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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". 

 

Matters of Convenience

Susan Boyd

As the fall soccer season begins, we all find ourselves questioning how we can streamline our caravans to set-up at the various games, tournaments and practices. Like some kind of nomadic soccer tribe, we fill up our cars with what we hope will cover all the necessities with a minimum of expense and trouble. Invariably, we find ourselves in situations where we are totally unprepared for the weather, terrain and/or lack of amenities. How do we equip ourselves without overburdening our bank account and car? Remember that none of my suggestions are endorsed by US Youth Soccer, but these are items I have gleaned from personal experience or recommendations from people I trust.
               
I have long advocated what I call the "soccer box," which should contain the essentials to get through any soccer experience. This box can be formal with a store-bought storage container or informal with a box gathered from your local grocery. I go with the latter since I usually end up spoiling the box enough during the year to need constant replacements. In the box I include first aid items, such as various sized bandages, gauze, tape, small scissors, wraps for sprains, antiseptic cream, pain killers such as ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen, plastic gloves and alcohol wipes. You can buy already prepared kits, but these are overpriced and you probably have most of these items already in your house. Next, I make sure I have lots of plastic bags, including large bags (15 and 33 gallon sizes) to gather wet uniforms and cleats and to lay on the floor to keep from soiling floor mats. And zip bags in gallon and quart sizes for those small items we need to collect and keep. Throw in a roll of paper towels and a roll of toilet paper (lots of those portable toilets run out), wet wipes, hand sanitizer and a terry cloth towel. Then I include those extra items that suddenly and inexplicably go missing at the most crucial times: shin guards, shorts, socks, one dark and one light shirt and old cleats. These can all be last year’s cast-offs that will still fill in when someone loses or forgets something. Finally, I throw in inexpensive knit gloves and hats, disposable hand warmers and some old sweat pants. The gloves, hats and warmers are usually sold in bulk at stores like Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Costco, etc. I’ve been lucky to find these items at two for $0.99. Sweat pants you can pick up at your local Goodwill for very cheap.
               
Once you get to the field what you sit on can be important. You can go deluxe with chairs that have roofs, footrests, recline features and heated seats. I'm a big fan of the chairs with roofs, but these are bulky, heavy and costly (around $30-$45), so only you can decide if they are worth it. They do let me use my umbrella to cover my knees rather than my head and shoulders, so I feel cozy sitting in the chair during any storm. You can also buy a product called Lava Buns, which you heat up in the microwave staying warm for 6 hours. They would work for games nearby, but not when you don’t have a microwave handy for tournaments. Chairs without arms take up little space in the trunk and work as well as the "spread eagle" folding chairs most of us use. These can cost as little as $10, so make a smart economical choice that is light and easy to carry. If you want to go simple, consider camp stools that are really easy to transport. For bleachers, I’ve found the stadium seats that use straps rather than hinged metal for the opening apparatus are the best bet. The metal and plastic joints tend to break easily, while the straps hold up. You can get heated stadium seats that use a car charger, but again there are a lot of parts that can break or go bad. 
               
Be sure you include an umbrella or two. My biggest pet peeve with umbrellas is that they drip down my back, but now there are umbrellas with a longer back side that guide the water to the ground rather than your chair back or coat. Called the Senzumbrella, you have to order from Great Britain and they aren’t cheap, but count on the Brits to make a state-of-the-art umbrella. The Superbrella chair provides hands-free coverage both against rain and sun. For a simple, cheap option there’s always the umbrella hat which Amazon offers in a pack of two for just $6.99 that comes in a variety of colors. There’s a Brolly Umbrella, which has a special hand grip eliminating cramping when holding our umbrella for long periods of time. For a state of the art umbrella, none is better than the new Blunt umbrella. This is a pricey option, but has incredible wind resistance, won’t rip and tear, and maintains a taut shape. There’s also the Dualumbrella, which combines two umbrellas into one to avoid that jostling of hitting and dripping on one another. The Nubrella is a hands-free clear plastic umbrella that envelops you using shoulder straps, and keeps the drips away from your shoulders and back.
               
Taking drinks and food to the field can be difficult, but there are several very cool (excuse the pun) options for doing so. Many people have purchased rolling coolers and then found themselves unable to navigate the rough gravel, divots and terrain on many parking lots and soccer fields. The longer the handle, the easier a rolling cooler is to control. Coleman has a tall cooler with a long handle for a reasonable price. It will hold 2-liter bottles standing up. It also has a soft-sided model, which has an additional pocket for other food. Igloo has developed a "cube" cooler with a long handle that will transport both large bottles and cans. My favorite cooler is the most versatile but will require a luggage roller to wheel out to the fields. Called the Flip-Box, it’s available at Sports Brella. This is a collapsible cooler that also protects hot foods. Made of Neopolean-P, which is an industrial insulator, it works with or without ice. In the latter mode, it will keep drinks put in at 33 degrees cool for at least six hours with their temperature only rising to 40 degrees. It will also keep food warm. When empty, the cooler breaks down and at home it will come apart with the pieces fitting in your dishwasher for cleaning. There are two sizes 26 quarts (45 cans) and 41 quarts (60 cans) for $29.99 and $39.99, respectively. Finally, Picnic Time has a soft-sided cooler called the Sidekick which has legs and collapses like a sports chair. It has two openings on the top: one opens up the entire cooler and one opens just large enough to pull a drink out, helping to keep the cool in.
               
As the weather gets colder, you’ll want to find ways to stay warm while sitting in your chair, sipping a drink, nibbling some snacks from your cooler and staying dry under your umbrella. There are plenty of options for blankets and cover-ups. I know they seem silly, but a Snuggie can be a great option allowing your hands to be free and yet allows you to be covered completely. But if they just seem too "uncool," then consider some of the other sports blanket options. Bed, Bath, and Beyond has a variety of water resistant blankets and throws ranging from $20 to $45. My favorite is the Tuffo because it comes with a carrying case with pockets. REI has a blanket with heat reflection to radiate back 80% of your body warmth. It’s just $17, so it’s affordable warmth. A hooded blanket provides great protection from winds and light rain. Wal-Mart has one for just $12. If you want, you can go heated. Thermafur offers a blanket through either Amazon or One Stop Equine Shop. This blanket uses the heating packets you would put in your gloves or shoes. There are several 12V car blankets that could warm you up after the game but won’t retain much heat for very long away from the electric source. Mambe offers what they call "the extreme blanket" in two sizes. The blanket has a reflective side to hold heat in, fleece, and is waterproof. It even has pockets on the corners so you can hold it around you without exposing your hands to the elements. All this comfort doesn’t come cheaply, starting at $80.
               
Finding comfort while watching games doesn’t have to be difficult if you are prepared. Research what will work for your pocketbook and climate zone. These options are just a dozen of what’s out there. I’m sure your searches will bring you even more choices. Just be sure to keep everything in one place in a manner that would be easy to load into your car on a moment’s notice. A duffel bag, cardboard box or trunk bag can serve as great storage options. No matter what you choose to do, remember that the best products will be worthless if they are sitting in your garage when you are miles away at a game. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. You can also consider adding a crank powered radio with National Weather Service capabilities and a good phone charger for the car. Sticking a few games and playing cards in back seat pockets in case you have to take shelter in your automobile during an electrical storm can help eliminate boredom and sibling battles. Think outside the box (excuse my second pun) and you can have a great, safe, dry and warm soccer viewing experience.
               

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"Be Yourself..."

Susan Boyd

"... Everyone else is already taken."  - Oscar Wilde
 
This year, one grandson decided to play lacrosse for his middle school sport. He’s never played before; in fact, he has never played an organized team sport. Luckily, most of the boys on his team are also new to lacrosse, although several have played sports prior to joining the team. He has watched his uncles play soccer and heard the numerous soccer stories we tell with great pride. He has also witnessed his two male cousins, who play baseball and football, get lots of strokes for their achievements. When he was visiting this summer I could tell how excited and proud he was to join the ranks of his sporting relatives. He talked about lacrosse every chance he got, lamented missing some of the practices while visiting in Wisconsin, and expressed his great excitement that he would soon be practicing and playing. He told us about all his equipment and when visiting his cousins found himself with some common ground for discussion with them as they talked their various sports exploits. While we were in a Christmas shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, he found a rack of lacrosse ornaments and asked if I would buy him the one that had a shield and a lacrosse stick. On the shield was printed "If you can’t play nice – play lacrosse." He loved the tough guy sentiment. 
               
While I naturally am always rooting for my grandkids to play soccer, I quickly realized that each child had to find his or her own path that might not even include any sport. Those who play sports all excel at different sports. My granddaughters have selected dance and horseback riding to express their more active side, but they also are very much into art. It’s a wonderful hodgepodge of interests that gives each of them their own identities. Yet there are still bridges between each that allow for connections with one another’s interests. Why is it important that they be unique? How can we help our children maintain their individuality? 
               
How often do we hear, "All the kids are doing it!"? We recognize that with conformity comes ironically a mix of anonymity and positive peer regard. Fads like loom bracelets and sagging pants make kids feel like they are part of a group, safe from criticism and confident in acceptance. Some things we find benign enough to allow and other things we see as dangerous precedents. When our oldest daughter wanted her ears pierced at age 8, we were hesitant. It was a huge fad at the time and all the "cool" girls had pierced ears. But we also worried that she wasn’t old enough to care for her ears properly or to understand the ramifications of putting a nearly permanent mark on her body. Ultimately, we gave in. She got one ear pierced, screamed and refused to have the other ear done. We actually ended up begging her to get the piercing. Ironic! Our boys both asked for tattoos when in their senior year of high school. Now that’s really permanent! We discussed all the concerns we had and told them they had to wait until they were 18 because we weren’t signing off on the procedure; most importantly, they had to pay for it themselves. They must have been very motivated because they each have a tattoo. 
               
We tried to pick our battles, but at every step we were conscience of the allure of "fitting in" by being as much like everyone else as possible. Shopping at Water Tower Place in Chicago, I witnessed three suburban moms ascending the escalator. They each had brunette blunt-cut hair pulled back in a ponytail, white tuxedo shirt, blue jeans, black ballet slippers, and long mink coats. Triplets couldn’t have been more similar. I realized that the need to fit in doesn’t end when we conquer acne. Who among us has the courage to break away from the herd and go in a different direction? Some might call such actions foolhardy. After all, who wants to live next door to the neighbor with the "prairie" lawn or the fuchsia paint job? Who wants to be that neighbor themselves? Conformity allows us to operate as a society under an umbrella of laws that maintain structure and order.
               
Yet just this last week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech, which encouraged citizens to strive for a change and to be leaders in a non-violent revolution, which by definition means to break away from conformity. Being unique means thinking for oneself. Being unique can translate into leadership. Being unique frees up our creativity. Being unique takes us outside of the box to new discoveries about ourselves and our environment. Finding a balance between being distinctive and being a conforming member of a group isn’t easy no matter our age. It is usually harder for kids, who don’t have the maturity to react with independence when faced with peer pressure and group dynamics. Kids are willing to make waves, but unfortunately that’s usually with their parents and authorities in order to fight to be an integrated, conforming member of their peer group. Add to the mix a team sport like soccer, where kids wear uniforms, have a prescribed regimen for practices and games, and aren’t generally rewarded for being a renegade — instead, they’re recognized for conformity to the team’s demands. Look at any youth girls’ soccer team, and you’ll observe this level of running with the group. In addition to prescribed uniforms, most young girls attempt to add distinctive elements that only serve to highlight their conformity. Most wear the same headbands, sleeve clips, undershirts (necessary when dealing with the sheerer uniforms), shoelaces, and even similar boots in similar colors. Even as they step outside the standard uniform, they partake in standard behaviors.
               
Kids on sports teams may also be timid about becoming leaders on their squad, not wanting to draw unwelcomed attention to themselves. We parents have observed the on-field spats that arise when a player attempts to direct the action or make a suggestion. Players become defensive if corrected by a peer and lash out. Most youth players aren’t interested in creating conflict to promote their ideas and stand by their position. There’s always a popularity pecking order, so if a child lower in the order attempts to emerge with some leadership he or she could face censure. Popularity has never been a measure of someone’s ability to be a leader, but it often controls who can step into the role. Players who have strong skills and a well-developed soccer brain may not rise to the level of their abilities simply in order to protect whatever position they presently hold on a team, rather than risk criticism or ridicule.
               
How do we help our children develop a sense of individuality? Obviously, our own example helps create the backdrop to support this lesson. We need to make clear to our kids why we make the choices we do. In my entire time growing up, my father always bought used cars except once in 1959 when he bought a new Ford Fairlane completely stripped down — no radio and no white walls allowed. So, even when we finally had a new car it didn’t look or drive like a cool car. However, my dad always made it clear why he did this. He wasn’t going to lose 30 percent of the value of his purchase before he even got it home. In his world, cars were not status symbols but a means to get from point A to point B at a minimum of cost and trouble in relative comfort. So while our next-door neighbor bought a Thunderbird, we lived with our Fairlane for 10 years until my dad bought a giant Buick station wagon for a family trip to the East Coast that could accommodate our family of seven and all our gear including tents, sleeping bags and Coleman stoves. Because, naturally, my dad wasn’t going to pay for a hotel room! He was a highly respected, successful dentist and real estate speculator who once sold land to Bill Gates to build his first Microsoft campus. But he said he would let his accomplishments speak for themselves rather than advertise his success with possessions. Naturally, as a teenager I was aghast at his choices. We lived in a really wealthy community and all my friends belonged to the country club, had fancy homes and cars, and went on extravagant vacations. The important fact, which I failed to note at the time, but realize now, was that they were my friends despite my less than glamorous lifestyle.
               
This bittersweet lesson has certainly helped me be a better parent when it comes to teaching my kids the value of celebrating their unique characteristics. Did my kids want to fit in and follow the group like lemmings over any cliff? Of course they did. But we were able to have good discussions about the wisdom of such blind loyalty. The victories weren’t necessarily often or readily apparent, yet they existed nonetheless. We parents have the opportunity to share with our children the benefits of striking out on their own in some areas. Our younger daughter loved to wear striped shirts with plaid skirts or mix purple with orange leading to some ridicule at school. Eventually, however, she garnered respect for her fearless choices. If we can notice those moments and praise them, we will go a long way to helping our children develop the inner determination to stick with unpopular choices. This could lead to resisting drugs, alcohol and sexual activity. If kids succumb to peer pressure in seemingly innocent situations, they end up being less equipped to resist the bad peer influences. We can discuss with them how they don’t have to be judgmental when they choose to swim outside the main stream. They need to simply point out that certain choices make them uncomfortable, but they don’t expect everyone else to behave like they do. By expressing their position they also often find that other kids have been silently supporting the same position. This enables kids to identify that the perception of what the group wants isn’t always the truth of the matter.
               
We parents recognize that adapting to the group is part of normal youth development. So we pick our battles when it comes to demanding that our children don’t follow suit. Whenever we put our foot down we need to have a discussion as to why. While it becomes cliché, the truth is that when our offspring say, "all the kids are doing it," we need to focus on the word "all" and point out that it’s just not true. I probably said "our family is different" a gazillion times, and I know most of you have said the same thing in some form an equal number of times. When our kids listen and agree, we need to be quick with our support. Ultimately we aren’t trying to mold our child in our image, but we can hope that they absorb our morals and our vision for their unique development. Oscar Wilde knew about being special with his flamboyant and often unaccepted lifestyle, but he stuck to his image because that gave him peace despite the turmoil. If more of us celebrated the uniqueness of others there would be less bullying and less intolerance. Giving our kids the freedom to express their own distinctiveness is a gift with significant and meaningful ripples.

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Needless, Heedless, Wanton Injury

Susan Boyd

When we enroll our kids in any youth sport, we don’t plan to put our kids in harm’s way. We vaguely consider the possibility of injury, especially when buying shin and mouth guards, but we don’t dwell on those chances. We expect that 99 percent of our children’s participation in a sport will strengthen their health, fitness and ability to work well with others. We wouldn’t be surprised at a few bumps and bruises, and we do know that broken bones and torn ligaments come with the territory. Yet, we don’t see any of these injuries as a reason to be cautious. Unfortunately, there are some darker inflictions that stain youth sports with serious consequences. Some are unpreventable, but we can actually protect our kids from many of the most horrendous injuries with proactive vigilance and intervention.
               
Recently, the news reports have been filled with depressing stories of young players facing paralysis, brain injury, even death from injuries they incurred while playing. While some players had pre-existing conditions that led to their injury, such as heart defects or blood disorders, most suffered from a direct result of the sport they were playing. These severe injuries can be attributed to overuse and underdevelopment of the body, unsafe conditions, aggressive coaching and ignoring symptoms. As parents, we can educate ourselves about these situations so we can better ameliorate their costs. We need to be serious advocates for the safest possible playing conditions. Certainly sports require contact and fierceness, which can lead to injury, but those injuries should be within normal expectations, not extreme cases with life-threatening or life-altering results.
               
Overuse and underdevelopment harm comes when youth players aren’t properly trained physically or are pushed to practice tactics far above their developmental level. Young people have muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons that are still strengthening and growing. Expecting them to perform the way adult players do can lead to serious and long-term injury. For example, girls have a higher incidence of ACL injuries, but there are proven training exercises they can do in the younger years to help protect their knees. Youth players don’t always have the control to pull back on tackles and kicks, or they may lack the impulse control that keeps them from stomping on players who are down. Therefore, we need to be sure that coaches are carefully monitoring players and staying on top of the behaviors of the most aggressive team members. Doing repetitive skills and movements can lead to stress fractures, but also to strains that can be even harder to resolve than a sprain, tear or fracture. Kids need to do warm-ups and cool-downs every practice and game to protect their bodies. No one should be pushing any player to attempt skills beyond those that their bodies and brains can handle. In fact, kids should be concentrating on skill development up to age 12 or 13 and not on games. The stronger their development, the stronger their ability to resist both common and serious injury. Find a club that recognizes the need for youth players to be developed fully before they begin aggressive competition.
               
All too often kids face unsafe conditions when they play, which we should be monitoring. The biggest problem is dehydration. We are all too often loathe to stop a game or a practice for water breaks, but the numbers of players who suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke grows every year. These are serious conditions that can lead to brain injury and even death. Often by the time symptoms appear it can be too late. We need to insist that players remain adequately hydrated. We also need to be aware of dangerous playing surfaces. We don’t want to embarrass other teams by reacting to their field environments, but huge pits, exposed sprinkler heads, overly slippery conditions, and debris on the pitch can contribute to serious and avoidable injuries. No game or practice should be conducted in unsafe conditions. This also means lightning, which too many of us ignore. The guidelines state that all players, fans and staff need to clear the field and go to covered safety at the first sign of lightning, which includes thunder, and should not be allowed to return until there has been no weather activity for 20 minutes. We may think lightning is far away, but since it is dictated not by air strikes but by ground conductivity, we can never be sure of when a charge could appear. Finally, we need to be sure that all goals are properly anchored and prevent kids from hanging or climbing on them. Every year, kids are hurt by falling goal stands that they have pulled over on themselves, which can lead to various injuries.
               
While we all love to win, we have to be cautious about overly aggressive coaching. Coaches should be properly licensed and well aware of the development levels and abilities of their players. For example, a coach that encourages slide tackles younger than U-12 risks injury either to his player, the opponent or both unless the skill is properly taught and the players have enough maturity to use them wisely. No coach should ignore weather conditions and should watch carefully and plan for hydration. Coaches of young players should be focusing on the development of players’ skills and bodies. Team tactics and games can come later when young bodies are better equipped for those stresses. Most importantly, a good coach will put safety first. There are pieces of safety equipment beyond shin guards that young soccer players might consider using such as head guards and heart protectors. Even if a coach doesn’t insist upon them, he or she should be sure no player is ridiculed for using that equipment. Creating an environment where kids understand boundaries means protecting them from serious, avoidable injury. Coaches should seriously rein in any player who acts too aggressively or violently. Kids need to learn the appropriate levels of attack and when restraint is called for. If a coach likes to see kids bully their way through a game, he or she is risking player injury.
               
Even if a child is injured, we can help keep the long-term bad effects at a minimum by not ignoring symptoms. Kids complaining of joint, muscle and head pain should be checked out. Minor injury can turn into major injury if not treated properly when it happens. Most commonly ignored are concussions. We’ve learned over the last few years how best to treat a concussion and the importance of treating them completely. Any head injury means a player shouldn’t play again that day, but any head injury with any amount of black out, even for few seconds, should be seen by a doctor immediately. We’ve all seen players stride defiantly to the sidelines after a bad hit, anxious to keep playing, and a few moments later collapsing due to brain inflammation. In addition to concussions, any joint or extremity swelling should be regarded as serious until the cause is medically determined. Small, normally insignificant tears or strains can turn into far more debilitating injuries if not treated properly. Strains should be treated with applications of either heat or cold per the doctor or trainer, and kids need complete rest from playing to recover. We certainly don’t want our kids to become hypersensitive to illness and injury, but we also don’t want them to exacerbate a simple injury into a worse one. Treat complaints matter-of-factly without undue drama. You can be sympathetic without being panicked even if your child seems to have something serious. Calm on your part will help your child stay calm. Be very aware of any signs of dehydration that doesn’t require just high heat and humidity to appear. Over exertion can bring on symptoms. Encourage your child to take responsibility for staying hydrated and for noting any light-headedness or stomach cramps that can be the first warnings of heat exhaustion or stroke. Most importantly, teach them to keep the coach informed if they feel they need medical attention.
               
Although youth players collapsing from concussions or heat stroke isn’t common, and horrible injuries where a hit in football or a ball striking the chest resulting in serious consequences are mercifully limited, many of even these outcomes can be avoided with pre-emptive measures. If kids play within their physical limits, aren’t pushed by coaches or parents to stretch beyond their abilities, and recognize and treat their minor injuries right away, they can usually play safely without long-term interruptions. While crutches, braces and casts might be badges of honor among players, they also represent the possibility of enduring impairment. We want our kids to feel free to play with some abandon, but we also need to be vigilant for any trouble.

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Overdrawn

Susan Boyd

Three of my grandchildren came last week to stay for a month with us. The day before they arrived I bought $350 worth of groceries. Four days after they arrived, I bought another $190 worth of groceries. Today, I have to go to the store yet again, and they will not have been with us for a full week yet. There are swimming lessons, pottery classes, dance classes, a Brewers’ game, a Lakeshore Chinooks’ game, movies, camp, mall shopping…oh you get the picture. I honestly forgot how expensive young kids can be. Certainly, I don’t need to provide tons of extra activities, but I still need to feed them and do a bit of clothing them (Megan forgot her tennis shoes for example). Suddenly when I look at my bank statement it appears that my debit card has been the victim of identity theft I have so many charges. But it would have to be a very young and not very nefarious thief since the charges seem to be for gelato, Monsters University and video games.
               
This entire experience reminds me how much money we parents shell out for our kids to participate in activities, particularly youth sports. My grandson has recently begun playing lacrosse and the equipment alone could feed a family of four for a month. Then you add on club fees, travel to games and tournaments, ancillary equipment, such as a team bag and warm-ups, and you end up creating a gross national product for your home. We do it gladly because participating in youth sports gives our kids so many pluses in their development. Staying fit and active is just one important aspect — they have to be able to burn off the $500 in groceries I bought. But sports also gives them a direction to travel through life, a new set of friendships, lessons of humility and dignity, instruction in good sportsmanship, the tools to be a team member, and the joy of succeeding even if the team isn’t great. Running an extra half-mile or scoring a goal or stealing a ball all contribute to a child’s sense of pride and accomplishment. So we gladly haul out the checkbook and pay whatever is asked. The problem is that we can’t really comparison shop. If you want a luxury car, you have to pay the luxury price. That’s how it works in youth sports too. We seek out the best teams, the best coaches, the best clubs because we believe anything less will jeopardize our kids’ future in sports. We treat the exploration for a soccer team like pursuing an Ivy League education. We lose sight of what the real goal should be. We can get from point A to point B comfortably and safely in a 2003 Corolla, and we can find a worthy soccer experience for our kids without the status symbols of an elite travel club.
               
What should a club offer your child? Good coaching that focuses on fundamentals, such as first touch, passing, throw-ins and general ball handling, not to mention a good grasp on the rules and tactics of the sport. Does the club teach the kids about the different tactical formations? Does the club let the kids play in all positions? Is the focus on winning over teaching and development? How many practice sessions do you get for your fees? Are all the coaches licensed — this includes parent coaches? Are there various team levels in the club so your child can move as needed? How long has the club been in existence? Until our kids reach the ages of 12 or 13, the emphasis should be on development of skills and knowledge of the game. Often, you will hear the phrase, "a soccer brain." That refers to a child’s ability to really see the field and know where to place him or herself or where to pass the ball. Some of soccer brain is innate, but much of it is a trained discipline. Clubs should be helping our children grow into their soccer brains with good education. All too often teams regard coaches as the means to get to wins looking at how the coach selects players to field the team and how the coach pushes them to produce a win often at the expense of the kids sitting on the bench who get forgotten. Even when playing time rules are followed, a "winning" coach will find a way to limit the benchwarmers’ participation by subbing them often and never having two on the field at the same time. That’s great for winning, but not for developing team unity and trust. How do kids develop their soccer brains when they are isolated on the field and not considered an important part of the tactical process?
               
So before you write a check at any cost, look around. Resist the urge to join the "cool" club because of peer pressure. I can assure you from experience that clubs and their reputations evolve fairly quickly. When Robbie played for his U-14 team, it was the best in the country. By the time he moved at U-17 to a local team, it had dropped significantly not only nationally, but in the state as well. That was in a three-year period. The same held true for the club Bryce played for. They were nationally ranked for girls and the best team in the state for boys, neither of which was true after two years. Unless you are prepared to "team hop" every couple of years, you do well to find a club that will serve the purposes you need for the long term, such as strong development and player exposure to college coaches if your child decides to follow that path. Otherwise, stick with the premise that soccer should focus on the four categories of US Youth Soccer’s Youth Soccer Month: fun, fitness, family and friends. These build memories and don’t necessarily have to drain the bank account. Bryce played for a club where the fees were around $1,500, plus the costs of uniforms, additional equipment like cleats, warm ups and bags, travel to tournaments and spirit gear. Then his team dissolved, so he had to find a new club. He ended up going to one of the ethnic clubs in Milwaukee where the adult club members supported soccer through their dues. It cost us $150 for the season. We went to local tournaments, and Bryce got seen by local college coaches. So there really was no need for him to wear the jersey of some fancy club with snobbish tendencies. I wished we had discovered this secret years earlier!
               
The other important consideration would be how much of an investment should we be making. Kids can be fickle, so front-loading expensive training may end up vaporizing as quickly as dot com tech stocks. We need to find out how passionately our kids regard their sport. If they just want to run and play with their friends, then there’s no need for all of you to pay an expensive fee for that opportunity. Community recreation teams provide good training, opportunities for friends to be on the same team and plenty of exercise. After a couple seasons, you should be able to gauge how much investment your child wants to make in soccer and then you can decide on your investment. At young ages, kids should be trying out several different sports. While I naturally feel that soccer is the best, I also recognize that not all kids fit into the soccer mold. So exposing our children to baseball, softball, basketball, tennis, golf, swimming — you name it, depending on availability and interest — gives our kids a chance to find their own passion. Two of my grandsons gave soccer a valiant effort but ended up opting for baseball and football (yes, the American variety). They knew how keenly involved their uncles were in soccer, but it wasn’t for them. For the first two years of playing soccer, they stuck with recreation programs that cost less than $150 for the year. Even now, they play on local recreation baseball teams, as well as Little League both for smaller fees, but then train indoors during winter for much higher fees. They love it, so their parents don’t begrudge them the expense. My advice is to start slowly with short seasons and a variety of sports. Eventually the kids will whittle them down to just a few. In our family, we went through gymnastics, tennis, baseball and basketball, in addition to soccer. Occasionally, the boys will wistfully mention that they wish they had kept up with another sport, but that quickly dissipates with the next soccer game.
               
Finally, keep your expenses down by not buying into all the additional gear. Clubs usually change their uniforms every two or three years because the big manufacturers make styles obsolete that often. That means a different style of not only uniforms, but warm-ups, bags and sweats. Save those items for either a special occasion such as a birthday gift, or forgo them altogether until it’s obvious a child is planning to stick with the sport. Otherwise, you can end up writing a check for $1,500 for club fees and $500 for uniforms and gear. Fancy cleats look cool and for the best players can make a difference in how well they play, but a 6-year-old just needs the black cleats for $25 that they will grow out of before the season ends. Save the fancy gear for later. Be cautious about going wild with spirit wear too. You want to show team support, but a hat or a scarf can say as much as a warm-up jacket, stadium chair or thermal blanket. My closet of obsolete fan gear bursts at the seams in colors I can’t even pretend belong to a present team. And I even took my own advice for the most part, so I’m not as bad off as some of the other parents.
               
We have to feed and clothe and house our kids to the best of our ability, but we don’t need to get extreme about their extracurriculars. There are viable options to the "best" (read "most expensive") club in town, which may actually do a better job of preparing our children to be great soccer players. Look for great development and ignore the bragging about wins. All too often those two factors end up being mutually exclusive as teams look to discover ready-made players that they’ll discard when better ready-made players come along. With the proper development, your child could be the one at the top of the pyramid as these winning clubs look for better players, but you didn’t need to spend their high fees to get Billy or Sally to the level that makes them "marketable." Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. And you can take that to the bank.

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