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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". 

 

Numbers Game

Susan Boyd

         Here's some numbers for you: 17 million people play soccer at least once a year in the U.S.  8.5 million people play soccer 25 or more days per year. Five million children (under 18) play organized soccer.  3.2 million youth players are registered with U.S. Youth Soccer Association. 8,200 youth soccer clubs operate in the U.S. (Those clubs sponsor over 2,000 soccer tournaments a year). All major soccer sanctioning committees recommend that players participate in no more than 40 matches a year, no more than two matches a weekend, and no more than one match a day. Most players break the last guidelines when participating in one of those 2,000 tournaments.

         Soccer can be broken down into a game of 11 v. 11 with a field formation of a keeper and 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 or some variety of placements depending on the tactics. The field as, stipulated by FIFA, measures 100 to 130 yards long and 50 to 100 yards wide, so long as the field is not square.   The goal is eight feet tall and 24 feet wide. Surrounding the goal is a box extending 18 yards out from the goal line and 44 yards wide, the territory in which a keeper may use his or her hands, and in which a foul may result in a penalty kick. There is a smaller box extending six yards out from the goal line and 20 yards wide, which serves no purpose under the rules of soccer, but is the area sacred to a keeper. You'll often hear remarks about keeping the offense out of the ""18"" or ""6"" which refer to these two areas. There's a 10 yard radius circle in the center of the field (Keepers hope to get their goal kicks past this circle). For teams younger than 13 these field dimensions will hold their relative relationships in size, but will be smaller depending on the age. For the game to be played, the number of nets required under FIFA rules is 0, but if nets are used, they must not interfere with the keeper, be secured, and not allow the ball to pass through. Goal posts and cross bars must be painted white. The traditional ball consists of 32 panels (12 pentagons and 20 hexagons), but recent designs have created balls with as few as 14 panels.

         Kids who dribble a soccer ball can run between two and four miles per game, with older youth players running on average six miles per game. Throw in a tournament weekend, and players can average eight to 12 miles per day. At 100 calories burned per mile, that's 800 to 1200 calories per day. Unlike adults who count on activity to burn up calories, kids are burning calories just growing. So it's important that parents replenish those calories with nutritious snacks and meals. Gatorade isn't enough, nor is one banana which is only 100 calories on its own. Many professional soccer players use high-protein sandwiches to restock the power plant such as PBJ, chicken salad (easy on the mayo), grilled chicken breast, and, if kids will eat them, avocado and/or hummus sandwiches. Kids who play soccer need around 3,000 calories a day!
           
         Soccer teams play by the numbers too. U.S. Youth Soccer Association is one of many organizations encouraging small-sided games to foster more touches on the ball and more individual coaching with fewer competing team members. At U6, teams are 3 v. 3 and U8 are 4 v. 4, both with no goal keepers. U10 teams play 6 v. 6 and are the first age level to have keepers. U12 teams are 8 v. 8 and U13 moves to a full side of 11 players. Field sizes match the smaller team sizes, letting players learn how to use the sidelines and develop the idea of team tactics and formations. Of course smaller team size means more teams, which means more coaches. Currently there are over 66,000 youth soccer coaches in the United States, and more than 60% of them are volunteers. 
           
        American soccer fans have increased exponentially in the last decade. Just considering the MLS you can see tremendous growth in season ticket sales. Kansas City had 467 season ticket holders in 2007 and this year has 9,000. FC Dallas sold three times as many pre-season tickets this year as last. The two expansion teams, Portland and Vancouver, have sold 11,000 and 16,000 season tickets respectively. Fox Soccer Channel began as Fox Sports Channel in 1997 but switched its name in 2005 and went exclusively to soccer only programming in 2006. It added a new station, Fox Soccer Plus in 2010 when it also went HD. In addition ESPN has increased its dedication to soccer including showing all of the Women's World Cup games this year. At the Men's World Cup last year in South Africa, the U.S. bought more tickets (130,000) than any other country besides the host nation. All American games are sold out for the Women's World Cup.
           
        Financial publications peg average family spending on youth sports per child at around $2,000. The number can climb quickly if a child plays on an elite travel team, participates in additional leagues, and/or opts for private coaching. That number also doesn't include what the family spends to attend tournaments together which can be up to $400 for a weekend for a family of four with hotel, gas, and meals. Of course if you have to fly to a tournament then you need to double or triple that amount. Soccer should be a pretty cheap sport; after all you just need a ball and some shin guards (gloves if you're a keeper) and a wide open space to play. But somehow we have found ways to take a game that can be played nearly for free and turn it into an activity costing thousands of dollars a year. Required club gear can really drain the bank account with warm-ups running around $100 and full uniform kits running upwards of $180, and add in bags at $70. If you change clubs then that wardrobe cost comes anew, and even if you stick with a club, uniforms become obsolete every three years, so clubs have to select new gear. Throw in cleats, favorite player jerseys, and paraphernalia such as blankets, scarves, head bands, kit bags, posters, and balls that leaves you with several hundred dollars due at the register.
           
        Numbers can tell an interesting story of how a sport operates, how it grows, and how it impacts our lives, but what really matters is that you and your children enjoy the sport. Here's a number that does translate into fun: three. That's the number of games my sons will be playing this weekend that I get to watch. 
 

Mission Statement

Susan Boyd

            What parent hasn't looked at his or her kid and wondered, "Does my child have the stuff of a champion?" Then we all answer "Probably" and strive for the best. Defining a world class athlete can't be done with a simple formula or a few lines in a manual. While athleticism plays a significant role, it's not enough. A world-class athlete needs more. Yet those additional attributes can be elusive and may be predetermined and unteachable, which doesn't keep us from trying to mold our children into the model. When my boys were little, they devoured biographies of great athletes such as Pele, Jackie Robinson, and Michael Jordan. Comparing their own experiences to those of their idols and trying to figure out how they could climb into that stratosphere of achievement. Except for a few homilies about hard work and believing in themselves, they didn't make any life-changing discoveries.
          
            With the Women's World Cup underway in Germany, the US Women have issued a "Handbook" that includes stories about what they felt helped foster and develop their soccer careers. Most of these women had surprisingly regular childhood soccer experiences. They detailed dads who set up goals in the backyard, moms who drove players two hours each way to ODP and club practices, strong coaches and playing high school soccer. In more than one case the women reinforced the idea that soccer needed to be fun.   While all these anecdotes help humanize those who can seem like superwomen, they don't reveal a magic ticket to the top. However, one player came close. Jill Loyden went to see the first-ever Olympic gold medal game for women's soccer in Atlanta which the U.S. won. She stated that "Ever since then, it became a dream and a mission to become part of the US Women's National Team".
          
            I really liked that distinction. We often hear players talking about their dreams, but calling her primary dream a mission points out how big a role drive and passion play in success. I've learned a lot about missions in the past ten years watching my boys and their soccer teammates develop. I've seen excellent players fall by the wayside because they didn't possess the serious passion necessary to make it through the really tough work, disappointments, and injuries. I watched players get by-passed because they divided their interests and ended up being masters of none. I've watched my own sons struggle with crossroads when it came to their passion for the sport and the sacrifices necessary to move forward. It's easy to sacrifice when you're succeeding, but the higher a player climbs the more serious the competition and the frustrations become. Plenty of great athletes don't become professional because ultimately they place their priorities elsewhere. So no matter how seriously they trained, no matter how advanced they became, no matter how much they succeeded, at some point the trade-off between the hard work and the reward shifted to other interests such as professions, businesses, or education. Their mission no longer was sports.
            The concept of an unteachable mental edge hit home last week. Watching my granddaughter do a figure eight on the pool deck as she marched out to jump off the edge, thought better of it, turned and retreated to the stairs, I was struck with the importance of mental drive. Nothing at the pool enticed her to overcome her fear of leaping into the water – not sharing the experience with her friends, not keeping up with her sister, not taunts from kids in the pool, and not the promise of an orange sucker from her swimming instructor. Her mind would not allow her to jump. The same holds true for other youth athletes. Some players have no hesitancy about making tackles or hip-checking a player out of her path. Other players hold back, some out of fear, some out of disinterest, and some out of stubbornness. We parents can't manufacture the passion kids need to overcome mental obstacles.  But we find it difficult to refrain from trying. Whatever that intangible mental edge might be, we will cajole, encourage, bribe, push, beg, and maneuver to get our kids to seize and use that edge. 
           
            I can't describe how much I wanted to just shout at Megan, "Jump already!" She had approached the edge of the pool at least three dozen times, announced she was going to jump, looked down, and then retreated. There was no impediment but her own mindset. She could stand where she was jumping, kids in swimming diapers were jumping, and the stairs were right there. Yet I also knew that until she made her own decision to jump she wouldn't develop the self-confidence necessary to master the next challenge in her life. I had to remind myself that she was the one swimming. My ability to swim, my parenting (grand-parenting) skills, and the future of competitive diving were not the issues here. Maybe she'll jump tomorrow; maybe she'll jump next summer. Her mental edge, her passion, will manifest itself at some point, but probably not for swimming or soccer or gymnastics. She may not have athletic dreams or she may have lots of athletic dreams. But hopefully she will find a single mission that will drive her life and help her overcome the tough roadblocks ahead. All I can do is provide as many opportunities as possible for her to explore.
 

Competitive Summer

Susan Boyd

Every summer offers some exciting soccer competition. Occasionally that competition only comes along every four years, so don't miss the Women's World Cup which began yesterday in Germany.

The US Women are playing in Group C with North Korea, Sweden, and Colombia. Their first game is Tuesday, June 28, at 12:15 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3.com/Galavision. The quarterfinals will be July 9 and 10 with Group C playing the latter date at either 7 a.m. ET (1st place team in group) or 11:30 a.m. ET (2nd place team in group) on ESPN. Semi-finals will be July 13 and finals will be July 17. In fact every single game of the World Cup will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2 with several games also broadcast in Spanish on Galavision. These weeks offer the opportunity for young soccer players, both girls and boys, to watch some top level competition.

Although I would normally encourage young soccer players to be outdoors in the summer practicing and playing the game, I make an exception here and suggest players pick a few games to watch during the week. Students of the game improve their play significantly by understanding the overall dynamics that teams develop and use. Watching how teams both attack and defend, how individual players move with and off the ball, and how plays develop absolutely augment a young person's soccer education. Print off the schedule at ESPN.com and highlight some games to enjoy.
 
Speaking of competition, this year's U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship will be held in Phoenix, Arizona at Reach II Sports Complex July 26 through July 31. The top boys and girls teams in age groups U-14 through U-19 will compete for national honors. Regions III and IV have already selected their participants, Region II does so this week in the Fox Cities area of Wisconsin, and Region I will wrap things up next week in Lancaster, Pa. These competitions showcase some of the future talent in soccer, so if you live nearby you should try to see some games especially those in your own player's age group.

We don't get the complete picture of what our players can aspire to until we step outside of our own leagues and our usual competitors to see the next level of play. Because America doesn't have the same immersion in soccer that most of the rest of the world experiences, we can miss out on how physical, intelligent, and fast soccer can be. One thing I remember from the first Region II Championship I attended was the speed of play and the fitness of the players. Each time I watch the best youth teams compete I gain a greater appreciation of how athletic and smart soccer players need to be to play at the top levels.
 
Weekly competitions in Major League Soccer can be seen either live or in delayed broadcasts on a large number of television outlets. Fans can now watch just about every single MLS game on channels such as ESPN, Fox Soccer Channel, GolTV, and Direct Kick. Additionally several of the games of the Women's Professional Soccer league can be seen on Fox and Time-Warner Cable Sports. This expansion of TV markets shows the increased interest in and influence of soccer in America. Soccer families should get in the habit of watching both U.S. and International soccer since those matches provide a great road map through the world of soccer skills and tactics. Watching soccer together as a family validates your child's choice of the sport and provides a topic for discussion that everyone can share in.

Even though most youth soccer players have a break from the sport for some of the summer, it doesn't mean that players can't be developing in other ways. Take some time this season to enjoy soccer matches on TV. You'll find yourself getting excited about certain teams and players. That enthusiasm can be a driving force to get you and your kids more invested in the sport and to help your kids improve their game through example. Use some of the best competition this summer to raise the bar both on playing and enjoying the game.
 

Honorable Position

Susan Boyd

Hold me back!  Every time I hear about youth teams, coaches, players, and/or parents putting winning ahead of development and ethics I get crazy.  Mike Woitalla in his blog last week in Soccer America told the story of a Nebraska team who facilitated the victory of its opponent, another team from his club, so that they could go on to the state championship competition.  The coach directed his team to allow the opponents to score a goal at the end of 0-0 tie giving the opponent the win which propelled them through to the state championship games.  He knew his team couldn't advance regardless of the outcome, but he also knew that the opposing team from his club would advance with a win.   These machinations came to light when the coach told the opponent's coach of his actions.  I'm sure he expected a big thank you, but to the coach's credit she reported the incident.
               
Now the entire process has been thrown into a tizzy requiring a replay of the games among the three teams contending for a spot in the finals.  Worse several dozen girls were thrown into an ugly situation.  The girls on the team who allowed the goal were put in the position of being asked to do something unethical by their coach, the girls on the "winning" team were put in the position of moving on to the finals knowing that it wasn't directly their skill that advanced them, and the girls on the other teams in contention to advance to the finals were denied the honest opportunity to advance.  Peripherally there are parents, officials, club board members, and state association staff who have been tainted by this action.  We can talk about other factors which have affected the outcomes of games such as bad refereeing or weather delays, but these factors come from within the agreed upon parameters of the game.   We need to accept, begrudgingly sometimes, that soccer games have variants which we can't control but can ultimately affect the outcome of a game.
               
We all know the heartbreak of having a goal called back because of a questionable offside call or a player receiving a second yellow card for flimsy reasons leaving her team a player short.  But these are part and parcel of a human game where subjectivity can be carefully managed but still affect the results of a game.  We tolerate mistakes of human nature because we recognize those mistakes can harm our results sometimes and then boost our results other times.  We don't like it when we lose because of a bad call or a small field, but we know that the next game may have factors that benefit our team.
               
Given the limitations of perfection in any game, at least we all know that the rules attempt to insure fairness.  Maximum ages of players are established and enforced rigorously with birth certificates and player passes, referees have to achieve a certain level of expertise to officiate, coaches must be licensed appropriately for the age level of their team, rules have been written and approved for play, equipment must adhere to standards, and all players must be registered with their club or have appropriate guest player certification.  State associations and governing agencies such as U.S. Youth Soccer Association carefully set forth rules and guidelines for play in youth soccer.  But beyond those official guidelines are the societal ethical guidelines we all understand exist.
               
We can recognize fairly easily when we are operating outside of the boundaries of ethics.  As much as the coach wanted to help his fellow club team, he absolutely knew that doing anything proactively would not be proper.  Asking his players to participate in this behavior put them in a terrible quandary:  Do they support their coach (and club) or do they stick by their own moral compass?  I observed a game once where the coach realized that his team would go through to the finals win or lose, but that the club's archrival team would not advance if his team's opponent won.  So he directed his players to score two own goals to assure the victory of his opponent and thereby seal the doom of his archrival.  I observed attempts to falsify age documents, to play kids who were not on the roster by having them use a rostered player's pass, and to engineer goal differentials.  Most of you have probably observed some improprieties in play, and some of you and/or your children may have been involved in some improprieties.  It's not a great position to be in.
               
As parents we need to reinforce that our kids shouldn't participate in an activity, even one directed by a respected adult, which is outside of the rules of the game.  We also need to reinforce that winning at any cost isn't the goal of soccer.  It's difficult when you can get so close you can taste victory and yet see it slip away.  And it's tempting to help that victory along with questionable assistance.  But we have to resist that urge as parents, coaches, and players.  You can't be truly triumphant when you know that a win was achieved outside of the rules everyone agrees to follow.  Our children need to learn that integrity is the real victory in life.  As a society we are programmed to be winners.  We want the best grades, the biggest house, to beat the car at the light, to get the best deal on a TV, and to send our kids to the top university.  We find it difficult to be content with our normal success and to accept losses along the way.  We attach our self-worth to winning, forgetting that wins don't insure satisfaction.  Living our lives with honor and enjoyment brings the real triumphs of contentment and pride.