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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". 

 

Clark Griswold is My Hero

Susan Boyd

Road Trip! Two words that can inspire equal parts of joy and terror. Any soccer parent knows the inevitability of a road trip each soccer season and possibly even several times during a season. Before I even thought about soccer, I grew up taking road trips. Every summer we would pack into the family car and take off for six weeks traveling the highways and byways of America. There were seven of us. When I saw "National Lampoon's Vacation" I relived these family trips complete with boxy station wagon, picnics at rest stops, and hours of bickering. We rarely stayed in motels, opting instead for camping or staying with relatives. My dad created a super tent by sewing together two smaller tents. Every morning after breakfast we had the routine of rolling up the sleeping bags, disassembling the cots, sweeping out the tent and then folding it precisely so that it would fit into the canvas duffle bag from my dad's time in the Navy. My mother cooked for seven of us on a Coleman propane two burner stove and washed the dishes in bucket. Even if we did stay in a hotel we kids all slept in the same room – three in one bed and two in the other. As the only girl I found it less and less ideal as I entered my teen years!
 
But I do have the privilege of boasting that I have driven and stayed in every state in the continental United States. We visited tourist attractions, would-be tourist attractions, and questionable tourist attractions.
 
With this background, I comfortably fell into the routine of soccer road trips. Each one had its unique joys and its unique terrors. There's the trip where the truck in front of me fishtailed into the median strip during a snow storm. And there's the trip where Bryce and Bruce sat for four hours dead still on the Indiana freeway wondering if they would get to the tournament on time. Once following a tournament in Memphis, we took a small detour to go to Metropolis, Illinois, the "home" of Superman. We've had flat tires, wrong turns (even on a tour bus), and mechanical breakdowns. We have rescued players from cars stranded on our route and our boys have been rescued when we were stranded. I am increasingly grateful for my AAA membership which has saved us with a tow or brought us a spare tire or, back before GPS, provided us with Triptiks so we could navigate and learn where the chicken who played tic-tac-toe resided.
 
Packing the car for a soccer road trip didn't require any camping equipment, but as the quality and quantity of electronic devices increased we had to be sure we had the proper cables, plug-ins, movies, games, music, headphones, and controllers. I can tell you the location of Best Buys and Radio Shacks throughout the Midwest because invariably I would hear from the back seat, "You've got to be kidding," and know that we needed to find some accessory as quickly as possible or I would have to deal with petulant teenagers. My admonishment to "Look out the windows - that's what my brothers and I did" was met with eye rolls. The Alphabet or License Plate Games could not compete with "Weekend at Bernie's" or "Mario Kart." I had to be sure to have enough snacks, drinks and fruit. We needed blankets, pillows and books. Of course, we also needed soccer gear, which we double and triple checked was in their bags. But no matter how many lists we made and how often we checked, we couldn't do anything about Bryce leaving his gloves in the hotel room.
 
Hopefully the boys will remember the best times of these trips. Some towns we revisited over the years, but no trip was identical. We took teammates with us on some trips, drove straight through on other trips, and made a vacation of it on still other trips. The car we took on all these road trips still functions, although just barely. The check engine light remains lit for a non-essential part and we keep the car within the immediate tri-county area of Milwaukee so our mechanic is never far away from attending the patient.
 
Soccer has tons of advantages, one of which is the road trip. Parents may not always want to hit the road because trips can be hours of boredom punctuated by bursts of fun. However, you can make sure the fun happens with some planning and a willingness to act spontaneously if a special moment arises. No matter how many trips you end up taking, cherish them, because I can guarantee that they will be part of important memories.
 

Doing the Right Thing

Susan Boyd

By the time this blog posts we'll know if the U.S. Women won the World Cup. Win or lose, they have provided a real lesson in how to play soccer both individually and as a team. When down a player against Brazil, the women held on to a 1-1 tie through regulation time to force overtime play. When Brazil scored in the opening minutes of that overtime play, the depleted U.S. squad never gave up and managed to score the equalizer in what became the latest goal in World Cup history. Then they won in PKs. Against France, exhausted after a travel day and a light training day, they let down for a moment and then rallied to win 3-1. As Coach Pia Sundhage put it, ""We lost our legs but we picked up our heart."" At every moment the team stayed on course, played their tactical game, and never gave up. It has been an incredible journey for the team and for the fans.
           
During the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup, FIFA sponsored a 'Say No to Racism' event, which they hold regularly during major soccer matches. The campaign began in April, 2006 and the first presentation of the event occurred during the Men's World Cup that year. Before designated matches, opposing teams meet in the center of the field behind the 'Say No to Racism' banners. Team captains read a statement which deplores racism in any form whether directed towards players or fans during a game or tolerated in their countries as a political or social policy. The teams pledged to fight racism. The FIFA program seeks to address all manners of prejudice and discrimination, since both have significant effects on the self-images of adults, especially children.  Coretta Scott King said, ""Bigotry seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood"", based on characteristics over which those people have no control. Therefore, derogatory outbursts against players based on their national origin, race, gender, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and/or sexual orientation fall under the umbrella of the FIFA anti-racism campaign. 
           
Most of us don't foster the virulent hatred and fear that we associate with racism. We would no more shout racial slurs at a player than practice active racial discrimination. However, many of us have been guilty of giving voice to or tacitly allowing language which does debase a group of people. For example, using the term 'retarded' as a derogatory term to describe a referee's behavior is demeaning to citizens who have mental disabilities. Even if we as parents don't use that language, we may tolerate our kids using it because ""everyone"" does. But at one time, ""everyone"" used racially derogatory language without a second thought. In a sense, it could be considered passive prejudice. We don't actually say anything bad, but we don't let it be known that such language is unacceptable around us. 
           
Players, coaches, and teams face ridicule from fans constantly, so they have to have tough hides. I don't think FIFA is looking to eradicate racism so that their members won't have hurt feelings. After all, we fans can find any number of faults when we want to let our team, or an opposing team, know our displeasure. This is an issue of no longer tolerating behavior and language which focuses on traits outside those necessary to play the game such as race, religion, and national origin. When a young Latino fan sits in the stands he has already identified with players on the field. So when he hears racial slurs or taunts directed at those players, he feels that hatred directed towards him. Alone in the sea of fans, he probably also feels powerless.  FIFA hopes to eradicate racism by taking a strong stance against racially motivated hate, but the organization also hopes to eradicate discrimination and prejudice which more subtly affect our lives and the lives of our children.
           
This is not FIFA's first recognition of the problem of racism world-wide. At the Men's World Cup in South Africa, Tokyo Sexwale, the commissioner of the program and a prison mate of Nelson Mandela during apartheid, reminded members of the media that, "FIFA itself took a strong stand, not merely against an association or a couple of players, but the strongest stand against racism that was ever taken by FIFA in expelling apartheid South Africa from the family of FIFA. And, of course, after the release of Nelson Mandela, readmitting South Africa."   In addition, FIFA has asked youth teams to take the lead on the campaign, including interviewing and publishing the remarks of youth coaches from around the world. Miroslav Soukup, Czech Republic coach, explained, "There are no enemies in sport; just opponents. There's no hate; we take to the field to play hoping we're going to win. In no way are our opponents enemies, wherever they come from. Whether they're from Africa or Asia, it makes no difference. We're all the same."

During the quarter final match between the U.S. and Brazil, World Cup fans started whistling and hooting every time Brazilian player Marta got the ball.  Their reaction reflected how the fans felt about her perceived off-side goal in overtime, and was not a racial, ethnic, or political statement. That type of protest will continue under the FIFA campaign because it is motivated by the fans' passion for the game and not by any hatred of a race or racial trait. Soccer will continue to be a game of great passion for both the players and the fans. FIFA hopes to take racial taunts and hatred out of the experience and in doing so hopefully positive behavior will spill over into the rest of our lives. It's a good start from a powerful and far-reaching organization which should be applauded for using its international influence to tackle an issue that affects us all.

 

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.