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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". 

 

Someone Has to Lose

Susan Boyd

Tuesday night, election night, we drove 3.5 hours through evening rush hour in Chicago to sit on cold, wet steel bleachers in 39-degree rainy weather to watch Robbie play in the first game of the Horizon League tournament. It certainly puts life in perspective. While the nation listened to pundits making "game day" predictions on which states would be blue and which red, we were watching two soccer teams battle it out for the privilege of playing again in the cold and rain later in the week. Sadly, Robbie’s team lost, 1-0, and he was devastated. That night lots of teams and individuals had the sweet experience of winning while an equal number had to face the dark demons of loss.
 
We parents know how difficult a loss can be, especially in a particularly significant game. A loss hurts as much at age 6 as it does at age 66. The only difference is that at age 6 the after-game snack usually wipes away all disappointment. Knowing what to say and when nothing should be said is really difficult. When Robbie came off that field Tuesday night we could see how hard he took this loss. He is the team captain and they had just beaten this team Saturday night to qualify for the tournament, so hopes were incredibly high that they could pull off another win. This tournament was the qualifier for a spot in the NCAA Division I bracket, and last year the team didn’t make it into the tournament. So, a great deal was riding on this win.
 
We told Robbie how well he played, which was true, but it was small consolation. What else could we say except, "You’ll get them next year." But those are empty words in a moment like that. For the three seniors, one of whom spent the last half of the season with a bad ankle injury and limited playing time, there won’t be a next year. This was the moment, and it was gone. On that election night, a bunch of candidates would lose and there wouldn’t be a next year for them either. I keep thinking there should be a club for those who lose big contests where they can commiserate.
 
So how do you approach your child after a loss? Gingerly! The swirl of emotions can make your child turn into Regan from The Exorcist, head spins and growl included. There is very little they can hear through the pulsing rage in their heads. They may reject any attempt on your part to be conciliatory and supportive, including hugs and kind words. Or they may show a deep need to be surrounded by your warmth. Only you can read their cues, and even then they could turn suddenly since this is an emotional occasion. The main thing about loss is that the feelings do dissipate over time, but that time could be long or short. You’ll never know. 
 
Hopefully the coach sets the right tone by being upbeat and not accusatory. No amount of blame will change the outcome. Later in practice, the coach can address what he or she saw as the weaknesses of play. By that time, players will be ready to hear suggestions and absorb criticism without being so raw. If the coach has been rough on the team following the loss, it would be a good idea for you to counter those comments in the things you say to your child. Let your player know that despite the coach’s assessment, you did see good things happening on the field. Be sure to come prepared to list those positives when you greet your child coming off the pitch. Hopefully he or she hasn’t been the brunt of direct blame from the coach, but if that does happen, you have to mitigate the sting. Even if the remarks have some truth to them, this isn’t the time to lay such a burden on your child’s shoulders. So talk about how the coach is as disappointed as the team, and sometimes when people are upset they say things out of frustration that aren’t appropriate. Let your son or daughter know how proud you are that he or she kept playing and worked through the setbacks that occurred during the game. Here’s when mentioning a positive such as, "you shielded the ball better than you ever have" goes a long ways to helping your player find some comfort.
 
Another obstacle might be the opposing team’s reaction to its win. If this is an intense rivalry, the winning team might be overly celebratory at the end. There may even be taunting or a show of dominance that rubs salt in the wounds. Therefore, I want to speak to the art of winning here. While the natural inclination when the win matters so much is to go wild with joy, having joy in the win is different from rubbing the opposing team’s noses in the loss. Remind your player that win or lose, their after-game behavior should be courteous, not snide, and non-confrontational. Coaches should prepare their teams for both a win and a loss, so the team’s behavior doesn’t skew into boorish or even cruelty.
 
Finally, as a parent you may be helpless to give immediate comfort in the face of a loss, but your constant support and positive outlook will smooth the path to "recovery." Don’t spend the ride home talking about the other team as if it came from the depths of hell or laying blame on some of your child’s teammates. That creates an unproductive atmosphere for moving past the loss. Sympathize without blame and let your child vent if that’s what he or she needs. You can agree if they express some frustration with the play of others, but let them know that no matter what play occurred, the game outcome can’t be changed. Therefore, they need to let the coach handle that aspect to help the team improve. For youth players, a distraction such as ice cream or a movie can usually wipe away all frustrations. For older players, they just need to work it out on their own over time. Either way, your role is to provide the steady, devoted support. During the course of their soccer careers, our children will face dozens of devastating losses and an equal number of surprising and satisfying wins. And none of them will mean as much as having their parents’ unconditional love. 

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Helping Out

Susan Boyd

Hurricane Sandy has left so many communities devastated without power, food or water. It’s difficult to talk about soccer knowing how many millions don’t have soccer as any kind of priority. My own brother lives in lower Manhattan and sends reports when he can. He and his wife have a nearly 3-year-old daughter and a dog living on the fifth floor without electricity and water. Luckily, 30 blocks north of them lives my sister-in-law’s brother, who has power, so they finally made the move there. Nevertheless, even those who have little damage still have battles to get gas, food, potable water and garbage pick-up. Seacoast communities are no longer underwater but are now dealing with being under sand with all the debris from the sea strewn about streets, yards and rooftops. Basic necessities are unavailable, so families are suffering. Those of us safe and secure need to reach out to help.
 
The American Red Cross, which provides tremendous and immediate on-site disaster relief, needs donations. You can donate online at https://www.redcross.org/donate. While immediate donations are needed, consider making a monthly commitment. Even $10 a month will go a long ways to restocking the funds dispersed for Sandy and prepare us for the next crisis. In addition, the Red Cross needs your blood donations. The hurricane disrupted blood drives that the Red Cross depends upon to keep blood banks fully stocked. Disasters always draw down the supplies due to injuries, and some areas without power and without back-up generators have totally lost their blood supplies. Go to http://www.redcrossblood.org/ to see how you can help. Consider volunteering or holding a fundraiser in your workplace or neighborhood. You can combine this with soccer easily. Ask friends, neighbors and coworkers to sign up for a contribution for each foot of your son’s or daughter’s dribbling distance or for the number of ball juggles they can do. Get the entire team involved to make even more money. 
 
The Salvation Army has swiftly moved into the distressed areas with furniture, clothing and food. However, they need both financial and goods donations. Donating money can be done on their website: https://donate.salvationarmyusa.org/disaster. If you want to donate clothing and furniture, both desperately needed by the families hit by Sandy, then call 800-728-7825 to find out how to get your gently used products to the right spot. I can guarantee there are families who lost all their soccer gear in this disaster, so consider finding those extra soccer cleats, shin guards and balls to donate. When you call Salvation Army, let them know that you want to donate these items directly to those who need them along the East Coast. Those of you with United and/or Delta miles can also donate those to Sandy relief. Go to the website for instructions: [LINK]. These miles will be used to bring volunteers directly to the areas in need and to help families move for temporary living with relatives outside of the hurricane zone while their homes get refurbished.
 
While people need the frontlines of help, there are thousands of animals, both wild and domestic, displaced by the hurricane. The Humane Society of America and the American Humane Association have sent teams to help with finding lost, abandoned and injured pets; to tend to them; and to hopefully reconnect them with their owners. In addition, many families who need to move to shelters can’t take their pets with them. These animal agencies are offering temporary boarding and care for those pets. They are also helping to trap and relocate wild animals that are roaming in neighborhoods looking for food and shelter after their habitats were destroyed. Donations can be made on their websites, http://www.humanesociety.org/ and http://www.americanhumane.org/, which support their mobile kennels and vet services. 
 
Soccer families are well-known for being prepared for anything. I’ve often written about keeping the soccer box in the truck of my car filled with supplies that can be needed at the fields. Sandy clearly demonstrated that this same level of preparation is needed in your home so that you can get through minor to major catastrophes. The federal government actually has ads that speak to this preparation, but unfortunately many of us don’t pay enough heed and aren’t ready should we suddenly lose power or find roads closed to heavy rains or snows. Those who were prepared are faring better than those who weren’t. Stock up on canned goods, which can survive up to five years; the less liquid in the can, the longer the shelf life. Unopened non-carbonated beverages such as water, sports drinks and juices have essentially an unlimited shelf life. While dry items such as beans, rice, flour and noodles can last for a long time, they all require water to be palatable. So they are good to have around for short-term emergencies, but for the longer term where you want to conserve water, they aren’t as optimal. If you think a possible emergency is coming, don’t forget to fill the bathtub for extra water. When water is cut off, you can use the bathtub water to "flush" your toilet by occasionally throwing a gallon down the john. That bathtub water can also be used for cooking if you boil it first. That means keeping a supply of Sterno available, buying some extra tanks of propane for your grill and making sure your grill is accessible, or buying a camping stove to use. Consider buying a small generator to keep your refrigerator, one small TV and power for cell phones running. Remember, you’ll need fuel for that generator. Experts recommend keeping nothing more than a five gallon container on hand long-term. But once you are forewarned of a possible calamity, fill up extra containers. Keep them outside and a distance from the house. Make sure you have enough flashlights, batteries, candles, matches and firewood. Store all flashlights without batteries, putting them in only as needed to avoid battery corrosion. Get a hand crank radio so at the very minimum you can keep up with the news. Many of these radios can charge your cell phone, as well.
 
As a soccer community, I encourage us all to come together to help those who need to get back on their feet. Three years ago, my home flooded, so I know first-hand the psychological, emotional and financial toll disasters take on people. The help our family received was invaluable to our recovery. I hope you readers will make even a minimal donation to one of the relief agencies I listed or another of your choice. I also hope you will seriously prepare for your own possible emergency. It doesn’t need to be a huge devastation like Sandy. In many cases, the problems can be localized but still impact your family on a serious level. So don’t wait, promising yourself you’ll get to it. Turn that "soccer preparation kit" into a "home preparation kit." You won’t be sorry. Even if you don’t need it, someone in your community may. Soccer brings the world together, so demonstrate our good neighbor policy by reaching out to help.

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Now for a Word from Our Sponsors...

Susan Boyd

How many soccer players fit in a Smart Car? Not nearly enough! That’s why you never see any of these tiny models in the parking lot. Look around and you’d think you were standing in the minivan section of CarMax. It’s not that sedans and compacts aren’t viable automobiles; it’s just that most soccer families need a seven-passenger vehicle to handle carpools, soccer equipment and the sideline paraphernalia of parents. While we may want to be as green as possible, our loyalty has to be to the green of the pitch for those years we act as soccer parents. We need those minivans, SUVs and crossover vehicles to facilitate our family activities. I’d like to challenge dealerships to offer a "youth sports" discount to purchasers or at the very least sponsor some youth sports teams.
 
This got me thinking about all the products that enjoy a symbiotic relationship with soccer families. Companies benefit from not only the on-going popularity of youth sports, but also from the explosive growth of sports like soccer. Giving back to the very families who support their products and services seems almost expected. I suggest we families could have a huge financial impact by controlling where we spend our money. Here are some logical products and services which soccer families would use that give back to the community with sponsorships.
 
Starting with US Youth Soccer, its sponsors include Baymont Inn and Suites, Degree deodorant, Fox Soccer Channel, Kohl’s Department Stores, KwikGoal, Liberty Mutual Insurance, National Guard, YoCrunch yogurt, SKLZ and Sports Authority. These sponsors offer products and services that soccer families use and need. I am particularly drawn to Degree because with two sons who sweat, having that protection pre- and post-game is invaluable in a closed car on a three-hour trip home from a tournament! I got to try YoCrunch recently, and it is a great way to start the day or add some energy in the middle of the day. There’s a container of yogurt with various flavor options topped by a container of different toppings such as cereal, granola or even cookies. Pop them in the cooler for a snack on the road or after the game. These companies have stepped up to provide money to support youth soccer on a national level. Families should support these sponsors as much as possible.
 
I looked at various clubs around the country to see who they had for sponsors. I was amazed at some of the great contributors these clubs got. Oshkosh (WI) Youth Soccer, for example, has more than 100 sponsors (kudos to the club for getting out there and soliciting those sponsors). The list includes two car dealerships, wisely supporting those who will be seeking new vans, and restaurants where families often gather after a practice for dinner and some conversation. Durango (CO) Youth Soccer Club has sponsors from a landscaping company (someone has to cut the field grass), restaurants and a college (eventually those youth players will move on to higher education). Middletown (RI) Youth Soccer club’s sponsors include a dentist, contractors and a screen printing company (for those tournament t-shirts). Big Sun Youth Soccer in Ocala, Fla. has sponsors from sports equipment stores and Ocala Recreation and Parks.
 
So how do you get sponsorships for your club? First think about local businesses that enjoy a benefit from a connection with your club. They would include sporting goods stores, sports facilities (especially indoor facilities), the maker of your uniforms and restaurants nearby your practice fields. Also consider businesses that might benefit from your membership because of services they could offer, such as insurance, car repair, dentistry, legal services and accounting. Finally, any companies with which your club directly does business should be added to the list, such as the firm that insures your club’s property, the landscaper who maintains your fields, plumbers who maintain and repair your bathrooms and clubhouse, and any vendor who stocks your snack bar or vending machines. Once you know who you want to specifically target, brainstorm further to find other businesses "outside the box" that could have or benefit from a connection with your club.
 
You will need to call the businesses to find out who makes decisions concerning sponsorships so you can target a sponsorship letter. In the letter, explain the levels of sponsorship available and what the business will get at each level. For example, you might display banners around the fields, give naming rights to permanent goals for the life of the goal, provide a mention and link on your website, print ads in a tournament program and, of course, print ads on uniforms. Create a tier of prices. Design your letter to clearly identify the prices, what businesses get for those prices and the length of the sponsorship. At the end of the letter, let the business know that someone will be personally following up on the opportunity. Once you send out the letters, wait a week and then contact the businesses by phone to set up a time to meet. Be prepared for rejection, but also be prepared to argue the benefits of a sponsorship. It would be a great idea to send someone from your club who has a personal connection to the business. For example, I got my mechanic to agree to an ad for our tournament program because our family took three cars regularly to his shop for more than 12 years. He could hardly say no to such a good tripled chunk of his business.
 
Have a sponsorship agreement that the sponsor and club signs, so there will be no confusion on what each party is getting. Most importantly, follow up all contacts, whether they result in a sponsorship or not, with a letter. For sponsors, it should be a thank you for the donation, and for non-sponsors, it should be a thank you for the meeting while expressing hope that they will reconsider during the next push for sponsorships. These letters show that businesses are dealing with professionals, which helps them justify spending money. If you have a club website, have a link to your sponsorship information and a downloadable sponsorship contract. You never know who has a nephew, granddaughter or neighbor in the club who will be surfing the web and come across your plea. Once you have the sponsorships, encourage the club membership to frequent the businesses or purchase the products. 
 
Don’t be shy about asking big companies to be sponsors. It helps to find a connection, but that’s not always necessary. If you don’t ask, you can’t get a reply. You never know if a company is looking to make inroads in your community because it plans to build a store there or expand its product line to fresh markets. If your club sends teams to lots of out-of-state tournaments, use that to get sponsorships from restaurants and hotels that may not be in your area but do exist where the tournaments are. See’s Candy, for example, doesn’t have any stores in Wisconsin, but it considered a sponsorship because during major holidays it opens a temporary kiosk at a large mall just outside Milwaukee. Contact outlet malls, amusement parks and tourist locations that are on travel routes to tournaments. In other words, be creative in how you identify potential sponsors and don’t rule anything out as impossible if you can find a good reason for the sponsor to consider your club. After all, most sponsorships are an inexpensive way to reach hundreds of possible consumers multiplied by word of mouth, and a good marketing director will consider it a bargain to buy that exposure and a great way to be a good neighbor.
 

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Playing Up

Susan Boyd

Every season, teams face the question of if they should allow kids to play up. When youth players show promise, parents and coaches put pressure on clubs to allow those kids to move up a year, or even two years, in the training ranks. Having been on both sides of this issue, I can clearly say there is no right answer. The problems with playing up can overshadow the advantages. In really small clubs, teams often don’t have a choice but to offer opportunities for better players to help fill out older teams. But most clubs have enough kids to fill teams at the appropriate age levels, so bumping players up would only be done under special circumstances. Naturally, all parents believe their child is worthy of those special conditions. Before you buy into playing up as an appropriate choice for your child, consider some of the significant factors that will impact that choice.
           
Some coaches argue that playing up for a strong player will only make that player stronger. Getting that tougher competition, being on a team whose players have an additional year of experience, and having a higher standard to meet can be the elements that improve your child’s play. However, competing at that level could also be overwhelming pressure for a young psyche. If your child is shy, cries easily, doesn’t deal with disappointment well and/or seems attached to friends on his/her present team, then your child is probably not mature enough to play up. Even though a player might exhibit excellent skills beyond his or her age level, the player may not be emotionally ready to handle that advancement. If the youngster holds back or begins to dread attending practice, then it won’t matter how advanced his or her skills are.
           
You also need to consider size. Younger players are often smaller than their year older counterparts. They may also not be as aggressive and risk injury, even if their size is appropriate for the older ages. Being smaller can make a move up intimidating, which would make a child hesitant to play, even fearful. When Robbie played up, size was an important factor because he is already on the lower end of the height chart. Luckily, his first experience playing up was with his entire U-10 team, so he was within the size margins of his fellow teammates even if he met much larger players during games. Nevertheless, I had plenty of heart in the throat moments as he got tackled to the ground. The entire team had to deal with lots of disappointment as it couldn’t always keep up, but the coach did it because he wanted the kids to play on a full field. This was the transition period to small-sided teams, and he didn’t want this particular team to be split up for a year and then get back together for a full team.
           
That’s another major consideration in playing up. Now the standard for teams is small-sided until U-12. For U-8, there are four players on the field and no goalkeeper. At U-9, there are five players on the field with one being the goalkeeper. U-10 has six players on the field with one being the goalkeeper. By U-11, you will find eight players on the field with one being the keeper. At each level the field size increases until, finally, at U-12 teams have a full complement of 10 players on a full field with the 11th player being a goalkeeper. Some recreational teams will continue to play with eight players, but if you are considering your child playing up you are probably looking at a select team. The advantages of playing on a larger field with more players would be growing the endurance for large field play, tactical understanding of full team formations and learning a position.  The downside would be the inability to keep up or learn complicated tactics and skills, as well as being locked into a position before exploring all the choices.
           
If your child showed a propensity for mathematics, he or she may not be ready to skip up to the next grade in the other subject matters. It might be better to just get accelerated math classes and stay at the same grade level. That’s also true with soccer. It might be best to get some private coaching to work on the abilities your child has without assuming that he or she is ready to move up to faster and bigger team play. If your child happens to be big for his or her age, it’s possible that size is becoming a far too significant part of the decision to play up. Bigger players often look very skilled because they can bulldoze their way through players to the goal. However, in truth they haven’t developed advanced skill levels and a strong understanding of advanced team tactics. Therefore, playing up is being driven by incorrect factors. The best choice for most players is to stay at their appropriate age level so they can learn the skills and tactics necessary to surge ahead. If they play up, they may actually end up getting left behind because coaches assume they already know how to do a step-over, shield the ball or perform a proper header. If they don’t get the training necessary for the skills they haven’t yet developed, they may never get it, leaving them ironically worse off.
           
Most importantly, be sure that your decision to have your child play up isn’t being driven by ego. Parents often feel that their children are being short-changed if a peer gets the nod to play up, but their child doesn’t. It’s natural for us to ask, "What’s wrong with my kid?" We don’t want our kids to miss out on any opportunity that might give them a better chance to move up the soccer ladder. That’s why we have to be ruthlessly realistic about our child’s abilities and whether or not playing up would augment those abilities. We absolutely resisted Robbie playing up at U-13 because he hadn’t grown very much and most of his peers were bigger and stronger. Add another year of growth with U-14 players, and Robbie would have been dwarfed. However, at U-14 he did try out for a U-15 team, and then decided on his own not to play up because his team was very strong and already playing at a top level. It was a great choice for him. He did have a player on his team who was playing up, played for the U-17 Men’s National team and now plays for the MLS. Robbie wasn’t up to that level at all.
           
In smaller communities, playing up can be a way for players to get the competition and training they might not get at their age level. Overall, I would caution parents to err on the side of temperance. Kids who play up need to have strong maturity and skill. Make sure you evaluate your child properly. Don’t be jealous of players who are playing up. Understand that they may well be struggling, losing playing time to older, stronger players and feeling overwhelmed. Players who advance to high school, college and even the pros aren’t necessarily players who spent their lives playing up an age level. Most played at their age level and made the choice to find the most competitive teams and leagues rather than playing with older teammates. Be sure to consider training like the Olympic Development Program or a Developmental Academy team to insure that your child plays at the top levels. Ask if your club participates in Regional League, National League, Kohl’s American Cup, President’s Cup and the National Championship Series. Look at the team’s tournament schedule to determine how competitive it hopes to be. Does it play in Premier League in your state? All of these choices can create a strong environment both for advancing individually in soccer and for getting noticed by college coaches.
           
Playing up ultimately doesn’t affect much in your child’s soccer future in terms of how college coaches view him or her. Coaches are far more interested in how skilled a player is, how well a player understands various team formations and can function within those formations, and how passionate he or she is about soccer. Therefore, the choice to play up should be based on factors that can’t be found in your community in other ways. If you do decide to have your child play up, keep a close watch on how that choice affects the child’s play and temperament. If your child seems to be faltering, then reconsider the decision. No matter what you decide, make sure the choice is equal parts your child’s and yours. Don’t dictate. Remember that once you sign on to a team, your child is committed for at least one season and possibly a year. So proceed with care.

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