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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". 

 

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.
 

Professionally Speaking

Susan Boyd

While watching the National League Championship game Wednesday night, the commentators began discussing the St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese. Apparently he became so burned out by baseball that he quit after high school. Eventually he decided to try playing at a junior college, and then he transferred to a Division I school. By the time he was offered a professional contract he was ready to recommit to the sport he had once abandoned.
 
The discussion then moved to a more general criticism of the intensity of youth sports overall, and baseball in particular. These experts spoke directly to the notion that if a child isn't identified as a youth player then he or she has no chance of becoming a pro. They called that idea hogwash. These former professional players argued that youth participants also need to be kids. While I can talk about not overwhelming our children with continual competitive sports, most people might not accept my admonishments since my only credentials are soccer mom. But I'm not alone.
 
Tim Keown of ESPN.com wrote a column on August 24, 2011 that directly addresses this issue. He cites the problems with try outs at ages as young as eight to weed out kids and build a formidable team. For what? To win! And somehow winning is supposed to magically translate into improved skills, strong interest in the game, and growth into a top-rated player at the older ages. As Keown points out, we have gone crazy trying to place our preteen players on teams that offer professional coaches, intense competition, travel, and even year-round play. We live in fear that our kids will miss out on some significant connection that would lead them to a professional contract. We want to be sure that we have greased the wheels as well as we can. But the truth is that for kids under the age of 13, it isn't their athleticism, but their physical maturity that dictates their abilities. If you have a late bloomer, then he or she will probably have trouble getting into these "elite" programs until they catch up. On the other hand, the early bloomer may get onto top teams for many years, but as she is passed up by other players, she may find herself suddenly cut from the same teams where she used to be a star.
 
Sandy Henshaw (Cummings,) an All-American college basketball player and now a youth coach, didn't start playing competitive basketball until age 12. She states:
"The main ingredient to success is practice and experience. There is no substitute for that. But that practice can be attained in your own backyard and most of the time in quality rec leagues locally. Of course, there is a point where good athletes will only get better by improving the quality of players around them. But that would be rare for an 8 year old."
 
She isn't the only significant sports success story who waited until an older age before entering their highly competitive sport. Basketball player Tim Duncan didn't start playing until 9th grade. Olympic bobsledder Emily Azevedo entered the sport when she was 23 after she watched the 2006 Torino games and decided to give it a try, making the 2010 Olympic team. Johnny Weir didn't start figure skating until he was 12, an age at which youth skaters are expected to already be proficient and entering Junior Championship competitions.
 
Some models of player development for sports like swimming, tennis, gymnastics, and soccer argue that players have to start at a very young age. Overseas soccer players are nurtured from an early age and brought into professional clubs to develop at the exclusion of other sports and even academics, and then they are cut, trained, or sold. Because the U.S. wants to become equally competitive with European and South American players, soccer professionals are attempting to duplicate some of this development model used throughout the world. Unfortunately it feeds directly into the American obsession to succeed. With local clubs, for-profit soccer camps and professional pundits arguing for early development and offering "elite," "select," "competitive" and "next level" training programs, parents can agonize over missing out on opportunities. If programs were truly developing players, then starting young would have a definite advantage. But given the number of players who don't have a good first touch, don't know how to receive a ball on the chest and drop it to their feet, don't know how to play with both feet, and don't know how to trap a ball, our early development is failing. Kids play games and get rewarded for scoring, but don't get equally rewarded for execution of skills.
 
This then begs the question: What should I do for my good soccer athlete? Find a great program which focuses on skills development, mental preparation, fitness, and team tactics. Winning should come a distant fifth to these factors. This is no easy task since most clubs live and die on their win/loss record. But the emphasis at the preteen ages should be on development rather than winning. Development doesn't require that a team be stacked with all the biggest and fastest kids. A club which puts equal emphasis on all youth players understands that young players ebb and flow based on growth spurts, mental toughness, and commitment to the sport. Youth soccer has moved to a development model with small-sided games until U-12 and less emphasis on league competition until the players are teenagers. Nevertheless, clubs will attempt to play teams up a year or two to give them "good competition" and a feeling of being in an "elite" group. While it may sell memberships in the soccer club, it's not the best for true player development where the focus is on individual skills not on team success.
 
As parents, we need to look past the smoke screen of titles, wins, and promises. Taking kids to competitions outside the state and even across the country before they are old enough to need deodorant is ridiculous. Saying that they will benefit from top competition ignores the fact that they are playing against other 8, 9, or 10 year olds. It's not as if they suddenly grabbed the brass ring and were going one on one with David Beckham. Save your money for when it really matters. Wait until your child has as much invested in playing at a top level as you do. They can't possibly understand what committing to a sport means until they have the mental faculties to place that experience in the context of their lives. Until they do, give them exposure to lots of sports, arts, and fun experiences. Provide them with the support they need, but don't go to extremes. You don't need to keep up with the Joneses in order to have your child succeed later in life at sports, academics, and friendships. Enjoy the few years you have when they are still naïve, silly, and open to new adventure. If they are strong athletes, they will find their athletic niche and succeed, hopefully with the same joy they had when they were falling on the field and making goals in their own net.
 

Well Grounded

Susan Boyd

Kids and gravity have an affinity one for the other. A gaggle of five year olds dribbling towards the goal never fail to tangle feet and indelicately land in a pile. Then out of the spaghetti comes one foot pushing the ball into the goal. They all rise, wipe their hands and begin again. Their resilience is amazing. Maybe they don't get hurt because they are so close to the ground. Maybe they have extra padding, although I have plenty of padding and get hurt every time I fall. No matter the reason, kids run, fall, get up and run again as if they have super balls in their pants.
 
Most young players treat soccer as a contact sport. They love to jostle, push, wrestle, and tackle. This roughhousing becomes an important aspect of playing the game. While we would love for our children to glide effortlessly onto the pitch, weave their way spectacularly down the field, and fire a shot directly into the center of the net, the scene looks much different. They arrive on the turf, greeting one another with slaps and giggles or a friendly hug and tackle. Someone actually puts a foot on the ball, but not necessarily in the right direction. While the adults gesticulate wildly to get the team back on track, someone notices something interesting on the ground and bends over to examine it. Another player, watching the parents, trips over his teammate and lands face first in the grass. Most of the players run to see what the pile-up is all about, while one lone dribbler takes the ball and scores – in the wrong net. Everyone jumps up and down, cheering until they all tumble onto the earth.
 
Some players believe that landing on the ground is part of the process. Bryce used to kick the ball and then fall on his rear end. Every single kick ended with a flop. He wouldn't dribble because he couldn't do it from the ground. When we asked why he fell, he answered, ""Because it's fun."" I saw a game recently where one adventurous player had obviously seen a bicycle kick goal. He would take the ball, throw it in the air and then attempt to flip himself and kick it. When the coach tried to explain that he couldn't touch the ball with his hands, the player burst into tears. So everyone agreed that if the ball came close to him he could pick it up for his fancy play. I've watched kids slide across a muddy field after scoring a goal, which happens twenty times in a game for five and six year old strikers. Kids will fall down for no apparent reason perhaps because the earth's magnetic pull is too strong for them. Kids will fall down and discover hidden treasure among the blades of grass. And kids will definitely fall down if falling will insure a mess.
 
Parents would do well to stock up on stain remover, bleach, and band-aids, since, yes, occasionally a fall results in a boo-boo. Hitting the ground running has a far more literal translation for the youngest soccer players. Despite the mud, the grass stains, and the cuts and bruises, we can't ask the kids to stop. The helter-skelter nature of the game appeals to young fans. They can play an unbridled hour of running, jumping, and falling, all of which have an equal part in the fun. Chances for any major injury are minimal, so the opportunity to behave like wild horses has to be respected. This abandon has no gender and no limits. Girls love having permission to act rowdy and muck around in the goo just like the boys. Pretty pink shorts and socks can come home from practice looking as gritty and brown as any self-respecting mud pie can look. 
 
If you haven't experienced the falling of autumn, then you'll certainly enjoy it come spring. April showers will bring May flowers and weeks of laundry. But watching how much joy these tiny players have cavorting and falling, it's difficult to deny them the explosion of letting loose completely. While soccer eventually must become a game of finesse and skill, it also needs to be a game of fun. And apparently part of that fun comes from making contact with the ground in dozens of interesting ways. The next time you see your child or your child's friend hitting the ground and laughing, laugh with them. The day will come soon enough when kids won't want to be on the ground, especially in a soccer game. Right now, for many of them, it's the only place they want to be when on the field. While we can worry that they aren't getting the point of soccer, they are convinced they have it all figured out. You can't buy that kind of confidence even if it's being exercised on the ground level.