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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". 

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Storms

Susan Boyd

Admit it — when you watch your kids play soccer, your sideline behavior mimics the pinball wizard. You are swooping left and right as they dribble down the field. You’re bumping and grinding in an effort to influence a shot. We should expect a giant "tilt" to flash across the sky every time we try to will our child’s kick to the proper target, whether it be a teammate or the goal. Worse, we parents turn into competitors when we arrive at the field, ready to do combat vicariously. We also become critics judging everything during the game, including the coaches, the referees and most importantly — our own children. Not wanting to appear judgmental, we bite our tongues, chew the skin off the inside of our cheeks and swallow our injured pride as we glide toward our players with a sunny smile plastered on our face.
 
We bring to games at minimum the wisdom of age and at maximum personal prowess in the sport. Therefore, we have a huge context in which to place all the events of a game. If we are the least bit competitive, which to be honest applies to all of us, we want to see our children, their team and their club, succeed. In the first place, achievement is definitely preferable over failure. But more importantly, our children’s accomplishments reflect positively on our parenting. We take pride in their triumphs and bask in the reflected glory. Therefore, it’s natural that when we see possibilities for improvement we want to rush in and offer them. Should we also have experience in the sport, or any sport, then we come from the point of view of a knowledgeable teacher. We feel our instruction is warranted because we come from a place of experience. We also understand that our kids are far less receptive to us as teachers than actual teachers. All they want is unconditional support, which leads to the shredded cheeks and punctured tongues.
 
How should we handle our own competiveness, especially when we see great potential in our kids that they don’t rise to? It’s not easy. Our kids have the power to drive us crazy. Luckily when they are pre-teen, most don’t recognize how much power they have. Thank goodness! Otherwise, we’d have to deal with their purposeful pressure on top of our own internal pressure. Can we just stand by and let everything play out naturally? I seriously doubt it, and I’m not convinced that’s the right way to handle it. We do have a responsibility to nurture our kids, support them and, yes, teach them. Sports exist in their world and are part and parcel of our kids’ experience and growth. But we do have to tread lightly, especially if we have experience either in sports in general or in soccer specifically, lest our passion be interpreted as criticism. There are three specific things we can do.
 
First, long before you talk to your child, your actions will speak volumes. Don’t be that embarrassing parent on the sidelines screaming and yelling at anything that moves. I wish following games parents would have to watch a video of the game, but only focused on the sidelines. My son-in-law is the team videographer for my grandsons’ football teams. They live seven hours away, and since football season runs concurrent with soccer season, we don’t make many of our grandsons’ games. Therefore, we watch the videos. Oh boy are they revealing. While the boys play with zeal, the audio feed reveals what the parents are saying the sidelines. Fifty percent of the dialog is R-rated, around 80 percent is attacking, and only a sliver is positive reinforcement and usually comes when a long run or a score is made, not just spontaneously during the game. When our kids look over and see us getting worked up, fighting with referees, fighting with other parents or just showing stern faces and clenched jaws, they feel the tension. So a broad smile and a "good game" at the final whistle contradicts the behavior the kids observed for 60 minutes, totally confusing them. Letting go of our own vicarious investment in the game to just support our kids and pushing our judgment into the background will set the stage for a dialog later.
 
Second, when the game is over find the things to praise even if the game was a blowout and not in favor of your kid’s team. It is actually amazing how that helps the knot in your stomach, quells the urge to start lecturing and gives everyone involved the time to feel good even if the atmosphere is bad. Knowing that you have to say something positive at the end of the game means that you have to pay attention to find those positive moments, which helps take the focus off the negative. Sometimes kids feel so badly about a game that there is little you can say. They will reject any attempt to offer a positive outlook. They just want to feel bad. We learned with both our sons that after a loss or a game where they were on the bench more than on the field, we needed to just keep silent. After a while they initiate a conversation usually not about the game, but eventually they segued into the game. We let them vent. But we still presented them with something we witnessed that was positive, not always easy to locate, but even to say "glad the rain held off" can bring a smile to a child’s face.
 
Third, open a dialog not by offering advice but by asking your child, "How did you feel about the game?" This gives them the opportunity to locate the topic. Kids are intuitive about their performance, the performance of the team and the performance of the adults involved, so let them decide what they want to talk about. It will often happen that your child ends up asking your advice or at least opening the door for you to offer some suggestions. Your child might say, "I thought I was really passing the ball well, but the coach kept telling me that I wasn’t doing it right." This gives you the chance to ask, "What exactly did the coach think you were doing wrong?" — creating the opening for a discussion about passing. Perhaps you noticed that she was rearing back too much with the leg or not passing with her head up, so if she tells you the coach saw this as well, it gives you a chance to talk about how valid that criticism is. Let your child take the lead. "I think my head IS up!" Your response could be, "Well let’s work on that at home. Maybe we can make it more obvious to the coach." Avoid taking sides against your child, which just makes the situation not only adversarial but also makes your child defensive. Often sincere suggestions can seem attacking. That’s why playing off your child’s perceptions lets you be supportive while actually pursuing an agenda of instruction. Kids do manipulate us, but as adults we should be able to manipulate a situation such that we don’t come off as the bad guys and have the opportunity to deliver positive life lessons. As an auxiliary to all of this, remember not to start this dialog while walking off the field or even during the ride home unless your child begins it. Wait a bit (here’s where the tongue biting and tooth gnashing come in) and then broach the subject. Everyone will be calmer, time heals wounds, and time offers you the chance to gather your thoughts so you don’t express knee-jerk comments based on your competitive disappointments.
 
I sat for four years watching my daughter come in last in the 1000-meter freestyle swimming races. She didn’t just come in last. She came in last a good five minutes after her next competitor. I hate the smell of chlorine, the race was always the last event (last is the theme here), and she was always last out of the locker room afterward. My tongue, lips, teeth and cheeks all suffered permanent damage while I held back. The fact is she was always happy, talked about how certain times she earned were her best, how she improved on her turns and how the coach told her she was getting better. So I never had the opportunity to even talk to her about the things I thought she should work on. She didn’t want to hear it, so it wasn’t my place to offer it. She wasn’t going to be Missy Franklin, and they don’t race the 1000-meter in world competition. So what difference would it have made? All I would have done is created an atmosphere where she felt diminished. That’s the real lesson here. Sometimes as parents we just need to step back and let things unfold naturally. My son, Robbie, spent his first two years in soccer wandering around, passing the ball to whomever ran by no matter the jersey color and watching the clouds overhead. We never expected him to eventually become Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin or be elected to the Second ESPN Rise team in 2009. We thought he would play soccer for fun for a few years and then move on to something else, perhaps being a meteorologist. But when he moved to a select club because his brother, who was always driven, moved there, he blossomed. Once again, we never offered any advice, but in this case there was little advice to offer once he decided soccer was his passion.
 
Therefore, I would say that as parents we can enjoy our kids’ play, but we usually can’t do much to change it. If we want to change it, we have to be very cautious in how we approach the discussion. And most importantly, we have to accept that our child’s investment in the sport can’t be taught. Our kids have to decide that they care enough to improve, even to push themselves to the highest levels. Our role is primarily to support that drive as best we can with good coaching, travel to appropriate tournaments, and the best club we can comfortably afford. The rest of it is far too ephemeral like those clouds Robbie liked to watch. We have to accept we can’t sculpt the clouds.

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Bully Coaches

Susan Boyd

Gruesome. Distressing. Sickening. Appalling. Heartbreaking. No, I’m not talking about the very public injury to Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware, although these adjectives fit. I’m talking about video that cropped up this past week of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically assaulting his players. Making it worse is that his actions were brought to the attention of the administration in November by the director of player development. Rutgers’ response? Send the director out the door without a renewed contract, and slap the coach with a mere three-game suspension and fine. So the punishment not only didn’t fit the crime, but it didn’t really address the perpetrator, only the messenger. The case has an eerie déjà vu for me since my sons’ college soccer coach was eventually fired for the same behavior. Yet it took nearly 18 months before any meaningful action was taken. In the meantime, my boys and their teammates had to endure months of racial slurs and other abuse.
 
Some fans might argue that we live in a culture of winning at any cost, and players who accept a college scholarship have to also accept the tough atmosphere needed to foster wins. After all, these programs live or die (which means the coaches live or die) by their ability to win and generate fan interest and financial support. That argument might be stronger if all the coaches allowed to retain their jobs when faced with boorish, and in some cases, dangerous behavior had winning records. This is not the case with Mike Rice, nor the case with dozens of similar situations throughout clubs, high schools and universities. While Rice was swiftly fired just hours after the video surfaced publicly, it does little to change the perception of administrations, clubs and even parents covering up this bullying behavior. 
 
Imagine a teacher striking a child in any way during a classroom lesson or belittling that child with racial or sexual slurs or calling a child’s intelligence into question by shouting, "You’re an idiot!" That teacher wouldn’t last long. Yet somehow when we step outside the classroom, the church, the library, the museum or other places of learning, we begin to tolerate this type of verbal and physical abuse. We excuse it with the wrong-headed belief that because it might have gone on before it is somehow okay to continue it. We entrust adults with our children because we expect the adults to behave in a mature manner. However, when adults in leadership positions fail to act appropriately, we often remain silent. Sometimes it is a fear that our children will be regarded as trouble-makers or weaklings for complaining. Sometimes it is because we witness other parents perfectly content with the coach and his/her style. And sometimes it is because we just don’t want to make waves.
 
Nevertheless, we have an obligation to understand when the line has been crossed. I’ve always supported gruff coaches who criticize play but not the player and refrain from personal verbal and physical attacks. All of my four kids have had coaches who yelled but not in a direct individual manner. Coaches have a natural passion for their sport, which comes out with an intense style of instruction. Yet winning can’t be an excuse for bad behavior. Teachers want to win, too. They want their pupils to succeed which also represents the teachers’ success. They manage to refrain from yelling, pacing the sidelines, and openly questioning administrators (read referees) in front of the kids. We would never tolerate a teacher behaving like many coaches do, and teachers have been fired for far less.
 
So why would anyone allow a coach to exercise conduct that we would never tolerate in our teachers, religious leaders and other supervisors of our children’s education? The difference is how we perceive winning as a nation. Winning in the classroom doesn’t have the same impact as winning against the best team in the league. It should, but it doesn’t. We put tremendous stock in a single game and can be distressed by a loss. We invest our energy and our ego into the outcomes on a field in a very public and immediate way. Coaches take that investment as a blank check for exercising extreme behaviors, which they believe will create or insure a win. All too often we parents buy into that philosophy. The sad and disturbing result appeared in the Rutgers video and plays out on the fields and courts of youth sports.
 
These coaches believe in humiliation as a motivator. Studies prove it actually has the opposite effect. If humiliation worked, no one would smoke, be overweight, lie or take drugs. Kids who are humiliated actually revert to negative behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, smoking, absenteeism, and even suicide. Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher did a report on middle school students looking at humiliation by both students and teachers toward other students. They included data from other studies and their conclusion was that humiliation did nothing to curb students’ actions and did great damage. Mike Rice demonstrated the behavior of a classic bully. He had the power to attack and belittle them. Using the umbrella of teaching/coaching as a rationalization for his behavior, he felt justified in pushing his players figuratively and literally to become winners. The actual result was a 44-51 record at Rutgers during three years without a single winning season. Three players transferred as a result of both the coach’s tactics and the years of losing.
 
Children need to see that bullying isn’t acceptable. We need to insure that our coaches don’t perpetuate a bullying model. The expression of any frustration or instruction should be focused on play not on the kids’ personalities, physical traits, religion or parents. More importantly, coaches need to find moments they can praise. It’s not enough to just criticize. Kids get a defeatist attitude, which means they don’t believe they can improve. So an occasional compliment can go a long way to continue to motivate progress. We see the way our kids’ faces brighten up when told we’re proud of them. And honestly, we parents are no different. We love hearing from our spouses that we look good or to be thanked for doing a chore. We welcome a pat on the back from co-workers or bosses. We appreciate the odd compliment while out, including, "Your children are so well-behaved." Likewise, none of us respond well to criticism, even constructive criticism, and we certainly don’t enjoy being humiliated.
 
We want to say "bully" to our coaches in the same way Teddy Roosevelt used the word to mean great job. We don’t want to say "bully" about our coaches meaning that they overstep social and moral boundaries of behavior. We need to be vigilant and not to brush aside conduct that makes us uncomfortable. Many coaches will stretch the edges of proper demeanor until they are told to rein it in. We mustn’t be afraid of speaking up. Certainly, as children get older and the stakes get higher for coaches, schools and clubs, the expectations and criticisms will increase in intensity. But it never has to descend into the personal in order to be effective. Good coaches know that.

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Keeping Up the Standards

Susan Boyd

The first time I ever saw a Peapod grocery delivery truck roaming our neighborhood, I said in my most superior voice, "I will never order food online to be delivered." Embedded in that statement were the unspoken judgments about parents who don’t care enough to go to the store and shop, who are too lazy and who are disorganized. As I write this, I am waiting for my Peapod order to be delivered. What created my change in attitude? Lots of things contributed, including developing a less judgmental attitude toward the process. Over the years of raising my children and juggling work, writing, housecleaning, carpooling, soccer trips, meals and laundry, I’ve had this desire to be the perfect mom with perfect organization and perfect execution. I’ve fallen short so many times that it’s a wonder I have any self-esteem left.
 
My own mother raised five children while never failing to have dinner on the table at 6:15 every single night. Fast food for our family was a gourmet meal enjoyed only for lunch and only once or twice a year. She oversaw all our homework, corrected our papers to a point we didn’t appreciate until much later in life, grocery shopped after dinner because we only had one car and my dad used that to go to work. She ran her errands Saturday afternoons, recorded books for the blind, did thousands of elementary school eye screenings throughout the Seattle area using taxis, buses, or friends for transportation, served on the Alaska-Northwest Synod of the Presbyterian Church, and kept an immaculate home. She was a difficult role model to live up to! So it’s not surprising that every time I compromised on her standards I felt huge pangs of guilt.
 
We parents carry around a lot of expectations for ourselves, which have been formed by our upbringing, the media and even ads. Imagine the shame "ring around the collar" 1960s housewives had to bear giving way to "Choosy mothers choose Jif" in the ‘80s, capped off with "You’re not as clean as you think" from Dial a few years ago. We are constantly reminded we aren’t measuring up to an ideal. Keeping a stack of pizzas in the freezer became a silent rebuke every time I opened the door — "you are a terrible mother to let your kids eat something so high in salt and fat!" Squeezing soccer practices, school work and home-cooked meals into the four hours following after-school activities meant that we often grabbed dinner and did homework at a family restaurant between the soccer fields and home as the recriminations flooded my brain. I managed to resist McDonald’s for 10 years, but in a moment of panic on a trip down to Chicago when Robbie was suffering from low blood sugar I pulled into the drive-thru and upped not only his sugar, but his fat and preservative intake, as well. Before long, that toll road oasis stop became regular, as did my self-loathing.
 
How many of you have typed papers for your kids because you really wanted them to get some sleep? That’s like entering the first ring of hell. These types of moral dilemmas can eat away at our confidence as parents. We can justify with some pride giving our kids an extra hour of sleep while suffering through the guilt that we aren’t teaching them to do their own work. Child psychologists tell us again and again how our job as parents isn’t to rescue our kids. If they forget their lunch or homework when they leave for school, we’re not to race down and give it to them. If they aren’t prepared for a test, we’re not to let them stay home "sick." If they have a project for school, we’re not to help other than to get the poster board and glue. I’ve broken all of these and so much more. I’ve also said publicly that our schools don’t do enough to teach our kids how to problem-solve while totally undermining that concept by rushing to the rescue. Asking our child "How could you solve this?" isn’t worth listening to the whining and the pouting when we can simply tell them what to do. I hate conflicts, so I tend to do whatever I can to avoid them, even as my parental pride is oozing away like the wicked witch in Oz.
 
Year by year, day by day, I have found myself faced with the catch-22 of compromising my parental expectations for quick fixes or necessary evils. My mother passed away many years ago, and I regret not asking her what she compromised in her parenting. I’m sure she did, I just never saw it. I only witnessed her amazing ability to maintain certain standards in running the household and the family. However, I’ve come to realize some things in the intervening years. First of all, if we kids couldn’t walk or bike to it, we didn’t do it. My mother never drove us to a single game, lesson or activity. For those of us who played sports, my parents never came to watch a game, nor did our friends’ parents other than those who coached. We lived high up on a hill, more than a mile from the nearest community buildings, fields, stores and schools, but we got ourselves to our events and then back home again, even if it was already dark. Today’s parents worry about kids going places alone over such distances and are more heavily invested in attending their children’s events. Second, going out to eat was rare no matter what other standards a family had. I remember in our town we had four sit-down restaurants, two of which were fine dining. If our family tried to go out to eat it would have cost a fortune. So eating at home was the logical and necessary option. The town I live in today is about the same population of the town I grew up in, and we have 35 sit-down restaurants, only two of which are expensive retreats. And we have dozens of fast food options. Getting a meal on the fly is not only easy, but also, if done once or twice a week, won’t bust the food budget. Third, kids have far more options for activities and sports than they ever have. They can participate in self-defense classes, art, science, tutoring courses, scouting, service projects and after-school clubs. Parents are warned not to over-schedule their kids, but it’s hard to whittle things down when friends are doing a number of diverse activities. So that’s another whip we can haul out for self-flagellation.
 
While we probably shouldn’t resort to expediency in every tough situation, we do need to forgive ourselves when we do. All that guilt I felt for not cooking every night was moderated by the fact that when I did cook I usually got met with at least one person’s displeasure with part of the meal. I found myself resorting to that horrible fall-back of "When I was a kid we ate what was put in front of us," which was rarely effective (actually never effective). While the guilt flows thick and often around us for our food choices, how we discipline, what we tolerate, what we expect, how and when we intervene in our kids’ lives, we make our decisions based on what works best with all the factors in our lives. I grew up with June Cleaver for a mom, but my best friend had Lois from Malcolm in the Middle as her mom. I was often jealous of what she got away with, given the strict discipline of my parents. Her room, and her house for that matter, was always a mess, meals were self-prepared whenever someone was hungry, she had dozens of Barbie dolls while I wasn’t allowed to have one, and she got to listen to rock music, which I had to do in secret under my bedcovers. Nevertheless, we both grew up to be productive adults who moved closer to a middle ground in our parenting. Still, I insisted my sons would never have toy guns, and then I ended up dealing with guns constructed from Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, sticks, screwdrivers, and even the dog’s chew bone. So although I didn’t compromise my stated position, I was just fooling myself. My friend told me once that she couldn’t get her daughter to play with Barbie. Go figure!
 
The lesson appears to be that, as long as it isn’t abuse, parenting is whatever you make of it. We can whisper under our breath about how the Smiths have their kids in too many activities or the Johnsons let their kids watch R-rated movies, but the truth is that both the Smiths and the Johnsons are probably discussing our parenting as well. I have known wild children, stressed children, overly sensitive children and shy children, all of whom have grown up wonderfully, despite any doubts I had when they were young. This brings me to Peapod. About three months ago, I realized that shopping online allowed me to read all the labels, to carefully pick products I feel will be the healthiest and most cost-worthy I can find, provide a wider selection of products, and keep me from impulse shopping because there were no kiosks touting the latest crackers, cereals, chips and candies. I still get my produce and fresh meats and fish from our local grocery — that’s part of my guilt, too, wanting to be sure I can select the right cuts. The fact is I wish I had done this a year ago. While it takes away from that image I have of the June Cleaver mom who cheerfully skips down the aisles of the grocery providing her family with the best of food chosen with love and attention, I have realized that we never saw June Cleaver shopping. For all we know, she may have had her groceries delivered to the house. I’m clinging to that idea. But it really doesn’t matter because I’m not June Cleaver. I don’t own heels or a string of pearls. Instead, I’m simply a caring mom who, like all of us, needs to accept that I must compromise in order to get through the day. That means we all need to cut ourselves some slack. Caring doesn’t require a shopping cart and the standards shift with the times.

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Get Snacking

Susan Boyd

Spring officially began March 20, despite the six inches of snow creating a hard frozen crust on my frontlawn and record low temperatures. Spring soccer begins soon, and with soccer comes the commitment to provide healthy snacks for your child and, at least once in the season, for the entire team. Figuring out what to provide in a society that is now in tune with kids who need to be nut, dairy, gluten, sugar and fat-free. I have a grandson with a peanut allergy, so I know how disappointing it is for him when a child in his classroom has a birthday and brings in Snicker brownies to celebrate. He also realizes that his fellow students can’t be held hostage by his allergy, so he stays upbeat. Still, if we can accommodate all the kids on the team, why not? What should we pack for those individual and group snacks? What are some easy, affordable, healthy options?
 
First, you need a good way to transport those snacks to the fields. It’s less difficult on the cool days, but eventually the temperatures rise. We can use the standard cooler, but that can be awkward and messy with a heavy large container filled with melting ice. I’ve discovered some great options to that cooler. For a single child, there’s an insulated bag filled with gel that folds up into a rectangle the size of a small photo and an inch thick. You store it in the freezer and pull it out to use when you need it. It opens up to a large lunch sack with the frozen gel interior cooling around ten hours. Called PackIt, the sack costs $20 and is available on Amazon in a variety of colors and designs. For the group, there are two choices, both of which are collapsible. The Picnic Time Insulated Cart Cooler ($50), with removable trolley, is a 25-quart bag that could easily accommodate enough juice boxes and snacks for a team. It can be transported either with the attached handle or by the wheeled trolley. Using gel packs to keep it cool allows you to avoid the mess of melting ice and the soft-sided collapsible construction saves lots of room in the garage. It comes in five colors and can be ordered on Amazon. Another option is a large canister that holds up to 60 cans, yet collapses to a disk that lies flat on a shelf. EpicSports.com offers the Picnic Big Dipper in Royal Blue or Mint Striped and is the least expensive at $26 of the dozens of options available. It has two side handles to transport it, but you could also use a luggage cart to move it easily. Again, frozen gel packs offer a means for neatly layering the cold throughout the bag.
 
Next come beverages. These seem an easy choice considering the multitude of juice boxes, juice bags, sports drink bottles and cans available on the grocery shelves. However, many of these options contain lots of sugar. Neither you nor your fellow parents would appreciate taking home a child in the car with a sugar high on top of a game high! Apple and Eve Fruitables offer great-tasting fruit and vegetable drinks with only 9 grams of sugar per serving (compared to Capri Sun with 16 grams or Juicy Juice with up to 26 grams). Honest Kids has pouches of apple juice, pink lemonade, and grape fruit juice with just 9 grams of sugar. Sunny D orange drink has 11 grams of sugar and 80 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C per serving. The 8 oz. bottles of Gatorade G have 14 grams of sugar, which push the boundary. However, compared to Powerade’s 34 grams, it’s rather tame. A wiser choice for Powerade would be the Zero option, which has no sugar opting for sucralose instead. Then, of course, you could just opt for water. In all cases, be sure to encourage the recycling of bottles.
 
Snacks cover a wide variety of choices. Fruit is always a great option as it is healthy, non-allergenic and usually well-liked by all. Right now is the season for tangerines and mandarin oranges, which are easily transported and relatively inexpensive. There are the traditional orange or apple slices, but these require preparation and packaging. However, Earthbound Farms offers packs of apple slices for $0.99 each and Chiquita has apple bites with caramel dip (contains dairy) for $1.29 each. A good substitute for fresh fruit is dried fruit and fruit chips such as apple, mango, apricots, raisins and craisins. You can buy these in individual packages. These are sold under the brand names of Ocean Spray, Dole, Sunsweet, Sun-Maid and Nature’s Promise, among others. Fruit snacks and fruit leather remain popular choices. Kids do love these, although dentists will tell you that they cling to enamel with damaging acids and sugars. On the plus side, most contain less than 16 grams of sugar per serving. Kids also like carrot and celery sticks, which can be bought in packs. Bolthouse sells a four-pack of baby carrot sticks for $1.49, and Del Monte has celery sticks. There are several brands of carrot and celery sticks packaged with Ranch dip, which contains dairy and could be messy in the car, but kids do love dipping.
 
Crackers and pretzels provide quick energy and tummy-filling fiber. You can find many options that are gluten and dairy-free. Jay’s and Snyder’s of Hanover Variety pack has chips and pretzels that are gluten, dairy, egg and peanut-free. You get 20 bags for $10. Nabisco leaps into popular culture with Angry Birds Honey Maid Grahams. These sell in 12-pack containers for $6.50 and are dairy, egg and peanut-free. It may be a stretch for kids to enjoy these, but rice cakes are a great source of fiber and come in various flavors. Quaker Oats has eight individual bags in caramel, apple cinnamon and chocolate flavors for $5 that are gluten, egg and nut-free. If no one on the team has any dietary restrictions or you are willing to offer several choices, then cracker sandwiches are a great snack. Keebler and Nabisco have options such as cheese, peanut butter and chocolate, plus dipping cracker sticks. Most come in packages of eight for around $3. Entemann’s has bags of Little Bites in muffins and brownies. These are peanut-free and cost $3 for five individual bags.
 
Dairy-based snacks provide bone-building calcium and are low in sodium. Yoplait’s Go-Gurt comes in several flavors and costs around $3 for eight tubes. One of US Youth Soccer’s sponsors is Yo-Crunch, which has created yogurt packs that include crunchy toppings from M & M’s to Honey Bunches of Oats. These make an excellent energy booster to keep on hand between tournament games or the trip home. You’ll need to provide spoons. String cheese is an easily, portable and enjoyable snack. Sargento, Kraft and Frigo are three brands among several that have string cheeses individually wrapped. Kraft also has Jack and Colby cheese cubes that could be combined with some crackers.
 
For a full, quick meal, many families will turn to Lunchables. These can be not only handy but tasty. However, some Lunchables have extremely high sodium up to more than 1/3 of daily requirements. So be sure to carefully read the labels. The best one is Lunchable Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly with fruit, which has only 14 percent daily sodium content. Smucker’s Uncrustable sandwiches (box of four for $3) can be augmented with a juice and some fruit. Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea make individual tuna salad packs with crackers that cost between $1.50 and $2. Some kids really love meat jerky, but keep in mind that this is a high sodium option for a meal. An alternative might be Old Wisconsin Sausage Snack Bites in either turkey or beef. These are much lower in sodium and are a great source of protein. Both jerky and the sausage bites are low fat.
 
Buying snacks can be an eye-opening experience. Look at the labels to educate yourself to the levels of sugar, sodium and fat. There’s no perfect option out there, but some are decidedly better than others. No matter what you choose for drinks and snacks, be sure to keep in mind any restrictions other children on the team might have. Providing a variety of choices for the kids insures no hurt feelings. Most kids are pretty savvy about their diets, so be sure to provide them with the information they need so they can choose wisely. Parents and kids will appreciate you being in tune with the restrictions and allergies that exist. But most importantly, do whatever is best for your time and budget. Kids will appreciate any treat they get because for many of them it ends up being the highlight of the day.

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