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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 


Superlatively Factual

Susan Boyd

Normally I wouldn’t watch it, but my nearly 15 year old grandson is visiting and he’s a fan, so we tuned into American Ninja Warrior. The subtitle was “USA vs. the World.”  Given the recent Women’s World Cup fever, the premise sounded promising. However, apparently “the world” in the Ninja Warrior universe is made up of Europe (one team) and Japan (another team). They couldn’t even muster Asia as a team. The European team had four members, two of whom were expat Americans. The contest is a series of obstacle courses over water where the teams compete in heats against one another, the clock and the treacherous obstacles.  In the background are two announcers whose sole job is to hype the drama playing out on our television screen. We are told regularly how no one has yet completed the third course, how the hand grips are just two inches deep, how much upper body strength is required and naturally how the competitor overcame a major life obstacle on his/her way to this course in Las Vegas. At the end of three courses Japan was eliminated, the irony of which was not lost on the announcers who mentioned Ninja and Japan at least 20 times in the space of two minutes, but the USA and Europe were tied leading to an unprecedented showdown. The showdown is on a mountain of steel scaffolding, dramatic lighting and strategically placed cameras. Contestants must shimmy up a rope some 20 or so stories to the apex of the industrial peak and hit a buzzer. Again, the issue of upper body strength is flogged, remarking often that rock climbers do the best at these events. This show takes up two hours on NBC, and despite the obvious athleticism of the entrants, its main purpose is hype a la arena wrestling.

When we attend sporting events we create our own build up based on our love of the game, the team and the players. We don’t need any externalized boost to our enthusiasm through embellishment of information. We understand the talent needed, the sacrifices made, the obstacles faced and the competitive context for the game. Any tension in the match is created by the events unfolding on the pitch and our own knowledge of the history surrounding the contest. However, when we watch on TV, we get an entire scenario of drama based on whatever facts, figures and stories the announcers can dredge up. We get enveloped in a cloud of statistics pulled out to further tout the tension of the game:  If she scores it will be her 100th career goal; that yellow card made him the most penalized player in the league; only seven other players have more international caps. While these facts rarely have anything to do with the outcome of the match, they are used to make it more exciting, as if that was necessary. Statistics are kept on sports as much for adding color to the game as for keeping records. Nevertheless outside of the game day pronouncements I do get intrigued about many of these superlatives. They add interesting details to my knowledge of soccer and can present some fascinating information. With my curiosity piqued by the Ninja Warrior experience, I decided to glean some of the better statistical superlatives such as most, fastest, first and oldest as they relate to soccer.

Soccer, as we play it, had a morbid start in the early 1800’s in England in Newgate prison. Thieves who had lost their hands as punishment adapted their ball playing to feet only. The game was originally called basket-ball because overturned wicker baskets served as goals. The first football club was Sheffield FC founded in 1857. The term “soccer” was actually created by the British in the 1800’s as a slang term for Association, but while the US and Canada are corrected for calling the sport soccer so too do many Pacific Ocean nations who were once under British control such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. The first televised soccer game was in 1937 as a friendly between two Arsenal practice squads. The soccer ball is actually a bit oval but the pentagon pattern gives the optical illusion of a perfect sphere. There are 32 panels on a traditional soccer ball originally representing the countries of Europe. Yellow and red cards were first used in 1970, and England’s Premier League tried using teal cards in 1994-98 to indicate possible fouls to be reviewed by instant replay. A soccer field is called a pitch because it was built with a five percent incline from one baseline to the other so teams play uphill for half the game.  In 1872 the first international match was played between England and Scotland. The first World Cup was played in 1930. Worst miss would probably be when five Viera FC players shot on goal within eight seconds and all missed. Their shots were foiled only once by the keeper; the rest bounced off the side net, the upright, the crossbar and over the net. All shots were made within three yards of the goal mouth. The average professional soccer player will run between six and nine miles during a match and use over 100 different joint and muscles movements.

Players have their share of amazing statistics. Asmir Begovic, goalkeeper for Stoke City F.C., is credited with the longest soccer goal of 91.9 meters when he sent a drop kick down the pitch 12 seconds after kick-off. It hit the ground, bounced over a defender and the opposing goalkeeper and landed square in the back of the net. Nawaf Al Abed is generally recognized as scoring the fastest goal in two seconds, although the game was ultimately disqualified due to ineligible players. Two seconds was also all it took for the fastest red card ever issued when Lee Todd colorfully remarked about the loudness of the opening whistle. US Youth Soccer alum Carli Lloyd scored the first and only hat trick during a Women’s World Cup final. Seven players have scored more than 10 goals in Men’s World Cup competition with German Miroslav Klose holding the record at 16. For the women, Marta from Brazil has 15 with US Youth Soccer alum Abby Wambach close behind at 14.  Two women players have appeared in six World Cups:  Brazil’s Formiga and Japan’s Homare Sawa. On the men’s side the top number is five World Cups held by Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and German’s Lothar Matthaus who also has played the most WC games. Pele’ had an amazingly efficient goal-scoring ability recording 1,279 goals in 1,363 games or achieving a 94% scoring average. German soccer player Mesut Ozil donated his 300,000 Euro World Cup winnings to provide surgeries for 23 children in Brazil. Giving John Kerry a run for his money, Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast and Chelsea FC brokered a cease fire ending a five year civil war in his country. Discounting 18 month old Baerke Van der Meji signing a 10 year contract with VVV Venlo FC of the Netherlands, the youngest professional player to actually have minutes is Bolivian Mauricio Baldivieso who in 2009 entered a game between Aurora and La Paz in the 39th minute 3 days shy of his 13th birthday. Freddy Adu attracted attention when he was 12, but had to wait until his 14th birthday to sign with DC United. The most violent player might be a subjective choice, however when combining the lists of most cautioned, most ejected and most sanctioned, three players fall at the top end of each list:  Roy Keane, Eric Cantona (who actually fly-kicked a fan in the stands), and Patrick Viera. Honorable mentions have to go to Zinedine Zidane, who is the most penalized player in World Cup history, and famously head-butted a player to earn one of those penalties, and Luis Suarez, who sank his incisors into three players between 2010 and 2014. The male player with the longest career was Yorghos Kudas of Greece who played for 27 years. His female counterpart was Lily Parr of England who played nearly 31 years between 1920 and 1951. A more contemporary example and in second place is Kristine Lilly of the US who played 23 years. The oldest professional soccer player was Neil McBane who made his last appearance in a game at age 51.  The longevity of players proves that training well can extend a career.            

Although these facts have less to do with understanding soccer and more to do with adding detail to what we watch as well as giving us a leg up in trivia, it’s still significant for fans of the game to appreciate the extremes within which normal play and players exist. Many of the major impressive superlatives have been achieved by players of little notoriety otherwise who simply worked daily to better their game and lift up their team.  When teams achieve it comes from group efforts which may include a few superlative moments, but generally rely solely on good, solid performances. Best, worst, most, least, oldest and youngest will always be in flux. Despite being categorized as the ultimate they will surely be surpassed. We can enjoy these facts for the moment, chuckle at many of them, gasp at some and then be assured that these anomalies don’t define soccer play. Besides something newer, better, and bolder will tweak our emotions again. That’s the best that can be said for any trivia.


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The Biggest Stage

Susan Boyd

First off, congratulations to the U.S. Women’s National Team for its World Cup Victory last Sunday. It was an historic win in an exciting competition. Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick, the first ever in a Women’s World Cup final. It also avenged the penalty kick loss four years ago to Japan with this year’s decisive 5-2 win. And the U.S. managed to score four goals before the 20-minute mark. Hope Solo only allowed three goals the entire tournament with 540 minutes between the first goal allowed in the first game against Australia and the second in the 27th minute of the World Cup final. Amazing! The team came to Canada to win and stayed focused on their goal. The defense shone throughout the month. The real test was supposed to be Germany in the semis, but after a foul in the box, the U.S. scored the PK and never looked back. Even England rallied against Germany in the 119th minute of overtime to score and beat the Germans in the consolation game. The tournament awarded fans with spectacular play, a couple major upsets such as Australia beating Brazil 1-0, and examples of true determination. We have to wait another four years for the next Women’s World Cup in France, but there are plenty of opportunities to watch the women of the world play again, especially in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

World-class soccer gives our youth players not only something to strive toward but an important validation of their own choices. As more and more U.S. broadcast channels, announcers, and fans embrace soccer, players can take great pride in being a part of that movement. They also realize they play a sport which dominates the world stage in a way no other American sport does. Just for fun I entered the word “soccer” on my TV provider’s search engine and for the next week there are 279 opportunities to watch soccer games, and this is a slow soccer month. Once September arrives there are a myriad of international games that can be viewed, not to mention the beginning of men’s and women’s college soccer and the last third of the MLS season and then their championship playoffs. The broad spectrum of channels carrying matches mirrors the international nature of the sport: Bein (Middle East), GOL (Spanish Language), Telemundo and Univision (Mexico), Sky Sport (Europe), Setanta (Italy), and U.S. national and local sports stations such as ESPN and Fox Sports. Fans can watch English, Scottish, Italian, French, German, Japanese, Argentine, Columbian, Mexican, and Canadian soccer matches regularly along with our American matches including MLS, college, and even local high school. Youth players can and should be part of this international community because it opens up the competition to aspects greater than wins and losses such as the politics and culture of the nations involved.

Despite the recent problems facing FIFA, there is one area where the organization has truly benefitted the sport. FIFA established rules for soccer that cross all boundaries and equalize all playing options. The penalties our players get disciplined for are the same ones a child in Ghana or South Korea would receive. By standardizing the rules for the entire globe, FIFA has insured that soccer can be played anywhere by anyone in the same format and fair play. Further, by governing the sport since 1904 FIFA provides an impartial and regulated arena to air and resolve disputes. Players and teams who want to play internationally need to adhere to these rules and this oversight. It may seem constricting, but it is no more so than that of the NFL, NBA, or MLB. The framework provides an even playing field all around the world. Countries who can’t agree politically or religiously, all adhere to the FIFA model. It’s gratifying to see 209 nations (60 of whom were added between 1975 and 2002) all agreeing to a single set of rules and a single court of resolution. Countries actually clamor to be a part of FIFA, giving the organization tremendous power to require compliance and to do good. The only major international item unresolved is the inclusion of Israel in the Middle East confederation. Due to the internal restriction of Israel and other Arab nations which don’t allow Israel to play in Arab countries and vice versa, FIFA moved Israel to the European conference. Even that decision shows that the organization can resolve conflicts and maintain peace across the borders. FIFA even attempts to handle issues such as racism and poverty, not always in the most powerful ways, but they recognize that they can bring a universal message and use soccer to promote that message.

Since soccer is played world-wide, kids have the opportunity to travel anywhere to play. Soccer is a conduit to discovering new cultures, spectacular architecture, and political differences. There are a variety of organizations that offer various tours based on soccer but not necessarily exclusively for just training in or playing soccer. The exciting part of going anywhere in the world is that soccer becomes a universal language. One of my favorite documentaries which has a companion book is Pelada which chronicles the journeys of four 20-something soccer players. They brought their play to different countries across a wide spectrum of socio-economic conditions. The film details how quickly kicking a ball around on a patch of grass or a city center fountain square could draw a group of players. Although the four travelers often didn’t speak a word of the country’s language, they communicated with the citizens through a shared love of soccer. In Jerusalem they organized a game among Arabs and Jews that transcended politics and resulted in a joyous afternoon of laughter and happy competition. They played in the slums of Nairobi where the same exuberance emanated on the pitch as was seen in the wealthiest suburbs of Dubai. Youth players, if they can, should venture out into the wide soccer world to test their abilities, to learn the various tactics played in different nations, and to share a passion with strangers who become friends.

Recognizing the extensive net soccer casts in the world gives young players a wider perspective on the power of the sport. Dozens of international and continental competitions are played out every year with the granddaddies being the Men’s and Women’s World Cups and the Olympics. Right now through July 26 the CONCACAF Men’s Gold Cup is being played in the United States. This competition brings together national teams from North America and the Caribbean. With three years to go before the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia teams are jockeying for bids. The Gold Cup performances will factor into who earns enough points to make the World Cup list. Therefore these games will be hotly contested with the best players each nation can bring to the pitch and thus a great representation of international soccer. CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, recently completed their continental competition which had many of the games televised in the United States. On August 2nd, Arsenal will meet Chelsea in the FA Community Shield game which is held annually between the winner of the FA Cup (Arsenal) and the first place team in the Premier League for the previous year (Chelsea). This is akin to our Super Bowl and will be broadcast in America on Fox Soccer 1.

Letting youth players step onto the large international stage that defines soccer gives them not only some goals to shoot for but also an entry to the global community. Soccer can encourage players to learn other languages, travel to exotic locations, or study up on the history of a country. Often during international games, the commentators will highlight some of the struggles of the individual players or the team’s country which might inspire kids to research more of the details. Understanding that soccer crosses borders means understanding that borders don’t need to limit us. Kids can celebrate their athletic choice anywhere in the world and know that they will be joined by scores of other youth players. The soccer community can be very small and personal when kids play with their friends but can expand to include us in a larger world. We can be included by watching international competitions or by actually traveling to another country to play. When Robbie went to Kenya for a study abroad program he engaged groups of kids, most of them orphans suffering from extreme poverty, in games of soccer. The fields were rocky, overgrown, and without lines or goals. Yet he could connect with them through the sport and ultimately help to educate them about public health issues once they trusted him as a fellow player. That’s the power of soccer – to bring us together transcending borders.

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Carpool Survival

Susan Boyd

Any of us who have children in sports knows that we can’t survive the schedules without participating in and depending on carpools. The more kids we add to the mix, the exponentially more we are tied to car pools. They are a boon when we aren’t driving and can be a bit of a nightmare when we are the drivers. On the other hand, carpools can be an interesting window into our kids’ lives as they chatter in the back and we can be a fly on the wall. Surviving the complicated social and logistical tangles of carpooling can make for some stressful and interesting experiences. There’s some tried and true methods for tackling the necessary evils, but first you have to understand the “Laws” of carpooling.

  1.  A truck filled with watermelons or chickens or used frying oil will lose its load three cars in front of you;
    1. Corollary A:  This will happen 200 yards after an exit and two miles before the next possible exit.
    2. Corollary B:  You will never have cell service when this happens.
    3. Corollary C:  One of your passengers will either need to pee or to vomit immediately.
  2. Your day to pick up from practice will be just three hours after a soaking thunderstorm when every kid is covered head to toe with mud.
    1. Corollary A:  You just had your car detailed.
    2. Corollary B:  The field is also covered in goose droppings.
  3. When it isn’t your carpool day, the assigned driver will cancel at the last minute.
  4. No matter how often you step in to help at the last minute, you will always be made to feel guilty when you can’t.
  5. Someone will forget something vital and realize it 20 miles down the road.
  6. The noise level in the car is directly proportional to the level of your headache.

Corollary A:The music choices will always metaphorically use more “cow bell.”

Corollary B:All kids will sing along and none have any musical talent.

  1. When you drive in temperatures above 80 degrees, the snack will be either Hershey Bars or popsicles.
    1. Corollary A:  You just had your car detailed.
    2. Corollary B:  No matter how many napkins or paper towels you have, they are never enough.
  2. If your car is due for a major breakdown it will happen when you have five kids late for a big game.
    1. Corollary A:  You will never have cell service when this happens.
    2. Corollary B:  All five kids will continually remind you that they are going to be late.
  3. Your turn to drive will invariably be for the event farthest away and the most difficult to reach.
    1. Corollary A:  As with most soccer fields, the address is never precise.
    2. Corollary B:  Your GPS will do a best guess on location which is often incorrect.
    3. Corollary C:  Even with accurate directions, there will be an unexpected detour.
  4. Kids will say thank you and all too often parents won’t.

When you join a carpool, and most of us belong to at least two, there is an implied contract that has some delicate social parameters. Kids will be brutally honest with one another, so their conversations will be not only revealing, but possibly embarrassing as well. You will hear about fights that parents had, things the coach said, gossip on dozens of friends, and scores of tasteless jokes that everyone will find hilarious. The policy of “What’s said in the car, stays in the car” should always be honored. It’s best to remember that when someone else is driving they will be hearing about your family secrets. Likewise, you need to be careful about your comments. If you criticize the coach, another player, or another parent it will get back to them even if the ties to your passengers is tenuous at best. Imagine my shock when one kid once informed his coach while I was in earshot, “Mrs. Boyd says you don’t really give everyone equal playing time.” So mum’s the word when in the car. Then there are the things you don’t expect would cause problems. I found out that a song we played, “All Star” was taboo for one of my passengers when confronted by his mother. It didn’t have bad words, it wasn’t rap, but apparently it conveyed the wrong attitude by stating “she had an L in the middle of her forehead” i.e. she was a loser. If I decide to stop to get the kids a treat on the ride home I need to be sure that I’ve covered all the allergy and dietary restrictions. I discovered the hard way that what I thought was the perfect healthy snack, sugar-free frozen yogurt, turned out to be unacceptable for my one (unknown) vegan. Therefore, as a carpool driver you should politely check with every parent before doing what you think is something nice. It can unfortunately backfire otherwise.

The compact you “sign” when you join a carpool can truly be complex and unfair. For example there are three types of carpool parents:  those who pull their weight; those who pull more than their weight; and those who vaporize when their turn comes up. I often wonder if these latter adults have some type of “Beam me up Scotty” device that transports them, sans children, to a destination far removed activated with just the word “carpool” being spoken. They are the parents who claim to be incredibly busy though busy often translates into attending spin class and having a pedicure. The rest of us, who really are busy juggling several children’s schedules, a job, and getting uniforms washed, manage to handle the duties. Don’t expect these ghosts to feel any guilt; that vaporizes as well. But they are experts at slathering on the guilt to everyone else. When you join a carpool the concept of fairness doesn’t apply. I know when I was offered the straws, they were all short. You’ll get the longest trips, the games that get cancelled as soon as you arrive, the kids who get car sick, the kids who hate each other yet sit next to each other, the last-minute emergencies, and the hysterical child who loses his homework at the field. The best way to handle this all is to take a lesson from “Frozen” and let it go. Carpools are necessary evils that, despite the rough roads, at least ensure that your child always gets to travel. You won’t be able to negotiate better terms, but you will get some really precious moments that ultimately outweigh all the troubles.

I’m talking about being an important part of the conversation and activity that goes on in the car. Making connections with their friends in this safe and confined environment means that you have links with them well into their teens. Your own children somehow feel freer to open up to you as if you are now one of the gang. Something magical happens when those doors close. I loved monitoring and occasionally joining in on the conversation. My repertoire of ridiculous jokes doubled:  Where does the Easter Bunny eat breakfast? IHOP. My repertoire of bodily function jokes quadrupled:  Why did Tigger stick his head in the toilet?  He was looking for Pooh. I also got the chance to nip bullying and disrespect right when they happened, the best way to teach object lessons. “You guys don’t need to resort to name-calling. You’re smarter than that.” Getting to know the teammates on a more personal level gave me a greater investment in the games. I got to cheer on Teddy who had the bright idea to try to open my sliding van door while we were moving. It didn’t open but it set off an alarm that dinged for the 10 minutes it took to reach the field. Teddy whose red face matched his red hair ran onto the pitch while everyone else was still laughing at his shocking (potentially dangerous) behavior. I learned how much Michael wanted his dad to like soccer and come to just one game, so I cheered extra hard for him. I found out what girls like my sons and which girls they liked, usually not the same. Clear into college when I’d run into kids from the various carpools they would remember some fun detail from our trips back and forth. So you can relish those moments that are solely yours, fleeting, and special. I could do without the number of jokes crowding my brain, although those jokes do make me a bit of hit with my grandkids.

If we have kids, we are almost assured of joining a carpool at least once in our youth sports experience. It’s a given that you’ll have a ton of frustrating incidents that usually stem from adults rather than the kids. Keeping a sense of humor helps; certainly the kids have a sense of humor albeit a bit warped. If you expect thanks from your peers, disavow yourself of that fantasy. In fact the thanks you receive from them is generally inversely proportional to the effort you expend to transport their kids. On the other hand kids almost always shouted “Thanks Mrs. Boyd” as they leapt from the car. No matter the trouble and the thanklessness, I loved the carpools I did, loved the kids I drove, and learned to love the quirks of the parents because I’m sure they felt I was also quirky. If you aren’t in the right mood when it’s your turn to drive, here’s a few jokes to perk you up.

  1. What sounds do porcupines make when they kiss?  Ouch!
  2. What do you get when cross a chicken and a pit bull?  Just the pit bull
  3. The teacher asks the class to use fascinate in a sentence. One boy eagerly raises his hand. “My coat is so small I can only fasten eight of the buttons.”

Those should give you a good head start in surviving any carpool.

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Some Light Reading

Susan Boyd

I hope all of you have been watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup. There’s been something for everyone’s sense of drama: upsets, bad calls, nail biters, extraordinary play, and stupendous feats of athleticism. By the time this is published, we’ll know if the U.S. Women’s National Team will be playing in the semifinals. The great news is that FWWC is pulling in record viewership. The U.S.-Columbia game had 4.1 million tuned in with a peak of 6.4 million. Only two other broadcasts had higher numbers on Fox Sports 1: Game 4 (5.1 million) and Game 5 (4.9 million) of the 2014 National League Championship Series between St. Louis and San Francisco. Likewise, Canada nearly drew more viewers for their opening game vs. China than the Stanley Cup game that evening. Quite a spectacular outcome given that hockey is the national sport. Even Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Benoit couldn’t put a damper on the upswing of interest in the event when he tweeted that “Women’s sports in general [are] not worth watching…Women are every bit as good as men in general, better in many aspects, their sports are just less entertaining. TV ratings agree, btw.” Apparently he missed the reports on the Women’s World Cup, as well as the ratings athletes like Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey pull in.

While watching the matches, I couldn’t help but notice the various scrawls on the message boards surrounding the pitch. While FIFA has suffered a tarnishing of their image, there were several reminders of their charitable programs and social platforms. I wondered if these millions of viewers in the U.S. (estimates are 1 billion world-wide) had: A. taken note of the advertisements, B. looked the programs up, C. acted on anything they had learned. After all, there was plenty to watch on the pitch, so people would be forgiven for not heeding the constant verbiage scrolling in the background. I decided to look the programs up, curious as to what FIFA was touting. There were four agendas:  Football for Hope, Football for the Planet, Say No to Racism, and Fair Play. Each of these has a particular purpose in promoting FIFA’s image which certainly needs some propping up. Adding to the quartet is adidas’ campaign #BetheDifference.

Football for Hope started in 2005 to promote the issues of children in impoverished areas. FIFA works through local private and community-based organizations supporting the resources used to foster the social development of youth. Much of FIFA’s support comes in the form of football-based programs. During the Men’s World Cup in Brazil in 2015, FIFA sponsored a festival with delegates from 32 of some of the 108 world-wide organizations involved in the Football for Hope initiative. The projects span a variety of social issues, from homelessness in the UK and landmines in Laos, to HIV/AIDS education in South Africa and responsible citizenship in Brazil. For the World Cup, Football for Hope focused its resources in Brazil, donating $1.05 million to programs in Brazil and an additional $2.05 million world-wide. FIFA encourages the communities receiving funding to hold matches where there are no referees. All conflicts are resolved through agreement either by admission or through dialog which FIFA believes promotes personal development and mutual understanding. Likewise, representatives from the communities being served meet regularly to discuss ways to use football to advance and improve social concerns. While the money FIFA contributes is substantial, it pales to what they made alone from the 2014 World Cup, which was $2.6 billion – that’s billion with a B.

Football for the Planet is the official environmental program for FIFA started in 2006 during the World Cup in Germany. The program has evolved over the past decade to embrace some fairly sophisticated efforts in off-setting the ecologic impact of the World Cup matches on the host country’s environment. For the 2014 competition in Brazil FIFA worked on three fronts to reduce the harm an influx of millions of fans would have on the environs. First FIFA worked to offset carbon emissions which have the largest effect on climate change. They estimated that the World Cup would produce 2.7 million tons of CO2 emissions of which FIFA had control over 250,000 tons. Using local emission programs, FIFA offset all of their CO2 emissions. Second FIFA required that new stadiums in Brazil be sustainable. For example they encouraged the installation of solar panels and expected the stadiums to earn the maximum points of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for green building which encourages sustainability and efficiency. To that end they sponsored training sessions in building green for the architects and contractors of each stadium. Third, FIFA developed waste management programs for the stadiums helping vendors to institute proper waste disposal to include strong recycling efforts. Additionally FIFA used its mascot to instruct spectators on responsible waste disposal.

Say No to Racism is an education program that grew out of FIFA’s article 3:  Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion. For many years this article was not clearly and consistently enforced, but over the last decade more incidents of discrimination and hate speech appeared at FIFA-sponsored events. Black players regularly face abuse which includes bananas tossed at them from the stands, racist chants from fans, and racist taunts from other players. Anti-Semitism comes in the form of fans openly waving Nazi flags at matches and taunting Jewish fans and players. For many years, FIFA simply turned a deaf ear and blind eye to these overt acts, choosing to let “boys be boys.” However, with riots at Egyptian matches based on deep religious divides, dangerous anti-black sentiments in Europe, and hooliganism based on racial biases, FIFA realized it needed to act. More dangerous to the organization is the threat by several African nations and individual black players to boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia if racism isn’t addressed. To that end, in May 2013 the FIFA Congress adopted a resolution on the fight against racism and discrimination which highlighted the need for strong punishments to support the position that racism has no place in football. FIFA has joined with the continental soccer governing organizations such as UEFA and CONCACAF to sanction teams, players, and administrators who practice or condone racist actions. Sanctions based on prejudicial behaviors have now come regularly and without mercy for the offenders. Unfortunately the idea of solving such a complicated issue as bigotry by just “saying no” is about as effective as Nancy Regan’s campaign to just say no to drugs. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that FIFA is taking the issue seriously and encouraging fans to recognize the harmful effects of bigoted behaviors on the sport.

Fair Play has ironic implications considering the level at which FIFA’s integrity has come under attack. The program uses the slogan “My game is fair play” to promote respect on and off the pitch among all players, officials, coaches and fans. The purpose is to play the game peacefully with integrity, fairness, dignity and respect. FIFA might want to take a page from its own promotions to find ways to conduct their activities with the same four cornerstones of behavior. Once a year they dedicate a week to highlight the people who best exemplify the principles of fair play. One person or group is recognized for special acts with the annual Fair Play Award. At every FIFA tournament teams are judged on their behavior and one team is selected for the tournament Fair Play Award. FIFA also encourages individual clubs all the way down to youth soccer to promote fair play both on and off the pitch, asking clubs to be sure to highlight those who exemplify honorable behavior.

Although not directly a FIFA program, adidas sponsors the “Be the Difference” platform. Obviously created to sell more shoes, it highlights the energy required to be a top soccer player. As adidas states, “Soccer is changing. In the style and way it is played and in the types of players who grace the game. For a team to be successful, you need two types of players – Playmakers who orchestrate and control everything, and Game changers who smash the defense and cause chaos. Pick your side and be the difference.”  While an advertising ploy, the statement is powerful for young soccer players who may feel that they are marginalize if they play any position other than striker. The commercial purposely doesn’t identify impact by a particular position, rather by performance which supports the idea that every child makes a significant contribution to the success of a team. I think besides getting kids salivating about a particular boot, the campaign elevates the importance of every player by exposing the ability to make a difference comes through passion for and investment in the sport.

If you remember while cheering on your particular team or player at any FIFA event, check out the boards around the pitch. There are mostly advertisements displayed there, but occasionally there are some interesting statements being made about soccer beyond the competition. I will agree with FIFA on the point that we need our kids to see how we behave in our soccer lives needs to mirror how we behave off the pitch. We can be part of the solution of many of the world’s problems by simply applying some of the principles we learn while playing:  cooperation, respect for authority, charity, fairness, integrity, tolerance, and accepting success with humility and defeat with dignity. Sometimes what appears in the background can be a good read to remind us of these values.

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