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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". 

 

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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Inspirational

Susan Boyd

When Bryce played his first year with United States Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP), there was a young girl, Sarah Hagen from Appleton, who was also playing. That summer at Region II US Youth Soccer ODP camp, Bryce had a good session but didn’t get selected for regional pool. He came home a bit frustrated, but confident with hard work he could improve. Sarah had an even better session and was selected for regional pool.  But she came home nervous and unsure because while at camp she had felt a lump in her abdomen. The lump turned out to be a tumor on her ovary the size of a soccer ball, diagnosed as dysgerminoma, a form of ovarian cancer. Sarah was 13 and getting ready to enter high school. Suddenly her promising soccer career came to a halt, high school was put on hold and she began the grueling process of battling cancer.
 
While Bryce played his freshman year with only one goal scored against him and an undefeated season, Sarah had two operations and a long series of chemotherapy. While Bryce shaved his hair off when called up to the varsity team, Sarah watched her hair fall out. While Bryce joined his high school team at the state finals, Sarah spent her days recuperating and getting tested to check her progress. By her sophomore year, Sarah was cancer-free and strong enough to play high school soccer, but for only a few minutes at a time. Nevertheless she played well enough to receive honorable mention. By her senior year she was tearing up the field.
 
She agreed to play for UW-Milwaukee. There she followed the legacy of Laura Moynihan. Laura had been instrumental in establishing girls ODP in Wisconsin. Laura also fostered women’s soccer through the state and the nation. She had also taken over as coach of the women’s team at UW-Milwaukee in 1991. Just before taking the job, Laura was diagnosed with cancer which unfortunately was the one obstacle which defeated her in 1992. Her dedication to women’s soccer endeared her to thousands across the U.S. Her name is attached to the trophy the Under-17 girls win at the United States Youth Soccer National Championships and to the field at UW-Milwaukee where the women’s team plays. While Laura never lived to see Sarah play, her efforts paved the way for Sarah to have the amazing opportunities that opened up for her once she recovered from her illness.
 
At UW-Milwaukee, Sarah blossomed earning school records in goals (93) and total points (217). She was named Horizon League Player of the Week 15 times, which is nine times more than any other player in league history. Her goals are ninth in NCAA Division I history. What further sets her apart is that she has great humility and a natural leadership quality. Perhaps having cancer at a young age gave her the wisdom to not take anything for granted or maybe surviving cancer provided her with the joy to seize each day with a positive attitude. Since both my sons transferred to UW-Milwaukee, they have reconnected with Sarah who they knew through ODP. She has plenty to teach them about how life isn’t always fair, but you have to make what you can out of what you are given. Sarah has also been called up to train with the U-23 Women’s National Team, was drafted by the Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer and signed a contract with Bayern Munich of the Frauen Bundesliga. In her first game with the latter she scored two goals.
 
I tell Sarah’s story because she should serve as an inspiration to both female and male soccer players. She didn’t give up on her dreams despite the tough year she spent battling her cancer. She took another year to get back up to full playing speed. She eventually returned to ODP, where she made a strong impression on the coaches. Her story teaches us all that soccer can be put on hold, whether forced or voluntary, to give time to other matters in life. Her story also teaches us that soccer as a dream has the strength to see us through the hard times. Most importantly, her story tells us that we need to take each day as a blessing and use it to the best we can. Through perseverance and good fortune Sarah has beat back cancer and soared at soccer. She didn’t ask to be a role model, but circumstances have made her one. Someday she may also have a National Championship cup named after her.
 
 

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An ounce of prevention

Susan Boyd

There are plenty of reasons our little players could end up injured or out of commission for a period of time or longer. Three reasons that continue to pop up over and over are concussions, dehydration and goals which topple over.
 
Concussions aren't readily preventable, but the opportunity can be mitigated with proper training and with proper treatment their effects can be reduced. You should note that US Youth Soccer doesn't encourage heading until older age groups and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has partnered with US Youth Soccer to offer some outstanding information on concussions available for free at http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/sports/. The last two, dehydration and goals toppling over, can be prevented if the adults surrounding the players take the right precautions. It's important to keep these problems in mind whenever our youngsters take the field for practice or games. We need to prepare to either prevent or handle these situations and we need to take them seriously. 
 
The statistics on concussions are both staggering and sobering. Last school year saw 400,000 concussions in high school sports alone. Fifty percent of all ER visits for concussions involved 8 to 19 year olds in sports and 40 percent of those sports related concussions involved children between the ages of 8 and 13. Concussions among children doubled between 1997 and 2007. Doctors attribute this to children participating younger and younger in contact sports and the size of children increasing. Although soccer ranks fairly low on the scale of sports contributing to concussions, parents and coaches need to be vigilant.
 
Coaches have a responsibility to teach the skill of heading, where potential injuries risk can occur as players leave the ground to contact the ball, correctly. The details of the proper body mechanics of the skill can be found in the Skills School Manual (/assets/1/1/Skills_School_Manual.pdf ) and can be seen in the DVD Skills School – Developing Essential Soccer Techniques (http://www.usyouthsoccershop.com/frontpage-items-us-youth-soccer-skills-school.html).  Also use the information in the Heading Guidelines (/assets/1/1/Heading_Guidelines.pdf); all available on the US Youth Soccer website. In general, introduce the skill of heading in the U-10 age group with balancing the ball and a bit of juggling. Do teach basic heading skill, but use it sparingly in training and matches. Then begin to gradually increase the amount of time in training sessions on coaching this skill from the U-12 age group and older.
 
Recommendations following a concussive episode include taking a week to 10 days off for a mild concussion and even longer if the hit was particularly hard or the symptoms required an ER or doctor's visit. Those symptoms include, but are not limited to, dizziness, headache, confusion, nausea, ringing in the ears, slurred speech and fatigue. Any time a player has blacked out, even for a few seconds, that player needs to receive medical attention. If a player has had multiple concussions no matter how many years apart, that player also needs to receive medical attention. Most doctors agree that three is the limit for concussive episodes. Therefore, it's important that parents keep close track of any brain injury their child may have suffered – it doesn't just need to be on the field of play. Over the past decade doctors have come to understand how serious concussions are. Studying retired NFL and NHL players, doctors have seen hidden, serious and long-term effects of concussions which have lead to more stringent guidelines for youth players to protect their most precious biological asset.
 
Dehydration is easily preventable, yet occurs. Usually this is due to three factors: athletes don't prepare properly before a match, athletes ignore their need to hydrate and event organizers don't allow for hydration breaks. As a result, we can see players collapsing from heat exhaustion, cramps and disorientation – all symptoms of dehydration. When the weather is hot and humid, dehydration can occur even more quickly. Athletes and event organizers should keep a close eye on the heat index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_index)—a resource that takes into account both temperature and humidity. Once the index reaches a certain level, everyone should take care to provide hydration breaks during a game. When the temperature is high, the body compensates by dilating blood vessels on the skin to allow for more heat loss but that restricts blood flow to the brain. Athletes shouldn't lose more than two percent of their body weight during any contest or practice. If they do, then they have severe dehydration and need to address the condition immediately. Water isn't necessarily the best source for replenishing the body. First, it can encourage more urination which defeats the purpose of hydration. Second, it can actually kill a player's thirst. And third, dehydration involves the loss of fluids and electrolytes, the latter of which water doesn't address. But if water is all that's available, then by all means use it. Before a match, players should pre-hydrate with a sports drink. The rule of thumb is 16 to 24 ounces of drink per hour of exercise (note, most of the youth recreational games are less than an hour in play). Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, cramps, muscle fatigue, disorientation and nausea. Ironically thirst isn't a symptom of dehydration because dehydration often suppresses thirst. Parents could consider bringing sports drinks to be prepared and absolutely insist that games be interrupted on hot days to allow for hydration breaks. Severe dehydration can lead to brain damage, muscle damage, heart damage and even death. Stopping a game for 10 minutes in the middle of a half could be all that's needed to avoid dehydration problems.
 
A goal toppling onto players occurs too often for something so preventable (http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/soccer.pdf). All goals should be securely anchored, but even the best anchoring can end up being no match for a gaggle of players leaping up to the goal so they can hang or do chin-ups. The primary prevention for this serious event is educating players about the dangers. Every year a handful of players end up being crushed by goals, which is a handful too many. Whether a goal falls during a game or because of players hanging on it, the result can be tragic. Therefore, clubs need to be mindful of the danger and provide proper anchoring in the form of stakes. Sand bags can be shifted off the ground struts and no longer provide the correct counter-weigh. Stakes require more effort to remove, which is exactly why they are the best for anchoring a goal. Every club likes to have the freedom to move goals around so they can reconfigure fields and help eliminate overplay on the goal mouth ground, but the additional effort to pull up stakes is well-worth the added safety the stakes provide. Any time you see players leaping onto goals, you need to speak up even if it's not your children. Once the goal starts to tip, it falls quickly and heavily. So there isn't time for polite conversation. Every kid thinks it will never happen to him, so even with our admonishments the temptation of that solid crossbar will still attract them. We need to be vigilant and proactive.
 
Injuries in sport are to be expected, but we can protect our children from some common harm both by being practical and watchful. When it comes to concussions we need to be sure our children don't return to playing too soon and recognize the symptoms so we can seek medical care. We can avoid dehydration by making sure our children drink at regular intervals during games and practice and by insisting that they get hydration breaks when the heat index is high. To save our children from falling goals we need to check that the goals in our children's games and practices are securely anchored, educate our children about the dangers and be the goal police if we see kids playing on goals. We have it in our power to make soccer safer and thereby more enjoyable. Hopefully, working together, we can do just that.

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