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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on 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.


Everybody Plays

Susan Boyd

It’s easy to give attention to our young player as he or she sprints across the field during practices and matches, but when their siblings have to come along they end up in the shadow of that activity. Even if they have an interest in soccer, it can still be incredibly boring to wait out their brother’s or sister’s pursuit without much to do. The roles may get reversed during the week, but it still doesn’t resolve the 90 minutes to two hours of boredom during any particular practice or game. It’s to our benefit to find ways to engage all our kids during those times so we don’t have to deal with resistance when it’s time to fly out the door and pouting while at the scene.

The most obvious way to involve all our children is to bring an extra soccer ball. There’s usually a small patch of open space where kids can kick, dribble, and pass. Having Mom and Dad join in for a few minutes of play can certainly make them feel engaged and special. During half-time, even at college matches, kids are often invited on the field for part of the break where they can try their hand at scoring and stopping goals or dribbling as fast as possible down the field. Additionally, it’s a great surface for cartwheels, wrestling, and jumping. So having a soccer ball handy can shift spectator kids into participants, giving them a moment to shine.

If soccer really isn’t their thing at all, there is plenty of active play that kids can do while waiting for practice to end. A soft ball to play catch makes a great way to pass the time and to share in family fun. Frisbees provide another source of entertainment and are easy to pack into the car. There are also dozens of other games you can bring along. Walgreens sells a set of fuzzy discs with several Velcro balls that people can toss back and forth and catch on the discs all of which are also easy to pack away. More elaborate, but fun for everyone, is the bean bag toss which consists of two wooden targets with a hole in each. You set them about 25 feet apart and players take turns flinging the bags into the holes to achieve the highest total. This game is bulkier, but very popular for tailgating, tournaments, and block parties. You can even get the game with your favorite team logos and colors or purchase a blank wooden one and apply your own decals. Games range from $30 to $100 depending on how sturdy. My grandkids love to play the “running game.” We decide on a course and they run it while I time them. They try to beat one another’s time, but more importantly they try to beat their own times. It’s an easy thing for me to watch whoever is competing on the soccer field while also manning the stop watch for their runs. An added benefit is that everyone is at the same level of exhaustion at the end of a practice or match.

Since you have to be outside, you may as well make good use of the opportunity to do things you can’t do in the house. I keep a roll of butcher paper around with a set of tempera paints that the kids can mix at the fields. They can be as unrestrained in their artistic efforts as they want, including splashing the paint off their brushes, drizzling paint, and finger painting. Once they are done with their artwork, we tear it off the roll, toss the paints, and wipe off their hands with a towel. If the fields are at a park that has extra natural areas like woods or a pond, kids can do a nature scavenger hunt. I tell them to find certain plants, insects, or creatures and armed with buckets and jars off they go. Everything has to be released at the end of the search, but they have a great time looking for items. You can spruce it up as a tic-tac-toe game where item names are in squares and as they locate them they can cross off the item with an X or an O hoping to get three in a row or block their opponents’ attempts. You can bring along some squirt guns if there’s a source of water available and let the kids battle one another away from the crowds. I don’t suggest the big squirt guns, in fact I only carry the little “derringer” style that you can buy at party stores for about $3 for six. They can’t accidently shoot long distances hitting unsuspecting fans and since they need to fill up regularly, it makes them develop strategy and even teamwork.

If you prefer that your kids not roam away from the sidelines, you can bring quiet activities for them. They probably won’t want to do homework, but the time is a good opportunity to get that done if you can convince them, especially if it simply entails a worksheet or reading. More detailed homework is probably best done at home with resources available. Otherwise, kids could bring favorite books, coloring books, even an iPod for music. Some kids have handheld video game units that they may want to use the free time for, knowing that once they get home TV and games will be off the schedule until homework is finished. I don’t suggest bringing crafts that can be easily lost like beading, however, Rainbow Looms would probably work if you have a storage box for the rubber bands. I have seen kids at games with electronic tablets on which they watch movies and TV shows. But I’ve also seen tablets dropped and cracked accidently and on occasion I watched frantic parents searching for a misplaced tablet. So that may not be a suitable option unless you know that your kids are responsible enough for them. Some kids like to have the job of ball boys and girls, which is often appreciated during a match. Be sure you check with the coach and the officials before assuming that they should participate in that way. At my grandsons’ baseball games, one parent brings a scoreboard that has rotating wheels to display runs, strikes, and outs. Usually the job of operating that scoreboard goes to one or two of the youngsters. They love being in charge, and I’m impressed with how well they do the job. Adults oversee it, but they usually end up being distracted by conversations and field activity while the kids stay focused on the numbers.

Finally, another option is to find parallel activities for the kids where you can drop them off on the way to the fields and pick them up on the way home. In our town we have a pottery shop that welcomes kids to come paint plaster objects. The purchase price includes paints and kiln glazing. It usually takes kids around two hours to complete a project, so it can be a distraction that fits in the time schedule. You may also consider a homework center where kids can go to complete their homework, get extra tutoring for tough subjects, and do some extra credit work. These classes can be regularly scheduled or set up occasionally. Most towns have at least one center or there are tutors you can hire to come to the house. In either case, your kids are supervised and are participating in fun and worthwhile behaviors. Organizing play dates for kids while their siblings compete on the pitch gives everyone the attention they deserve. When it comes to summer tournaments, parents can look for residential camps for the sideline buddies to attend while we travel to watch our soccer player. Or we could do a swap, traveling to one tournament while a teammate’s family takes the siblings, then staying home for the next tournament to take in the teammate’s siblings. If you can arrange for your club to attend some fun tournament locations, then everyone will be cool with a few hours of whiling away the time since everyone gets to go to the ocean or the Magic Kingdom after the matches. If the entire family comes along for tournaments, be sure to plan something fun to do each day by learning about points of interest along the way and at the tournament venue as well as bringing along some things to do during the matches.

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that practices and matches aren’t always engaging even for us, especially when our own kids aren’t on the field. So it’s no wonder that the siblings with far less investment in the events can be at loose ends and hate being dragged along even if that’s the only choice for parents. Therefore, finding some options for them while on the sidelines makes the experience much more fun for everyone. They’re distracted and happy, and we don’t have to deal with whining and melt downs. We can make our kids responsible for collecting the items they want to have at the fields so we don’t have even more things to keep track of. On the other hand, I like to keep a seasonal soccer box in the trunk of my car, so you may want to create a “fun” box that always comes along. No matter how we provide some entertainment for the spectating kids, it’s important to do so. Making sure everyone has a good experience guarantees a lot less stress when setting out for the fields.




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