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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". 

 

Advancing Youth Soccer Through “Play for a Change”

Stickley

By Erin Gifford
Guest Contributor
 
As a mother of four active children, we can frequently be found outside, and in the fall, that means we’re out on the soccer fields. Three of my four are playing soccer this year, and literally every single day of the week, we’re either headed to soccer practice or to a game. I think by now our minivan could probably drive itself to the soccer fields.
 
When we’re not watching the kids play and practice, we’re kicking the soccer ball around with one another, playing different games just off the soccer fields and getting lots of exercise as we run and play. This is my son’s first year playing soccer (he’s four years old) and he loves to kick the ball with his sisters. My husband coaches my son’s team, as well as my six-year-old daughter’s team, so we’re definitely a soccer family.
 
Getting outside and exercising is important to me and my family, and soccer is such an easy way to do so. You don’t need to do much more than kick a ball around, so I was excited to see that Merck Consumer Care’s Active Family Project teamed up with U.S. Youth Soccer to encourage families to get out there and play soccer this month during Youth Soccer Month.
 
As part of this partnership, Merck Consumer Care is helping to further interest among children and families in playing soccer in their communities through their Play for a Change initiative. Through this campaign, they’ll provide soccer tips and locations of soccer fields. They even joined forces with soccer superstar Brandi Chastain to bring added excitement to this worthwhile initiative.
 
I’m fortunate that in my community it’s easy to get started with soccer. Many, many children in my neighborhood play soccer at all different levels. But, I know it’s not that way in every community, so I love that as part of Play for a Change, Merck Consumer Care is donating soccer equipment to underserved communities to get even more children, moms and dads engaged in the sport of soccer.
 
When we’re not actively engaged in soccer practices and games, we like to kick the ball around in the backyard before dinner and in our spare time. We also look for national and college level games that the kids would enjoy watching to get them even more excited about the sport. It’s a great way to see new teams in action while spending time together as a family. We even bring along a couple of soccer balls to play with before the game and when the kids start to get antsy in their seats.
 
Soccer will no doubt be a part of our lives for some time to come. I encourage you to get out there, start kicking the ball around and see where it takes you.
 
Erin Gifford is a mother of four children and finds herself out on a soccer field just about every day in the fall. She is a member of Merck Consumer Care’s Active Family Project Play Council. She also has a family travel blog, Kidventurous, which was chosen as the Best Family Travel Blog by Parents magazine.

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A Little Romance

Susan Boyd

Love encompasses a myriad of emotions. Love can be devotion. Love can have an unhealthy intensity that leads to addiction or hate. Love can be a comfortable contentment. Love may be passionate. There is the love we feel for our children, which is different than the love we feel for a spouse but no less sincere. There’s a love for friends. You can love certain food, clothes and movies. We love our pets, almost to the point of the love we have for our children. There seems to be no limit to the spectrum that is "love." I began my love affair with soccer when I was an exchange student in Germany in 1966 and 1967. I sustained it despite the relative dearth of soccer on TV by getting my fix every four years with the World Cup and the Olympics. Now I can watch scores of college and professional games every week, which could morph my love into that dangerous area of addiction. However, I really enjoy watching my own children play. Tonight Robbie has a game in Chicago, and I’m as giddy to go see it as I was for his first game 16 years ago. We parents often intertwine our love of soccer with our love for our children. I’ve known dozens of parents who hated soccer, but begrudgingly developed, if not a love for the sport, at least a respect because their own children love it. And who wouldn’t love what our kids accomplish in the sport, even if we can’t quite muster the deep passion felt by fans around the world. My hope is that more parents find the same love for soccer that I’ve cultivated over the years of watching. In that spirit I want to share with you what I love about soccer so you might notice some of those aspects of the sport that make it so special for me.
               
First, I love soccer because it is one sport in America where both men and women have more equal footing in the fan base. This is a sport where girls can take great pride in the success of the Women’s National Team, and the players are well-known to even non-soccer fans. I really appreciate the power of strong sports role models for girls who are often second-class participants. Recently, TIME Magazine had a cover article about how colleges should pay their athletes. That’s a wonderful idea if it could be spread across the board, but the reality is that the sports who bring millions to colleges are football and men’s basketball. Women would be completely out of the equation, as would their male counterparts in less lucrative sports, such as soccer. This country’s focus on male-dominated sports can be frustrating as we parents of daughters attempt to encourage them to get active and to participate in the positive aspects that sports can bring to youth players. Soccer at least has a strong presence and respect among viewers for the women’s side of the sport. That exposure helps boys, as well, both by teaching them that girls bring plenty of athleticism to the table and by making sports fans aware of soccer.
               
While the Super Bowl has its halftime show filled with wardrobe malfunctions, Madonna falling, Beyonce bouncing and The Who aging right before our eyes, nothing can match the overall pageantry of soccer. First of all, there are far more opportunities for the glitz and spectacle. You can watch UEFA Europa League, UEFA Champions League, the FA Cup and the queen of glamour, the World Cup. Because these events have a longer and richer history than even the Super Bowl, they have had a long time to form, improve and nurture the pomp and circumstances of these events. The World Cup becomes a summer-long celebration every four years with play-in games all over the host country’s territory, so everyone has a show to present. Each cycle gets more elaborate as nations attempt to outdo the previous sponsor country’s display. Many of these contests have their own sound tracks, which make great use of trumpets, stirring strings, resonating bass and a choir to stir the emotions. Brazil has a thumping Latin sound for its World Cup theme song. I have no idea what the pre-event celebrations will be, but a country famous for Carnival will certainly deliver something spectacularly sparkling and explosive. Sit back and have your emotions toyed with – you won’t be able to resist getting passionately involved in the games that follow.
               
While the sounds of music make for an immediate visceral response to the game, I really love the sounds of the sport itself. That unmistakable thud as a player connects with the ball and sends it flying either to a teammate or on goal. The slap of a goalkeeper’s gloves while making a save. The clank of a ball hitting the crossbar that will either engender relief for some fans or disappointment for others. The chants of the crowd create an auditory backdrop for the passion and intensity of any game: Ole, ole, ole, ole rising from a stadium as a game comes to a close; Hey Ho yelled from one section to another who echo it back; "We love you, we love you, we love you, and where you go we’ll follow, we’ll follow, we’ll follow, ‘cuz we support the U.S., the U.S., the U.S." as sung by the American Outlaws. You can actually follow the game based on fan vocals – the "ahhhhhhh" crescendo as a goal kick is lofted, the collective inhalation as a strike is taken, the depleted exhale and "ooooooh" as the goal is missed, and the rumbling hurrah as a goal is made. Then there is the sound of scarves being whipped in the air as thousands of fans spur on their players. Drums, vuvuzelas and air-filled beating tubes add to the cacophony in the stadium. If you sit close enough, which you definitely will for youth games, you can hear the players shouting out to each other to both generate plays and warn players of an attack. The goalkeeper will be directing his or her side. I love to hear what the players see happening on the pitch since it helps me learn what to look for in a game. Of course, there’s the scary yowls of injured players that bring a lump to the throat and an audible crowd response as a player rises from the grass or claps of support as a player is helped from the field.
               
Besides pageantry, the game has more ordinary yet stirring sights. Fans dressed in their team colors (yes other sports have this, but soccer has so many more interesting colors), flags, placards and ribbons fill the stands, and teams line up to face the fans with the referees to create a line of contrasts. Because the game is continually fluid, there’s the ebb and flow of attack that pricks the attention and offers a new perspective every few seconds. Keeping an eye out for offside can be a full-time job, especially since offside includes an "over and back" aspect. During professional games, there can be fireworks, flashing lights, confetti and even fire balls creating eye candy that exceeds what other sports offer. Of course, there’s always the significant sight of your own child streaking down the field or blocking the ball that can happen instantaneously and yield significant results, so no gossiping with your neighbor and missing that all-important goal. This nearly non-stop action makes the game so much more involving and intense than waiting the 40 seconds between 10-second plays in American football (unless you’re watching a University of Oregon game). This action also tests the stamina and athleticism of the participants, so that you can see amazing feats of agility including bicycle kicks, runs through several defenders and spectacular saves.
               
The game is so accessible to the spectators. Players are out in the open without tons of protective gear masking their faces and movements. I love being able to see their expressions, how they cut, what they do with their hands, including the fouls, and how they interact with one another. A good lip reader would be able to keep up with arguments on the field, disagreements with the referees and discussions of how to create a play. Last week, I observed Robbie talking to his defender on his side of the field, telling him he could beat the opposing defender so to send him the ball. Then he talked to the midfielder and clearly indicated the run he wanted him to make. Sure enough, the next play resulted in a goal by the midfielder, assisted by Robbie and begun with the kick by the defender. It’s a wonderful sport for being able to see things developing. In most venues, fans are just feet away from the field when they watch. Even in the largest stadiums, the configuration is to optimize fans’ closeness to the game because those who understand the game also understand the power of intimacy even in a stadium with a 90,000 capacity. It’s also not unusual with professional teams that several players make themselves available to the fans after a game. This happens in other sports, but in soccer the fan connection is unmistakably significant in the strength of a franchise. 
               
I love the "ballet" of the game. People new to the sport complain it’s boring. After all, it’s not unusual for a game to end in an 0-0 draw. So why watch? Because the power of the sport is only partial found in the win-loss columns. The real attraction is in the movement of the play and the moments of explosion. Lots of people find baseball boring and a ton of us have no idea why cricket is so popular. But baseball is America’s pastime because we have learned how to watch the game. We look for how the outfield shifts for certain batters, how managers choose when and if to remove a pitcher, changes in batting order, whether or not a player will steal, how a team protects the field when bases are loaded, and the choices infielders make when a ball is hit to them. We understand the intricacies so we look beyond the score to appreciate the play. Soccer is that way too. We can look at how plays advance and appreciate the orchestration needed to have any outcome. Learning those nuances takes time, but yields big rewards in a fuller understanding and appreciation of the game. If your child decides to continue to play soccer and has a passion for the game, you’ll want to become the most informed fan you can be. Watch games on TV. Study the player in a game who has the same position as your child. Practice figuring out if a player is offside. Try to predict what will happen next. Scrutinize the keeper to see positioning under different conditions (corner kicks, PKs, free kicks, player advancing center, left or right, and chips). Use the rewind capabilities on your DVR. And most importantly, do all this with your youth player sitting next to you. Elicit his or her opinion, ask for an analysis of what just happened, cover areas of confusion for you, and encourage them to keep improving. The more you know, the more you’ll feel invested in the game. In time, you’ll be the sideline expert!
               
When love is a passion for an activity, it can translate into a lifelong devotion. There’s a saying in the English Premier League, "I might divorce my spouse, but I’ll always stick with my team." That’s a love that probably borders on the insane, but most soccer fans understand that description.
 
 

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Play For A Change this September and help introduce soccer to kids in underserved communities

Stickley

By Amy McCready
Guest Contributor
 
You could say soccer is a way of life for my family. I’ve been to seven games this week already, as my two teenagers play varsity high school soccer and club soccer, and my husband coaches, too. So I know how important being active and having fun – two big benefits of soccer – can be for a family.
 
As I’ve seen with my own boys, youth soccer – above all – is fun, whether it’s at the recreational or competitive level. They’ve formed new friendships through soccer, enjoy fitness and health benefits, and it’s brought our family closer together. We’re not alone either, as soccer is the number one participation sport in the country – more than 3.9 million American kids are registered to play soccer! Those families know the importance of getting outside to get healthy and stay healthy, and now we have the chance to share that with other families.
 
I know first-hand how expensive soccer can sometimes be with league fees, tournament costs, travel expenses and equipment and the financial commitment can make it difficult for some families to participate. That’s why I’m so excited for Play For A Change, a great new partnership between Merck Consumer Care’s Active Family Project and US Youth Soccer, which not only encourages families to get up and get moving, but aims to make soccer more accessible to those who otherwise might not have a chance to experience the sport.
 
To top it off, a soccer legend that I’ve admired for a long time, Brandi Chastain, is championing this effort, encouraging families to take part in the Play For A Change program. She’s even offering soccer tips on the Active Family Project Activity Finder at www.activefamilyproject.com. Those are tips from an Olympian and World Cup champion (and a mom, too)!
 
But we can also help, and it’s as easy as hopping on Facebook. The Active Family Project will donate 75 soccer kits (valued at $15,000 for 75 kits), filled with the equipment needed by kids in underserved communities, to US Youth Soccer. You can help send even more kits – for every 100 engagements (likes, comments or shares of any of the posts) on the Active Family Project Facebook page at www.facebook.com/activefamilyproject through September 30, the Active Family Project will donate an additional soccer kit, up to 50 more (valued at $10,000 for 50 kits). By providing these kits to families in underserved communities, we can give more families the opportunity to be active together through soccer.
 
What better way to celebrate Youth Soccer Month this September than by getting more kids involved in the sport we love? Let’s help send out those kits!
 
Amy McCready is the founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com and a proud member of Merck Consumer Care’s Active Family Project Play Council.

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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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