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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Bitter Words

Susan Boyd

As a writer and professor of writing, I am deeply saddened by the level of language to which we English speakers have stooped. The increasing assault of swearing that erupts on the soccer pitch pains me. In the first place, I’ve heard far too much of it during games between teams of players who are too young to spell or read the words buzzing around them. Second, I celebrate English as a highly nuanced and sophisticated form of communication that gets reduced to less than a dozen vulgar nouns and adjectives describing everything from the weather to a political candidate’s worthiness to how an outfit looks. It’s as if we can only speak about issues and events using the term "bad," as in that shirt is bad or that bad ref made a bad call that hurt us badly or how bad was that. As these vulgarities waft up and over the sidelines and stands, we know our kids take this all in. Since "adults" speak this limited, dark language, kids want to emulate that behavior. We need a better standard.
I recently watched David McCullough in an interview on 60 Minutes. Mr. McCullough is an historian who has written biographies of American Presidents and books on things as diverse as the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence. In the interview, he lamented how woefully uneducated our children are on even the most basic facts concerning history. He spoke about a college student coming to him and stating that until she had heard his speech that day she was not aware that all the original 13 colonies were located on the East Coast. Another college student had no idea that Ben Franklin had never been our President. I was introduced to McCullough’s work by my father, who devoured his books. My historical education and knowledge can be traced in large part to reading McCullough’s books, as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bruce Catton and Gore Vidal. Not only did I get a fantastic tutelage in history, but also in language. What make these writers great isn’t just their grasp of historical events and context, but their ability to craft their writing with impactful and elegant language.
I would echo McCullough’s concerns about ignorance in history with my own concerns about ignorance of the English language. Too many of my college students — and I teach at a private school with high academic requirements — can’t form sentences with subordinate clauses or employ complex transitions. With truncated vocabularies and no confidence or real experience in developing argument, they flounder. But get them out of the classroom and suddenly they have all the language they need to express themselves. Unfortunately, it’s the limited language not fit for young or tender ears. Their main argument ends up being "whatever." Their mode is the abbreviations of texting, so spelling is now a dead art. They don’t even bother to correct spelling in their college essays that is underlined by their computer software. I struggle getting them to develop a coherent piece of writing that has clear argument with support (not anecdotes), smooth transitions between ideas, refined and accurate vocabulary, a distinctive voice, and correct spelling and grammar. They don’t see the point because all they really need is a thought and a few swear words to communicate that assertion without regard to whether or not their point is valid or factually correct. Spelling and grammar — who needs it? Words that can be precise verbal surgical instruments to dissect ideas and open them up to argument — an unnecessary encumbrance. Facts — oh please! If I say it, it’s true. 
In an age where we can listen nonstop to talking heads spew forth any collection of words and ideas, we accept the validity of those ideas that are repeated as fact so often that they enter the lexicon of everyday discourse. Often these shows disintegrate into provocation rather than discussion. Our kids learn that this is the new argument — he who shouts louder, wins. Amid all this shouting, inventiveness in language takes a back seat to crude observations. Trying to get any young person (or adult for that matter) to carefully weigh what is being said has become a battle. So many people don’t have the language tools to be able to pare down an assertion and to test it for truth. When Tums says it is the only antacid with calcium and all the others have magnesium, we immediately accept the premise that calcium is better than magnesium because that is what is implied in the assertion. We don’t bring any skepticism to why Tums is the only one with calcium while all the others have gone with magnesium. We don’t research to find out what is better. We don’t question the statement. This is a fairly simple example, but think of all the complex political campaign assertions, financial come-ons, insurance comparisons (does cheaper insurance really have the same level of claim protection as more expensive insurance?), food claims (don’t get me started on fat-free), and car ads that offer zero percent interest but in the small print only about 10 people in the United States qualify. How do we avoid being swayed by the claims? We have to use our language and reasoning skills to evaluate them completely.
As we resort to vulgarities to get us through our daily conversations we end up destroying the very tools we need to sort out ideas. There’s obviously the main issue that we’re exposing our children to language that has no place in their young lives. We adults forget about our audience as we scream at the driver who cut us off or "instruct" the referee on her error in judgment. Kids are absorbing those experiences as not only proper, but part of the rite of passage to adulthood. Even more significantly, we end up with students who don’t have the ability to be analytical in their approach to issues because argument is couched in vulgar attacks without regard to development of a reasoned response. We need to have the tools to create the discussion and to search for the answers. George Carlin’s seven words we can’t say on T.V. aren’t enough to accomplish this analysis. We’ll never get rid of swearing. That’s been around since the first cave man dropped a stone on his foot. However, we too easily substitute swearing for coherent, well-chosen language. In doing so, we begin to lower the standards of discussion to "is to…is not" because we don’t have any better tools at our disposal. Even Justice Scalia, who should have a huge arsenal of language and reasoning at his disposal, resorted to nonsense in frustration calling the majority ruling on DOMA a case of "legalistic argle-bargle," whatever that means. Kids on the soccer field are beginning the long journey to adulthood and need to have great weapons at their disposal in order to advance through the maze of ideas and roadblocks they will encounter.
McCullough said in the same 60 Minutes interview that he felt part of the disintegration in historical knowledge and language skills comes from the loss of the family dinner. The table should be a place for presenting ideas and arguing them through. Now we are so rushed we don’t have the time to savor the intellectual moments of a meal. At our table, my father would sometimes read a passage from a book or present an interesting dilemma for us to discuss. My mother was in the League of Women Voters, so every election we got the pamphlets to read and talk about at the dinner table. I agree with McCullough even though I shamefully admit I didn’t do as good a job of creating that Algonquin Round Table atmosphere for my kids growing up.
Two things we can do to insure assimilation of more sophisticated responses. First, purchase a good thesaurus rather than depending on whatever our computer word program offers. Encourage your children to look up words to discover the various shades of meaning for shaping their arguments. I remember the day I stood in our kitchen and said the word "crap." I was around 10 years old. My mother said, "Do you know what that word means? Go look it up." I was shocked to discover its true meaning rather than being a harmless expletive. Then she asked me what else I might say instead of "crap." So I had to figure out what would express my feelings of frustration while avoiding what I now knew was not a very nice descriptive word. As the years progressed, I learned to depend on that thesaurus to help me discover how to say exactly what I wanted to say. I also began to naturally develop a stronger vocabulary, which helped me in so many circumstances including my SATs, writing and handling classroom discussions. Secondly, we can challenge our children to answer "why" more often. "Why was that a bad call?" "Why should you have those expensive shoes?" "Why do you hate math?" "Why do kids bully?" There are so many circumstances where we just nod while our kids are speaking without stimulating their reasoning skills. Help them understand the difference between an assertion and an argument. That includes us, as well. "Because I said so" doesn’t cut it in the reasoning department, although I understand the frustration when kids come at us with unformed argument and we’ve had enough. "I want those shoes because they are the best soccer shoes." "Really? What is that based on?" Then help them do the research. The statement may be true, but just saying the shoes are the best isn’t proof. Kids need to learn to question statements made by others by demanding support for the stance. If Landon Donovan endorses a type of cleats, our children need to figure out if that product is really the right one for them. Of course, you may create a monster who can argue better than you can, but at least their arguments will be both substantial and substantiated.
With so many words and meanings to choose from, we can help our kids avoid settling for the easiest and least powerful. When faced with something they feel is unfair on the pitch, they can express their unhappiness in a reasonable and crafted way rather than a knee-jerk explosion of profanity. They still won’t win the battle with the ref, but they will earn his respect. As they grow up, they’ll learn how to shape their responses in such a way as to truly sway someone by utilizing strong language that isn’t irreverent. They also learn how to recognize reasoned argument and powerful word choices. The more articulate they can be, the farther they will go in any profession and certainly in life.

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Soccer Connects Us All

Susan Boyd

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

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The Pause that Refreshes

Susan Boyd

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

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The New Normal

Susan Boyd

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

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