game that evening. Quite a spectacular outcome given that hockey is the national sport. Even Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Benoit couldn’t put a damper on the upswing of interest in the event when he tweeted that “Women’s sports in general [are] not worth watching…Women are every bit as good as men in general, better in many aspects, their sports are just less entertaining. TV ratings agree, btw.” Apparently he missed the reports on the Women’s World Cup, as well as the ratings athletes like Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey pull in.

While watching the matches, I couldn’t help but notice the various scrawls on the message boards surrounding the pitch. While FIFA has suffered a tarnishing of their image, there were several reminders of their charitable programs and social platforms. I wondered if these millions of viewers in the U.S. (estimates are 1 billion world-wide) had: A. taken note of the advertisements, B. looked the programs up, C. acted on anything they had learned. After all, there was plenty to watch on the pitch, so people would be forgiven for not heeding the constant verbiage scrolling in the background. I decided to look the programs up, curious as to what FIFA was touting. There were four agendas:  Football for Hope, Football for the Planet, Say No to Racism, and Fair Play. Each of these has a particular purpose in promoting FIFA’s image which certainly needs some propping up. Adding to the quartet is adidas’ campaign #BetheDifference.

Football for Hope started in 2005 to promote the issues of children in impoverished areas. FIFA works through local private and community-based organizations supporting the resources used to foster the social development of youth. Much of FIFA’s support comes in the form of football-based programs. During the Men’s World Cup in Brazil in 2015, FIFA sponsored a festival with delegates from 32 of some of the 108 world-wide organizations involved in the Football for Hope initiative. The projects span a variety of social issues, from homelessness in the UK and landmines in Laos, to HIV/AIDS education in South Africa and responsible citizenship in Brazil. For the World Cup, Football for Hope focused its resources in Brazil, donating $1.05 million to programs in Brazil and an additional $2.05 million world-wide. FIFA encourages the communities receiving funding to hold matches where there are no referees. All conflicts are resolved through agreement either by admission or through dialog which FIFA believes promotes personal development and mutual understanding. Likewise, representatives from the communities being served meet regularly to discuss ways to use football to advance and improve social concerns. While the money FIFA contributes is substantial, it pales to what they made alone from the 2014 World Cup, which was $2.6 billion – that’s billion with a B.

Football for the Planet is the official environmental program for FIFA started in 2006 during the World Cup in Germany. The program has evolved over the past decade to embrace some fairly sophisticated efforts in off-setting the ecologic impact of the World Cup matches on the host country’s environment. For the 2014 competition in Brazil FIFA worked on three fronts to reduce the harm an influx of millions of fans would have on the environs. First FIFA worked to offset carbon emissions which have the largest effect on climate change. They estimated that the World Cup would produce 2.7 million tons of CO2 emissions of which FIFA had control over 250,000 tons. Using local emission programs, FIFA offset all of their CO2 emissions. Second FIFA required that new stadiums in Brazil be sustainable. For example they encouraged the installation of solar panels and expected the stadiums to earn the maximum points of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for green building which encourages sustainability and efficiency. To that end they sponsored training sessions in building green for the architects and contractors of each stadium. Third, FIFA developed waste management programs for the stadiums helping vendors to institute proper waste disposal to include strong recycling efforts. Additionally FIFA used its mascot to instruct spectators on responsible waste disposal.

Say No to Racism is an education program that grew out of FIFA’s article 3:  Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion. For many years this article was not clearly and consistently enforced, but over the last decade more incidents of discrimination and hate speech appeared at FIFA-sponsored events. Black players regularly face abuse which includes bananas tossed at them from the stands, racist chants from fans, and racist taunts from other players. Anti-Semitism comes in the form of fans openly waving Nazi flags at matches and taunting Jewish fans and players. For many years, FIFA simply turned a deaf ear and blind eye to these overt acts, choosing to let “boys be boys.” However, with riots at Egyptian matches based on deep religious divides, dangerous anti-black sentiments in Europe, and hooliganism based on racial biases, FIFA realized it needed to act. More dangerous to the organization is the threat by several African nations and individual black players to boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia if racism isn’t addressed. To that end, in May 2013 the FIFA Congress adopted a resolution on the fight against racism and discrimination which highlighted the need for strong punishments to support the position that racism has no place in football. FIFA has joined with the continental soccer governing organizations such as UEFA and CONCACAF to sanction teams, players, and administrators who practice or condone racist actions. Sanctions based on prejudicial behaviors have now come regularly and without mercy for the offenders. Unfortunately the idea of solving such a complicated issue as bigotry by just “saying no” is about as effective as Nancy Regan’s campaign to just say no to drugs. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that FIFA is taking the issue seriously and encouraging fans to recognize the harmful effects of bigoted behaviors on the sport.

Fair Play has ironic implications considering the level at which FIFA’s integrity has come under attack. The program uses the slogan “My game is fair play” to promote respect on and off the pitch among all players, officials, coaches and fans. The purpose is to play the game peacefully with integrity, fairness, dignity and respect. FIFA might want to take a page from its own promotions to find ways to conduct their activities with the same four cornerstones of behavior. Once a year they dedicate a week to highlight the people who best exemplify the principles of fair play. One person or group is recognized for special acts with the annual Fair Play Award. At every FIFA tournament teams are judged on their behavior and one team is selected for the tournament Fair Play Award. FIFA also encourages individual clubs all the way down to youth soccer to promote fair play both on and off the pitch, asking clubs to be sure to highlight those who exemplify honorable behavior.

Although not directly a FIFA program, adidas sponsors the “Be the Difference” platform. Obviously created to sell more shoes, it highlights the energy required to be a top soccer player. As adidas states, “Soccer is changing. In the style and way it is played and in the types of players who grace the game. For a team to be successful, you need two types of players – Playmakers who orchestrate and control everything, and Game changers who smash the defense and cause chaos. Pick your side and be the difference.”  While an advertising ploy, the statement is powerful for young soccer players who may feel that they are marginalize if they play any position other than striker. The commercial purposely doesn’t identify impact by a particular position, rather by performance which supports the idea that every child makes a significant contribution to the success of a team. I think besides getting kids salivating about a particular boot, the campaign elevates the importance of every player by exposing the ability to make a difference comes through passion for and investment in the sport.

If you remember while cheering on your particular team or player at any FIFA event, check out the boards around the pitch. There are mostly advertisements displayed there, but occasionally there are some interesting statements being made about soccer beyond the competition. I will agree with FIFA on the point that we need our kids to see how we behave in our soccer lives needs to mirror how we behave off the pitch. We can be part of the solution of many of the world’s problems by simply applying some of the principles we learn while playing:  cooperation, respect for authority, charity, fairness, integrity, tolerance, and accepting success with humility and defeat with dignity. Sometimes what appears in the background can be a good read to remind us of these values.

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Nothing to Sneeze At

Susan Boyd

It may seem a bit hyperbolic to say, given all the scandal coming out of FIFA in the last month, but the biggest FIFA outrage surrounding the Women’s World Cup has been the use of synthetic turf fields for the competition. This is the first Cup, both men’s and women’s, to be played on artificial surfaces, and the women have complained mightily filing a lawsuit against FIFA to force them to switch to natural grass. The suit was eventually withdrawn and the event went forward using engineered turf. Sadly, two beautiful grass fields were dug up and replaced with artificial turf because FIFA rules require that every pitch be exactly the same. Ironically, if Canada wants to bid to sponsor the men’s Gold Cup or World Cup those two fields will need to be returned to natural grass. Others outside of soccer joined the protest, including Tom Hanks and Kobe Bryant who tweeted a photo of USWNT player Sydney Leroux’s torn up legs after a game. A boycott was considered, but many teams were unwilling because the World Cup is the top stage for players, and many nations get very few chances to compete on such a revered international platform. Other than a successful legal challenge, the women athletes felt they had no choice but to play on the surface dictated by FIFA.

Here in Wisconsin, most of the college pitches and many of the high school fields have switched to artificial grass. It is less difficult to maintain in our weather extremes and extends the outdoor playing season from February into December. Grass would be far too fragile during approximately six months of the year. Some institutions that can afford it have artificial practice fields installing grass on their competition pitch. Clubs conduct fund raisers to be able to construct at least one synthetic surface field and use that fact to tout themselves as a great choice for young players. For many people artificial grass has been seen as a tremendous advance which reduces field maintenance, although not necessarily costs, provides for a longer season, and gives players a consistent pitch. It could be the panacea for a dozen woes, yet professional players are increasingly adamant about refusing to compete on artificial surfaces. David Beckham refused as early as 2007 when the LA Galaxy played the Toronto FC on their engineered field. Which brings us to the Women’s World Cup and FIFA’s decision to require artificial turf in all stadiums and the women protesting that decision.

Artificial turf began in 1965 with the installation of ChemGrass at the Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island. ChemGrass became known as AstroTurf in 1966 when it was laid in Houston’s Astro Dome to much fanfare and great expectations. Artificial grass has undergone several generations and its newest best form, the one used for the World Cup, is called 3G pitch system which has been approved by FIFA. Artificial turf opened the floodgates of indoor facilities which obviously couldn’t support grass so depended on wood and concrete surfaces. Some places used what could only be described as a “carpet” stretched over concrete. It was cheap, and like a carpet it would stretch leaving gaps between seams and ridges where it bunched up. It was unsafe to play on and unsafe to fall on since it rarely had under padding. So having a grass substitute seemed like Nirvana. And for many of the indoor arenas and sports parks it has been created a huge advantage providing year round opportunities for all athletes. Batting cages, lacrosse fields, and soccer all depend upon these engineered products to provide an indoor experience as close to grass as possible.

However, as more and more artificial turf facilities cropped up, the criticism of the surface increased. Players complained of increased injuries, especially ligament damage, joint stress, and turf toe. On top of that, the bristles that substitute for grass tear up the skin with rug burns, cuts, and bruises. Athletes felt that the surface shortened their playing lives, endangering the years of careful training they went through to ensure the safety of their bodies. Football had led the way with artificial turf but now the 21 teams who don’t have full grass fields use a mixture of grass and synthetics called FieldTurf. The surface is fairly close to real grass and requires the same maintenance as regards to watering, mowing, fertilizing and sunlight. New types of turf had to be developed because NFL players had the same complaints that the women soccer players are expressing for this World Cup. FieldTurf eliminates many of the concerns as far as injuries and discomfort. However, FIFA has not approved this product and instead has only endorsed the full 3G turf, which is what is being used in Canada.

Artificial turf also has the problem of absorbing and holding heat especially under direct sunlight. At one of the recent World Cup games the field temperature was 130 degrees Fahrenheit, when the ambient temperature was only in the 80s. It’s ridiculous to play under those conditions. At a tournament Bryce attended in Las Vegas in August, the turf got so hot that the soles of the ARs melted if they stood in one place too long. Eventually, the sponsors had no choice but to change the schedule to play games only in the early morning and after 7 p.m. It’s hot in Vegas in August, but grass fields would have never been unplayable in the heat. They may have withered, but they would not have retained and bounced back heat at intense levels.

Any artificial surface, even FieldTurf, uses granules and sand to give the surface buoyancy and depth. Many of the granules are made from recycled ground tires which contain heavy metals which are recognized carcinogenics. Players get these bits ground into their open cuts and sores, breathe them in, and even “eat” them. Lately, census studies done on athletes who compete primarily with fields holding these pellets has shown a strong link to blood cancers, especially in goalkeepers. No scientific study has been done yet, but the numbers are staggering. Ethan Zohn, a goalkeeper and winner of the third season of Survivor who founded Grassroots Soccer with his winnings, discovered he had Hodgkin’s disease. He didn’t make any connection between his cancer and goalkeeping until he met other keepers with cancer. Goalkeepers are most susceptible to contact with the rubber beads since they spend more time on the ground and have them kicked up into their faces and mouths. He began to keep a list which has grown to over 50 players in five years. He then met Amy Griffen, the assistant coach at the University of Washington, who had discovered on her own the same connection. While visiting a goalkeeper in the hospital getting treatment the nurse stated, “You’re the fourth goalkeeper I’ve hooked up to chemo this week.” Together Zohn and Griffen have been pushing the scientific community to look into these cases and do a controlled study. Additionally under constant sun the fields exude a strong chemical scent which critics say isn’t natural and could be toxic to everyone, fans included.

On the other hand, artificial turf has proponents. Players who suffer from allergies are grateful for the artificial surface which doesn’t aggravate their hay fever and skin reactions from grass. Kids with asthma have far fewer attacks when they play nearly exclusively on artificial surfaces. Despite the rough surface, fake grass does offer a consistently flat surface for play allowing kids to develop dribbling, passing, and running skills with reliable repetition. For the youngest player these plastic turf fields also eliminate the divots and rocks that plague grass fields. For those young kickers the toughest impediment isn’t rug burn, it’s those little bumps and holes that trip kids up and make soccer less fun. The best reason to support the use of artificial turf is that it does extend the playing season either by making outdoor fields playable in most weather or by offering superior indoor facilities with a cushioned playing surface rather than a hard surface. These increased opportunities offer our young players better and more consistent training.

We parents have to read the literature and make the decision on how safe we think the artificial surfaces are for our kids. There are definitely some serious concerns, but there are also advantages. The real issue for the World Cup players is the basic unfairness of the FIFA decision. While no men’s competitions are dictated to be played on artificial turf because the men have the same concerns as the women, FIFA ignored these concerns when it came to the women. Although the ball rolls faster, the surface allows for a quicker pace, and the synthetic fibers can withstand heavy rains, adult players still prefer the natural surface. They like the quirks that different pitches offer because it makes the game not just against the opponent but also against the elements. However for younger players they need the even and all-weather practice surfaces that allow for development of skills which can then be extended with indoor facilities. My sons heartily favor natural over artificial surfaces, but they also appreciated the synthetic pitches. In college they played on artificial turf, and in fact their college field was only the sixth one in the US officially approved by FIFA for FIFA-sanctioned games. So they had the experience of playing on some of the best of the fake. But they also both agreed that the burns, slashes, and cuts they got on those surfaces left scars they carry today, and their ankle stresses were certainly due to the less forgiving underlayment of artificial turf. Robbie suffers from hay fever, so he does agree that he had better breathing when on synthetic surfaces. I’d say the pros and cons are fairly even – it’s a draw for most players but unfortunately a defeat for the World Cup women.

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