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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." 
 
 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.

 

Decked Out

Susan Boyd

This past weekend I became aware of a fact that I knew intuitively but hadn’t really acknowledged consciously. I simply accepted it without consideration. I went to lunch with a 5-year-old soccer player named Will. He had just finished a match and thus came to the restaurant in his uniform.

The hostess greeted us and then bent down to Will and said, “Do you play soccer?” He replied with a “yes.”

As she gathered the menus and guided us to our table, she continued her interaction. “Did you just play a game? How did you do?”

Will brightened up, “Yes and I scored a goal.”

“Oh good for you.” Then she noticed his club emblem on the shirt. “My brother played for the Kickers. That’s a great club. What’s your team’s name?”

“It’s the Cobras,” Will beamed.

“Because you’re good strikers right?”

With a giggle Will sat in his seat, “I guess so.”

I was astonished. In the time it took to go from the hostess desk to our table, Will had not received validation for his sport, but had been included in a brotherhood of players and acknowledged for his good play. All because she noticed his uniform.

That’s the power of branding. We recognize how important it is for kids to identify with their favorite team and players. Kids clamor for jerseys, warm-ups, scarves and posters to make them feel part of something bigger than themselves, and to also aspire to something. Even a simple uniform can provide big pleasures and self-esteem. I learned that Saturday. The pride that 5-year-old strutted without conceit was disarming. He felt like he was the king of the world for at least one meal. I had to concede a truth I had ignored — what our kids wear can have as big an impact on their character development as what they actually do. If clothes can make the man or woman, then a uniform can improve the spirit.

When my daughters were young, they always wanted to do a fashion show after a shopping trip. They would cheerfully put on their new outfits and dance and twirl down an imaginary runway. They felt special and attractive while luxuriating in the “ooh’s” and “aah’s” from the audience, which was made up of my husband and I. Their new clothes contributed to a heightened sense of self-esteem and joy. Should any item be a well-accepted brand name, it added to the effect. We often don’t understand the allure of wearing something from Abercrombie and Fitch or Justice, shaking our heads at the prices and, in some cases, at the low quality. But those clothes are just a different kind of uniform, placing the wearer on the fashion forward team. I hated when the boys wore their pants sagging below their butts. I couldn’t figure out the allure of such a ridiculous and uncomfortable style. I encourage them not to be sheep, blindly following some trend, but my “moral” lesson fell on deaf ears. With music and sports idols dictating the style trends, the boys just wanted to be part of that lofty group. If they weren’t, they felt that it limited their social opportunities.

When I witnessed Will beaming with pride, I realized that a uniform can be an elixir of self-esteem. For the youngest players it provides an outward show of their interest and abilities. A uniform provides a catalyst for conversation, allowing young players to engage with people and to occasionally toot their own horns, which can be both cathartic and empowering, letting kids know that they are accepted and can have pride. A uniform also makes them a part of a club where they should be valued. On the reverse, leaving that club and giving up the familiar uniform can be wrenching to a young child. We may want to keep the uniform as a memento, while our child may see it as a taunt of their failure. So we need to be sensitive to the measure a uniform sends.

Uniforms can create unexpected rivalries as well. When the boys started playing, they joined our city’s recreational league. They played on a team made up of friends from school and neighbors. They practiced on our subdivision’s soccer field with parent coaches. It was a great place to start – safe among familiar peers. However, there was also a select club that a few of their friends belonged to. While the boys’ uniforms were inexpensive, bulk products without adornment other than jersey numbers, their friends had Adidas uniforms holding the club insignia, their name and a number. This imbalance created a visual rivalry that spilled over to a spoken rivalry. I could see that some of the kids felt second-class when compared to the select team members. A few years later when the two clubs joined, the bad blood made the transition difficult. Some kids moved down to B teams while some rec players moved up to A. The cohesiveness of the team was made more difficult.

Nevertheless, one of the soothing factors turned out to be uniforms. Out in public, the kids all wore the same uniform without visible distinction between A, B, or even C teams. Instead those around town saw these players as one cohesive, accomplished group. Naturally, they should be valued no matter what, but having the cache of the well-known and branded uniform gave these kids an extra public boost. All local soccer players were part of the “in-crowd” as evidenced by the jersey they wore.

Another aspect of uniforms is that they need to be maintained. We can use our children’s pride in their uniform as a means to teach them how to respect property. They can learn to spray with stain remover before throwing in the wash, to keep their uniforms folded and together in a bag, to protect their uniforms from damage and loss, and to respect what the uniform represents. We can offer a special jersey, warm-up, socks, or scarf as an incentive for careful maintenance of the uniform they have. It can be a tool for learning as well. Kids should research the crest of a professional team they support and learn the history of that club. Studying the statistics and life story of a favorite player might teach a child how to handle adversity or strive for stronger skills. Teams regularly change their uniform colors, so kids can share in the announcement of new designs. Likewise, they can participate in groups who celebrate “vintage” jerseys. These opportunities to actually learn from their uniform choices can be priceless.

As kids develop, they begin to take a greater interest in where the sport can take them. They watch college and professional teams, identify players they admire, and begin to dream about the day they might be that good. They want to feel a part of that energy and advertise their devotion, so they desire that special jersey. We’re happy to indulge them because we like that they are showing a passion for the sport and it does make an easy gift to buy. But beyond all that, kids develop a certain amount of pride connecting themselves to top teams and players. No matter where they travel, they are sure to encounter at least one other compatriot with instant recognition and connection. It’s great for kids to find this global community membership. It can extend beyond soccer into culture, politics, and travel. Sharing the colors of a favorite club or player opens up many other opportunities for our children.

Uniform can have the stigma of stifling individualism as the term implies conformity by definition. Schools hope to eliminate the competition of fashion by requiring standardized apparel, helping students to achieve some equality despite economic inequalities.

The point is to create a community that fosters inclusion without demanding a loss of individualism. Soccer allows kids to bond through passions, support, and friendship under the umbrella of shared clothing. We can further invest those uniforms with our interest and support, adding a layer of confidence to our kids’ accomplishments, by wearing spirit wear. Our children feel validated when they see us in a baseball cap or scarf sporting the team logo. We become part of their team which demonstrates our conviction in what they are doing. That simple action can do as much as our high fives after a match. It’s an evident representation of our support that extends beyond the pitch when we wear the gear to the grocery or the movies. Adding a decal to our car advertising a club alliance reveals our endorsement of both our children and their team.

Rather than limiting our children, uniforms can actually open them to a larger community where members share a specific interest but retain all the other variables that make them individuals. It may be why uniforms are called kits in Great Britain. While uniform implies restrictive conformity, kit implies something from which one would build or explore. Nevertheless, despite the term’s association with a standardized, unvarying image, uniforms don’t have to be restrictive. Even as they bind players through a common look and goal, they also allow players to go out in the world with the confidence that they are part of a supportive brother- or sisterhood. By revealing players’ allegiance both to a club and a sport, the uniform becomes a means to introduce them to a wider world of participants. When Will entered that restaurant in his uniform, he instantly became recognizable as a member of a larger citizenry. Even the age difference between the hostess and him was bridged by a shared experience revealed through the uniform. In a way, a uniform becomes a special language that thousands speak with pride.

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Use It or Lose It

Susan Boyd

Lately, I find myself in a rush to get through one day and on to the next like a child anticipating her birthday — anxious to reach the moment of cake and gifts. However, I don’t really have an objective — no major trip planned, no upcoming soccer tournament, no anniversary or special occasion.

Now I just bought one of those fitness trackers. Suddenly I want to get to the end of the day to record if I accomplished enough steps, attained the proper ratio of calories taken in versus calories expended and enjoyed a fully restful sleep. I check several times a day, measuring joy or despair over how many blinking dots flash across my display, and I begin to worry that I’m being unhealthy in my attempt to get healthy. It’s a need to move ever forward, never achieving but always producing. My life becomes cluttered by counting distance traveled and nutrition ingested while neglecting things like checking out the landscape as I hike past or savoring the taste of my meals. Even Ferris Bueller pointed out that “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

The TODAY show had a segment on teens obsessed with social media and how parents should deal with it. They used the example of a young woman who had over 2,000 Instagram followers and needed to regularly manage her account with extensive updates, responding to her followers, and staying abreast of media trends. The experts suggested the same things that have been repeated on a regular basis: Limit media time, enforce device-free zones like the dinner table and expect your child to give you access to their accounts. The problem is that parents are as egregious in their device addiction as their kids. Whenever I go to a restaurant or a movie, I see a majority of heads, both child and adult, bent over their phones with regrettably myself included. I went to a Broadway musical last month and an adult in the seats below me was regularly receiving and sending texts during the performance. Besides taking the user out of the magical theatrical experience, he or she took many of us out of it, as well.

We talk about multi-tasking, as if that means we are doubling or tripling up on our accomplishments, when in reality, we are probably missing out on the beautiful nuances and experiences of those tasks. I grew up in the era of the “Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Method,” which has been declared unviable, diminishing comprehension and even eliminating all together. Amazon just sent me an email touting their new “short versions” of bestsellers — introducing, for example, the 40-page version of “A Girl on the Train,” so we can avoid having to plow through the dense, rich imagery and ideas of the full novel (my words not theirs). They’re Cliff Notes for the new millennium. What will we really do with all that extra time we’re “saving?”

In the 1780s, Nicolas de Chamfort wrote, “Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.” How did he anticipate 150 years later our obsession with selfies, food photos, tweets that detail every mundane activity in our lives, and our narcissistic demeanors? We are busy being busy, but we never seem to really do anything. I worry that we parents are perpetuating this reflective existence.

Consider how often we watch our children’s soccer matches through the narrow lens of a camera. Since we can now take countless pictures easily without the need to have film developed, it gave us license to overdo. Instead of the freedom of watching a game unfettered by an SLR camera or smart phone, we clamp that device up to our eye. We don’t snap a picture or two to send to the grandparents; rather we memorialize the entire game because it costs us nothing but our attention, yet it is that very attention that is being compromised in those circumstances. Ironically, we are missing the big picture. We need to ask ourselves who appreciates all those photos. Even if we convince ourselves that we are creating a legacy for our children, the reality is that kids notice if they are receiving our full attention and much prefer that to some artificial reenactment of the day.

Likewise, when we concentrate on wins, we are missing out on the joy of the play. I always marvel at how the youngest soccer players seem to have no stake in the outcome of a match. They love to score and love the celebration a score permits, but at the end of the game they are far more focused on running gleefully to embraces on the sidelines and post-game snacks than on who won. Eventually, they understand the ramifications of competition and buy into the perceived importance of victory. However, kids need to know that they are not valued solely for their success but more significantly for how they pursue their talents. Winning has nothing to do with developing a moral and ethical person. Their character is never measured by conquest but by thoughtful and wise use of skills and considerate behavior while doing so. Abigail Van Buren told her readers that “the best index of a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.” Parents can set the best example by noticing and praising how players exercise both their skills and their principles during a match — making wins a welcomed but unnecessary element in how a match is played. All too often, wins are taken far too seriously. Elbert Hubbard joked at the turn of the 20th century that one shouldn’t take life so seriously because “you will never get out of it alive.” We must take both wins and losses in stride because ultimately they won’t impact how a child grows into an adult.

We can do a great service for our children if we teach them to both enjoy the journey of their lives and to never be afraid to challenge themselves. We shouldn’t focus on wins because we unintentionally instill the fear of losing. This may keep our children from trying something that could make their lives even richer. The old saw reminds us that there is no failure except in no longer trying. Edison said he never failed; he just found 10,000 things that didn’t work. We need to stop trying to find the safest path through life for our children and micro-managing their efforts so they can avoid disappointment and loss. Letting them experience consequences also lets them learn how to overcome hurdles rather than us stepping in to remove the hurdles. How will children develop the courage to take risks if nothing in their life is a risk?

“Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you,” says Bethany Hamilton, who survived the loss of an arm from a shark attack while surfing. She not only continues to surf but to stretch her horizons despite her disability. That’s an important lesson for kids to learn. It allows them to push for more experiences and to accept that there will be roadblocks while they trust that they have the ability to overcome those barriers. Oliver Wendell Holmes made the point very succinctly. He said, Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.” Kids may be afraid to live their lives to a full potential because they lack the confidence to take risks, and also because they are afraid to disappoint their parents. Kids remember one criticism over a dozen words of praise, so we need to be particularly conscious of how we approach our children’s efforts.

I worry that as we rush about getting to lessons, practices, games and events, we lose sight of the things that truly matter. Are our children happy? Have we noticed the unspectacular but important details? Are we building memories rather than just recording them? Are we giving our kids the tools to solve their own problems and accept risk? As we rush everyone through life, we may be depriving our children of the opportunity to just contemplate their surroundings. We need to distinguish between wasting time and enjoying time. The more we can slow down in order to recharge and reassess, paradoxically the more opportunities we will have to make the most of our time. We want to give kids a broad platform from which to launch their lives, but not a bland platform. We should embrace the beautiful imperfections that make life interesting. The conundrum comes about when we need to balance the opportunity to luxuriate in the simple pleasures of life and the drive to experience as much as we can. Children can best evolve when they have time to just be kids while they slowly integrate the ability to solve their own problems, set their own goals and take appropriate risks to reach their full potential. Our job is to give them the freedom to enjoy life and the room to seize opportunities. We can support without rescuing. We can stop doing things that simply fill time and instead choose a purposeful life that we share with our children and with others.

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Up and Coming

Susan Boyd

Last weekend, I drove past the city park where my kids, Bryce and Robbie, regularly played soccer. As I expected on a spring weekend morning, the three full-sized fields and four smaller ones were covered with young players either in the midst of a match or preparing to begin. However, all of these eager participants flocking across the soccer pitches weren’t kicking a ball. They were flinging it with lacrosse sticks. Then last night I drove past the high school where the football field lights were blazing not for a spring scrimmage but in order to illuminate an interscholastic boys’ lacrosse match. The proliferation of this century’s old sport has now become rampant in the United States. Where much of our interaction with lacrosse had been news reports a decade ago about the Duke men’s team, we can now watch matches regularly on cable sports channels and read reports on high school and college competitions in the sports section. Even one of my grandsons has gone over to the lacrosse side.

Soccer has enjoyed a special status as the new and growing sport in the U.S. over nearly three decades. It began when the U.S. Men’s National Team qualified for the 1990 World Cup, the first time since 1950. Interest grew when the U.S. won the bid to host the 1994 World Cup, bringing international attention and teams to our shores. This was followed by the formation of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996. Since 1990, youth involvement in soccer has increased 89 percent with over three million registered players as a component of the 24 million men, women, and children participants in 2014, second only to China. According to 2015 Pew research, soccer is now the fourth-most watched sport ahead of ice hockey, auto racing, tennis and golf. With an average turnout of 19,000 at MLS games, America ranks eighth in the world for attendance at first division soccer matches, ranking ahead of soccer-obsessed Argentina and Brazil. The women’s game has seen not only phenomenal growth but equal success. There were 318 women’s college teams in 1991, which increased to 959 in 2009. The Women’s World Cup has been hosted by the U.S. twice in 1999 and 2003. In the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team beat China to win the title before a crowd of 90,000. This event still ranks as the best attended women’s sporting event ever. In 2011, 8.2 percent of adults listed soccer as their favorite sport. Even when the U.S. loses, the team pulls in huge audiences. The men’s 2-1 loss to Belgium in the 2014 World Cup had 24.5 million viewers, which compares favorably to last year’s NBA finals that averaged 15.5 million, the World Series that averaged 14.9 million and the Stanley Cup that pulled in under 5 million. Soccer has come of age in the United States, and with the continued growth of MLS, which also attracts major European soccer stars, the sport should continue to enjoy a bright and expanding future.

However, no status is ever secure, and lacrosse has begun to nip at soccer’s heels. According to US Lacrosse, the sport’s governing body in America, participation has grown from 254,000 players in 2001 to 773,000 players in 2014—a 300 percent increase. Youth players doubled from 2006 to 2009, and in 2014, lacrosse was the fastest growing sport in high school, increasing 28 percent for boys and 31 percent for girls. Likewise, the number of college programs has increased from 247 in 2009 to 339 in 2014 for the boys and 319 to 443 for the girls. There are two professional North American lacrosse leagues and both are indoor. Major League Lacrosse recently expanded to eight franchises and now has a contract with ESPN3 to stream every league game. The National Lacrosse League has nine franchises and plays in Canada and the U.S. Its primary popularity is in Canada where box lacrosse is the official summer sport of our neighbors to the north. Just as soccer took off once a significant professional league began in the U.S., lacrosse will need its own strong foray into the professional ranks in order to build a loyal fan base. Adding to the hype are international competitions overseen by the Federation of International Lacrosse, which holds World Championships every four years for men, women, and U-19 players. US Lacrosse can boast of a record 27 wins at the World Championships since 1974.

The blossoming of a new sports option for our kids should always be welcomed. The more choices kids have, the more likely they are to find something that excites their passions and gets them out and moving. Lacrosse costs more than soccer for equipment but is still relatively affordable for all families, especially when clubs help organize equipment swaps. As college teams increase and kids can find role models in the sport to inspire them, the future does look bright for lacrosse. However, this growth brings some complications with it, and that is primarily competing for resources. This brings me back to those lacrosse sightings I had this past week. Just as soccer had to carve out space from football, now lacrosse will be carving out space from soccer. There’s only so much groomed green space available and, even worse, precious few indoor facilities. The freedom to practice and compete should be limitless, but restricted resources means fierce competition now spills from the pitch into municipal recreation scheduling offices. Trying to find ways of fairly subdividing these patches of green can lead to some sharp conflicts and sour grapes.

As one sport surges, it’s not unusual for other sports to decrease. This is especially true when the sports share aspects. Kids could find the movement and purpose of lacrosse to be similar enough to soccer to spur some crossover. Just as moving off the ice onto the pitch can come naturally to hockey players, so too soccer players might find the addition of sticks to their scoring arsenal equally enticing. Such shifting of allegiances makes clubs nervous because they survive on increasing their membership, not losing it. These shifts can elicit hostilities while increasing recruiting, which is supposed to be forbidden. As we begin the spring tryouts for soccer teams across the U.S., frustrated coaches may be seeing some players siphoned off by competing sports and others by rival soccer clubs. It’s an uncomfortable situation which works against the “for the kids” policy that youth sports promotes. Clubs need to fill rosters just to meet payrolls and expenses, but they also need winning teams in order to sell the club in the future to parents looking for success, so they must retain and locate what they consider to be quality players. It’s a tough balancing act – giving all players a fair shake while having to keep an eye on the power of the roster. Throw in losing kids to other sports and you can end up with a toxic situation. In some cases, coaches will promise these players that they can play both sports and not have to come to all practices and even games. That’s dangerous because it creates a double-standard that has glaring problems. My sons faced the pull between football and soccer and several of their teammates got “deals” in order to play both sports, which only created resentment and uneven results. Now kids may feel a pull between soccer and lacrosse with the same offers of “dual citizenship.” Finding a way to navigate this prickly course will remain an important aspect of making youth sports fun and fair for all.

No one should be leery of a new sport on the horizon. Kids benefit from a variety of choices because development, size, skills, and interests are so varied among pre-teens and even into high school. It’s really great when a child can find a sport that fit his or her particular attributes to a tee. Hopefully, physical education programs in elementary schools will offer a couple of weeks of exposure to lacrosse so kids can discover if that’s where they see themselves. The point of youth sports is to improve fitness and bring another level of fun to kids’ lives, and youth team sports are meant to encourage collaboration and develop friendships. So we should all applaud this upsurge in lacrosse. However, along with that, parents need to be mindful of the pitfalls. We can help facilitate cooperation among the field sports in order to make the use of our resources fairly available and help restrict in-fighting. We also need to encourage our kids not to straddle sports in the same season but learn to face the tough choices everyone has to make throughout life. We can and should be open to all the possibilities for youth sports, even as we hold a special place in our hearts for soccer, and help our young players to navigate those options. We want our kids to build great memories while improving their health and fitness. We can score goals in either sport.

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Clear as Mud

Susan Boyd

I had my annual eye exam, which isn’t really the point of this blog but comes as way of explanation. I had to have my eyes dilated, so while the drops took effect, I was handed a copy of the large print Reader’s Digest in the meantime. I don’t usually read that magazine, but I’m glad I had it thrust at me. There was a contest for humorous family anecdotes, and the winner struck me as encapsulating so many of our collective youth soccer experiences. A father took his son to soccer practice, and for the second week in a row, he was the only player on the field. Frustrated, the father told his son to tell the coach that this was unacceptable. The boy rolled his eyes at his dad and stated, “He’ll just say the same thing he said last week.” “Which was?” “Practice is now on Wednesday, not Tuesday.” I’m positive we’ve all been there in some form or another.

I’ve often watched a coach call together her team. She kneels down with all the young, earnest players listening intently to every word as she carefully explains the tactics the team should execute. They all nod agreement as the coach rises, claps her hands, and says, “Let’s go.” The team scatters like dry leaves swirling chaotically around the pitch and immediately lose all sense of order, direction and purpose. The coach tries to stay positive, but she is obviously frustrated. The problem is that those clear instructions weren’t really clear. Without the context of experience and maturity, telling kids to stay goal-side, check to, and give and go has all the clarity of a foreign language spoken backwards. We’re lucky if kids shoot the ball in the right goal. Developing a language that kids will understand, remember, and use when playing soccer becomes the predominant part of any coaching. The task is complicated by short attention spans, an inability to comprehend the importance of any discussion, and the dependence of English on idiomatic speech.

All too often, reason gets lost in translation from the kid’s eye view to the adult’s. It’s not just that kids are by definition irresponsible or naïve. It’s really that they live in a different contextual world than we do, and they are bound to literal translations in more ways than we are. Over the years we’ve come to understand the subtleties of idioms and allusions while our kids take them at face value. When a child says she can’t find her favorite toy, and a father tells her, “Look hard. Leave no stone unturned,” he shouldn’t be surprised to find her in the yard picking up rocks. A coach who admonishes his U-8 team to “step up your game” might find all his players marching on the pitch. We take for granted that the concepts we understand are the same for our kids. That boy in the anecdote probably thought “Okay the team is showing up on Wednesday, but my dad brings me on Tuesday, which annoys the coach but that’s how we do it.” Or he might just have forgotten to let his father know about the change because one day is as good as another in his limited experience with time. We adults can think we’re making ourselves clear, but the clarity is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

Consider some of the idioms we use every day and how easily they could be misinterpreted by a young player. The phrase, “hang in there” could end up confusing players who’ve been told not to swing on the goals. Encouraging kids to “go the extra mile” might have them in tears thinking they have to run another mile. How about telling a player “In the long run, you upped your game?” Does that mean they have to run a long time? Is there a downed game? Are they only good when they are running? Tell a team proudly that they should win their game “hands down” might mean they think they have to keep their hands at their sides. How confusing is it to tell a team they lost because they dropped the ball, when none of them picked it up except the goal keeper who’s supposed to pick it up and then drop or throw it? Discussing how a team should regroup by telling them to go back to square one will leave them befuddled since there are no squares to return to. If we chastise a player by telling him he was caught with his pants down, we shouldn’t be surprise to see him clutching at his shorts. Urging a player to hit the back of the net might find him behind the goal. We can’t be surprised when telling a team at half time that they started the game on the wrong foot that they all raise their hands to find out which foot they should start with. At the end of a tough loss, a team is told they have to face the music. The problem is that no music is playing.

It becomes worse when we mix sports idioms, which are confusing on their own and even more so when paired with soccer. When a team hears from a coach in June that they are “skating on thin ice,” we can’t expect them to comprehend what is being said. If the coach asks his team who is losing, 3-0, if he should “throw in the towel,” they have no idea how to answer appropriately. A pep talk before a game where the coach tells her squad that their commitment will be tested because this is where the “rubber meets the road” only leave the kids wondering what rubber (the ball perhaps) and why hitting a road. Encouraging a team to go for the whole nine yards will probably leave them wondering where those yards could be found on the pitch. Admonishments to come out swinging can be interpreted to use one’s fists rather than to give it one’s all.

We take for granted that everyone will understand certain words, phrases and instructions, but for young players, that’s not always possible. Kids take things very literally until they learn the subtleties and nuances of language later in their development. Language is difficult to learn, but we also have to remember that just because we know the common sense aspects of life, our kids may not. If a coach tells them information, they don’t understand that parents don’t learn the information unless the kids pass it on. Parents may have to look through notes stuffed in a backpack for information. Just because a kid knows how to tie her shoe doesn’t mean she knows how to lace it. Teaching our children how to do laundry involves lots of taken for granted moments like separating laundry, water temperatures, amount of soap, and what to line vs. tumble dry. It took a few pink-tinged undershirts and shrunken sweaters for the boys and I to figure out that they had no clue about what I intuitively knew. Something as simple as putting the lid on the blender before you turn it on isn’t innately understood by our kids. Flushing a paper towel down the toilet doesn’t set off mental alarms to a 10-year-old (or even a 14-year-old as we discovered the hard way). There are dozens of times a day that parents realize their kids just don’t get it, and the situations may range from running with scissors to sticking a fork in the toaster to putting batteries in backwards. It’s a wonder kids don’t burn down the house or blow up the microwave (as our daughter did quite spectacularly) by heating up a burger wrapped in foil. Life is filled with intangibles that can only become known by either instruction or experience, and often kids require both.

In this complex world of electronics we often think our children understand them better than we do. However, that fact only seems to be true where games or social media are concerned, and even then they use poor judgment because they can’t conceive of the far-ranging consequences. Otherwise we have to understand that our kids enter this world as blank slates that have to discover how things work, what words mean, and what consequences there will be going forward. We can’t assume anything when it comes to a child’s understand of the world. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to make assumptions because we’ve already internalized the meanings and the behaviors. We get surprised regularly. That surprise has been the basis of Art Linkletter’s show Kids Say the Darndest Things and half of the America’s Funniest Home Videos and YouTube moments. Just a few weeks ago a viral video showed a 3-year-old boy freaking out because the GPS announced “bear right,” and he thought they faced imminent danger. Our children’s confusion can be both frustrating and entertaining. It’s best if we can keep a sense of humor when our kids react with total bewilderment or wrong-headed behavior, because it will be a while before the fog lifts.

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