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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". 

 

"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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A Football Match By Any Other Name…

Susan Boyd

Splashed over the glitz and glamor of Times Square hung a giant billboard last month touting NBC’s newly-inked deal to carry English Premier League (EPL) games. Yes, you heard right, a major network has finally figured out that soccer has a huge following in the United States, which translates into advertising revenue. So, using an image of Gareth Bale of the Tottenham Hotspurs of the EPL, NBC Sports Network hyped the fact that beginning Aug. 17, they would be airing "every match, every team, every week" for the EPL, a major coup for soccer fans throughout the U.S. Then last week, Gareth’s image was replaced with a graphic art advertisement for NBC featuring the tag line: "Don’t call it soccer. It’s football . . . just not as you know it." The advent of this sign heralds a major push to promote and air professional soccer, I mean football, as a significant and widely played sport. This is good news for youth players, who have often competed under the cloud of not choosing a "real" sport. Now the rest of the world has burst into the American living room with validation of the power and prestige of football through the televised programming of EPL.
               
Previously, we counted on Fox Soccer Channel to air matches, often live, but the breadth of their delivery was not as significant as this newest deal with NBC. I am forever grateful to Fox for taking the chance on soccer when any number of naysayers said it was ridiculous to devote so much air time to a sport that had no real American support. Fox averaged 200,000 viewers a match and that doesn’t include viewers tuning into GOL TV, Telemundo, Univision and, of course, ESPN, who also took a chance on airing both MLS and European games to American audiences. Recently, beIN Sports, a branch of the Al-Jazeera network, took over the Italian, Spanish and French Premier League broadcasts as well as the English second-tier league. The channel is only available to customers of DISH and DirecTV, greatly limiting the viewing audience. Therefore, NBC has opened up soccer to those in all markets, which should enhance viewership. Additionally, NBC offers the cache of a well-known, long-term network affiliation. While Fox lost its bid to be the provider of the EPL matches for the next three years, it will continue to show college soccer, women’s professional soccer and occasional European Championship games. Having led the way with an all-soccer channel for years, Fox is in the unique position of having both experience and a following that will serve the underrepresented American soccer teams such as college, youth, high school and women with a venue to build up interest among US viewers. The much appreciated and highly regarded Fox Soccer News will now be called Fox Daily Soccer and will continue to bring insights and commentary on the world of soccer, letting viewers know about trades, injuries and standings of teams around the world. However, it will appear on the new Fox Soccer 1, which replaces Speed Channel on your TV listings Aug. 17. The original Fox Soccer Channel will then disappear. ESPN also lost Major League Soccer, which will now air solely on the various channels of NBC Sports for at least the next three years. But again, ESPN will have plenty of other soccer matches that it can add to its line-up, giving soccer fans a wider variety.
               
What do these broadcast additions mean for youth soccer? Probably most significantly, it opens up the world of soccer to players who can now watch nearly any level of the sport. Becoming a strong soccer player entails being a student of the game. All too often we limit our viewing of soccer to the youth games in which our kids participate, but that view is far too narrow. It’s easy for a kid to look super human when only compared to other kids her same age and skill level. Youth players develop both in size and skill at very different timetables, making it virtually impossible to judge a player’s potential within those limited parameters. Being able to watch high school and college soccer shows youth players the levels to which they need to strive, while watching professional soccer shows the complicated and well-orchestrated team tactics that go into moving the ball down the pitch or preventing the ball from entering the goal the team is defending. In youth soccer, there’s the "bee to honey" formation that on an overhead shot shows all the players swarming to the ball. The biggest and most aggressive player usually ends up winning possession, but without developing the skills and understanding of the game needed to compete as teams learn to spread out and play positions, that big player will ultimately end up being left behind. Watching soccer helps young players see and understand the more advanced nuances of the game. Another wonderful effect of more soccer on accessible TV channels can be measured in the prestige given to the sport. When soccer begins sharing the sports networks’ spotlight with more popular sports such as American football, baseball and basketball, kids can point with pride to the acceptance of their sport of choice. This will eventually translate into more fans at games, higher salaries for players, attraction of more athletes, improved college scholarships, and greater youth participation. 
               
Right now, many MLS franchises have been selling out their seasons, most notably the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. In 1999, the first soccer-specific stadium was built in the US for the Columbus (OH) Crew. It’s not wholly a coincidence that Fox Soccer Channel launched in 1997, giving American audiences a window on the entire soccer world, promoting the beauty, power and sensibleness of soccer-only parks. Today, just 14 years later, only five of the 19 MLS teams play in a non-soccer specific stadium. However, the Sounders field was purposely designed to accommodate both soccer and American football by being able to reconfigure the field for intimate seating around the entire soccer pitch. San Jose Earthquakes will be in a new stadium in a year. Vancouver Whitecaps play in a new stadium designed for both soccer and Canadian football. The newest team, Montreal Impact, just completed their new soccer stadium, so the number of teams having to put up with unwanted dual purpose venues is dwindling rapidly. This push to build pure soccer stadiums has been prompted by the increased interest in the sport, which will be further fueled by greater television exposure and a surge in youth players.
               
Expanded coverage of soccer will mean some major shake-ups as networks scramble to carve out their piece of the soccer world, but for fans this means a wider variety of matches, leagues and soccer news. While we may never call it "football" since American football has stolen that designation, we fans do recognize that around the world this is the real football enjoyed by millions of enthusiasts. We don’t need to change what we call the sport in order to appreciate the expanded coverage our beloved pastime will now enjoy. With a greater and more accessible variety of matches, we are the true winners, whether it’s called soccer or football. It’s still the greatest sport in the world!
 

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