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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". 

 

A tangled web

Susan Boyd

As the recent scandal at Penn State evolves, it reminds us sadly that sports unfortunately have an ugly side. That the scandal involves youth football players makes it even sadder. And it points out the importance of people in positions of power understanding their moral obligation to protect our children. While details are still being revealed, the main point is that an adult offering youth football training and experience to boys from troubled and impoverished backgrounds allegedly abused several of those boys. When it was discovered, and the "when" is still being established fully, it was simply dismissed and the door closed without doing a thing to inform the police, child welfare, and especially the parents. These children must feel so betrayed, and the after-effects will resonate in their lives for decades.
 
While it's an uncomfortable topic, it's also an unfortunate reality in youth sports. Predators gravitate to activities that offer lots of kids who look up to them and parents who trust them. So we all need to have some vigilance without panicking and without overprotecting. We can take three important steps to help reduce the likelihood of our children being put in a dangerous or compromising situation. Working in tandem with our clubs and our state associations, we can help ensure the safety of our children.
 
The first step is to confirm how your local association vets coaches and referees. You want to be comfortable that the environment your child is participating in is safe and has proper protocol in place. A primary driver in the vetting process is a background check. These checks do work. I had been involved in the process several years ago, and I was surprised at how often a basic background check revealed histories that required further investigation. In all, every year we would screen hundreds of volunteers and professionals, and occasionally we would have to inform clubs of persons that the state association could not license to work with youth players. The purpose of these checks is to reassure parents that any questionable adult has been identified and blocked from working with our children.
 
The second step involves doing your research. Make sure that your club follows through on these background checks and the information they receive. It can be difficult to tell a mom or dad who has given hours of volunteer time to the club that they have been identified as an at-risk adult. But clubs need to be diligent while being discrete. The protection of the children in the club has to take precedence over the protection of a friend of the club president. While not every potential risk can be identified, it's very important that those who are get removed from working with kids. Clubs must also make it clear that they will not tolerate any abusive behavior from anyone, including but not limited to verbal, physical, bullying and sexual acts. They should issue a code of conduct for parents, coaches, and administrators that make the limits clear as well as the consequences for crossing the line. I'm sure we've all witnessed our share of sideline abuse from overeager parents who feel that belittling players will somehow make them work harder. We've also experienced that coach whose idea of motivation is to scream obscenities and demeaning comments. While not as egregious as the alleged actions at Penn State, such behavior can still have a lasting and serious impact on our kids. So be sure that your club takes this conduct seriously and has provisions in place to deal with it. Even older teenagers can be negatively impacted by being debased. So don't tolerate a board's attitude that the kids need to toughen up. You pay the club good money to teach your kids soccer not to lower their self-esteem.
 
Finally, we need to support our children through education, intervention, and love. Be sure that they know they can tell you anything and that you will listen. That also means educating our children without alarming them on situations which can arise. There are several good organizations and websites with information you can use. Parents.com, for example, regularly addresses this issue. There's a book called "The Right Touch" for very young children. But the main thing is to let children know that they should never accept a gift or a ride from any person (friend or stranger) unless they get your permission first. While the evil threat of some roving sex offender haunts us, the more real threat is what allegedly happened at Penn State. A person in authority who has control over children and the trust of the parents uses that authority and trust to commit harm. Teach kids what boundaries they have the right to maintain, and if those boundaries are ever crossed, they need to tell you immediately.
 
Once you are aware of a concern, you need to act. If the problem is a parent on the sidelines or a coach who seems to have it out for your child, then find a time to talk to the offender calmly. If your intervention doesn't do the trick, then approach the club board with your concern. If that falls on deaf ears, then it's probably time to switch clubs. No prestige is worth your child's self-image. If the problem involves physical or sexual aspects with strong proof, then you need to inform the police and child welfare. Let the professionals sort it out. They know how to discretely investigate and what questions to ask. The Penn State situation hopefully shows the deep pain, harm, and repercussions to which covering it up can lead. The child victims come foremost, but there are adults who must face harsh consequences for ignoring the seriousness of the crimes and protecting a friend instead of doing the right thing. Their judgment was clouded by loyalty to the accused, which we parents should never tolerate.
 
When all is said and done, the most important support you can offer is your love. Children who have the confidence that their parents will stand behind them and who have the tools to recognize inappropriate or damaging behaviors will not so easily fall prey. And if they should, your immediate unqualified love will go a long ways to healing them and mitigating the effects. Most of our children will thankfully never face as horrible a fate as the boys in the alleged Penn State situation. For most of our children they will need to deal with verbal abuse. Despite the "sticks and stones" adage, words do hurt, so verbal abuse needs to be treated as seriously as any other kind of abuse on our children. Words will sting less if a child's self-esteem is high and experts tell us that children who feel secure in the love of their parents have higher self-esteem. So keep those hugs and kisses coming on a regular basis and listen carefully to what our children are telling us. We shouldn't approach every situation with suspicion, or worse, alarm, but we can be savvy. Keep your eyes and ears open along with your open arms.
 

Relieving Winter's Discontent

Susan Boyd

Anton Chekov said, "People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy." But he didn't sit through a two hour soccer game in pouring rain, gusts to 30 mph and a bone-chilling 40 degrees. Lots of us have, and our happiness can only be measured by a victory and a hot cup of cocoa. Winter doesn't spell the end of soccer; it just condenses the time that games can be played on unlit fields. Actually soccer never ends. Around the world soccer continues all through the winter. It's a great season to share televised matches and become students of the game. And with the NBA questionable for this year, your family can easily give soccer a chance to captivate your interest. You can begin to follow particular club and players, while you develop a better understanding of team tactics and individual skills.
 
In the next two weeks, men's and women's college soccer teams will be vying for an elusive spot in the NCAA championships. The women's brackets will have been announced on November 7 and the men's will be announced on November 14. Chances are very good a game or two will be played close enough to your home to attend. If not, then you can catch some of them on television. Watching these young men and women compete provides an excellent opportunity to see the skill level your youth players will need to aspire to if they have dreams of playing college soccer. You will also be watching future professional soccer stars. Men's schedules for Division I, II, and III can be found at ncaa.com/sports/soccer-men/d1 and Women's schedules for Division I, II, and III can be found at ncaa.com/sports/soccer-women/d1.
 
Presently the play-offs for Major League Soccer are underway. The league has added several notable foreign players such as Thierry Henry and David Beckham, but it is primarily dependent upon U.S. talent. These young men rose out of the ranks of programs your son and daughter participate in like US Youth Soccer Association and the Olympic Development Program. Players that my sons either played with or against are now in the MLS, so that we feel a very personal connection to the teams and the competitions. It's fun to see someone streaking down the field and to remember washing his uniform during an ODP tournament! Schedules for the games can be found atmlssoccer.com/mlscup/2011/playoffschedule.
 
The United European Football Association (UEFA) Champions League runs nearly year round with the finals in mid-May and new qualifying rounds beginning in late June with winners laying claim to the European Cup. Every country in Europe can enter up to four teams into the qualifying rounds. The Champions League should not be confused with the UEFA Cup also known as the Europa League. Both leagues' qualifiers, knock-out rounds, and play-offs run nearly in tandem one with the other so it can be confusing sometimes as to which competition you're viewing. Schedules for the competitions can be found at uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/index.html and uefa.com/uefaeuropaleague/index.html.
 
If you don't want to watch all of Europe compete, you can concentrate on the English Premier League (EPL), which sponsors some of the top soccer competition in the world. EPL games are broadcast regularly on Fox Soccer, Fox Soccer Plus, Gol TV, and ESPN. Sirius-XM radio broadcasts EPL games on the weekends. The league also boasts a number of U.S. players who again came up through the ranks of youth soccer programs. The EPL teams have thousands of U.S. followers and even some U.S. owners, so the Atlantic Ocean isn't much of a barrier to enjoying the battles on the English pitch. Your family can select a team to follow and be sure to catch the games that come up each week. Developing an interest in professional soccer gives your kids the role models in the sport that help them maintain their commitment and inspire them. Sharing in that interest lets kids know that you value their choices. Follow the games on the website and through the Fox Soccer schedule:  premierleague.com/page/Home and
 
While looking at that Fox Soccer schedule don't forget to look for the US Youth Soccer Show. This thirty minute program focuses on youth soccer events and training, giving viewers access to great coaching tips, player bios, and highlights from some of the best youth soccer games. I have a special place in my heart for this program since Robbie had a brief interview in the very first episode. So I naturally tuned in to catch his moment, but ended up loving the entire show, most of which didn't feature Robbie's smile. Nevertheless I have tuned in every episode since because the program gives great information for parents of youth players and players themselves. A new episode premiered on November 4 and airs again November 18 at 6 p.m. ET and December 1 at 7 p.m. ET, so check it out.
 
While some of you in the southern climes can enjoy soccer outdoors in the winter, most of us have to deal with the cold, snow, rain and ice which make outdoor soccer less viable in the winter. Short daylight hours also put a crimp in any outdoor play if fields don't have lights. So most of us hunker down indoors and await the thaw and daylight savings time. Take this opportunity to enjoy some of the winter soccer happening all over the world and available to us via our cable and satellite TV. While our winter's discontent with long nights, higher heating bills and gray days can't be completely eliminated, watching a great soccer match can bring a few hours of delight.
 

Sibling Rivalry

Susan Boyd

Two weeks ago my grandson won his big game, making his team the champions of their town. A week later his brother lost his big game, denying his team the championship. That loss was made all the more bitter when framed in the light of his younger brother's victory. His injured pride had suffered the double-whammy of a loss and having to listen to his brother's bragging rights. Closer to home, my oldest son's team continues to win in its drive to a championship and my youngest son's team continues to lose. Additionally Bryce, the older son, plays every minute of every game and Robbie only plays about 30 to 40 minutes a game. Talk about sibling rivalry. No matter if they are pre-teens, teens, or post-teens, being on the losing end of a competition isn't easy. Handling our children's disappointment can be complicated since we usually have our own disappointment festering in the background. Add a second child having success into the mix gives you an uncomfortable and difficult situation.
 
While we understand as parents that every loss will be offset later with a win and vice versa, kids don't have the experience and therefore the context to be so wise. Kids just see others succeeding while they are not. When it is a brother or sister who is achieving success, it makes the defeats all the more defeating. Experts suggest not focusing on wins and losses but on hard work. You should support a big win and show your pride in that success, but you also should shift your continuing praise to the good performance of skills and effort the child showed in that win. That way when a sibling loses a game, you can commiserate on the loss, but then shift again to those excellent qualities your child exhibited in that loss. The praise becomes about the process rather than the product, which allows you to give equal support in an unequal situation.
 
Additionally, you want to avoid comparing your children. Don't talk about how well Johnny dribbles and then say, ""Hopefully Susie you can soon dribble as well as Johnny."" Keep the accomplishments separate. Any rewards for success shouldn't be based on wins and losses. You can develop a point system for working hard in practice, doing something well in a game, and even being a good helper to the coach. When enough points are earned you can go as a family to enjoy a treat like ice cream or a movie. This system lets the child earn a reward which benefits everyone. It should help siblings encourage one another in the pursuit of a reward. I even witnessed my younger grandson telling his parents that his brother had made a good tackle during a game and that he should earn a point for that. Instead of being jealous of his brother, he had a stake in looking out for things to praise.
 
It's also not surprising following a big loss for a child to express a wish to quit. So much energy gets put into working towards a win, that a loss can mean more than just that loss. Kids can begin to question their abilities, their commitment to the sport, and their teammates. Putting so much of their hopes and dreams on the line again seems overwhelming and unreasonable. Parents should give kids the time to vent. You can certainly be sympathetic without succumbing to reinforcing the negatives. Kids want to shift the blame from themselves to others because that helps diminish their own complicity in the loss. However, no matter how many mistakes others made that may have contributed to the bad outcome, these are your child's teammates, so no one should be a scapegoat. Talk in general about how the team may have faltered or lacked energy, or even better talk about how the other team was just stronger and more skilled today. When talk of quitting comes up, tell your child that the discussion has to be tabled until after a cooling off period of a week or two. If it's the end of the season, then you can't use the commitment card, but you can talk about successes up to that point and remind your child of the fun he or she had during the season. When quitting gets brought up out of jealousy of a sibling's success, then time usually dissipates those impulses as long as the sibling's success isn't overly promoted in the family.
 
Devastating losses that occur in tandem with monumental successes can have the effect of diminishing a success by putting a damper on the celebration. In this case, sibling rivalry can be resentment from the successful child towards his or her sibling for stealing thunder. Once again, parents have a difficult tight rope to walk in which they give proper respect to the win and proper deference to the loss. When it's a significant win such as a league championship, having a family celebration seems in order. Dwell on the great things each child did respectively for their teams and encourage the one sibling to congratulate his brother or sister on the win. Make sure that both children know that this is a family success because everyone supports one another and therefore shares in the pride. Likewise, when there is a loss, every family member shares in the disappointment, but never loses their respect for the child's abilities. Make sure to reassure both children that your love and pride are not dependent upon wins. You value effort and improvement. Make sure that while wins come and go, commitment, determination, and growth continue to be the ultimate goals. Allow a child to have pride in his or her win, but don't allow smugness. Likewise, allow a child to feel badly about a loss, but don't allow wallowing. Remind them that every season brings new challenges and new opportunities that they can rise to and seize.

Helping children learn to accept their wins humbly and their losses stoically can be a significant life lesson to come from soccer. Helping them to be loving, supportive siblings is even bigger. As parents, we have to set the tone which should be that wins and losses don't define our children's worth. While winning is wonderful and deserves joy and praise, losing will never diminish any child. We can make the case for our children that losing just sets the bar for the next encounter in our lives. By not over-emphasizing the power of a win or a loss to define our children's activities, we set the stage for our kids to share in their siblings' successes and letdowns without making these a reason to compete within the family. Encourage them to place their rivalry on the pitch against their opponents and not in the living room against their siblings. We can express the pride we feel in our children's willingness to train and compete in their sport and in their growth as a player. We will have plenty of opportunities to tell our kids how proud we are of them, even if they never win or even if one wins and one doesn't. They each embody qualities worthy of our praise.
 

Muddling Through the Mud

Susan Boyd

Just outside my window sits a thermometer. Without it, I could end up leaving for a soccer game completely unprepared, since weather can be deceptive. Take today for instance. The sun is shining, the sky is clear blue, and the temperature is 44 degrees. If I judged the weather by empirically charting the view, I'd end up under- or over- dressed time after time. Weather determines so much when it comes to soccer: what we wear, what the kids wear, times, locations, snacks, driving times, accessories, and seating. Fall and spring soccer stretch across several weather patterns, disrupting and changing plans regularly. Preparing for the weather turns into a major preoccupation for soccer families. Here are a few suggestions based on years of wrestling with Mother Nature.
 
Let's start with the worst scenario. Rain will never be sufficient for canceling a game or practice. But rain will create all kinds of problems. The best case would be for torrential rains closing the field. But be careful what you wish for, because all canceled games must be rescheduled and that free weekend on the calendar can now become the busiest weekend on the calendar as missed games get squeezed into available time. If the game does happen, you'll need plenty of accessories to insure that the ride home doesn't devalue your car drastically by ruining the interior with mud, muck, and water. Put large garbage bags on the floors to catch all cast-off grime, wipes to remove mud from hands, faces and legs, towels to dry hair, plastic bags to hold muddy cleats, and even more plastic bags to hold disgusting socks, shorts, and jerseys. Having a box for rainy days sitting packed in your garage makes these days less onerous. I can't emphasize enough the importance of kids not taking socks off in the car while traveling. In my experience they are the gift that keeps on giving crumpled under the driver's seat, pushed up against the heater, and emanating their distinctive smell for weeks, even after being discovered and removed.
 
Cold weather seems an easy fix; just add more clothing. But there are rules about uniforms and extra clothing that some referees take very seriously. If you can afford to, buy some long john underwear that can easily be worn under the shorts with socks pulled up over, so that no uniform rules are violated. Add some insulated long-sleeved underwear and you've created a warmer player with ease of movement. While you can get the performance clothing options, you can also go to any hunting gear outlet to find similar products for less money. My favorite cold weather products are ""space blankets"" which are those colorful blankets lined with silvery Kevlar. They cost less than $15, can be found at big box stores and sporting good stores, fold into a tiny package and serve as a great wind break and reflector of body heat. You can put two or three easily in a soccer bag for the kids on the bench to use. I also love those hand and foot warmers which feel like packs of sand. Once you activate them, they last long enough for warm-ups, the soccer game, and the trip home. They cost around $2.50 for three disposable pairs. At the end of every winter, I raid stores for their stocking hats and stretch gloves. I can get them as cheap as three for a dollar. I store them in the garage and toss several hats and pairs of gloves in the soccer bags to be used as needed. These have saved the day several times when the winds of winter unexpectantly whipped up in April. For parents' comfort you can invest in a Tempachair or stadium cushion that has a heated seat. You can even recharge it using your car battery, so it's great for tournament weekends.
 
On some occasions you'll need to deal with actual snow and ice. While all the cold weather suggestions would definitely apply, adding snow and ice to the mix creates an additional set of requirements. You can use a water-proof tarp to throw over the bench and onto the ground where the kids put their feet. Place some towels on top of the tarp on the ground giving the players a warmer dry place to set their feet and a place to absorb the cold melting snow off their boots. Having a small broom and collapsible shovel can help if field lines need to be cleared off or someone's car gets stuck.
 
Hot weather soccer can be the worst. First and foremost be sure that your player has extra water and/or sports drinks to keep hydrated. Hydration is vital for any soccer game, but even more important on hot days when fluids are lost both from activity and evaporation. Add a spray bottle for misting faces, necks, and forearms to help with cooling by evaporation. Some fancier spray bottles include a battery-powered fan, which is nice, but not necessary. If you want to be really fancy, there is a portable misting tower for $40 from Improvements that needs an outdoor spigot and hose to operate. Not practical for most games, but could be a great addition to your club park. You can also bring a small cooler filled with ice water and washcloths that the kids can apply to the back of their necks during breaks. For parents on the sidelines I swear by my pop-up hood chair. But a beach umbrella works too. Just plant it in the ground and angle to give you the shade you crave. Ambitious parents with big car trunks can bring along a rolling canopy. Most can be set up in a minute or two and provide shade for the team bench or a group of parents. The value packs with a roller bag and a side wall run for less than $150.
 
Lightning kills more people annually than tornadoes or hurricanes, so treating this weather nemesis with respect is vital for our young players. There are lightning detectors that clubs can invest in which are very high tech and extremely reliable, but also costly running around $500 to $1000. There are personal lightning detectors which are less accurate, but still provide information that will help warn when lightning approaches before you can hear the thunder or see the strikes. These cost under $100. In addition having a good weather radio on hand will help with any severe weather that threatens but hasn't yet materialized. Most good weather radios can operate on electricity, battery and crank power. The radios should provide the NOAA channel. Eton offers a Red Cross approved radio that is also solar powered and has a cell phone charger for $30.00. Having a radio available for the team will help everyone make important decisions and give timelines for when a storm will pass. Consider having a flashlight available as well since overwhelming storms can really darken the skies. A ball of twine, the aforementioned tarp, and some tent stakes can provide a shelter or a wind break.
 
Most of these weather-related items cost under $20 and are readily available, so can be inexpensively gathered. All of these can be stored in boxes or cases marked for the various conditions to throw in the car as you leave for a game or practice. Soccer and most youth sports follow the U.S. Postal Service motto of "Neither snow nor rain nor heat. . ." when it comes to completing games and practices, so you need to be prepared. Understanding that youth sports come with filthy uniforms, runny noses, wind-chapped lips, and sweaty brows will help you get through the bad weather spells. Most days will be glorious, so enjoy them. And for those that aren't, you can power through with a few helpful tools.