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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". 

 

Bits and Pieces Two

Susan Boyd

There’s always interesting stories about soccer that I come across occasionally. I shared a few with you a couple years back. Here’s a new story. When the Slovenia National team came to play against the England National team, they stayed at a hotel approximately 164 feet from the Wembley Stadium entrance. The plan was to walk to the match, however UEFA insisted that the team take a bus to the event so they wouldn’t be late. There’s so much wrong with this ruling. First of all, how does riding a bus ensure timeliness by the team? If they are tardy walking to the stadium less than a soccer field away doesn’t it make sense that they would be late to the bus as well? Then there’s the factor of traffic. A huge bus cannot maneuver around obstructions on the roadway to the stadium which would most likely have started to clog with fan arrivals. I could understand insisting upon a bus if the issue were safety. UEFA might be concerned that the Slovenians would be targets of hooligans, but a line of thirty fit soccer players should be able to comfortably walk to the stadium or jog or run if late. This is an example of overthinking by officials who have abandoned common sense for adherence to rules which might seem reasonable on paper, but in the face of reality are simply ridiculous. There are plenty of examples of unusual, curious and frustrating situations in soccer. These are a few I’ve gathered recently.

At the recent World Cup in Brazil, the participating teams had some peculiar requests on behalf of their players. France insisted on liquid soap in every room rather than bar soap because apparently the French don’t use bar soap and officials were afraid players would have a problem knowing how to use the bars. This attitude belies the theory that soccer players are generally the most intelligent of athletes. Uruguay insisted that all rooms have completely silent air conditioners. I’m guessing they were provided with large buckets of ice to place in their suites. Chile required that all rooms have new TVs and new beds. Perhaps someone had gotten bed bugs during the last World Cup. Japan demanded a Jacuzzi in every room. Ecuador asked for fresh baskets of bananas in every room every day and those bananas had to come from Ecuador. Switzerland had FIFA build a beach studio from which they could broadcast interviews and recaps. This seems an odd request considering that Brazil ranks ninth in the world for the longest coastline. It would seem more reasonable to find an exterior location with a real beach and real waves crashing in the background.

Ian Wright, one of the 90s strongest strikers for Arsenal, Crystal Palace and West Ham is a Star Wars aficionado. So it made sense that when there was an open casting call for stormtroopers in the new trilogy Ian turned out. Sadly he was rejected because, as Princess Leia said in A New Hope, he was “a little short for a stormtrooper.” At 5’ 9” he was a perfect height for a player but fell two inches below the trooper requirement. To rub salt in the wound, two of his friends who accompanied him got parts. Maybe if there was a pick-up soccer game written into the film where off-duty troopers challenge one another they might want Wright on their squad. For now, he’ll have to settle for his weekly live radio show to feed his media dreams.

I’m not sure how I feel about this tidbit. Real Madrid has a genuine star in James Rodriguez who has been a tremendous shot in the arm for the franchise energizing the team both on and off the field since being signed last summer. The young pro became the most expensive Colombian player when Madrid acquired him for an 80 million euro transfer fee which was the fourth highest ever recorded. When he signed, he did so with his wife at his side. Daniela Ospina is the sister of Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina, and has been around the game since birth. Rodriguez obviously loves her for her understanding of his profession, her intelligence, her wit and her beauty. Unfortunately following the publication of photos of her at the signing, Madrid fans went on social media to call her ugly among other vile taunts. In response she underwent cosmetic surgery despite her protest that she was sorry she didn’t meet their expectations. “My priority is to meet mine.” I think it’s a sad commentary on our world that public taunting overrode the opinion of the one person she should most trust and respect. I’ve seen many women who would not fit any media ideal of beauty who is absolutely worshipped by her husband and sees herself through his eyes.  We seem to be more willing to accept a dowdy, overweight balding man as the spouse of a vivacious, curvaceous, Helen of Troy woman than the other way around. I’m sorry that Ospina was so affected by the remarks of jealous, uneducated people that she willing took the risk of surgery to try to win their favor. I’m hoping Rodriguez didn’t encourage her to do this but also reinforced with her how special and beautiful she was to him both before and after the surgery.

British frustration with American sports vernacular begins with the term soccer but extends far further. When American sportscasters announce Premier League games there is often a deep schism as commentary regards descriptive phrases.  For example, at Old Trafford they watch a match not a game played on a pitch not a field. For Chelsea fans it’s not uniform, it’s kit, and that kit includes boots (not cleats). The British refer to American football as gridiron which of course in the US is how we designate the field. No player in Britain takes a PK; it’s always a penalty kick. We talk about speed and across the pond they speak of pace. Skill translates to quality of play in the UK.  We tend to use the sports vernacular that we have for other sports in America, so we say shut out (clean sheet), out of bounds (out of play), steal (tackle) and zero-zero (nil-nil).  Upper 90s are top corner in the EPL, and match ups are man markers. In the US the home team is always listed second, while in Britain it’s the visitors.  While we say “on frame” for a clean strike to the goal, Brits get confused because the frame consists of the uprights and cross bar. So on frame would be hitting the bar. Winningest absolutely clinks on the ears of an English fan who uses the grammatically correct “most successful.”  With a red card Wayne Rooney is sent off not ejected. No British footballer would abbreviate locations with terms like “the six,” “the 18,” or “flags” instead of corner markers. Fouls aren’t “on” an offending player but “by” which probably creates the most confusion when English fans listen to American commentary.  However, in America we risk being considered soccer snobs if we use too many of the British terms. After all we’d be totally misunderstood if we offered a brolly against the rain, asked where the lift to the office was located and use the term crisps to mean chips. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t understand my order at the McDonald’s drive-through if I asked for chips with that, although they usually don’t understand my order. Given the number of American sports that share terminology, it’s not surprising we have found our own comfortable, familiar jargon for this international sport.

Let’s end on some quick quips.  A match between Spanish 1st division teams Recreativo Linense and Saladillo de Algeciras resulted in 19 red cards. Recreativo was winning 1-0 when one of their players was sent off with a red card. A brawl ensued so bad it caused the referee to flee the field for the dressing rooms where he ended up sending off nine players on each team resulting in the total of 19, a record I’m sure will stand for many years.  If the match had continued it would have been two against one.  

In the 1930 World Cup game between the US and Argentina, the American trainer ran on to the pitch to argue with the referee. In his anger he threw his medical bag down on the ground breaking a bottle which released the chloroform it held, rendering him unconscious. In 2011 Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli, who is one of the bad boys of the EPL, had an interesting reaction to a young fan asking for his autograph after a weekday training exercise. Balotelli challenged the boy why he wasn’t in school when he should have been, and the boy admitted that he was scared to go because he was bullied. Without hesitation, Balotelli marched the boy to school, informed the headmaster, and mediated the conflict between the lad and his aggressor.  

In 2002 the highest scoring soccer game was “played” resulting in a 149-0 tally. I put played in quotations for a reason. Stade Olympique de L’emyrne felt they had unfairly lost a game due to a questionable foul in the box resulting in a successful penalty kick. So the next match whenever they received the ball they shot on their own goal in protest, racking up 149 goals for their opposition. Fans weren’t very happy and stormed ticket booths to demand their money back.

Finally file this under “out of touch.” Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, was asked in 2004 what might help invigorate women’s soccer. He responded without hesitation that players should wear more feminine clothing including briefer and tighter shorts. I’m surprised he didn’t suggest foregoing jerseys for sports bras only as well.  I’m hoping the ensuing decade has brought Blatter into the 21st century, but his words and actions suggest otherwise. In Greece during a 2008 match between Astreas Tripolis and Panathinaikos, a streaker began a run across the pitch.  Adrian Bastia, a midfielder with Astreas, tripped the man so he could be apprehended and then was rewarded for his actions by being sent off for violent behavior. Such is the odd and occasionally amusing world of soccer. 

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That’s Entertainment

Susan Boyd

My mother grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. Every December, we would be regaled with tales of her winters in the city of lake effect snow storms. I grew up in Seattle, where snow hardly ever falls and when it does the city shuts down. So we heard lots of stories that began, “You think this is bad…” and then morphed into narratives we knew by heart. There was the storm where the winds blew so hard that the snow drifts reached my mother’s second story bedroom window. Then there was the storm that lasted two weeks where the flurries were so blinding that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. We learned about power outages, burst pipes, iced sidewalks, snowball tournaments, and wonderful white Christmases. Whenever we watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the scene of Jimmy Stewart running through the town of Bedford Falls came on, mom would gleefully announce, “That’s exactly what it looks like in Buffalo.” Last week Buffalo suffered a century storm that I’m not sure even mom experienced, but the city was so snowbound that the NFL game between the Bills and Jets had to be postponed and moved to Detroit. That’s undoubtedly a winter story we would have heard had it happened while she lived there.

What could all those trapped citizens do when admonished not to travel? No school, no football, no shopping, and certainly no cinema or concerts. For my mother, she would gather around the radio with her siblings and parents to listen to all kinds of great programming. Today, we gather around the 65-inch HD TV for a wide variety of media choices. Likewise, considering that the upcoming holidays mean locating some good gift ideas along with the polar vortex, which threatens to trap some of us in our homes this winter, I thought about soccer movies that could entertain us during the long, cold nights even if we live in San Diego and don’t have to worry about being shut-in by snow. Some of my suggestions have soccer as the central narrative, some use soccer as a backdrop for other messages, and some simply have intriguing soccer moments.

For pre-school and elementary school kids or the kid in all of us, there are several great G-rated choices. “Rio” is an animated film about a macaw who finds himself chasing unrequited love from Minnesota to Brazil in the dead of winter. While Brazil’s equatorial sun is welcomed, it’s also Carnival season and as a rare macaw he piques the interest of exotic bird smugglers and is captured. However, the guards watch a soccer match on TV. Their distraction allows the hero and his amour to escape. Even while chasing their prey through the streets the guards stop to catch a moment of the match on a bar TV. As a nod to the World Cup in Brazil, “Rio 2” has a full-out soccer match between rival teams of macaws in the jungle Pit of Doom. A movie for really young players is Dora’s (the Explorer) Super Soccer Showdown, rated a very gentle G. With the same simple narrative and kind approach to a topic, Dora plays soccer with Boots, visits with her horse Sparky, and joins her friend Benny for the Rain Forest talent show. A wonderful family movie, “The Cup” is rated G, but don’t let that rating make you believe the film is simplistic. Viewers of all ages will love the story of World Cup fever invading the quiet calm of a Buddhist monastery in India. Young monks threaten the centuries old traditions when they clamor to watch the finals and do almost anything to achieve their goal. Based on a true account, the comedy was an official entry in several film festivals.

Players 9 to 12 years old and their families would enjoy several of these PG films, a rating they earn with some pre-teen hijinks and toilet humor. “The Big Green” relates the story of a ragtag group of students who are formed into a soccer team in a small Texas town. In this film, the female adult is the soccer expert, an English exchange teacher who convinces an out-of-shape sheriff to help her coach in hopes of motivating her students to respect themselves and set goals. It’s a fairly typical underdog sports movie, but the kids are engaging and the stereotypes aren’t nearly as overwhelming as in some films. I’m not sure why they made Soccer Dog the Movie and Soccer Dog: European Cup as PG entertainment since the premise is much more appropriate for younger viewers, but the PG parts are fairly tame and the dog is cute, cuddly, and fun to watch. So most kids should be fine with it. For older viewers, there are some PG flicks that speak to their burgeoning interest in the opposite gender and adventure. The great soccer film “Gregory’s Girl” is 32 years old, but still delightful. Gregory loses his spot on his winless soccer team to a GIRL! But he’s also 16 and can’t help but find himself intrigued by his feisty, talented and cute replacement. The film is Scottish, so the language can be a bit daunting to our American ears, but it’s worth the struggle. I never realized that cinema icon Michael Caine did a movie with Sylvester Stallone, but “Victory” benefits from the pairing to be an engaging WWII drama centering on a Nazi propaganda stunt allowing a group of POWs to play the German National team. The POWs plan to use the event as a means to escape. Dozens of plot twists and complications make this an engrossing adventure as well as a stand-out soccer film. Pele’s in the cast and John Huston directs, so it has a good cinematic pedigree. One of my recent favorites isn’t really a soccer movie, but has a wonderful soccer scene near the conclusion. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” from last year with Ben Stiller I consider to be an underappreciated family film. Walter is a dreamer who lives a quiet, uneventful existence and works ironically for Life magazine. Everything is turned upside down when he meets a woman he likes, his mother is being moved to assisted living, Life is closing, and he loses the photo for the final cover. The movie expresses wonderful values, has sharp comedic moments, and that breathtaking soccer scene at sunset on the foothills of the Himalayas.

Moving up the rating scale, these PG-13 movies combine soccer with significant interpersonal challenges. “Bend It Like Beckham” is a classic, both for girls who aspire to play soccer at the college and pro level, and for anyone interested in how cultures adjust and survive when submerged in a dominating foreign culture. Another film that features a girl is “Gracie” based on a true story of a family that loses a son and his sister who wants to take his place on the soccer team. She has to battle not only a system that won’t allow girls on the boys’ team, but also a family stuck in their own grief and hesitation. Although about the struggles of a young woman, Gracie speaks to the level of passion any player requires in order to succeed. “Bella” is the sweet story of a Mexican soccer superstar who ends up making some serious mistakes losing his place in the soccer stratosphere and a young waitress who is fired from her job just as she discovers she is pregnant. The film addresses issues such as who are we when we have to separate from our passion and how do we find a life that includes not only love but kindness. Combining kung-fu with soccer, “Shaolin Soccer” will appeal to any teenage boy who likes fast-paced action, great stunts and some wicked soccer moves. When an ex-soccer player down on his luck crosses paths with a kung-fu master, he is re-energized to play again. He reunites with his brothers, forms a soccer team, and then teaches the players some unusual moves that give them a winning edge. Unrated but appropriate for teens is “Pelada,” whose tag line is “two players, twenty-five countries, one game.” The documentary chronicles the journey of two soccer players and their two friends on a quest to play soccer all over the world. They come across some extremely unusual and occasionally dangerous circumstances, but soccer protects them in the slums of Rio de Janiero and Nairobi, and brings an interesting resolution to the conflicts between Arabs and Jews on the West Bank of Israel. An amazing, inspirational story. Likewise, “Streetball” is unrated. Again, I highly recommend for teen players and their families. This documentary details one competition of the Homeless World Cup held yearly for teams from up to 56 countries. The team members are homeless or disenfranchised players and this movie follows the South African team made up of ex-convicts, drug addicts, and orphans. As the players struggle to become adept at the sport they also learn how to pull themselves out of their circumstances. It’s an inspirational but difficult film to watch.

Two of my favorite movies fit into the soccer category.  Both are rated R and I do suggest they be viewed just by parents and older players, especially my first film, “Babel.” This difficult movie explores not only the human condition but the sharp cultural contrasts that breed fear and prejudice. When an American tourist, Susan Jones, is shot on a tour bus on a remote Moroccan road, the U.S. government immediately declares the event a terrorist attack when in fact it was two boys who had been given a rifle by their father to shoot jackals eating their goats. The manufacturer of the gun is Japanese and has a deaf teenage daughter who is barely clinging to sanity and acts out in sexually provocative ways.  Meanwhile, the Jones’ nanny, a Mexican illegally working in the U.S. faces a dilemma. Since the Joneses are detained in Morocco, Amelia must stay to watch the children, but her son is getting married in Mexico. So she decides to go to the wedding with the children in tow. Unfortunately, on trying to return to the U.S. they are detained and then try to flee through the desert into America. Although Amelia has been in the United States for 16 years, she is deported. The stories are intertwined and shift in time and location. Some stories are unresolved. When Susan is taken to the home of a veterinarian to treat her wound, there are soccer posters on the walls of this isolated location, a symbol I believe of an activity that provides a common thread across nations, cultures, religions and politics. The second film might be okay for younger teens as its R rating is based on language, not violence or sexual situations. It tells the story of Brian Clough, an eager English coach who gets the opportunity to take his rival coach’s spot at the head of Leeds United, at the time England’s top club. However, his ego and his brash style get him in trouble quickly with fans, management and players. His long-time assistant coach and best friend eventually leaves for another job. Clough suffers a dramatic fall from grace before finally discovering his bearings. He has been labeled the greatest coach never to helm the National Team. The movie details how significant the word “team” is in this team sport.  When everyone is working together, success is possible, but conflict leads only to disaster. It’s a good film for older players with aspirations of college and pro careers to witness the flaw of arrogance and the power of partnership.

We may not all need to spend long evenings in a white, freezing wintery shroud, but we can all appreciate an evening of good entertainment. If it happens to include soccer than it gives legitimacy to the passion our kids decided to pursue.  As the popularity of soccer grows in the U.S., we will certainly see more films using the sport to bring out a point of view and tell an absorbing story. There are hundreds of films that focus on soccer. Most, however, are not really quality products just like so many other sports films that don’t really demonstrate the reality of play.  Some of the movies I highlighted are silly and unrealistic, but nonetheless entertaining, so I’ve excused their shortcomings.  All of these films are available on Amazon both to purchase and to stream and others are available on Netflix. I challenge you to make your own discoveries based on your family interests and tastes. Put “soccer” in the search box of any site that streams or sells movies.  Comedy, drama, even musicals have all centered on soccer giving lots of options for viewing long past winter.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Susan Boyd

This is ridiculous. Wasn’t it just 70 degrees out a few weeks ago? And now we are faced with this polar vortex affecting pretty much all of the United States. Just 80 miles north of me there is snowfall of up to 14 inches. Denver woke up this morning to negative-3 degrees with wind chills of negative-35 degrees. Yet, we are still two weeks away from Thanksgiving and almost three weeks away from December. A local window company arrogantly advertised that new windows would be free if we have measurable snow before Thanksgiving. After all, they have a hundred years of weather history backing them up. Now they must be fretting up at night watching The Weather Channel as if it’s the doomsday report.

Other than the obvious yuck factor for those of us who hadn’t pulled winter wear out of mothballs yet, there’s the added problem of a few more weeks of fall soccer season. Sunday, we sat through a frigid game for Robbie while two other youth games were being played on adjacent fields. The sidelines and bleachers looked like the Donner Party had taken up residence. The assistant referees in their shorts standing on the sidelines looked like waifs trapped on ice floes in a silent film. It was a miserable scene, but not as bad as the games that will be played this weekend. How do we protect our tiny players against the freezing elements, not to mention ourselves as we cheer them on?

I recently wrote about how we bundle up against the rains, thinking I had two months before I even had to consider bundling up against the frigid cold. Then we got ambushed by the jet stream. Hand warmers and rain slickers aren’t going to be sufficient to battle these elements. It’s time for heavy-duty protection. Let’s start with before the game. Kids need to be warm before they even start playing or practicing. Give them some hearty comfort food that includes good carbohydrates and proteins. Lots of kids don’t like oatmeal, but it’s a nearly perfect food if you can find a variety they’ll eat. Some soup, pasta dishes like spaghetti or macaroni and cheese, and sloppy Joes all provide good energy and some tummy warming nutrition. I’m a big fan of pizza, which can have carbs, protein, dairy and vegetables all wrapped up in an easy to cook and transport food source. Kids like cocoa, which you can put in a travel mug for the trip to the field. Even some granola bars along with cocoa or hot apple cider can provide the warm comfort that will stay with them for the first 20 minutes after they hit the cold.

Getting them cocooned for the weather requires some careful planning. Most league rules require that the uniform be completely visible during a game, which is difficult when you are trying to cover every single inch of bare skin. So be sure to save the jersey and shorts for last. Layers are best for many reasons. Those layers trap air which serves as further insulation and you can strip off the layers if the player gets too hot. Start with a protective thermal layer like Under Armour, Hanes, Nike Hyperwarm or Cold Pruf. They wick away the sweat, hold in the warmth, and provide that first layer of warmth. Put on socks. Then cover up with warm up pants and a fleece or Lycra top. Often warm-ups are an optional part of a team’s kit so if you purchased them you’ll be in team colors with a team logo visible – nice, but not necessary. Then put the uniform over all of that. Add some one-size fits all gloves and hats that I keep by the bucketful in the car. They’ll look like a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, but they’ll be warm.

On the team bench it’s difficult to keep warm when a player is just sitting and not moving. Most truly cold days are also very windy, making the polar blast worst. If anyone on the team has a portable canopy, it can be set up as a wind screen behind the bench. There are thermal reflective “space” blankets that cost less than $5 each that you can keep on hand and give to the kids to help insulate them. Make sure your player has a coat handy to wear when not playing, even before the game and between quarters or halves. A thick blanket to cover the bench provides some more protection against the elements so the kids don’t need to sit on anything cold drawing away their body heat. Although it isn’t about being warm, it’s important to stay hydrated when it is cold. So be sure there’s plenty of water and/or sports drink available. 

Spectators need to stay warm too. Besides wearing layers, gloves and a hat, you may want some other ways to fight the weather effects. There are heated seats you can set in your chair. For less than $20, you can get Lava Buns, which has two packets you heat in the microwave and insert in a cover provided in either red or blue. It advertises it will stay warm for up to five hours, but a few customers complain that they got two or less. For a more reliable source there’s battery powered stadium cushions from Venture Heat for $69 with four hours of heat and GameWarmer’s three hours for $49 that can also charge your cell phone. Those disposable hand and foot warmers are wonderful if you are spectating. I do keep these in the car as well. You can pick them up at any sports store that sells hunting and fishing gear. Several outlets sell boot liners that are like extra plush and insulated socks. These can be calf or knee length and sell for around $20 from companies like Jileon, Capelli, L.L. Bean and Nomad. They provide great warmth for rain boots and extra warmth in boots that already have linings. 

Warming up after a match or practice can be as important as staying warm during the activity. I love my heated car seats but many people don’t have these, and they are usually only in the front seats.  So you can buy separate seat warmers that plug into the car.  These are both seat and back warmers and some provide extra lumbar support. They run around $20 to $30 each. You can also use the heated stadium seat cushions listed above if you want to do dual functions but they don’t provide heat to the back. Swaddling in some warm covers can make our kids feel toasty. There are electric blankets which plug into the car either through 12V or AC outlets. These can be placed over, under, and around the kids to give them a nice warm core after they leave the field. There are dozens of options in the $22 to $40 range on Amazon. Finally keeping a thermos of hot beverage handy for a post-event warming will provide that river of heat to thaw them from the inside out. Some lively music that kids can bounce to will also fire up those chilled bones and make the trip home enjoyable no matter the outcome of the match.

As I watch the snow flurries outside my window and scoot closer to the fire I built, I think about the pleasant days when I only had to worry about sunscreen, rain ponchos and which sweater to bring just in case. Now I have to prepare for an Arctic adventure like a penguin mother scooching her fledglings into the center of a crèche of birds to keep them warm. I’ve been to tournaments where the snow had to be shoveled off the green or swept clear of the side, end, and goal lines so the game could proceed. I’ve parked behind the bench and built a blanket warming tent extending out my van’s sliding door with the car heaters going full blast.  But this will be the first time I have to consider all of that before November is even half-way over. It actually makes me long for the old sock and sweat stench of indoor soccer. It may be putrid but at least I can take my coat off to watch.

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Never Too Early

Susan Boyd

Last night on the news, I heard it announced that Amazon is now going to hire taxi drivers in New York and Chicago to deliver their packages so they can get them to customers sooner. This is the same company that is experimenting with drone delivery, which they say will get an order to us in an hour. I’m not sure I want a mechanical gnat mistakenly dropping my Limoges vase on the roof because Google GPS hadn’t yet programmed in the porch extension I added last summer, but getting new underwear in the same time it takes a double pepperoni with extra cheese to arrive on my doorstep is pretty amazing. Not to be outdone by Amazon, many outlets are offering free shipping or $2 shipping for items, including couches and TVs. I’d like to see the drone that would deliver those. All this cheap, speedy delivery got me thinking: why do we even start holiday shopping anytime sooner than a week before? Why am I penciling in holiday fairs in October, watching my local PBS station’s holiday auction in the two weeks before Halloween, and storing gifts all over the house so early that I forget I already bought something for my youngest niece? Instead of setting our alarms so we can sit out in sub-freezing temperatures on Black Friday, we should set our alarms for Dec. 10 giving us plenty of time to order things for delivery by Hanukkah or Christmas. However, if you have to start shopping soon because that’s the tradition, I have some suggestions for the soccer players and fans in the family.

Every soccer fanatic has a team he or she loves and naturally wants their jersey to wear. But you know what those jerseys cost, averaging over $150. However there are replica jerseys that you can order for under $40 that look like a regulation jersey but lack that sewn on “official” label. For youth players who grow out of both the jersey and their love for a team, spending so much money on a clothing item seems unnecessary. Several websites cater to replicas and have amazing selections for both adult and youth fans. Brazil World Cup Shirts (http://brazilsworldcupshirts.co.uk/) has an easy-to-navigate website with a huge selection of jerseys and other football gear. Although a British site, the prices are in dollars and they ship to the U.S. You even have the option of putting any player’s name and number on the jersey, so you can personalize with a favorite player who might not be popular enough to have an official jersey. Most replica MLS jerseys cost nearly as much as authentic jerseys even from discount websites. Fanatics.com offers jerseys for around 40 percent off, so youth jerseys run in the $40 range and adult jerseys for $50. Use the tabs at the top of the home page to get to soccer then MLS. The team links are listed on the left hand margin. I’ve not used either website but both get a secure website rating and take Pay Pal, a good sign of their trustworthiness.

There are lots of soccer themed gifts available that can be great stocking-stuffers. Zazzle (http://www.zazzle.com/soccer gifts) offers gifts that can be personalized. There are key chains, pillows, watches, mugs, t-shirts, and posters to name just a few of the thousands of items. My favorite option is a variety of soccer birthday invitations available for a reasonable price. I’ve shopped on Zazzle and on Café Press (http://www.cafepress.com/ soccer-themed gifts). The latter has a pair of Flip Flops for $17 that show cows playing soccer on a pea green pitch. They are very cute and unusual. Kids Soccer World (http://www.kidssoccerworld.com/) offers just about anything you might want for the youth player, including toys, specialty items and clothing. I love the lip balm in a soccer ball case for $4.25. The balm is SPF 20 and vanilla flavored. You can also get it as a key chain for a dollar more. The website has a link to gifts under $10, which is a great option to quickly find stocking stuffers, Hanukkah gifts, or St. Nicholas swag. A final site, Find Gifts (http://www.findgift.com/categories/sports/soccer/) has some unusual ideas such as collage picture frames, lollipop bouquets and magazine subscriptions.

Considering that last item, magazines are the gift that keeps on giving. They are a way for soccer players to read up on the latest contests, key players’ feats, and standings. My boys love FourFourTwo, which focuses on the English Premier League. Titled for the favorite team formation (four in the back, four in the middle, and two up front), it is big, glossy, and packed with great information.  A six-month subscription is $34.50 and a year is $69 (https://fourfourtwo-magazine.com/america-and-canada-offers/). If the MLS is your player’s or fan’s motivation, there’s an app called Overlap that features stories and stats on MLS teams and players for the amazing price of free. FourFourTwo also has a free app which gives you the essence but not the full power of the magazine. Soccer America (http://www.socceramerica.com/) covers North American and international soccer. It’s published quarterly and costs $39 a year on the website. There’s also Soccer 360 that publishes six times a year for $55 (http://www.soccer360magazine.com/tablet/usa-resident-subscription.html) and also offers a free app.

Going along with magazines are books. For youth players, there are lots of great fiction and non-fiction options. All of the following choices are available from Amazon (www.amazon.com) and can be located by typing in the title in the search box. For non-fiction, I really like “The Everything Kid’s Soccer Book” by Deborah Crisfield for $8.99. This is a pictorial guide to rules, team tactics and techniques. This book is definitely for the beginning player so although the base age is listed as 7, I would say that reading with parents at age 5 or as soon as a kid starts playing soccer would be appropriate. Older players won’t find it challenging. For those players I recommend “44 Secrets for Playing Great Soccer” by Mirsad Hasic for $7.49. Many Under-12 and older players found the “secrets” helpful, but even younger players can learn from these ideas. Biographies of players can be inspirational for any soccer enthusiast. DK Publishing, well-known for its dazzling photography-supported texts has a biography of Pele by James Buckley for around $6 paperback. Although intended for younger readers, the photos are so engaging that older readers may find this worthy of their time. From The Amazing Athlete series, there’s “Abby Wambach” by Jon Fishman that retails for $7. Published this past January, it’s an up-to-date look at the top female American (possibly even international) player. Older readers will be challenged and entertained by “Outcasts United: The Story of a Refuge Team that Changed a Town” by Warren St. John ($8), which details the efforts of refuge children from Africa, the Middle East and Central Europe who escaped war, death and torture to find relief in the joy of soccer. This is a young adult adaptation of the book “Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refuge Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference,” which some readers might prefer. For fiction, there’s the “Wild Bunch Soccer” series, which is up to five books now for 3rd/4th graders and up. The series by Joachim Masannek runs around $11 for hardback and $7 for paperback. Matt Christopher has several soccer volumes such as “Soccer Hero” and “Soccer Duel,” which run around $5 for paperback and are appropriate for pre-teens. Mal Peet’s book “Keeper” is a fictional interview with the goalie “El Gato” that reveals the dark history and triumphant victory of a South American urchin. Combining mysticism and ghost story with the provocative realism of soccer, it’s a haunting tale. 

No soccer match is complete without snacks after the game or snacks during a televised game. Giving soccer “food” for the holidays can brighten any event. Olive Garden (one of US Youth Soccer’s sponsors) has a full catering menu to help carbo load before a game. Every year before the boys’ first high school game, we had pasta and salad from Olive Garden, which provided all the necessary items such as plates, napkins and utensils, as well as the food. There was always more than the boys could eat for a very reasonable price.  You could stuff a few restaurant gift cards in a stocking for a meal later. Protein bars make a healthy gift with several brands out there to choose from. Bryce really likes Think Thin bars, which have no sugar, are gluten free, and have 20 grams of protein per bar. They come in a large variety of flavors and cost around $1.75 a bar. Fruit baskets are always welcome, especially in the dead of winter when fruits aren’t as plentiful. Hale Groves (www.HaleGroves.com) has an extensive selection of primarily citrus fruits starting at around $26 for a small variety box and around $36 for a basket. Harry and David (www.harryanddavid.com) concentrates on apples, pears and cherries and has dozens of gift boxes for under $30. This may seem a bit strange, but smoked salmon sits well with many soccer players. It’s full of protein, keeps well without refrigeration until opened, and goes with all kinds of menus – salmon eggs benedict, bagels, salmon salad, salmon pasta, and salmon loaded baked potato. I know the holidays leap upon us suddenly despite the early warnings with store decorations, tons of catalogs and people who insist on sending cards before Thanksgiving. We plan, procrastinate, rush and worry all at the same time and still manage to find ourselves panicking at the last minute. Hopefully a few of these suggestions will help ease the pressures and result in some holiday hugs and thank yous. When it comes to the holidays, it’s never too early to make your list and check it twice.

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