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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." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Soccer Connects Us All

Susan Boyd

Okay, here’s the first story. Last weekend we were in Minneapolis for a National Premier Soccer League game for Robbie. After his game, we were looking for a place to eat. Our choice was to go north on the freeway or south. I said, "Let’s go south." Then I saw a sign for what I thought was a Joe’s Crab Shack and started thinking steamed Dungeness crab. I also remembered years ago going with Shane’s in-laws to a Joe’s Crab Shack and realized these were one in the same. So we took the next exit, traveled to the road the restaurant was on and kept driving. It didn’t take too long to figure out that the billboard had not been Joe’s Crab Shack, but Joe Senser’s Sports Theater, which had cruelly used the same font as Joe’s Crab Shack and also moved into its location. Bummer. So we kept driving until we seemed to run out of developed areas and decided to turn around. Nothing had looked good. But in turning around we noticed this restaurant called "The Good Earth," which served all natural, local foods. So we figured we couldn’t go wrong with natural. At the hostess desk, a young woman greeted us and asked if we had ever been there before. "No actually. We’re from Milwaukee and found this just by chance." She smiled broadly, "I’m from Bayside." This is the community next to our suburb, so we thought that was really coincidental. But it gets better. As we were being taken to the table she asked why we were there and we said the NPSL game. "Oh, I played soccer." Turns out she played at the same club as our older son, she was a year behind him, and knew of him, many of his soccer buddies and his high school team. Then she remembered Robbie and the conversation expanded to what various players were doing, who she had lost touch with and how her college career had gone. It was amazing that a series of decisions, a serendipitous misreading of a billboard, and a choice to eat healthy led us to reconnect with one of the boys’ former soccer chums. But it also shows how prevalent these connections are for our kids who have the opportunity to travel and compete in soccer.
Here’s another story. We had gone to a tournament in the Tampa area. Since the airlines began charging a mortgage payment for every ounce of luggage you bring along, we didn’t bring our soccer chairs as it was cheaper to buy new and then donate them to a local family. So I went to the Wal-Mart to purchase some chairs for the four-day tournament. I went straight to the camping/outdoor section and was greeted by a really nice young man who directed me to the chairs. Then he asked, "Are you here for the golf tournament?" My Wisconsin accent probably indicated that I wasn’t from Florida and I was still a bit young to be a snowbird, although now that I think of it, asking if I was there for the golf probably had something to do with my age. Anyway, I answered, "No my son is playing in a soccer tournament." "Oh, where are you from?" "Wisconsin." "I used to play against a player from Wisconsin, but he played for a Chicago team." "Robbie is playing for the Chicago Magic, but he’s guest playing this weekend for his old Milwaukee team." "Robbie…Robbie Boyd?" "Yes." "Oh, I know him really well." Then he started talking about playing against him in several leagues and tournaments. They had apparently become good friends and texted and emailed each other periodically. So I went back to the hotel, collected Robbie, and the two of them spent the young man’s break at the snack bar reminiscing and having a really good time. The guy came to one of Robbie’s games and they again had a good visit with several of Robbie’s teammates along for the ride.
Third story. I was in the LA airport waiting for my flight back to Milwaukee. The flight was non-stop to Milwaukee, so the likelihood of meeting someone from our town was high, but it wasn’t like that for this story. A young man was strolling through the waiting room, sat down near me and started staring. I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered, wary or ignore it all. After a few long looks in my direction he got up and approached me. "Sorry to bother you, but are you Bryce Boyd’s mom?" I wasn’t sure how to answer, but he continued. "Last year, Bryce was a guest goalkeeper for our Atlanta team at the Disney Tournament." Robbie’s Chicago Magic team was playing there, so Bryce had put himself on a list as available to play for any team that might need extra players. This Atlanta team asked him to join them for one game since their goalkeeper would be late arriving in Orlando due to high school finals. So this kid recognized me from that one game. Amazing. He had just come down from San Francisco, where my flight home originated, and was on his way back to Atlanta. We didn’t have a lot to say to one another, but he had kind things to say about Bryce’s skill in the net and how well he had fit in with the team. So that was really nice to hear. It was also another one of those delightful coincidences.
Have I lost you already, or are you up for two more stories? Here’s one that concerns me. I was at a tournament with one of the boys or possibly both of them. I really don’t remember. I just recall this gentleman coming up to me to ask if I was Susan Boyd. Apparently he was one of my blog readers (possibly the only one and if so, I’ll just say hi). He wanted to thank me for the blogs and how useful they had been as he navigated the labyrinth of soccer rules, frustrations and triumphs. He certainly made my day. As a reader from a completely different geographic area, I felt a bit omnipotent in being able to reach across the miles. On the other hand, my kids do that fifty times a day through Facebook and Twitter, so I shouldn’t get too full of myself. Still, knowing that someone likes what I do and takes the initiative to approach me gives me a small modicum of pleasure.
Finally…yes the last story. We were driving Robbie and his stuff cross-country to the University of California Santa Barbara for his freshman year. It was a crowded trip with lots of miles covered each day. We had made it to Omaha the night before and we were planning to stop west of Denver in Utah that night. We got to the Stapleton Airport exit at lunchtime, and we figured there should be several choices for restaurants. We decided on Chili’s. As we started our lunch, a family walked in and was seated two booths behind us. After about 10 minutes we heard someone say, "Hey Robbie, Robbie Boyd." Robbie looked up, smiled and said, "Hey dude." He got up and walked over to their table. They had a long conversation until their order arrived, when Robbie returned to our table. "Did you play against that kid?" I asked. I assumed he played for Colorado Rapids Youth team or Colorado Rush. "No, that’s Kevin from Marquette High." Turns out his family had a condo in Aspen, had just gotten off the plane and had stopped for lunch before driving west. So, someone from Milwaukee took a flight, arrived just at lunchtime, drove to the same collection of restaurants, and then chose the same restaurant we had after driving two days from Milwaukee to Denver. And the son played high school soccer at the same school Robbie attended. Kismet I guess.
The moral of these stories, if moral is the right word, seems to be that soccer isn’t just a game, it’s an experience that has tendrils curling out from our kids across the country to others who play soccer, connecting us. If you can afford it, and your kids have the desire to do it, encourage your soccer team to participate in nationwide tournaments or even joining a team that plays league games against teams from all over the U.S. Friendships grow from having soccer as a common base. Both Robbie and Bryce have played against kids that they run into in other soccer events, including tournaments, regional and national leagues, and college. They were lucky enough to attend a Jesuit high school that belongs to Jesuit HS league of four schools that rotated hosting a yearly competition. The schools were from Denver, Kansas City, Washington D.C., and Milwaukee. Their high school also traveled to at least one non-state tournament in places like Indianapolis and Sacramento. Those opportunities gave them the chance to play against some of the top college recruitment talent and to test their abilities. That was significant. But I think even more substantial were the connections and friendships that formed from a common respect for one another’s talents. When I think of these stories that show out-of-the-blue run-ins, I think how many other connections we missed when the moments didn’t intersect. If these few experiences are any indication, there have to have been dozens of others that were close but not close enough. I cherish these contacts because they are the ties that bind us all. As huge as America is, there’s still an intimacy that allows us to have shared moments based on shared experiences. Some of these moments are with strangers as would be the case when we witness an event together, but some are with distant friends that we end up running into — making us all part of the soccer family.

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The Pause that Refreshes

Susan Boyd

Summer came officially on June 21. I know some of you have been under the heat canopy for several weeks already and others, like we Wisconsinites, have been anxiously awaiting some summertime weather. No matter your temperate zone, there’s no denying that summer brings concerns about our kids and their hydration. As the thermometer rises and exercise continues, kids can lose vital water, electrolytes and protein while at practices or during games. We parents needed to stay alert to the symptoms and effects of dehydration to prevent significant health issues. Every year hundreds of kids suffer from serious cases with some leading to the need for long-term treatment and even death. We often overlook the creeping signs of dehydration because by the time they are apparent, children are already in distress. It’s important to understand what the dangers are and how to avoid them as we set out this summer for tournaments and rigorous practices.
What exactly happens with dehydration? The body needs water to function. Many organ systems can’t operate without sufficient fluids and the electrolytes that go with them. When the body has a deficiency of water it will turn off various water depleting functions.  Kidneys shut down and therefore don’t release toxins which build up. The body quits sweating, which interrupts the natural cooling process. Muscles, including the heart, begin to cramp due to poor electrical firing. According to the web site, symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, decreased urination, lethargy, low blood pressure, rapid pulse, loss of skin elasticity and even shock. However, the most obvious sign of dehydration in young players would be cramps and dizziness. Drinking small amounts of fluid may be sufficient if you have mild dehydration. However two serious problems can arise from more advanced dehydration:  heat-exhaustion and heat-stroke.
E-medicine defines heat-exhaustion as the overheating of the body through dehydration and high external temperatures during strenuous exercise. The body temperature rises but remains below 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the body cools itself through sweating, high humidity interferes with the ability for sweat to evaporate and cool the body down. In this more extreme form of dehydration, the effects are magnified such as the fluid-deprived body going into protective mode and restricting. When lost through sweating, electrolytes, which fuel our body’s electrical needs such as the firing of our muscles including the proper beating of our heart, need to be replenished by taking in fluids. In most cases just balancing the mix of water with electrolytes already present in the body would be sufficient if we keep up with fluid loss. However, players who regularly get cramps during games are often suffering from low electrolytes or a poor ratio of fluids to electrolytes. Just as cramps are an important signal that the body is suffering from dehydration, they can be a precursor to heat-exhaustion. Look additionally for flushed skin, especially around the face and hands, disorientation, elevated body temperature and complaints of a sick stomach.
Heat-stroke is far more serious. It can occur rapidly and requires immediate medical intervention. Signs of heat-stroke include unconsciousness, convulsions, dry skin, vomiting and even diarrhea. When any of these symptoms appear adults should not hesitate to call in emergency personnel. Heat-stroke is due to the body completely shutting down the cooling system and can be further complicated by various medications and/or humidity. Since once the extreme symptoms of heat-stroke appear they can rapidly cause severe mental and physical damage including death, it’s important to address the less dangerous symptoms of dehydration as early as possible.
How do we treat heat-exhaustion?  The best treatment is prevention. We need to insist that players take hydration breaks regularly every 15 to 20 minutes during both practices and games. For the youngest players taking a break during games is easy because the half doesn’t last very long, but for older players it becomes more problematic. The standard for when games should be interrupted for hydration breaks should be temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity above 60%. Referees need to look for natural breaks such as after a goal or when a ball goes out of bounds so as not to disrupt the equality of action, but breaks do need to be taken to insure the safety of all the players.
Additionally players should have available cool wet cloths to put on the areas of their body where the blood flows close to the surface such as the wrists, temples and back of the neck. Many teams purchase two or three dozen cheap wash cloths and keep them in a cooler of water and ice near the benches. I would also suggest keeping fluids and cloths on the opposite sidelines so players can get a quick treatment without needing to run the width of the field. Remember that throwing drink bottles on the field is not allowed, so players have to come over to the sidelines to retrieve them. Same holds for the cloths. I’ll cover the various options to provide for hydration in a moment. If a player exhibits signs of heat-exhaustion he or she should be pulled out of the game and allowed to rejuvenate before returning to play. This also gives adults a chance to detect if heat-stroke is possible. The sooner heat-stroke is dealt with the more likely it won’t have adverse effects.
How do we treat heat-stroke?  If a player exhibits any of the signs of heat-stroke, he or she needs immediate medical care. Drinking down eight ounces of water isn’t going to resolve the issue. These players need IVs, watchful care and treatment by EMTs and physicians. Again, the methods used to prevent heat-exhaustion can also prevent heat-stroke, but if the temperatures are very high over 90 degrees with high humidity over 60% then players need to be rotated often during practices and games. Every 15 minutes a fourth of the players need to take a break and replace the next group coming out 15 minutes later. Shade is essential, so teams should consider investing in a 10’ X 10’ awning that would be available during practices and travel with the team to games and tournaments. There are water bottle fans which spray water through the blades of a cooling fan that can be quite helpful in lowering body temperature and providing the cooling skin effect that sweat should be accomplishing. In no case in the face of the serious symptoms of heat-stroke should the adults hesitate in getting medical attention. Better to err on the side of treatment since once heat-stroke sets in players can go from very healthy to serious health risk in merely a few minutes. We have read the stories of kids who suddenly dropped to the ground, convulsed and died. While rare, it happens often enough to warrant our attention. We can help insure that players never get to this point with these important steps of fluids, cooling and enforced rest in shade.
What fluids should we use?  For most young players water is sufficient. They don’t play hard enough and long enough for extended electrolyte loss, but they can still get dehydrated leading to cramps and general wooziness. Water can also be flavored, although we need to read the labels and be sure the water has less than 10 grams of sugar. Sugar can actually cause water to be leeched into the stomach to break up the sugar molecules, increasing the symptoms of dehydration. Small amounts of sugar can be beneficial in terms of boosting energy, but pure water is overall the best option for most young players. Water is readily available, easy to transport and inexpensive if you use your own water bottles and jugs. If you feel better knowing that the water is filtered, there are great reusable bottles which included a water filter so you can safely replenish your water using the taps at the field or hotel. Brita, Rubbermaid and CamelBak all offer filtered water bottles on sites like Amazon for less than 20 dollars each, and in many cases less than 10 dollars. Keeping several of these in your soccer box in the trunk of your car insures you’ll have fresh water available and be kind to the environment.
Since many kids want to be like their favorite sport star, they want to use the product they promote. These sports drinks can provide the essential electrolytes of potassium and sodium as well as energy producing carbohydrates. But parents need to be cautious of the latter since carbohydrates can actually impair hydration, add calories to the daily diet and provide a quick burst of energy followed by a crash.  There are also sports drink drops made by Gatorade, Powerade and MiO Fit that can be added to water. These are convenient and less expensive than buying bottles of sports drinks. You can fill a child’s water bottle, reuse the water bottle and keep costs down. However, it is more difficult to control the actual dilution and amount of electrolytes. Parents also need to keep an eye on the amount of sodium their children are ingesting every day. Even though kids will sweat some out, parents still need to watch their child’s sodium intake. Gatorade Recover Shake has 540 mg of potassium which is a healthy, replenishing amount, but the amount of potassium in their other products and in other sports drinks is negligible, probably because the taste of potassium is pretty gross. Overall the sports drink vs. water controversy comes down to taste rather than which is more beneficial. If it tastes better, players will drink more. During exercise it is recommended that athletes consume four to six ounces of fluids every 15 minutes. If drinking a flavored sports drink helps a child achieve that goal, then go for it.
Another excellent hydration source but not as well-known is coconut water. Coconut water comes from young green coconuts where the water occurs naturally to nurture the endosperm during development and differs from coconut milk, which comes from brown mature coconuts and is squeezed from a mash of the nut meat. Coconut water has seen a surge in popularity as media and sports stars have embraced it as an excellent way to restore fluids and electrolytes. It is naturally high in potassium and anti-oxidants plus it has protein and a broad spectrum of vitamins while being low in sugar and fat. It provides 10 percent of the daily recommended dose of potassium, which is helpful for athletes who lose this electrolyte during activity. Vita Coco now offers juice boxes of flavored coconut water for kids. The problem with flavored coconut water is that sugar is added with the flavoring. So parents need to watch the labels. For one juice box of kid’s Vita Coco there are 8 grams of sugar which falls in the limits so long as kids don’t consume box after box. Coconut water has a salty taste due to the potassium, so most kids will not want to drink the pure form, but the flavored water should appeal to them, just as flavored sports drinks do.
All too often we take the position that something can’t happen to us. We may think it shows weakness to stop the game for fluid breaks or to rotate players out of practice, but nothing could be further from the truth. We show our strength in protecting our kids from potential harm. There isn’t a game or a practice worth endangering a child’s health when preventive measures can ensure a safe experience. We buckle our kids up in the car, hand them their helmets when they go out to bike or skateboard, teach them stranger danger, show them how to safely cross the street, take them under cover during lightning strikes and exercise other protective efforts without feeling that we have exhibited a weakness. We simply want to do our best to assure as much safety as possible. We need to do the same with hydration. It’s not that disruptive or complicated to guarantee the maximum risk-free playing environment for all our players young and old. These suggestions go for adults as well who train and referee our kids, even we parents who sit in the sun and humidity. None of us is immune from the dangers of dehydration, so all of us need to exercise the same vigilance.

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The New Normal

Susan Boyd

Remember those thick backpacks filled with blankets, peanuts, beverages and sun screen that we toted to watch our favorite professional teams? Those are now being swapped out for small, clear plastic bags that can be easily checked for harmful materials like guns, flares and bombs. We have seen our comfortable trip to the ballpark, courts or field reinterpreted as possible battlegrounds, and I’m not talking about the competition between teams. While the chances of anything negative happening (except maybe the Vikings beating the Packers) are low, authorities would rather err toward protection. This level of security hasn’t reached most of youth soccer, but it’s not inconceivable that we may find ourselves needing to reconsider complete openness at large tournaments.
Last week at the French Open, two protestors charged the courts during the men’s final. These jerks were actually fairly harmless since they were shirtless, wore masks, and carried flares, but the effect on the match was anything but harmless. Rafa Nadal had two double faults on his service game following the demonstration and his competition David Ferrer, who had been struggling anyway, found himself making several mental errors. It took at least three games before the players could settle back in, stop thinking about a possible attack from behind, and focus on the finals. In 1993, Monica Seles was stabbed in the back during a quarterfinal match in Hamburg. The attack kept her off the court for two years, not due to the actual injury but due to the psychological impact. She never returned to her old form.
Two months ago, we witnessed the horrifying bombing of fans cheering runners to the finish line at the Boston Marathon. This week, the Rock and Soul race in Milwaukee announced heightened security for the event, including no backpacks or athletic bags. Instead, at registration this week for the race each runner was given a plastic bag that will be the only authorized container for their clothing and gear. Spectators will be limited to bringing their belongings in a quart-size bag. Every bag will get a sticker to show that it has been inspected and there will be three check points before anyone can enter the race course. We will certainly see more of this as time goes on.
The NFL recently announced its own plans to limit what spectators can bring into the stadium. Not so long ago, the biggest "contraband" most fans tried to smuggle in was alcohol and food. Most security checkpoints politely looked the other way. But now fans will be limited to a 12-inch clear plastic bag or a clutch purse no bigger than your hand, difficult to stuff a six-pack into, but also difficult to hide any weapons or dangerous items. We are being asked to trade-off our ability to break the rules in favor of greater safety. The Green Bay Packers will enforce these new measures, but I’m just wondering how they’ll handle the bundled up fans who come for the December games in negative-20-degree weather. In the summer, it’s easier to see if someone has heavy pockets, but not so easy if someone is dressed like the Michelin Man.
Right now, Major League Baseball doesn’t have an across the board policy, leaving those decisions up to the individual clubs. When I recently attended a Brewers’ game with my visiting brother, I managed to bring in a bag stuffed full of peanuts, sunflower seeds, jackets and blankets. All the security guy did was pat down the bag from the outside, shake it a bit, and usher me right through the turnstile. I must have either an incredibly honest face or a face that looks way too old to cause mischief. I hope it was the former. In any case, people were moving through security fairly quickly and easily with little concern for what they were carrying. I’m happy that the Brewers’ organization feels Milwaukeeans wouldn’t attempt anything dangerous, but I also hope they won’t end up closing the proverbial barn door after the horse gets out.
What does this all mean for youth sports? There will be greater caution, certainly at the larger gatherings such as state high school tournaments, state, regional, and national events, and huge tournaments. Because so many of these events are held in wide-open spaces, it makes it difficult to control ingress and egress. Therefore, restrictions can’t be enforced unless security fences and gates are erected. Right now, the number of youth sport competitions enforcing more stringent controls are few, but the growing push for greater security will end up increasing both costs and inconveniences for young players and their families already strapped with high fees and travel costs. It’s an unfortunate sign of the times that clubs and organizations will have to add security committees to their planning boards. Most clubs have enough trouble ensuring the medical safety of players by having trainers on site and making sure that support personnel like ambulances and police are on notice that the event is on-going. Adding other security could make some tournaments unmanageable.
Our kids are astute enough to know that acts of violence and terrorism have increased. Part of that knowledge comes from our media savvy kids tweeting, texting, Facebooking and web surfing. We parents can’t really shield our kids from these unrelenting news stories, which are often sensationalized in order to keep them fresh and keep viewers hooked. So we need to address them head-on by pointing out how seriously authorities take these incidents. When we get delayed entering a sporting event, concert, amusement park or rally, we can take the opportunity to point out that the delay is helping insure everyone’s safety. It’s difficult to think that an enjoyable family outing could be interrupted by aggression. Such random acts of violence have been happening since recorded history, but we have the ability to know not only instantly about terror, but to have it splashed across our TVs, computers and smart phones rather than reading about it a week later in the paper or have a news bulletin on our radios. So it may seem as if danger is all around us even though it is still a rare occurrence. Our kids don’t have the context of understanding statistics and margins, so to them these acts are always just around the corner. Therefore, additional security should add some peace to their lives, but also brings home the possibility of risk.
If youth sports find it necessary to add more security to the larger events they sponsor then we need to be tolerant of the new requirements. Even though the chances are minute that we would be victims of thug or terrorist attacks we still need to be vigilant. The inconveniences can be outweighed by a greater protective confidence. With all the hubbub over the NSA telephone and computer monitoring, we can lose sight of how complex the aspects of keeping this large nation secure can be. Our freedoms create some vulnerabilities, so finding a balance between openness and restriction can be difficult. We often choose accessibility over limitations. The discussion will continue as long as terror exists. There is no easy answer, so some groups will err to the side of protection while others will opt for looseness. The day may come when even the games of the youngest players will be subject to bag searches and check-points. We can hope it doesn’t come to that, but we need to understand why it might. While some may call this paranoia, others will call it caution. No matter how we feel about these added security measures, we need to accept that due to a heightened sense of threat governments, organizations, schools, shopping malls, sports venues, and houses of worship may elect for stronger protective protocols. Let our kids know that a few simple steps can mean a safer environment for everyone. That’s going to be the new normal.

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Role Modeling

Susan Boyd

I live just outside Milwaukee, Wisc. I grew up in Seattle. In 1969, the Seattle Pilots were formed as an expansion team, lasted one year in Seattle, then were sold to Milwaukee investors and became the Brewers. Therefore, I have a particularly long-standing bond to the team. I was at the game where Robin Yount got his 3000th hit, attended when Miller Park opened and the All-Star game came to town, and I watched with dismay as St. Louis once again took away the Brewers’ chance to win the Division title and go to the World Series. Now another chapter has opened without anyone knowing how the book will end. Ryan Braun, who had doping charges dismissed (on a technicality), now finds himself back in the performance-enhancing drug (PED) limelight along with 19 other players. This recent investigation reopens the discussion on how much professional sports players need to accept and nurture their position as role models to youth players. Charles Barkley famously said that he was not a role model and shouldn’t be held to that standard. Robert Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University, stated that emulating sports figures and other celebs as role models is "ridiculous — Babe Ruth was a terrible role model." He continued by saying we shouldn’t look to them for how to live life. Unfortunately, young players don’t have the context or maturity to make those distinctions. In their eyes, these celebrities hold an untarnished spot on a pedestal that covers all aspects of life.

What exactly constitutes a role model? Media stars might be admired for exterior attributes such as clothes, hair styles, party life, cool attitudes, swagger and bling. For a true role model designation, we parents are looking for character in our sports stars. Certainly the ability to play the game well, show leadership on the field, maintain an aggressive winning attitude and demonstrating good sportsmanship are important aspects of that character, but we expect that anyone that achieves star status does so because of these attributes. The deeper aspects of character a role model exhibits are those moral qualities we all hope our kids grow up to possess such as honesty, kindness, loyalty, commitment, integrity and respect (i.e. men towards women and one race to another race). We know the likelihood of our children becoming elite professional players hovers somewhere around no chance to impossible. But the likelihood of our children becoming parents, co-workers, neighbors, volunteers and citizens of a community are nearly 100 percent. Therefore, we want the people they venerate to possess values that create principled adults.
Therein lies the rub. While there are plenty of examples of highly honorable sports and media stars, the press doesn’t feel there are newsworthy stories in highlighting good character. We occasionally hear about someone running into a burning building to save a woman or providing CPR to an accident victim, extreme stories that don’t necessarily illustrate character and only add to the "superhero" labels we place on these stars. Instead, we get the sensational stories of a fall from grace. "Oh, not again," escapes our lips all too often. We’ve watched Lance Armstrong be accused for, lie about and finally mince words concerning his use of PEDs. In 2003, a Baylor University football player murdered a fellow player, which on its own is repugnant enough, but then the team coach told his players to lie to the NCAA and say that the murdered player was a drug dealer. Of course, we all remember the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal that brought down one of the most revered college football coaches in the United States. We can go all the way back to 1919 to reference the White Sox World Series-fixing scandal involving Shoeless Joe Jackson leading to that apocryphal phrase uttered by a young Jackson fan, "Say it ain’t so Joe." Even without video, 24-hour news coverage and dozens of pundits weighing in ad nauseam, American youth witnessed their hero crumble before their eyes. Looking to their sports stars to offer guidance and ideals isn’t new and comes with the territory. Whether Charles Barkley wanted it or not, he is a standard bearer for youth players.
Naturally, our kids want to dress like their heroes, talk like them, and most importantly, play like them. Buying a jersey of or getting tickets to watch a player isn’t setting a bad precedent. When Robbie was 5 and 6 he wanted his hair cut like Edgar Bennett of the Green Bay Packers. Bennett changed his style every couple of weeks, so I got to be quite the expert with the hair clippers! These types of identifiers give kids a sense of pride and self-worth. Of course, if their idol has clay feet, it can be devastating to that self-image, making the kids feel bad for supporting a "loser" and occasionally having to bear the taunts of peers. Many of our children are too young to understand the details of these downfalls, but they do understand their ideal is now considered a villain. We can alleviate some of these worthless feelings by focusing on positives, such as how the player keeps his or her composure, any honesty the player expresses, and how the team has rallied in support of the player. But before anything negative happens, we can help our children look for and identify those character traits in the star that are inherent to becoming a good human being.
Everyone who loves soccer knows David Beckham. He can be pretty wild with his tattoos and underwear ads. He sets style with his clothing and his hair. His abilities on the field are legendary. But we can also point out his other strong qualities. He’s a family man who respects his wife and spends time with his four children, who all seem well-adjusted considering the money and the notoriety that comes with the Beckham name. He also participates in several charities, both actively as a volunteer and as a donator. On the field, he is regularly known for his sportsmanship, although early in his career he had some problems with ego and temper. But he learned from his mistakes and humbly has acknowledged his on-field behavior wasn’t always exemplary, including being sent off during the 1998 World Cup and giving the finger to the crowd for taunting him in 2000. But those shenanigans ended. The World Cup incident resulted in many fans accusing him of losing the Cup for England, and he received death threats. It was a wake-up call for him that he did have a responsibility as both a leader and a role model. Three "scandals" involving Beckham and infidelity all faded away when challenged. He handled them with dignity. We parents can remind our children of Beckham’s qualities beyond his strong right foot so that they learn to focus on the character aspects not on the just the media hype.
Christie Rampone of the U.S. Women’s Team can be idolized for her athletic ability. At age 37, she continues to be a strong force on the team and fills the role of team captain. However, we parents need to point out to our kids that Christie has other important characteristics that will last long beyond her playing career. Despite contracting Lyme disease in 2011, she persevered with training and playing, although she admitted to "taking more naps." She has two children who travel with her on the road and has been married for 12 years. She keeps up a busy schedule supporting charities that address autism, cancer and military groups that help veterans. She is well-respected for her leadership qualities and her good sportsmanship on the field.
Even players caught in scandalous situations can offer teaching moments for our kids. Ray Smalls, a player at Ohio State from 2006-2009, was caught in 2011 selling memorabilia and admitted to knowing about other players selling memorabilia in exchange for tattoos and receiving special deals at a car dealership. In addition, he was arrested for drug possession. He immediately agreed to cooperate with authorities even though it meant bringing down a program and a coach that had embraced him as a player. As he put it, "You can’t just keep having mistakes over and over." When apologizing for his actions, Small said, "I am truly sorry for my actions. . . I’m here today to speak up on my behalf and say I’m a man and I understand the things I have done wrong." Those words should be something we impress upon our children — that no matter what mistakes we make, we need to admit to them rather than offer defensive excuses, and accept the consequences of our choices. During an earlier PED probe in Major League Baseball leading to suspensions, several players admitted their blame and apologized. Mike Morse said, "First and foremost, I want to apologize to the fans, my teammates, the Mariners' organization, baseball and to my family. . . I took steroids while in the Minor Leagues. . . I was desperate and made a terrible mistake, which I deeply regret." Matt Lawton said this about his suspension: "I made a terrible and foolish mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life. I take full responsibility for my actions and did not appeal my suspension. I apologize to the fans, the game, my family and all those people that I let down. I am truly sorry and deeply regret my terrible lapse in judgment." Those apologies taking full responsibility for recklessness in behavior can do more to bolster the moral development of our children than any home run record or magnificent goal.
Kids do change their allegiances as new stars emerge or their interests become more focused. As parents, we can help steer their loyalties in the right direction, pointing out the weaknesses in some players’ characters and the strengths in others. Our children may not care that Alex Rodriguez took PEDs or that Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Matterazzi in the 2006 World Cup final. They may even see such behaviors as acceptable and even preferable in our winner-take-all society. So, we parents need to create a context in which those actions can be rightfully judged. Alex Rodriguez holds one of the largest contracts ever paid to a professional baseball player of $275 million over 10 years, eclipsing his previous contract of $252 million. He had plenty at stake to take PEDs and then to deny taking them. He finally admitted to using PEDs from 2001 to 2003, citing "an enormous amount of pressure" to perform after the threat of legal action was gone. He never apologized. Now he finds himself the subject of another investigation. He may have felt he had the need to perform, but the real motivator appears to be money and avoiding prosecution. Zidane said that Matterazzi had made lewd comments about his mother and sister leading to the head-butt. However, at the time, Italy and France were locked in a tough overtime game to decide the winner of the World Cup, so emotions were running high on both sides. His action came in the 110th minute. He refused to apologize to Matterazzi, but also accepted that what he did was wrong saying he "could never have lived with myself" had he been permitted to remain in the game. In lieu of a three-game suspension, since Zidane had already retired from professional soccer, he accepted a three-day participation in FIFA community service with children. This led to his involvement in dozens of charity soccer events all over the world benefiting the plight of impoverished children. He continues to pursue this charity work. His tale can illustrate to our kids several lessons: The person who retaliates is the person who gets caught. It’s important to accept the severity of an action. And we should use our mistakes to learn how to rise to a better pattern of behavior. We parents can provide past, present and future context to any faulty action of a celebrity and help our children to discover the important aspects of character that can be learned from those actions. In that way, we are not only providing the framework for a true role model, but we are also role modeling for our kids how to measure the behaviors of both heroes and peers.

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