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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". 

 

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Susan Boyd

It may seem unremarkable and certainly not life-altering to have your child decide to quit the soccer team, but the decision often has far-reaching effects. Families find themselves at loose ends, social ties are broken and feelings of discontent can create a type of long-lasting gloom. How should a family handle the decision to leave a team in order to minimize its impact?
 
First of all, be sure the decision is based on reasoned consideration. Many times players will have temporary setbacks that can eat at them and create the desire to flee the situation. Teammates may have said something mean, a coach may have been particularly gruff, or the player may feel he or she is falling behind. The problem could be outside of soccer, like a bad grade at school or a fight with a friend that makes a child feel overwhelmed and anxious to control the few things he or she can control. Before agreeing to quit, parents need to explore what is motivating this desire. We should always emphasize the importance of a commitment and sticking it out both for the child’s sake and the team’s sake. Of course, this time of year the commitment is nearly over and players are anticipating try outs, so that particular encouragement won’t be effective. However, it’s possible that the anxiety over try outs may prompt our child to flee the challenge. So we need to talk to our kids about those feelings as well as finding out if they really want to play but are afraid they will "fail" when it comes to the test.
 
Second, discuss with your child the fact that quitting will probably be irreversible. Most state associations don’t allow players to change clubs in the middle of a season. Rules vary, but in general the policy states that the club has the final say. A player must be completely paid up for the club to even consider a transfer, which means most scholarship players won’t be able to leave. Soccer is a tight-knit community, so other clubs will know that a child has quit. They may regard that move as too risky for their teams to offer that player a spot. Quitting shouldn’t become the way to handle adversity when things get tough. Parents need to be sure that the reasons for quitting are legitimate and not transitory. One option might be to take a week’s break just to see how it goes. Give your child a few days to decompress then have a heart to heart laying out the options and the consequences. Be sure to let them know it’s their choice, but they should be considerate in making the selection. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child no matter the age. Even 6-year-old players can be articulate about why they don’t want to continue, and it’s important to mull over the reasons.
 
Third, if your child has been playing for just a year or for several years, suddenly being without the camaraderie of that sideline social group can put parents in a tailspin. Leaving a team can be akin to leaving a congregation, board, job or book club. Things and people you’ve been used to and formed attachments with are no longer in your social circle. Despite promises to stay in touch those rarely pan out since the basis for the relationships has gone. So parents need to understand that having a child quit a team can leave a void in their own lives. In addition, there’s that routine we complain about when it comes to practices and games, but we find it disconcerting when that’s no longer part of our lives. When Robbie left the Chicago Magic to spend his high school senior year with a local team, I would wake up in the middle of the night panicked that I had forgotten to drive him down to Chicago! Certainly, we all eventually adjust to the change, but we have to be prepared for feelings of loss and even depression. We also need to be careful not to pressure our kids into staying on a team for our own reasons. If quitting is really the best option, then we need to absorb the potential upset to our lives.
 
Fourth, find another activity for your child. Quitting soccer shouldn’t be the end of participating in youth pastimes. You don’t need to replace soccer with another sport, although you may find that your child craves the physically of sports, just not soccer. Some kids do better with team sports and some do better with individual sports. One of our sons hated the downtime of baseball and loved the continual movement of basketball and soccer. The other son loved baseball and hated basketball. So finding the right sport may require some trial and error (and therefore some quitting). However, consider other pursuits such as musical instruments, art, dramatics or forensics. Our nephew gave up rowing for a year so he could do school plays. We saw his performances, and he is quite good, obviously loving the change. His mother was a rower at Harvard, but wisely set her hopes aside to accommodate her son’s dreams. One grandson plays the trombone as well as playing baseball and football, but his parents agree he would probably give up the sports and just concentrate on his music, so that may be in his future. The important message here would be that every child needs an outlet for that creative/physical side beyond school. So find something that engages them no matter what that may be.
 
Finally, we can’t see quitting as a failure and we can’t convey failure to our children. If we go through the process wisely and thoughtfully, we can fully justify the decision. Sometimes we have to quit just to be able to move to the next adventure. The only failure would be in a knee-jerk reaction to a temporary or solvable situation. We need to teach our children that quitting has to be saved for very significant occasions. We should support the careful consideration that precedes a decision to quit so that we can ultimately support quitting if that is the end result. As our kids move through life they will sample several options and some will not suit their personalities or skills. We just need to be sure that those are the reasons for leaving. Because soccer is a fast-growing sport, there can lots of pressure from friends and neighbors to join a soccer team. As much as I love soccer, I realize it’s not for everyone. Therefore, we parents have to be ready for the words, "I want to quit soccer," even if we think it’s a wrong-headed idea. Take a deep breath, approach gently, and if the discussion leaves no other option than quitting, be prepared to say OK. If it’s not fun, there’s no reason to force participation. There are plenty of other options out there that can provide the fun our children may be missing in soccer.

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Eavesdropping

Susan Boyd

I admit to listening in to some conversations. A certain word or phrase will pique my interest, and I find myself straining to hear the discussion. At other times I can’t avoid what others are saying. They sit behind me at soccer games or walk nearby carrying on with loud, clear voices as if they want the world to join their dialog. No matter how I come across these snippets of advice, comments and criticisms, I can’t help but catalog the most memorable of these. Here is a compilation of some of those examples that show the wide swathe of ideas people express before, during and after youth games.
 
This weekend we traveled to Columbus, Ohio to watch our grandsons compete in several baseball games. They each play on three teams, but don’t ask me which team is which. There’s recreational baseball, travel baseball and Little League. One of these games proved a rich mother lode of comments. At one point, a player was in the batter’s box ready to hit when the coach started shouting, "Move left, left, left!" The player shifted with each "left" to his left. Then the coach said, "That’s right." What followed was a routine worthy of "Who’s on first." The player turned to the coach and said, "No, I’m moving left." To which the coach answered, "That’s right." Totally bewildered, the player began to move to his right thinking somehow he passed through the baseball looking glass and was now in an alternate universe. The coach shouted again, "No, move left!" At this point, the umpire, who had patiently waited through this exchange shouted to the coach, "Make up your mind" having also been confused by the instructions, and then told the pitcher to throw. The poor batter stood there unsure if he was right, left or middle, swung and missed. Then the instruction began again. "Move left!" followed by "That’s right!" It took the assistant coach to clear up the confusion and rectify the miscue by shouting "That’s correct!" Even then, I’m not sure the coach figured out the confusion he had caused.
 
Walking back to the car after another game, a father with two boys was walking behind us. The game had finished late, around 7 p.m., and the boys were complaining that they were STARVING! They begged and cajoled for dinner at several possible locations, all of which the dad nixed for various reasons. With each denial, the boys got more plaintive and higher pitched. Finally the dad, disgusted with their attitude barked, "Stop whining like 9-year-old girls!" I nearly whipped around to give him a piece of my mind, but didn’t want to embarrass our grandson who had gone ahead to the car. However, I wish parents would understand how comments that denigrate a group of people as somehow weak, stupid, lazy or otherwise inferior to themselves affect the future attitudes of our children. "You throw like a girl," "You sound like an immigrant," "You’re as slow as a fat kid" all buy into stereotypes that give our kids the impression certain groups have traits that prevent them from being amazing. If they begin to approach these groups with these preconceived notions, then they can’t give everyone a fair shake. These seemingly off-handed similes give kids the worry of being seen as the negative side of the "like" statements, not to mention giving them fuel to distrust or dislike certain groups. 
               
Several weeks ago a family sat behind me at a college soccer game. They happened to be a family from our opponents, but that didn’t excuse their constant barrage of criticisms. Every one of our players who went down was accused of "flopping," even the player who had to be taken off the field for stitches in the forehead. Every ref’s call was questionable no matter how obviously egregious the foul. The level of distrust, anger and negativity spewing from this family finally hit its climax when Robbie was taken down from behind with a crack that could be heard 30 feet away. As the ref issued a yellow card to the offending attacker, the father behind me once again shouted, "That was a flop!" Now my son has plenty of faults on the field. He’ll wait until the ref isn’t looking and use extra force to check a player out of bounds he feels has been particularly rough on a teammate. He’ll use whatever means to insure he gets the ball, some of which aren’t legal. But he will not flop. In fact, all his soccer career coaches have been begging him to flop in the box. When Robbie goes down we all know it’s for real. So with a mother’s justification I turned to the father and said, "That’s my son and he doesn’t flop." I know, I know — I preach don’t engage other parents — I admit I’m fallible. But the effect of my comment got this father to be quiet and I hope realize that these types of constant negative comments are not only uncalled for but can be hurtful. I added, "How would you feel if I accused your son of flopping every time he was tackled? Sometimes a tackle is a tackle." I doubt I made a life changing impact on him, but hopefully each time he opens his mouth to shout his poison, he’ll think a bit on my response. 
               
This example also makes the point that eavesdropping works both ways. When we make comments on the sidelines we have to remember that the families of these players are sitting or standing there. Saying something that they can overhear can be hurtful. I’m in an unusual position because I’m Scottish and Irish and my sons are African American, so people often don’t know they are commenting on my child. But that’s the point: you never know who’s in earshot of your comments. It could be grandparents, parents, siblings or friends. If I hear parents making some negative comment about a player’s ability with that child’s relatives right there, I’ll do the finger over the lips or even the slashing move across the neck to warn the speaker. It doesn’t always work. It’s worth remembering to be careful with our observations around people.
               
Sometimes I overhear questions about the game.  That’s a sticky situation. Do I let the person know I eavesdropped?  I don’t want to embarrass anyone by offering quick answers about soccer strategy or rules, but I also don’t want people to continue to misunderstand the game their child plays. Some of these comments are, "Aren’t they going to that goal down there? Why are they kicking the ball backwards?" or "He wasn’t offside when the ball was kicked" not understanding receiving the ball first after returning from an offside position. Out of bounds is a huge topic of conversation. Recently my brother came to visit and watch Robbie play. He knows nothing about soccer, so I got to see the game through the eyes of a novice. It certainly taught me some patience and tolerance towards those who don’t fully understand the game yet. After all, that was my brother who I love and respect. I should also respect others who are struggling with understanding the game. Those who are new to the game are the ones who will ultimately make soccer grow in this country. I usually try to respond to those who have questions by saying, "I couldn’t help but overhear your question. I think I can explain it if you’d like." Often they take me up on my offer and I even end up engaging them throughout the game talking about some of the more complex rules, the choice for team formations, and strategy. I’m not an expert by any means, but I do have the benefit of watching thousands of games, both those of my children and games on TV. So I have some perspective on the sport.
               
My favorite eavesdrop experience occurred at a youth football game. I was seated behind the platoon of players waiting to go on the field. The boys were fooling around and doing the usual 6th-grade jabs and non sequiturs. Suddenly one boy shouts, "Hey look at Jaden. You can totally see his butt." All eyes snapped to the field followed by comments like "Oh gross!" Then they realized that the team’s white pants revealed EVERYONE’s rear end. Briefs’ outlines or worse athletic cup straps were out there for all to see. This led to a serious examination of one another’s bums that came close to "Do these pants make me look fat?" The game was totally forgotten. All that mattered was the extent of the revelations and what that meant in terms of the boys’ modesty. Discussions were hot and heavy on whether or not people could see too much — so hot and heavy that the platoon missed that the offense was coming off the field and they were supposed to be charging onto the field. When the coach finally got their attention, they began to complain to him and ask his opinion on how transparent their pants had become. The squad coming off the field got immediately informed of what their teammates had seen which resulted in neck-craning to see for themselves how prominently their anatomy had been revealed. Then, naturally, someone realized that if you could see the rear, you might also see the front! The game was now merely a distraction to the examination of the relative opacity of their outerwear. Each boy had a comment that ranged from "I can’t see anything" to "It’s scary obvious." This discussion lasted until the end of the game, each crew charged with checking out whatever group was on the field. Like a bad episode of "Project Runway," the fashion police were out in force. Interestingly, after the game, the boys asked their dads about the situation, but not their moms, which speaks to the modesty they were now trying to maintain. I didn’t get involved and just observed, not wanting to add further embarrassment. But just watching and hearing the scene in front of me was entertaining enough.
               
What we overhear or say to be overheard can be hurtful, curious or humorous. We know we shouldn’t eavesdrop, but should try to maintain the privacy of the speakers. But we’re human, and when a comment makes an impression, it’s difficult to avoid listening in. There are gems of discovery out there that may justify our aural intrusion and there are teachable moments that eavesdropping offers. Out in the wide open of a sporting event or even the intimacy of a restaurant, it’s nearly impossible not to overhear other people’s conversations ranging from the young man in the theatre who informed his date that he would never use his soda can as a urinal to the child at the museum who told his mom as they gazed on a Picasso portrait that she was "much prettier than that." Unfettered conversation gives us great insight into our world. I plan to stay tuned in.

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It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Susan Boyd

We’ve all experienced the situation. Our son or daughter has prepared for the BIG game. We invite relatives to come watch. Anticipation runs high. This is going to be fun. Our child doesn’t start, but that’s not necessarily unusual, we know he or she will be called in soon. The minutes tick away and turn to quarter hours, then it’s half-time, and still no movement from the bench. Eventually, as the time dwindles, our player is called onto the field, but after only the minimum amount of time required for "equal" play our child is brought back to the bench. The game ends. The amount of anxiety over a team win gets replaced by the anxiety of "will she play?" We watch the coach keenly to see if she looks over to the bench. Our hearts sit like lumps in our throats and leap whenever the coach approaches the bench and talks to the players. "It has to be soon," we believe. But all hope is dashed as the time tick, tick, ticks to its final whistle.
               
One time we traveled to Cincinnati for a tournament for Robbie. He had been playing really well, so we expected he would play most of the game or possibly even start. We invited our daughter, her husband and their two small boys to come watch since they lived only two hours away in Columbus. The tournament was in March, and we awoke that first day to a rather nasty snowstorm and temperatures in the teens. But it would all be worth it to watch Robbie play. We sat on metal benches and watched an entire game where Robbie sat across from us on his own metal bench. The grandkids froze, heck, we froze. Deana and family had to head home after the game, so it was a frost-bitten disappointment all around. 
               
The amount of emotion invested in the game, the level of anxiety over waiting for our player’s participation, and the bitter taste left in our mouths afterward make for an extremely tense ride home. No matter how great your player may be, I guarantee you’ll have at least one, and most likely several, of these frustrating games. We don’t have any insight into what the coach is thinking. We also don’t usually have any knowledge of what might have gone on in practice that ended up warranting a "benching." All we see is the evidence of a decision that hurts and confuses. How can we handle these experiences? 
               
First of all, don’t start the conversation at the field, on the way to the car, or on the trip home unless your child brings it up. Let all emotions cool down. While it may seem futile, finding something positive to say would be a good idea. Don’t patronize, but find a general positive you can offer such as "this field was in great shape" or "I liked the way you passed to Billy." If your child voices the opinion that he didn’t care if they won, or that the coach is a jerk, then you should address the concern. Ask why and then listen as long as it takes to vent. The hurt your player feels is not only natural, but deserved. Add to that embarrassment if friends and relatives came to watch her performance and you can understand why the pain is intense. Listen carefully for clues as to why your child didn’t play. For example, she might say, "Just because I was hanging on the goalposts, the coach benched me" or "Everyone made fun of Molly, not just me. I don’t why I got picked on for that." Keep track of those clues for a later discussion. For now, it’s important just to focus on the bad feelings and helping smooth those over.
               
Second, avoid knee-jerk reactions. Your child may threaten to quit the team as that is a natural reaction to the perceived humiliation. But it is not okay for you to suggest that. In the first place, quitting is never a solution to a tough situation. The lesson our children need to learn is one of persevering through and overcoming adversity. It is also important to remember that most state soccer associations have rules about quitting a club mid-season that include that the club doesn’t have to release a player to another club until the season is over. That would mean that if your child quit, he or she could be without a team for several months. At the very least, staying at the club that isn’t playing your child is preferable to sitting at home because the player still gets the benefit of practices. So, cooler minds need to prevail when the discussion of quitting comes up.
               
Third, when things have calmed down you can find out from your player if he was aware of any reason the coach wouldn’t play him. Chances are your player knows something. He was either warned during a practice or found out just before the game what was going to happen. Sometimes it can be something as innocent as the coach believing the team could win with a weaker line-up on the pitch and was giving players who usually sat a chance to play. However, if it was an important game, then the reason is more significant. Most coaches want to field the best team possible, so decisions on who to play and who not to play are made with careful consideration. If the coach had to invoke some type of consequence on your player, your son or daughter may not want to fess up to it. Hopefully you can discover what happened eventually from their comments or confessions. If you drive the carpool, listen to what the kids are talking about in the backseat. It’s amazing how much you can learn just by listening. "Coach really got mad at you yesterday." "Yeah, he thought I wasn’t paying attention, but I was." Occasionally players can be benched for having too many yellow cards since many leagues have a limit and coaches don’t want anyone to hit that limit.
               
Finally, if you feel the situation was totally fickle, then have your player talk to the coach. You can stand nearby for moral support, but the conversation should be between coach and player. Only if you feel that the coach isn’t taking your child’s concern seriously should you consider approaching the coach yourself. Like any "Get Out of Jail Free" card, you need to use this tactic sparingly. Pick your moment/battle wisely. Coaches don’t like getting hammered by parents since coaches make their decisions based on factors, which may not be obvious to someone outside the framework of the team. If you do talk to the coach keep questions open-ended and not accusatory. Ask, "I noticed you didn’t play Megan on Sunday. Is there something she can do to improve her playing time?" Don’t ask, "How come you didn’t play Megan when she has been working really hard and got two goals in the last game?" Putting the coach on the defensive only insures he or she won’t be on your side.
               
There’s nothing worse than throwing a party where the guest of honor is a no-show. The guests you invite all look at you for explanation, and you usually don’t have one to give. If your child doesn’t play in the game, let everyone who came know that you and your child are grateful they supported the team by attending. Don’t offer any half-baked excuses just that this was the game your player sat out and you hoped the guests would come back for another game. As frustrating as the experience can be, it is important to focus on the team aspect of the sport. While we all profess to be supporters of the team, it’s also a reality that if our child didn’t play on the team we probably wouldn’t be attending the games. So naturally we want to see our kids play. And if we invite guests, then we want to have cake and ice cream and throw confetti.

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Tripping Out

Susan Boyd

I’m trying to organize a trip to Niagara Falls to include my kids and grandkids. Guess what? It’s a dismal failure. Why? Those pesky sports schedules leave no room for everyone to travel at the same time. I know you’ve all faced this dilemma. I used to have a calendar that I color-coded, which I thought would make discovering a particular schedule at a glance a breeze. All it managed to do was make my calendar a rainbow blur. There was soccer, baseball, camps, all-star games, tryouts, and many split into select and "fun" teams. Robbie and Bryce played in a Latino soccer league in the city, did local baseball and travel baseball, had their select team, did regional league, and for one season added futsol. When my relatives would ask when I was coming to visit, I would say 2025. I never had to worry about boredom in the summer, only about gas prices.
 
So when is it overkill? How do you fit vacations and downtime into your summer? We teach our kids about commitment and want to take all of our commitments seriously. Teams depend on our children’s involvement to insure a strong team performance. When we start filling out those team forms, usually as early as January, we rarely have game and practice schedules to help guide our decisions. Suddenly we get swallowed up into the maelstrom that is summer sports. We also get the guilt from coaches, parents and teammates if we even hint that we might miss a game or two so we can whitewater raft in Colorado. Even our own kids will chime in with their complaints that they can’t miss certain games as they are pivotal to making championships. Add into the mix unknowns, such as: Will a team make the US Youth Soccer State Championships? Regionals? And, ultimately, Nationals? So, we have to leave those dates open until our kids’ participation is either assured or ended.
 
Parents can exercise three options. First, you can be proactive by establishing one week in the summer that will be family time for vacations. I have found that centering this around July 4 might insure missing very few games as lots of programs avoid scheduling games and practices within a few days on either side of the holiday. Of course, that week will be the most crowded and expensive for travel, but it is also the time least likely to cause conflicts. No matter what week you pick, let the clubs, teams, coaches, and anyone else in a position to be affected know that your child won’t be available during that time. Then the powers that be can decide if they can live with that arrangement or not. Once they agree to it, the matter should be closed and there shouldn’t be any guilt trips as the time nears. If they don’t agree, then you’ll have to decide what’s more important: family time or team time. The choice will be yours and your child’s. Whatever you decide, you will know that you acted with integrity without surprising the team with a sudden decision to miss a week.
 
Second, if you can’t decide so early in the year when you might be able to take a vacation, then be sure to inform the team the moment you decide if your child is going to miss time. Remember that all of life is a balancing act, and many decisions end up being the lesser of two evils. You have a right to make family plans and if those conflict with team plans it’s unfortunate but not tragic. Don’t let anyone guilt you into questioning your decision. In the long run, this will be a tiny blip on the trail of life. It seems remarkably important at the time, but believe me, after decades of youth sports in our family I can’t even tell you losses and wins, but I can tell you about a great family trip like the "fort" trip we made down the East Coast or the time we explored Key West. Who knows five years down the road if your child will still be playing even if you both are passionate about it now?
 
Third, you can organize a trip around a travel team’s away tournaments. We have made some really memorable vacations using tournaments as an excuse to visit an area. In fact, several years ago we got to explore Niagara with the boys because they were guest playing in a national Croatian soccer tournament 30 miles outside of Niagara in Hamilton, Ontario. There was a memorable tournament in Indianapolis where we were able to visit an amazing Children’s Museum, the NCAA Hall of Champions, Amish towns and other significant historical sites in Indiana. We went down two days earlier and stayed an extra day after most of the tournaments thereby avoiding missing team games and practices. Robbie’s team played at Disney World, which was a fabulous combo trip. The only downside is that it may not fit in with the schedule of your other players.
 
I’m hoping my daughter and son-in-law in Ohio agree to let their sons miss a few practices, so they can join us in Niagara. But I will definitely respect their decision not to do that. I know how difficult it is to balance lessons about commitment, family demands and schedules. Each family has to decide how to prioritize for themselves without regard to anyone else’s pressures. It will be difficult because I really want all the cousins to get together. However, that’s my dream, which doesn’t necessarily fit into their reality. I’m hopeful, but I’m also prepared to smile and say, "I understand."
 
Life is short and family lasts forever, so my message would be to focus on creating family memories outside of sports. While I am an avid supporter of youth sports, I also know that they can overtake your life to the point that they choke out other worthwhile activities. I appreciate the life lessons of camaraderie, commitment, collaboration, winning and losing with dignity, and maintaining a regimen of exercise that sports offer our children. I do think that sports can be an enhancement to how we raise our children, but they shouldn’t be the primary activity, especially if other children in the family are not participating. Family time that benefits everyone should take a priority over individual activities at least once a year. Time to decompress, get reacquainted outside the demands of daily family life and build family memories should be emphasized. It will take plenty of planning and the ability to resist outside pressures, but as the decades pass, these will be the moments that stand out in our children’s memories and set the stage for their own family occasions. Nothing could be more satisfying, not even a soccer game.

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