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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". 

 

Volunteering

Susan Boyd

In July, a nationwide survey of youth soccer clubs was published. The study had been conducted in March and April by Korrio, an organization which is the developer of a youth sports automation platform to help clubs with the day-to-day operations. Therefore, the survey results have to be considered with some restraint, since the questions were designed to point out how Korrio could be helping these clubs. Nevertheless I found the survey telling in several aspects.
 
The primary focus of the survey was to look at the number of and use of volunteers in youth clubs. That makes sense, since Korrio's software is intended to ease the stress on and even eliminate the need for volunteers. But the details illuminate the significant role volunteers play in the operation and success of youth clubs. We've all been part of that volunteer crew. Some of us do our required six hours and that's it, while some of us put in scores of hours serving on boards, coaching and acting as team managers. This dependence on volunteers is a double-edged sword, which the study points out. They discovered that 43 percent of clubs depend on 26 or more volunteers to keep the club running, but that 55 percent of volunteers serve a club for three years or less with only 18 percent remaining on the ""job"" five years or more. Anyone who runs a business knows that turnover makes operations more difficult. But it makes sense that people don't stick around for long. Children don't keep up their interest in the sport or they get cut from a team or they move to a new club. Turnover is inevitable, which leaves clubs constantly recruiting volunteers to fill positions.
 
Along with the revolving door of volunteers, the survey also discovered that clubs do make use of computer software to manage the club operations. Unfortunately they often use two or more programs which don't integrate with one another. In fact only 20 percent of clubs had a single platform, while 63 percent used two or three separate programs. I can attest to that. When I was club registrar I had to use a horrible, unfriendly program to do the registrations and submit them to the state registrar. But our website, which included the initial registration form, was on a completely different system. Therefore I had to re-copy all the information members submitted on our website into the registration system the state had. While Korrio has the ulterior motive to explore this topic and to offer clubs a more unified platform, it also points out the unnecessary hours volunteers have to perform duplicating work. Volunteers like to feel useful, but doing busy work merely discourages them. It's frustrating, for example, to know that all the club members filled out detailed registrations, but that those registrations don't transfer to the registration program the state uses. Likewise, any time volunteers feel their time is being wasted, they are unlikely to continue to volunteer. So Korrio makes a good point. Clubs should look to modernize as best as possible to universal, integrated software for club operations such as payroll, registration, tournament scheduling, practice schedules, field assignments, and referee scheduling to name just a few of the many tasks a club performs throughout the year.
 
Additionally, this survey looked at overall parent involvement and sportsmanship. Of the clubs surveyed, 80 percent reported that parental involvement was higher than it was five years ago. In fact, 75 percent classified parental involvement as committed or highly committed. That bodes well for getting the necessary volunteers to run clubs. In judging parents' sideline behavior, 66 percent said that behavior was either good or excellent. While that leaves room for improvement, it does indicate that parents and clubs are making a unified effort to keep sideline antics at a minimum. On the player side, 42 percent of the clubs reported that sportsmanship had improved over the last five years, 38 percent said it remained the same, and only 2 percent said it had declined. Of course, when parents provide a good example and make it clear to their kids that bad sportsmanship won't be tolerated, it usually spells more mature play from the kids.
 
This study was somewhat self-serving for Korrio, but does offer great insights for clubs. First of all, it shows that volunteers are still the lifeblood of our soccer clubs and that the years of reinforcing good behavior both on the sidelines and on the pitch have succeeded in improving behavior. It also opens the door for even further improvement. Since volunteers are not a consistent and stable work force, clubs need to find ways to create a continuum of organization. Some clubs keep notebooks of procedures and practices which are passed from volunteer to volunteer, however these are only as effective as the volunteer maintaining the records. Keeping detailed minutes of meetings can insure that details of various jobs get recorded as they come up. Following major events such as tryouts, tournaments, and camps, having each volunteer write up a short summary of the event with any suggestions can help a board refine the events to make them more efficient and improve the involvement of the volunteers.
 
When it comes to sportsmanship, it's not a bad idea to have players and parents sign a sportsmanship agreement that outlines behaviors and consequences for violating those behaviors. Various organizations require such agreements with good results. Parents think twice before acting out because the consequences include being banned from attending games. Likewise, kids learn to control their behavior on the field when they know they might have to sit out a game or even a season. Some contract examples are found at http://www.suburbanathletics.com/sportsmanship_agreement.pdf and http://www.mshsaa.org/resources/pdf/Parent percent20and percent20Student percent20Conduct percent20Contract percent20(PDF).pdf. Both our sons had to sign such agreements at the beginning of each high school season, although there was no parent agreement. We all know how disquieting it is to stand next to someone who continually taunts referees and/or players. So I'm sure we would all be grateful if sideline behavior could be confined to positive remarks.
 
Ultimately, the study points out how many support systems exist for youth sports. While Korrio sells software for managing the administration of clubs, there are also groups who provide workshops on promoting good sportsmanship, how to get recruited, coaching issues and fundraising. Your club can look to the major youth soccer organizations who have plenty of resources to make your club function better. U.S. Youth Soccer Association has online resources from coaches and experts that your club can utilize. In addition, U.S. Youth Soccer Association has created an educational platform which will make even more information available (/news/story/?story_id=6302). Presently coaching teaching modules and an introductory course to concussion are available on the platform. If your state association doesn't yet participate, encourage them to join. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (www.nscaa.com) offers licensing courses, online education, and news about upcoming competitions and events. A number of software products are available for soccer clubs, although I encourage any club to set up a 30-to-60-day trial before purchasing software. Software developers should offer training in the software and the ability to reprogram parts of the software to make it appropriate for your club's needs.
 
Finally, I encourage all of you to give time to your club beyond any time that is required. Each of us has special talents that we can bring to our clubs to make them stronger. The stronger your club, the more it can depend on volunteerism, and the longer it can keep someone on the job, the more competitive it will be and it should help lower costs. Some clubs are now offering incentives for volunteers in the form of reduced dues. Take them up on this. You will find it is a pretty painless way of keeping some dollars in your own pocket.

Comments (1)

 

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.