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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". 

 

Golden Opportunities

Susan Boyd

           After winning the gold at the Olympics the US Women’s National Soccer Team will have a short rest and then embark on a victory tour of the United States beginning September 1st in Rochester, N.Y. Tickets are on sale now for the match against Costa Rica and the match against Australia September 16th in Carson, CA at the Home Depot Center (ussoccer.com then click schedules/tickets). Both games will be broadcast on NBC. While most readers won’t be in the vicinity of these games, for those who can attend they provide an opportunity for young female players to see their idols live. There is nothing like watching a game live where girls can key in on one player to see how she positions herself before receiving and after delivering the ball or to watch how the team ebbs and flows. While there is any number of men’s games players can attend, the women’s side of soccer is still growing to those levels. Nevertheless, with some creativity and determination, parents can find live games that their soccer-minded daughters can enjoy. 
 
           By the age of twelve, soccer players who aspire to play in high school should begin attending local high school games. This is an opportunity to watch what formations the coach uses, what the talent level is, and how much fun the girls are having. Going to the local high school games also creates a loyalty and passion for the program. This can translate into a sustaining goal for any young player facing the ups and downs that come with soccer. With an eye on the prize she can be motivated to develop. Going to the games also gives her a leg up on the entire high school experience of a shared community. 
 
           Along with the high school games, most local colleges and universities will have a women’s soccer team. The schedules are easy to download on the internet and the ticket prices are usually under $10. Many states have their girls’ high school season in the spring, so college games in the fall are a great counterpart. If the high school season is in the spring, then high school age players will be with their club teams in the fall. Therefore, college games offer an opportunity for the entire team to attend and then critique the game afterwards. These games can be a significant teaching moment. Likewise, a crisp fall day can be a great backdrop for a family outing. All too often those family sports outings are to watch boys and men play football, soccer, basketball, and baseball. So why not attend an event devoted to women and give your daughters a chance to fully identify with the players on the field? 
 
           Professional women’s soccer has not yet proven to be successful. The Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPS) folded this year and will not return with a season in 2013. The USL W-league, a professional/amateur program, continues to operate and has plans for 2013 season (wleague.uslsoccer.com). The W-league has 30 teams from the US and Canada in three conferences and has a May – July schedule. Another pro-am league, the largest in the world, the WPSL-Elite (wpsl.info), has 50 teams and also offers a May through July schedule. Several excellent college and professional players make up these teams. Additionally with the bronze for the Canadian Women and the gold for the U.S. Women, talks have begun about forming a new professional league. Leading this is the Chicago Red Stars of the WPSL-Elite who are joining up with former WPS teams from Boston and New Jersey with the hope of creating a six to eight team league that can weather the economic woes of a start-up. With a big schedule in the summer for the USL-W League and the WPSL-Elite, the WNT Victory Tour which will have several more games than the two already announced, and the possibility of new women’s professional league, there should be plenty of opportunities for young female players to watch their Olympic heroines and up and coming WNT players live. Keep an eye on the US Soccer Federation’s website to see when new Victory Tour games are announced (ussoccer.com) and occasionally Google "Women’s Professional Soccer" to see what developments there are on that front. If a team happens to be formed in your hometown, season tickets will be a bargain. Consider purchasing them as a gift not only for your daughter but for the entire family. Even if you don’t get season tickets, be sure to attend at least one professional game this year. At the professional level soccer offers more speed, better skills, and the possibility of watching an Olympic player strut her stuff.
 
           Naturally these same principles hold true for boys. I think all too often girls don’t have as many options for watching soccer live or families are reluctant to attend a women’s game over a men’s game. Think about the message it sends your daughters – their efforts and those of other females aren’t as valued as those of their male counterparts. Hopefully the strength and excitement of the games the women played at the Olympics removed any doubt that women’s soccer can be as dynamic, perhaps even more so, than men’s. With the euphoria of the Olympic Gold this is the time to carry our enthusiasm forward with our daughters to feed their soccer passion and celebrate their participation.

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Girls Rule

Susan Boyd

In the midst of the Olympics we all have the opportunity to watch incredible athletes compete, overcome adversity, deal with defeats and celebrate victories. Less than 35 years ago only 24.6 percent of the Olympic athletes were women. This Olympics, the number is nearly double at 46.4 percent. And with the addition of boxing for women, females can compete in all the events men can. For the first time ever, women outnumber men in the U.S. contingent. While the U.S. Men’s Soccer team failed to qualify for the Olympics, the U.S. Women’s team has rolled into the finals with dramatic victories.
 
Yet in the U.S. we lose female players from sports at an alarming rate. By age 14, girls abandon sports at twice the rate of boys. Overall, girls end up quitting sports at six times the rate of boys. The Center for Disease Control collected statistics comparing the participation of girls and boys in sports finding that only 25 percent of girls participate in a sport or regular exercise by their senior year in high school compared to 50 percent of boys. Despite the institution of Title IX in 1972 which requires equality in the implementation of athletic programs and scholarships for women in college, many schools struggle every year to find qualified female athletes to fill their athletic programs. While top female athletes will always aspire to be Olympic and national team competitors, sports programs aren’t just for the elite. Staying with sports provides both female and male athletes with significant social and moral support which can help create strong, confident adults. Studies have shown reduced teen pregnancies among female athletes, more positive body image, better grades and, of course, a healthier lifestyle.

What can explain this desertion? Foremost is that age-old problem of gender-typing. Boys are often expected to participate in sports and encouraged to aim for high school and college participation. Girls experience pressure to play a different role as they mature. Sports can be considered unfeminine and girls who continue to play, especially at an intense level, can be ostracized by the popular groups. Male athletes on the other hand are often idolized in their schools. Even the styles of teen girls can interfere with playing sports. Wearing heels hurt posture, alter foot and ankle movement and can lead to ankle and knee injuries. Yet what girl can resist the siren call of fashion? Families can end up supporting sons who want to play sports and unconscientiously giving their daughters support to be "beautiful" and stylish. Buying team jerseys for boys and jewelry for daughters sends a clear message of which role the girls should be playing.

Girls tend to be less conditioned to deal with the tough and often rude coaching that comes with advancing in sports. Boys are taught to put up with abusive coaching, while girls get the message that they can be more emotional. One of the top reasons girls cited in a 1988 study for quitting sports was bad coaching. I’ve talked about how I think youth coaches are often too gruff and sometimes even insulting, however we aren’t going to be able to get rid of that type of coach. We need to help our children, both sons and daughters, develop coping skills. Providing our daughters with the support to work through bad situations rather than sympathizing and coddling could make the difference in sticking with sports or cashing in.

Finally, girls continue to need role models. Sports heroes for boys are epidemic. Ads tout male sport icons on a continual basis so that their names become part of the daily lexicon: Bryant, Brady, Rogers, Manning, Fielder. While some women athletes have reached a level of recognition equal to the men, they tend to burst onto the scene during major sporting events and then fade, while male athletes are year round and off-season. When Gabby Douglas won the gold medal for all-round female gymnast, Bob Costas made a point about her being the first African-American to achieve that status. His final comment was that perhaps her accomplishment would make other young African-American females believe that they could enter the sport and succeed. My immediate thought: I hope that Gabby will be an inspiration to all girls to push themselves to realize their goals, whether in sports or in life. Our daughters need those role models to see that participating in sports can augment their lives and allow them to be both healthy and beautiful.

Recently Gatorade began a program called "Keep Her in the Game" for Title IX. If you have been watching the Olympics, you’ve probably seen the video. Unfortunately the video seems to be all that the program encompasses. I do applaud Gatorade for making commercials which feature female athletes exclusively. The one with Abby Wambach is particularly strong showing Abby as overcoming fatigue and danger as she scouts her opponent like a lioness hunting prey. However, it is exactly this killer attitude which also turns off young women who see it as an unfeminine trait. Girls aren’t as much about winning at all costs as they are about socializing and compromising to keep the peace. Much of that attitude comes from the gender roles that are endemic to our society. While boys are encouraged to be competitive, tough out injuries, be aggressive and to win, girls are encouraged to cooperate, be polite, sacrifice and to have a good appearance. Unless they can visualize that being athletic isn’t incompatible with being feminine they will continue to leave sports.

In an interview before the Olympics, Abby Wambach was asked about the generation of players coming up in women’s soccer who are challenging Abby for her dominating position on the women’s team. "In the timeline of a career, you can only hope that when you’re done playing you made a positive impact. For the most part it’s a ‘pay it forward’ kind of feeling. I want to be sure that the opportunities that are there after I’m gone are much more than when I first arrived." It remains frustrating in women’s sports that the opportunities in fact are improving, but girls are still leaving sports in droves. While Abby, Gabby, Lolo, Missy and other incredible female athletes continue to expand the boundaries of women’s sports, we need to improve the participation. Title IX opened doors, but all it could offer was the destination for young female athletes. What we need now are programs that define and encourage the journey. We can’t do a wholesale change of gender roles as created by marketing and generations of traditions, but we can individually help our daughters see the advantages and joys of participating in sports. We can call them beautiful when they put on their uniforms, we can support their interests with the same intensity that we do with our sons, we can encourage them to work through their doubts, insecurities and discomfort to tough out just one more season, and we can make sports cool by our support on the sidelines. Our attitude can go a long ways to help our daughters stick with it and enjoy the experience. Few of them will reach the heights of the elite female athletes, but few of our sons will do likewise. Yet we want to see them continue in the sport of their choice because it provides not only a source of pride for the player and the family but a chance to develop life-long healthy habits and important life lessons. Girls should have the same experience because, after all, they rule!

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Taking the heat

Susan Boyd

Recently, temperatures across the United States have hit triple digits in many areas. Even though many states don’t run their soccer leagues in the summer there are still tournaments held. It is important to recognize the safest approach to playing soccer in the heat and to always err on the side of safety.
 
Hydration will always be a significant part of staying healthy while playing in the summer. Discuss with your coach the idea of stopping games to have hydration breaks; then let the coach get the referees on board. If you are playing 45 minute halves then stop around 22 minutes to allow a five minute cool-down break. If the halves are shorter, players can still benefit from a quick break to rehydrate and rest. Explain to players the warning signs of dehydration – dizziness, weakness in the muscles, cramping, and nausea. If they experience any of these they should sit down and call the referee. Young players often don’t understand the seriousness of dehydration and heat exhaustion and older players attempt to play through the symptoms not wanting to seem like they are weak or letting down the team. Yet every summer we read about players who either end up in the hospital or worse — die from heat related problems. It’s a serious problem which can be addressed so it is always better to deal with symptoms immediately. Be sure players understand the importance of building up fluids before a game, replacing them during the game, and then taking in additional fluids after the game. The battle between water and sports drinks is something experts will always have, but they all agree that whatever fluid you choose, you need to drink enough. I suggest you keep a case of drinks in your trunk. You’d be surprised how many kids arrive at games being played in high heat without any drinks. Finally, get a drum water container and assign someone at each game to be responsible for filling it. It doesn’t need to be ice water – in fact ice water could cause stomach cramps – but it will be a way for kids to drink or even toss some water over their heads.
 
The next factor in avoiding heat related harm is staying as cool as possible. Shade is very important. The team might consider chipping in to purchase a shade tent you can get at Sam’s Club or Costco. One parent could be in charge of transporting it to games and setting it up over the benches. Provide the team with two or three spray bottles to spray faces, necks, arms, and tops of heads. Helping the natural cooling ability of sweat will minimize the internal storage of heat. Another thing the team can provide is a cooler filled with ice water and cheap wash cloths that players can place on the backs of their necks to help cool them off. There is a product called Frogg Toggs which are shammies with the same purpose but at a higher cost. You can buy a pack of wash cloths at a discount store for the price of one Frogg Togg. Whatever you choose to do, the important thing is to have the cool cloths available for the players. They can throw them on during breaks in the game and get a good cool down.
 
Finally, don’t forget the sunscreen. Players can stay hydrated and cool and still end up with a really bad sunburn which can make them just as sick as getting dehydrated or overheated. Like fluids, I suggest keeping a supply of sunscreen in the car. It’s an easy item to forget. No matter your skin type everyone needs sunscreen. Don’t expect cloud cover to make sunscreen unnecessary. Those UV waves are not stopped by clouds in the sky. Make it a habit to cover all skin with sunscreen every time you go to a game. Don’t forget the ears, nose, and back of the neck. A lot of the time we cover arms and legs and end up with those other delicate areas getting burned because we neglect them. There have been recent reports that many sunscreens are actually toxic and can cause cancer themselves. The Skin Cancer Foundation (skincancer.org) has studied and come to the conclusion that the ingredients oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate are safe when used as directed. In addition, they recommend for kids a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Remember that even sunscreens that advertise as water-resistant need to be reapplied after 80 minutes in the water or activities with lots of sweating.
 
All of these suggestions can apply to fans as well. Even though you aren’t running doesn’t mean you can’t suffer from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and sunburn. Take these guidelines to heart and keep yourself safe from heat-related maladies. Playing in summer’s unforgiving heat and sun doesn’t mean you and your kids have to end up miserable or sick. Take some precautions, watch out for signs of trouble, and take enough breaks to hydrate and cool down.

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Only One Instrument

Susan Boyd

My youngest son Robbie ran into the mother of a middle-school classmate the other day. The classmate had played soccer into high school and her younger brother had also been a soccer player. The mom was shocked that Robbie was still playing. "Hasn’t your body worn out?" Seems that Bridget had had multiple knee problems and Connor had a raft of injuries as well. Eventually they just couldn’t play any longer. It’s a story I hear quite often. Both of my sons have avoided major injury. Robbie broke a foot bone in middle school and then had an ankle strain last year. Bryce broke his hand, but was back playing three weeks later (don’t tell his hand surgeon!). So what makes some kids literally wear out and others keep going like a soccer energizer bunny?

Obviously genetics plays a role. Some people are put together with less elasticity and end up tearing, rupturing and breaking without much provocation. There are things they can do to improve their mobility and stability, but ultimately they are prisoners of their construction. Overcoming an unforgiving body may require serious surgeries and long periods of recuperation. Pitcher Chris Capuano had two Tommy John surgeries and is 9-2 this year, but he’s an exception and the jury is still out if he will be able to sustain his good health. For the most part, athletes have to have a lucky combination of skill, game smarts and a willing body. Lots of kids may possess the first two and strike out with the third. It’s one significant factor that prevents excellent players from continuing to play.

Every player needs to respect his or her body early in the process. That means following a regimen that maximizes the body’s health. While most youth players won’t be moving on to college or professional ranks, it never hurts to grow up with a body that will allow for significant activity well into middle age. Since kids aren’t going to independently latch onto healthy body training and upkeep, it’s up to us parents to help the process along. As our kids grow, they will hopefully have developed habits which will maintain their body strength and flexibility. Likewise if they have any injury they will have the ability to heal quickly, minimizing the stress on their body and absence from training.

First and foremost, eating healthy provides bones, muscles, ligaments, lungs and heart to be at their peak level. Starting kids on fruits and vegetables as early as possible means they develop not only the habit of eating them, but also the taste buds that enjoy them. Using fruits and vegetables as rewards teaches kids to associate pleasantly with cucumbers rather than seeing them as the enemy. Focus on protein-rich foods as opposed to carbohydrates. While we need carbohydrates in a balanced diet, most kids eat nearly twice the recommended daily allowance. Make carbohydrate choices which offer some fiber such as whole grain breads, brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat pasta. Most nutritionists say that a well-balanced diet provides all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients a child needs. Most supplements are an expensive way to get what a good meal provides on its own. Certain vitamins such as A and D can actually be toxic if the dosage is too high. Eating healthy also means hydrating properly. No matter the temperature, level of exercise, or age, all children need to drink during activity. So be sure to hand that water bottle to your child as she sprints to the field.

Preparing the body for exercise is extremely important in maintaining the proper flexibility, stamina and protection. I rarely see teams of 6 to 9 year olds warming up and cooling down before and after a practice or a game. Older teams will often skip the cool down as everyone is anxious to leave the field and get home. But experts tell us that these two activities do more to protect the ligaments, muscles, heart and lungs of young bodies than any other training. Dynamic stretches in which the players progress in slow controlled movements through the full range of motion were established in research by P. J. McNair (2000) and D. Knudson (2001) to be the most appropriate exercises for the warm up. By contrast, they found that static stretches are more appropriate for the cool down. Warming up reduces stiff muscles, allows for more oxygen in the muscles, brings the heart slowly up to an exercise rate, increases blood flow to and through the muscles, and stretches out muscles and ligaments slowly rather than with sudden movement. Cooling down removes lactic acid from the muscles which helps reduce cramping and sudden contractions, reduces the pooling of blood in the extremities which can lead to dizziness and fainting, allows the heart to return slowly to its resting rate and protects against delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) which can come from erratic contractions and ultimately injure the muscles. Clubs should require full warm-ups and cool-downs for ALL teams for both practices and games. Appropriate exercises can be found online at a number of websites such as bettersoccercoaching.com, soccerxpert.com, and footy4kids.co.uk.  If your coach doesn’t do these pre-and post-soccer event exercises, then print off a few and bring them to him.

Listen to what your kid says about his body. Kids seem to be born with a preternatural ability to be hypochondriacs, but they are the best judges of how they feel. One thing to watch out for in particular is DOMS (see above) which could be a red flag for muscle problems. If your child seems to be fine after a game but one or two days later complains of intense muscle pains it could indicate over training or large muscle tissue damage. This should be checked out by a doctor and the player should stop training. Pay close attention to complaints about knees and ankles. Sometimes kids will talk about how their knees feel like they are weak or could pop apart. That could indicate damaged ligaments and/or tendons. Girls seem to be particularly prone to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. However, there are exercises that players of any gender can begin early on to both strengthen the ACL and other knee support material (see livestrong.com and aclinjurypro.com). Choosing the right cleats can also help reduce stress on the ACL when running and turning. Less common but linked to ACL is the medial collateral ligament (MCL). Exercises to strengthen the knee in general will definitely improve the health of both the ACL and MCL. Knee pain during exercise along with a popping or clicking in the knee could indicate a medial meniscus tear. Often once the exercise is over, the pain disappears, although there may be swelling of the knee. Again this needs to be checked out by a physician. Finally, ankles take a great deal of abuse during soccer so heed any ankle pain your child experiences. There are a number of tendons which can become inflamed and then irritated by rubbing over the bones during exercise. The best treatment for this tendonitis is rest and ice treatment which is to put an ice bag on for around 15 minutes, remove, allow the area to warm up and then repeat it three to four times for the first two days after the injury. If the pain persists a doctor’s visit is in order.

Eating right, preparing properly for exercising, doing exercises to strengthen body parts integral to the sport and listening to aches and pains don’t have to wait until a child has decided to focus on soccer. These actions should begin before any player even sets foot on the pitch and continue throughout his or her life. You can’t change genetics, but you can help overcome genetics through some well-implemented lifestyle decisions that we parents have to begin for our children. It will never be enough that our kids have talent because they have to perform through the instruments of their bodies. If their bodies fail them, then all the talent in the world won’t move them ahead. Giving them the opportunity to play has to go hand in hand with teaching them how to maintain the equipment needed to play.

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