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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". 

 

It’s Not Russian Roulette

Susan Boyd

Wednesday May 9, NBC’s Rock Center did a report on the increase in serious concussions among female soccer players. In a promo for an upcoming segment, an earnest reporter asked a father why he allowed his daughter to continue playing a game when he knew she faced serious injury. His chagrined and flustered reply, "Well she loves playing. I don’t want to stop her from doing something she loves." Buzz – wrong answer. This is exactly the type of sound bite with which news agencies make hay. It not only makes parents seem irresponsibly immune to the dangers surrounding sport, but creates the impression that whatever it takes to succeed, including a life-altering brain injury, we should go ahead and tolerate it in the name of sport. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I have addressed the issue of concussions several times. I readily acknowledge that concussions, and particularly repeated concussions, can be a life-altering injury but we aren’t sending our children out to play Russian Roulette on the field.
 
The good news is that despite the rise in concussions among young female soccer players, the actual numbers are in the hundreds. With 3 million registered players, US Youth Soccer has the largest number of youth players in the United States. Roughly 48 percent of these are girls, or 1.4 million. Even if the number of girls with serious concussions reached 1000 a year that translates to only .0007 percent, hardly a number to consider wholesale changes to the game.
 
The players interviewed for the Rock Center report represented the extremes. All had suffered at least three concussions. Most were unable to concentrate for only three hours in school and one girl had to have her room bathed in blue light and eat dinner by candle light to avoid migraines. They also all admitted they didn’t leave games after suffering their first concussion because they either didn’t want to appear weak or the team needed them. I’ve read where experts tell us that recovering from a concussion takes at least a week of no rigorous activity and definitely no rough contact. But time and again players, parents, coaches and referees ignore this advice. According to the research cited in the Rock Center piece, girls are slightly more prone to being concussed due to longer, thinner necks and weaker neck muscles. Therefore, any head injury, no matter how slight it appears at the moment, needs to be considered serious enough to be removed from the game. If there is any black out at all, even for a few seconds, it requires immediate removal and a medical follow up.
 
The report did point out why injured girls play even with the threat of serious brain trauma. As one girl stated, "When I was forced to quit soccer I lost my identity, my social life, my friends and my joy." Parents will often experience the same loss on a different level. They develop friendships and a social life with the other parents of teammates, so the entire family can experience a loss.
 
Possible head injuries are a part of any sport, although soccer can have what is considered a higher than average incident rate due to both headers and other collisions during the game. Therefore, no one should take this report by NBC lightly. We just need to have some perspective. There exist safeguards to protect players from the first time they approach the ball to their waning adult competitive days. We need to be sure these safeguards are applied regularly and consistently. This job for making sure players stay safe falls primarily on referees and coaches, then on parents and finally on the players. First, referees need to control games carefully for the youngest players. Elbows to the head and neck need to be an immediate card and dismissal from the field. Excessively rough play needs to be stopped with a zero tolerance policy for any players. Any injury to the head means that the player must leave the game for the rest of the game–no exceptions. If a player blacks out, then immediate medical attention must be arranged. Coaches need to prepare their players for these policies and then support them. It’s difficult in a big game with the score tied and only three minutes left to pull your best striker for a possible head injury, but we all have to look long term, not at the immediate gains. Parents need to support coaches and referees in both controlling rough play and in removing players from the field either for rough play or for injury. These policies ensure that players think twice before that overly aggressive hit to the back of the head and players can have long and productive soccer careers.
 
One suggestion made by NBC was for headers to be banned under the age of 12. Brandi Chastain, the former Olympic and World Cup star of the U.S. Women’s National Team, disagreed strongly. She felt that headers were a beautiful and inherent part of the game which shouldn’t be eliminated from the younger players’ repertoire. Besides, players naturally go with their head for any ball above their chest. It would be a difficult ban to not only enforce, but justify.
 
If players choose to wear a head guard, it’s important that everyone support their decision. It is not a sign of weakness or a silly piece of equipment. Parents should encourage your players not to make fun of any player who elects to wear a head guard. Coaches support the decision even if you don’t see the point. Players also need to be honest about how they are feeling. If a hit makes you woozy, then let the coach know and take yourself out of the game. If the coach establishes prior to the season that he or she wants any player with a possible head injury to pull out, then it makes the decision easier for the player. Parents, let your player know that you will be proud of her if she realizes she’s not quite right and asks to sit out.
 
Our kids aren’t asking to test their reflexes by hitting the springs on bear traps. They are playing a game that has been around for decades and will be around for decades more. Unlike the baited question of "Why let your daughter play a game that you know is dangerous for her?" leaving the poor parent to stutter and stumble around a response that just makes them look irresponsible and uncaring, the real question should be "What are you doing as a parent to make soccer even safer for your daughter?" That’s an answer that doesn’t yield the kind of fear-based reporting we see all too often, but does offer some real help to the viewers. We can’t eliminate concussions, but we can develop strategies that diminish the number of concussions and diminish the severity of those concussions. Most importantly we need to take any hit to the head, neck, or back seriously and err to the side of caution when we suspect some brain involvement. The idea is to watch our kids play in lots of games not just win one significant game. The idea is to have our kids enjoy their passion safely.
 
US Youth Soccer offers a number of free online concussion resources. Click the link to learn more http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/news/concussion_resources_from_cdc/
                              

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Soccer Mom’s Day

Susan Boyd

This will be the first Mother’s Day in twelve years that we haven’t been at the soccer fields. I never felt badly that we couldn’t attend yet another brunch because, to tell the truth, I preferred watching the boys play over lukewarm scrambled eggs and soggy hash browns. The real meaning of Mother’s Day for me was sharing the day with my family and doing what we loved – soccer.
 
I imagine many of you will be in the same situation come Sunday. Spring soccer season is usually abbreviated by seasonal showers and soggy fields, so dry weekend play dates become a precious commodity not to be wasted with some sentimental holiday. Thus you gather up the chairs, blankets and umbrellas and head out to the fields delighted to watch your son or daughter play a game they really love while you cheer them on. Even if the weather isn’t ideal, the experience can be.
 
For five years, the coach of Robbie’s team made sure that each boy handed his mother a carnation after the game win or lose. That’s a very special memory for me. Despite their obvious embarrassment for what they considered an intimate gesture (especially when they got older), they each trotted across the field and handed mom a flower and received a hug in return. I doubt I would have gotten either at a fancy brunch. But within the family of the soccer team and the openness of the soccer field, Robbie and his buddies felt uninhibited enough to show and receive love publicly.
 
Another Mother’s Day game Bryce’s team unfurled a sign at the end of the game that said "Thanks and Have a Happy Mother’s Day!" They had decorated the poster and signed their names. We all got our pictures taken behind the sheet with both the full team and all the moms as well as individual photos. It made for a very special and unexpected memory.
 
When the boys were really young we actually arranged for a special mom/son soccer game on Mother’s Day. We met at the local elementary school and played a game for more than an hour. Then we had donuts and coffee and visited while the kids continued to play. It was overcast and not very warm, but somehow we managed to extend the experience for nearly three hours. There were lots of siblings, grandparents and friends who joined us. So we decided to play a round robin tournament with the boys winning the whole competition (without us even trying to let them win). Normally it might have been demoralizing to lose to a bunch of 8 year olds, but that day it was just fun. Some families actually had the proverbial bunch reservations and blew them off because the day was going so well. It definitely was a special Mother’s Day.
 
I don’t even want to suggest that soccer families have to make lemonade out of lemons because the past Mother’s Days weren’t something to be pitied. Should your son’s or daughter’s team be scheduled to play on Mother’s Day then center your celebration around the game. Turn the brunch into a team outing by going to a pizza place or an all-you-can-eat buffet. Or go to a baseball field and share a family softball game. Play Frisbee golf. Build a bonfire, have a sing-a-long and make s’mores.
There are so many ways to celebrate that don’t require dressing up and reservations.
 
Like I said, this Mother’s Day will be the first in a long time without a soccer game, but I will actually be with my grandsons in Columbus, Ohio. So this Mother’s Day I’ll be at two youth baseball games. Same outcome, different sport. I wouldn’t have it any other way! 

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Reaction time

Susan Boyd

As your time in youth soccer develops, many of you may face one of two scenarios: One – your child asks to pursue a higher level of soccer; Two – your child asks to quit soccer altogether. Each case has very different responses and outcomes but they are both interconnected. The attitude you exhibit can both overshadow your response and change outcomes. Because we parents always have an investment in our children’s activities and their successes, we often interject our hesitations and expectations into their choices. This can translate into an impulsive reaction to their desires.
 
Take for example a child’s request to play a higher level of soccer. You have all heard how expensive it can be to move to a travel team. Then you hear the discussions of extended practices, lots of out-of-state travel and, oh yes, the travel team has fields 30 minutes from home. You enjoy watching your child play, but you’ve been happy with the local team filled with friends from school that you can carpool with and familiar parents that can make the sidelines fun. In addition, your child is one of the top, if not the top, players. Why mess with success? You don’t envision your child as a college or even a high school player, so you don’t see the need for any advanced training especially adding more money and driving into the equation. Therefore, your reaction might have either overtones of anger or frustration which could stop any discussion dead. Or your reaction could convey disappoint that your child would even ask.
 
I have always said that no family should overextend themselves to provide soccer training for their children. You need to conserve resources and use them equally among family members. But you also need to recognize when a child exhibits a passion or shows a talent that should be nurtured. That needs to be a conversation which begins positively. "Wow, I’m really pleased that you’re enjoying soccer so much." It’s certainly fair for you to discuss with your son or daughter what this commitment means both for your child and for your family. Lay out what the expectations will be – for example, earning part of the expenses, attending every practice, finding a carpool among your new teammates. You can remind your child that with the intensified schedule you may not be able to attend every game or every tournament because of commitments to other family members, but that you’ll still be committed to his or her success and always interested in it. If you can have an open discussion then there will be no surprises or frustrations.
 
Likewise, if your expectation was that your son or daughter would play at a higher level, you need to be sure not to scare them off with over enthusiasm which could imply pressure. In fact, your child may have hesitated to ask to play on a travel team because he or she knew you wanted it. Your player may have felt that he or she couldn’t live up to the expectations. So if you jump on the request with over-the-top emotion, your player won’t hear what you say, only what you "meant." Take it slow. Calmly respond for example, "I’ve seen your improvement. This could be a really good next step for you." Again it opens the door for discussion. Don’t over praise your son’s or daughter’s abilities since that adds pressure with hidden expectations. But at the same time, give them support and reinforcement that they are moving in the right direction.
 
In the second scenario mentioned above, it can be difficult not to react with severe shock and disappointment when your child decides it’s time to quit soccer. It’s hard if you saw your child moving on to high school or college soccer. We want to immediately respond with the equivalent in our voices of "What are you talking about!!" Again being calm will go a long ways to opening a dialog. Sometimes you’ll find out that the reason for quitting has nothing to do with soccer, so it would be a good idea to let your child talk before you come down with your response. There may be teammate problems, a coach who tells inappropriate jokes, a parent on the sideline always picking on your child or even a health issue that is preventing your child from performing at peak. So be sure to find out what is going on. Additionally, it is okay to require that your child finish his or her commitment with the team. However, if he or she has a strong emotional reaction to that expectation, I can almost guarantee that something is amiss on the team that needs to be explored. Finally, remember that your dreams aren’t your child’s. My son Robbie is an excellent soccer player, but he is going to finish his college soccer career and then hopefully move on to medical school. I would love to watch him play professional soccer, but that’s not his choice. In fact, for a semester it wasn’t his choice to play college soccer. We have to accept those choices, as painful as they are to us. Overreacting to your child’s decision to quit, especially with anger, may get them to continue, but will overshadow their experience with resentment and sadness. Soccer should always be played with joy. In fact anything your child chooses to do should be done with joy. And in the end, we parents will share in that joy no matter what.

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We pause this broadcast for an announcement

Susan Boyd

Is anyone getting Olympic fever yet? Based on the absolute vacuum of Olympic advertising thus far, I had actually forgotten that they would be held this summer in London. I remember the countdown to Beijing beginning sometime the year before with an actual countdown in the ads – "203 days to the Opening Ceremonies!" Now I have to get my Olympic news on "American Idol" where the big buzz isn’t who’s getting voted off but that Ryan Seacrest is going to be an Olympic newscaster. When the U.S. Men’s National Team tied El Salvador in the Olympic qualifiers and thereby was eliminated from one of the 16 available Olympic berths, my first reaction was, "Why are they already doing the Olympic qualifiers?" I had this vague idea that the Olympics were still more than a year off.
 
Maybe I have been watching too much golf lately and have just missed the announcements of the Olympic qualifiers in other sports. Golf won’t enter the Olympics until 2016, so why would the Golf Channel tout the Olympics now? However I do also watch a fair amount of ESPN where I would think they would have a bit of enthusiasm for the events. Then there’s NBC, the home for the Olympics, who seems to be keeping their Olympic plans under wraps perhaps in hopes of a big reveal once new episodes of "The Office" are over. I had to read in the "Hollywood Reporter" that NBC is going to broadcast the Olympics in 3D. Is that actually Hollywood news? Maybe the naturally reticent personality of the British has affected the way the Olympics is being marketed – "Oh yes, old chap, that’s right. We are hosting the Olympics this year."
 
Before the last summer Olympics I already had a media guide I picked up at Dick’s Sporting Goods in November the year before. I had the date of Opening Ceremonies etched in my brain. I had already begun figuring out what I needed to DVR months prior to the actual broadcasts. The Olympics were a huge deal as news reports on the construction of the Bird’s Nest and how China was going to welcome its guests filled the national news. I couldn’t escape the Olympic preparations and announcements and now I can hardly find the Olympics on Google!
 
While I don’t condone spending your summer indoors watching TV, I do encourage young athletes to take in at least a few of the Olympic trials which are coming up soon. That’s why it’s so discouraging that publicity for these trials has been missing. Like the World Cup, athletes train and prepare for four years for the opportunity to represent their country in the Olympics. This is a capstone to their athletic lives. We fans should be able to keep ourselves well-informed and be able to watch the sports we love showcase their young amateur talent. I am betting that most young athletes have Olympic dreams. They need to see what effort it takes to achieve those dreams and hear about sacrifices and support. The Olympics are a venue for phenomenal achievement as well as crushing defeat. No one understands that better than the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team who has now broken a 15 Olympic appearance record.
 
In the spirit of the Olympics I want to provide my readers with the dates of some of the major trials. I’m certain at some point the channels carrying these trials will tout them as well, but I’d like to get the enthusiasm rolling early since I’d like to see the U.S. leaping into the competitions with strong support.
Track and Field                       June 21 – July 1
Swimming                               June 25 – July 2
Gymnastics                             June 28 – July 4
Wrestling                                 April 21 – 22
Diving                                     June 17 – June 24
 
For those of you who are wondering, Opening Ceremonies are July 27 and the Closing Ceremonies will be August 12. In between will be some of the best competition to be seen. So hopefully some programming executive somewhere will wake up and decide to hype this thing a bit more than it has been. Right now I wouldn’t mind a countdown or at least a whispered reminder. 

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