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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". 

 

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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In my Easter bonnet

Susan Boyd

 It has become a tradition to find a beautiful and new outfit to celebrate not only Easter, but also the arrival of spring. We love to showcase our style and just feel good wearing new duds. Soccer players aren’t immune to wanting to flaunt some fancy threads and they are helped in this endeavor by the uniform manufacturers. Every company has built-in redundancy with all uniforms, which generally have a shelf life of three years before the style is retired. If you join a club in the final year of a uniform’s existence then you’ll find yourself making two full uniform purchases in one year.
 
I know parents want to make their soccer dollars stretch as far as possible, so they will often purchase uniforms a size larger with the hopes that the uniform will last a couple years. That’s a great idea so long as the club isn’t preparing to change uniforms that year. Spring is the season when clubs make that decision for the fall. Before you buy any new uniform, especially one too big, make sure the club isn’t going to switch in a couple of months. Most clubs would be happy to keep the same style forever. Uniforms are a way of identifying player attached to a club. And clubs understand that parents would rather not be buying entirely new kits every year or so. But their hands are tied because the manufacturers have figured out that only by retiring styles can they encourage clubs to outfit the entire crew in new gear.
 
It’s a good idea to find out when your club is going to switch to new styles. First of all it helps with your budgeting by letting you know that purchasing a full kit with warm-ups, jackets, and bags on the cusp of a uniform change could be very costly. Second, you should have some input to the switch. Most clubs are sensitive to how expensive all the extra gear can be, so they attempt to find uniforms that will go with past warm-ups. They will find gear bags that look similar to the older bags. But it’s a good idea for you to check and to suggest that your club try to stay as close to past gear as possible. Also clubs might not be mindful of their female players when choosing uniforms. Many white uniform jerseys can be too transparent for girls who are uncomfortable with their bras showing through. The cut of some shorts may not be appropriate for a girl’s figure. Therefore it’s not a bad idea to be sure that both the boys and the girls in the club try on samples of uniform choices and take part in the decision. Finally, clubs will do their players a great service if they have players of different heights and weights try on samples, especially of warm-ups, and record which size they selected based on these parameters. I’m sure you have all sat there with the uniform order form in your hands and agonized on sizes. Even better would be if the club could have samples in all sizes available for players to try on. Occasionally the venue that is supplying the uniforms will have samples that you can go to the store and try.
 
Even after getting new uniforms, the old ones don’t have to go to waste. Clubs could organize a sale where old uniforms are sold to the recreational teams in the club giving the rec teams the same club identification that the select teams have. Clubs should also provide a drop-off place for old uniforms, cleats and gear twice a year, and then take it to locations and organizations which collect the gear for both national and international youth teams. For example, US Soccer Federation sponsors the Passback program along with several corporate sponsors including Eurosport, who founded the program. US Youth Soccer partners with USSF to support Passback. You can also ask your State Association if they are sponsoring a collection of soccer equipment and coordinate your club’s collection to coincide. Another national organization is Peace Passers, an organization to which teams can ship gear free of charge. They provide you with the shipping partner to use. Also, check around your community to see if there are organizations in need of gently used soccer gear. Some churches have overseas programs where they outfit full youth teams and are looking for 18-21 uniforms of the same design. Someone in your club may have a relative serving in Afghanistan or other overseas locations and can distribute soccer equipment to youth players there. Likewise there may be a relative in the Peace Corps or on a mission who would be delighted to offer soccer uniforms to the children they work with. Encourage your club to have a designated board member for donations who can run a twice-yearly program to both collect and distribute the used uniforms, shin guards, cleats and balls that players no longer use.
 
We all love to dress up. Our young soccer players are no different. We know how much they love getting new uniforms, even as we lament having to open up the purse strings yet again. With a few safeguards, we can give our kids the new uniforms they love without breaking the bank and can set the club up as an outlet for donating the old ones. This spring’s renewal might show itself on the pitch next fall both in your town and, with your donations, around the world. 

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Relax

Susan Boyd

We’re a nation of winners. We create competition everywhere just so we can declare ourselves the winner. We beat the guy at the light so we can be ahead of him for the next six blocks, no matter that 2,000 cars covered those same six blocks ahead of us. We won the battle of the light! We push our shopping cart just a bit faster and ignore the lady coming from the right so we can go through the check out first. We brag about the deal we got buying our car, do a victory dance as our bracket succeeds, and challenge co-workers to their opinion on the best restaurant. We can’t stand to be vanquished in anything. Unfortunately we can carry this obsession over to our kids’ games to the point of ridiculousness. We take any loss personally, as if the victory gods purposefully slighted us. The results of this intensity can be at best embarrassing and at worst violent.
 
This past month, two disturbing events occurred in youth sports. Following a sixth grade basketball game, the father of a boy on the losing team barreled through parents and children to attack the coach of the winning team. With barely any warning and without a word he jumped on the coach, punched him and bit off a portion of his ear. Spectators were stunned. In fact the teams were meeting in the center of the court to shake hands following the game. The father literally knocked several children to the ground in his rush to attack the coach. To add irony to the incident, this occurred following the finals for the Catholic Youth Organization. This was a game for 12-year-olds which would have ended up a simple asterisk in the memory bank of the participants. Now it will forever be the incident where children felt bullied, witnessed an act of horrific violence and left dazed and confused by the outcome of a simple game.
 
A few weeks previous to this incident, a father was arrested at his daughter’s hockey game for directing a laser pointer into the eyes of opposing players, in particular into the eyes of the opposing goal keeper. He gives new meaning to the phrase "sixth man." Following the game, players complained of headaches and spots in their eyes. While he was removed when the score was 1-1, his daughter’s team went on to win the high school state game 3-1. Officials decided that his behavior didn’t affect the overall outcome of the game, but many parents and players disagreed arguing that the laser affected the eyesight and perspective of players for most of the game and that his actions demoralized players. No matter the upshot of his behaviors, they were completely unacceptable. Right now his daughter’s team’s victory is hollow and tainted by his actions. They can’t completely celebrate, nor can they carry with them the positive memory of a significant accomplishment. Hopefully the daughter wasn’t complicit in her father’s plan, but she will always be under suspicion. The joy she should have felt participating in and winning the state finals will never be hers.
 
Most of us won’t be driven to these extremes. But we can recognize the impulse. We’ve all been at a game where our emotions have stirred to the point of anger. We’ve witnessed parents from opposing teams getting into it during a game or parents taking on referees. When a war of words between a parent and the opposing coach erupted across the field of an Under-10 game, the coach heaved his keys at the parent hitting him square in the face. A mother at a U-8 tournament game was so incensed at the referee that she ran onto the field and began poking him in the chest. The referee was 12 and the mother was arrested for assault! A father recognized another father from a previous meeting of two teams and the two continued the battle they had begun at that game resulting in both of them throwing blows. If we perceive unfairness in the officiating, dirty play, or find our team being slaughtered, we naturally feel the frustration and anger associated with those events. We’re already in a heightened emotional state because of the competition unfolding before us. And, of course there’s that pesky drive to always be winning.
 
In my case I’ve learned I have to be seated when I go to my sons’ soccer games. If I am up and wandering I release my inner Bobby Knight. Each of us has to find the way we can curb our emotions at games. Open enthusiasm is appreciated; open aggression is not. When you consider that frequently these parental outbursts occur at youth games, it seems even more ridiculous that these tantrums are happening. Most pre-teen players are off to some other interest and conversation minutes after losing a game. Their disappointment is quickly replaced by more immediate concerns such as where they’re going for lunch or who they can have over to play. It seems we adults are the ones hanging on to what happened during the game. We may need to internalize the mantra "It’s only a game" in order to shake off our frustration and discontent. Recently, I had the boys clean out their bedrooms and asked them to pack up their memories since they had both moved out. I was shocked to find they had gathered up their trophies, medals, and ribbons from competitions previous to high school and thrown them out. As they said, "We can’t even remember what tournaments these things go to!" If those wins mean so little now, the losses have to be completely insignificant. What we all took so seriously has faded into oblivion. For those few truly significant contests, I hope win or lose they would be remembered fondly and without drama. In the end most of our players will eventually end up playing soccer for fun on the weekends with a bunch of friends rather than for intense competition and certainly not as a profession. Rather than focusing on the outcome of the games, we should be focusing on the play of the games – what did our child do well, what was amusing, what was exciting? If we do that, we’ll probably live longer and without a criminal record.
 
 

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