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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". 

 

Stressing Out

Susan Boyd

Tryouts can be beyond stressful. Everyone wants the validation that winning a spot on a prestigious team can give. But spots are few and far between, and earning one may not be in the stars. How we parents set up tryouts for our players can make all the difference in how our kids handle the ups and downs of the experience. We need to do three important preparations in order to make tryouts, if not a pleasant experience, at least a tolerable one. First we need to research the clubs in the area. Second we need to take our kids to several tiers of tryouts. Third we need to carefully consider any offers made to our children.
 
Probably the most important thing we can do before tryouts is to research the clubs around the area. Don’t just go on the obvious factors, such as winning records or parents declaring it the best club around. Clubs ebb and flow. Therefore, making a choice can’t just be on status, since that status can change in less than a year’s time. I strongly suggest you attend practices and watch how coaches conduct themselves. Look at the players to see if they are having fun. Talk to the parents on the sidelines and pick their brains about what they like and don’t like about the club. There’s a club in our area which has the reputation for being the best club for girls, but when parents rushed to transfer their young ladies to that team, they discovered that the main coach was verbally abusive and the girls were miserable. This is something the parents would have realized had they actually visited the club to watch practices instead of looking solely at reputation. Along with visiting practices, parents will want to research the coaching staff as it looks on paper. What licenses do they hold? How long have they been coaching? What professional/college experience do they come from? Do they have an objective statement online? Finally, what part of coaching do they consider most important? Don’t be afraid to directly approach the coach of a club you are considering transferring to and ask these questions. 

Parents also need to research if the club is a strong match for their child’s developmental level and position. Going to the top club may not create the growth your child needs. Often clubs will attempt to "poach" the best players around to make a super team, and therefore don’t invest a lot of time in developing their players. They accept them as is, work with what they have and if a better player comes along, replace a weaker player. I don’t recommend a team like that for your child, except possibly in the later years when their visits to college recruiting tournaments will help your player get noticed by college coaches. Also if a team is loaded with center midfielders, and that’s the position your child plays, then even if they take your child, they may not play him or her. They may even move your child to a new position that he or she has to learn, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing to add to the resume, unless the team just throws him in without training and development. Finally, parents should consider costs. Going for the status club may not give you the biggest bang for your buck. At the younger ages, going to lots of tournaments doesn’t really develop your child and ends up costing too much. So parents should carefully consider if their money is going to development, or to trips to Florida to play other teams spending unnecessary funds. At around the age of 15, if your child is interested in being recruited by colleges, that’s when you want to find out which tournaments a club attends and consider trying out there. Until you make that decision, save your money.

Once the tryout process begins, you need to pick two or three clubs at different levels for your child to visit. It’s often difficult to do this because clubs have first dates that they can hold tryouts, which are dictated by the state association. Most clubs begin that day so everyone in the state has the same tryout dates and times. Additionally, clubs will try to bully players into not attending other tryouts. Don’t take that as any indication that the club is dying to have your son or daughter join their teams. They just want to keep the available pool of players away from other clubs until they have a chance to pick them over. Therefore, if you choose to attend tryouts at one club on one day and at another club on another day, don’t panic. There isn’t a coach on earth who won’t choose the best player he or she can find. I’ve watched clubs for 15 years attempt to manipulate parents with the fear that their son or daughter won’t be considered if they don’t attend all days of tryouts, only to have kids who didn’t return get a slot and kids who stayed loyal get aced out. Do what is best for your child. The clubs will do what is best for its program. So if your child is best for that club, he’ll get recruited. By taking your child to different levels, you insure that he or she will get selected and have a positive experience with tryouts. Instead of watching much better players around him or her for two days and being panicked, he or she will be able to attend a tryout where your child one of the better players and feel more in his or her comfort zone.

If you are lucky enough to get more than one offer, don’t just accept the top one right away. Most states have rules that you have three days to consider any offer your child receives. Once again, clubs will try to pressure you into making a decision right away. They will say that if you don’t accept, they’ll move on to the next player, but they can’t. Check your state association rules by visiting their website or calling, but you should have time to think before you have to commit. Clubs don’t want to lose their backup players while you take time to consider the offer, but that’s their problem, not yours. Talk to your child to find out how comfortable he or she is with the club. Consider things like friends who will be playing there, amount of time commitment and costs. Obviously you can do some of this before an offer comes in, but there’s nothing like a phone call to make things real and therefore more difficult.

Whatever you do, don’t set up high expectations, and then show disappointment when those expectations don’t materialize. Be positive about every opportunity. It can be hard to be rejected, especially if your child watches friends getting a chance on a team he or she didn’t make. But every opportunity has pluses. At the age of 15, Bryce didn’t make any of the teams he tried out for. He’s a keeper, and teams just had enough keepers that year, and his team had dissolved. With some networking for two months, we finally found a slot on what was a very questionable team. The coach wasn’t licensed, they barely got a slot in the 1st division and the players all came from weaker high school teams in the area. But we were stuck and gladly embraced the opportunity. It turned out to be a fabulous year. The team had needed a strong keeper, so Bryce helped them to feel stronger defensively, so they played stronger offensively. They ended up being promoted to Premier League, going to a great college recruiting tournament where Bryce was scouted and it only cost $150 plus the cost of tournament travel. Bryce made great friendships with the boys on the team, which still exist today, and the parents were wonderful. On paper it looked like we had had to settle but in reality, Bryce learned leadership, developed his goalkeeper skills with a bit weaker defense in front of him and built soccer relationships we can call on still today. So no matter what happens, there will be a team that will want your child, and that opportunity will be what you make of it.

Doing what you can to minimize stress before even getting to tryouts can make the experience far more fun. Then accepting with a smile whatever opportunity opens up can set the stage for a great soccer season. Don’t give in to the pressure that clubs try to exert during this time. If it is stressful for the players and parents, it is probably three times as stressful for the clubs. They depend on putting together the best teams they can for their financial survival and their reputation in the area. Therefore, they do whatever to assure that they collect the best players, defend those players from other clubs getting them and retain them for as long as they provide value to the club. Clubs are trying out for us as much as our kids are trying out for them. So be assured that your child will be seriously considered by every coach who sees your child play. You can take comfort in that and stop stressing out.

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Application

Susan Boyd

I distinctly remember being out in a rural area at a soccer match and seeing one of the fathers walking up with a Starbucks coffee. First of all, I couldn’t believe that there was a Starbucks anywhere close, and second that he could have found it among the maze of empty country roads that surrounded us. So I asked how he came across it. "I used the Starbucks application on my GPS," he said. And in that moment, I was ushered into the wonderful world of apps. These ingenious programs, now available on nearly every cell phone in America, can simplify your life and add to your soccer trips. Stuff you never even thought about needing at your fingertips suddenly becomes indispensable. Here are a few of my favorite applications that I use regularly. Most are free while others cost no more than $4.99.

Let’s start with coffee. Most of us need it to wake up, stay warm during those cold, drizzly games and provide a bit of comfort while waiting for a game to start. Starbucks provides a buffet of options under its applications. You can locate a store, refill your Starbucks card, play games and create a Starbucks scanning box so you can drive-thru, be scanned and drive-off. Despite Starbucks proliferation, there are places where they don’t exist, or you may not be a Starbucks connoisseur. So you might want the Coffee Shop Locator ($2.99) on iTunes and free through Android: which uses your phone’s location service to show coffee available within a two mile radius.  

How often have you arrived at your destination only to find you’re missing a shin guard, socks or shorts? Now you need to find a store quickly that can sell you what you are missing.There are applications for Dick’s, Champs, Sport’s Authority, and several other major sports stores on both play.google.com and iTunes. Most of these are free. You can also download Google Maps, which allow you to request stores in the area and gives you directions. 

In case of emergency, Androidmedicalapps.com has a handy app that provides urgent medical information. iTunes provides scores of medical applications which will prove helpful in game situations. However, I highly encourage you to download a concussion application that details how to test for concussion and what to do if you suspect a concussion. iTunes has an app called Concussion Recognition and Response from Par, Inc. ($3.99), which is designed specifically for coaches and parents. Children’s National Medical Center has also developed an application ($3.99) for smart phones that you can download to diagnose concussions. While rashes, cuts and bruises are important to treat, concussions are far more serious. So having information readily available, especially the way to test for a concussion, can be life and brain saving.

Most smart phones carry a stop watch already uploaded to the phone, but there are apps which provide an entire box of tools that should prove helpful for a soccer parent. These tools include a flashlight, stop watch, ruler, calculator and translator. The latter comes in handy when you have players from other countries on your team. While the kids often speak English well, their parents and other family members may not. I have found that having a translator to help communicate with these parents on the sidelines has been invaluable. It helps to include them in the team, and in the social network of the team. You can find a great iPhone application at iTunes called Appbox Pro. Unfortunately you’ll need two Android applications one for tools, and a second for a translator

One application I have found really invaluable, both in saving time and keeping tabs on flight changes, has been a flight tracker. I can hang around the house, field, or hotel until just before the plane lands. I also can discover flight delays, rerouting and rescheduling that let me plan better. Flight Tracker on iPhone is the application I use, but there are literally dozens of applications to choose from. For smart phones, Flight View has a link to a mobile app. The additional advantage of these applications is that they provide airport parking maps, and many of the applications have an airport terminal map for major airports. These tools can make your trip to that opposite coast tournament smoother.

The application I found out about just a few days ago is the one that got me thinking about a blog on applications. This particular app really got me excited because I realized how important it could be for anyone traveling with small children or teenagers who think drinking six sports drinks after a match is necessary for hydration. Charmin Toilet Tissue has an app to locate the nearest clean toilets! Aptly named Sit or Squat, the application uses your phone’s GPS locator to detail the nearest clean restrooms for you. The application can be downloaded to either iphones or Androids so it covers (excuse the pun) every bum. Additionally, Charmin has rolled out restroom renovations and deluxe port-a-johns across the country for special events. They may be visiting your state fair or music festival this year, so check their website to see where they will clean up next.

I am sure there are dozen more applications that you could come up with. I do encourage parents to add these applications, because they are useful. With the advantages of smart phones, we can employ them in so many ways to make our soccer lives easier. Besides being able to locate family members when separated across dozens of soccer fields, updating scores and big plays when you have to be at different games or sending photos of that amazing goal, our phones can provide us with some helping hands in other ways. So embrace the technologies, and when you have the time, search for some applications that interest you. It could be a pizza locator, a soccer game to occupy the trip home or video of the latest EPL game. Really whatever you can think of, you can find. So apply yourself.

 

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The Hook

Susan Boyd

Youth sports in general promote discipline, fitness, teamwork and most importantly, fun.  Soccer specifically has the added dimension of being a world-wide sport, which connects its players to a broad spectrum of cultures, languages and traditions.  Whether you’re lucky enough to travel overseas and play soccer or watch it on TV, you can connect immediately to a country through the experience of soccer.  The power of soccer has channeled into country, continent and world competitions, bringing together both players and fans to celebrate the game.  Soccer is being used in a more significant capacity.  Several organizations around the world are using soccer as a tool to empower the youth of countries where there has been political and economic upheaval.  Most of these groups run on a shoe-string budget and depend on the monetary and equipment donations from fellow soccer players around the world.

In Cambodia, the Salt Academy uses soccer to help eradicate human trafficking by bringing young girls into soccer leagues where they can be protected. The Salt Academy also helps them become strong, exceptional athletes with the self-esteem to resist the lure of recruiters.  This Mighty Girls program has expanded into three border provinces in Cambodia.  The girls play in leagues similar to those our own kids join with designations of U12 and up.  Recently their U15 girls’ team won the first Cambodian National Tournament, and their U14 team won an International Tournament.  In addition to the football training, the academy promotes high educational standards in hope of graduating many of the girls on to a university.

Project Congo takes girls from the dangerous and impoverished villages in the center of warfare and tribal traditions, which subjugate and terrorize women.  The project seeks to educate girls so they can graduate high school, something only a small percentage of females accomplish in the Congo.  It uses soccer to build self-esteem and will power, giving the girls tools to move ahead socially and educationally in an independent manner.  The project seeks sister teams in the US to help sponsor and support the teams in the Congo.  Soccer creates this connection between two cultures that normally have no connection.  Sponsoring a team can offer a US girls’ team a fantastic opportunity to learn their own lessons in altruism and social awareness.

The Give N Go Project provides soccer equipment to orphanages around the world.  According to their website, there are 143 million abandoned children in the world.  Since soccer is the most popular sport in the world, the organization can connect with these children through the sport.  They provide reconditioned used gear, new gear and clinics for orphanages and occasionally for foster children in the United States.  They use the clinics to impact these children’s lives to strive for excellence in all they do.  They encourage the kids to work as hard in the classroom as they do on the pitch.  They also want the children to develop pride through the ownership of their own soccer equipment and through success in soccer. 

Grassroots Soccer takes a different approach to using soccer.  The idea behind the program is to teach African kids about HIV/AIDS through various soccer drills.  The goal is to reduce the incidence of the disease in Africa by helping kids understand how it can be contracted and how to avoid it.  As Michelle Obama said about the program "The solution lies within us. . .and soccer is the hook." Presently it operates in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, with satellite programs in Ethiopia, Kenya and even Guatemala to name just a few.  The program was founded by former soccer players, Dr. Tommy Clark and Ethan Zohn, who both played professionally in Zimbabwe.  When they saw the devastation of AIDS in that country, they decided that they could use soccer as the means to educate and stem the course of the disease.

Soccer Without Borders in Granada, Nicaragua works with girls ages 7 – 19 to develop recreational opportunities equal to those available to their male peers, and to offer strong support which the girls might not find in their community.  Recently the program expanded to Uganda (soccerwithoutborders.org/Uganda).  There it works with both refugee and national youth to train them in soccer.  Since Uganda has opened its borders to those displaced from the Horn of Africa and Sudan due to economic and political problems, the border villages have huge refugee populations, which face language and religious barriers, but most importantly have lost educational opportunities.  The SWB program attempts to provide these opportunities to both refugees and nationals as well as offer soccer training at least twice a week to give the kids some fun and some discipline that they can carry over into the classroom.  The main campus is in the capitol Kampala, from which teams go to the borders to conduct clinics and support schools in the area. The agency also works in Oakland, Calif. to provide the same type of support for recently arrived refugee and immigrant youth.  Since soccer carries great importance in the lives of these immigrants, it is a means to bring youth together in a safe environment and develop skills both on and off the field to help them assimilate into the US on the field, and in the classroom.

These groups are just the tip of the iceberg of programs using soccer to connect with youth and to help them build a future.  As Give N Go states on its mission page, "the childhood you have determines the adult you will be."  Therefore using soccer as the hook to draw in young people these agencies can build on the skills, pride and love they have in soccer to translate into the same things for education, self-esteem and self-discipline.  Soccer is being used to protect young women from sexual abuse, to teach young people to avoid AIDS and to become stronger students.  The language of soccer translates into everyday life.  The same discipline you need to develop a particular soccer move can be used to learn the times table.  The joy you bring to the sport can be brought to appreciating literature.  Even more importantly, we can join with our fellow soccer brothers and sisters in making these dreams come true through our donations both in equipment and monetary or by adopting a team to support financially and vocally with letters and videos.  Soccer can be a bridge to the rest of the globe. 

 

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Pick Your Moment

Susan Boyd

 Last weekend I went to three baseball games for two of my grandsons. Once again I was able to witness the nasty side of parenting. I’m not sure what brings out the monster in parents when it comes to youth sports. I imagine it comes from their own unrealized dreams, the anxiety that their child won’t be a success as measured by rather arbitrary standards and their natural competitive instincts. As events unfold, some parents see themselves as the answer to problems or the augmenter of abilities. In each case, they usually end up overwhelming their own child and in many cases the entire team. The impulse to just tweak one thing the player is doing or help her understand a more complex play is considerable and difficult to resist. I have to admit, when I saw my grandson constantly leaping back from every pitch, I spoke up and told him to stand in there and swing. He did, and he got his first hit of the season. But I usurped the coach’s job (and one coach is my son-in-law, so a double blunder), and I didn’t let the natural course of events create the right atmosphere for Archer to learn. I was at that game; I may never be at another game. But his coaches will be there for all of them.

In addition to my own foible, I unfortunately saw parents going into the dugout and pulling their child out for a discussion. They would even walk a long distance away from the dugout, so the coach would occasionally pop out and ask, "Where’s Cory?" The disruption to the team was only surpassed by the confusing instruction the child received. Dad would say stand back in the batter’s box and the coach would say move up. During the team’s defensive time on the field, several parents were shouting directions to their individual sons pulling focus away from the game. For most of these kids, developing any focus on the game is a huge accomplishment. When the ball is hit to a player, he/she has a dozen options. So a coach is ecstatic when the fielder exercises even the worst one of the options because it shows that the kid was at least listening! But when a parent is looking for perfection, he or she will shout out the best option, take their kid out of the zone and end up causing more harm than good. Even if the kid knew what was best, having the distraction of the shouted instruction could create that significant moment of hesitation costing the team an out.

To make matters worse, parents often use a language that is unfamiliar to the players. I wrote a blog once about the confusing terms players hear from their coaches and their parents. As adults we understand what these terms mean, but for an eight year old they may as well be Greek. A dad shouting to his daughter "Check to!" knows it means move to the player with the ball. However, most young players only know the more common meanings of "check." Naturally, she can’t understand why her dad is asking her to check out the passer. Or in baseball, had I told my grandson to "stop bailing"; he would have looked at me with total bewilderment. We parents have to both learn a different form of communicating when kids are younger and less experienced, but more importantly we need to learn when to communicate.

Yelling at the referee creates another negative for our children and their teams. We need to maintain decorum at all times, no matter how frustrated we get at the officiating. In one grandson’s game, the umpire was calling anything a strike that crossed the plate. He didn’t care if it was 20 feet over the plate or bounced directly on the plate. At first the parents were dumbfounded, but by the second inning they were ferocious as pitch after pitch they witnessed each of their little darlings being struck out unfairly. But the umpire was consistent for both teams, and the game got its full six innings done before time was up. No coach suggested that his pitchers throw purposely high or low. So the pitchers were actually trying to hurl accurately. There were hits, and there were runs. Nevertheless some parents felt that derogatory comments to the umpire would somehow rectify the situation. Had their own children said those things . . . well you get it. The example being shown wasn’t shining.

Despite some negatives, I saw special moments. When a kid who obviously wasn’t used to being struck out heard "Strike three," he began to have a meltdown. The coach went out to him, brought him into the dugout and signaled his dad over. His dad simply gave him a hug and a kiss on the top of the head and then walked away. I’m sure the coach was prepared for an extended episode of tantrum, but with a calm, non-judgmental hug and kiss, the situation was diffused. After a hard loss, where the team was leading 7-0 and ended up losing in the last inning 8-7, there were parents giving advice and critiquing the game. There were many more parents giving a warm hug and handing out praise for well-executed plays, or simply offering their condolences. Most kids will forget a loss and even a major win in a matter of minutes. After all, there are snacks or lunch or some other activity on the horizon. So dwelling on extended post-game analysis will usually result in more boredom than learning. A wise parent keeps it short and sweet no matter the outcome.

We have to resist fulfilling our idea of what a game should be, and leave the game to the ones playing and the ones coaching. I know how hard that is. As soon as I impulsively shouted out to my grandson, I wished I could swallow the words. I may have solved an immediate problem, but what other ones did I create? What will happen when he gets hit by a pitch, and Gramma’s admonition to "Stand in there" sounds like she wants him to get hurt? Who should he be trusting to give him baseball advice? It certainly shouldn’t be a woman who hasn’t swung a bat in a decade. I encouraged the players, but otherwise held my tongue the rest of the weekend. It’s not easy. We see a problem, we want to solve it. We see struggles, we want to alleviate them. We see mistakes, we want to rectify them. But a game or a practice is not the appropriate venue. So take some notes mentally or actually, and then broach the subject when it is just you and your child. We can be the parent that makes life less stressful for everyone, especially our children.

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