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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". 

 

A Sense of Pride

Susan Boyd

The turning point in "The Music Man" comes in the River City (Iowa) high school gym. The townspeople are convinced that Professor Harold Hill should be tarred and feathered for cheating them by selling them useless, overpriced band instruments and uniforms. Their children have had no lessons and can't possibly play these expensive toys. Suddenly the young people burst into the gym in uniform, carrying their instruments. Hill is encouraged to lead them in the "Minuet in G" which they have been learning using the "think method" for several weeks. He raises his baton, the children begin to play, and a caterwaul rises from the group. With barely any hesitation the parents stand up and shout out in pride – "that's my son playing!" Amid the wretched sounds that jarred the deaf Beethoven in his grave, the parents heard what they wanted to hear and that was perfection.

The moral of the story: We parents naturally take pride in our kids' accomplishments no matter how off-key.   Evidence of our pride surrounds us. Every living room contains at least one ceramic handprint next to the Wedgewood. My mother actually framed my pictures from middle school art class and hung them next to her Picasso lithograph. Clusters of trophies, photos, and art projects fill every child's home without regard to the interior design. We give up a sense of style and perfection in order to honor the achievements of our children because those mementoes are worth more than gold. We save school homework, we film the third grade concerts, we cheer at dance recitals, and we sit through three hours of beginner piano pieces just to hear our son's one minute performance. We tell our children how good they are no matter how their talent compares to the rest of the world because in our eyes they are wonderful and worthy of our pride.

The difficulty comes when our pride gets mixed up with expectations. Telling your daughter how wonderful her shot on goal was is different than telling her she's good enough to make three goals a game. When we only see our children through the filter of our own standards, we do them a disservice. While it would be wonderful that every child who took up the piano or ballet or soccer could become an international sensation, the reality remains that most kids will do their hobbies for a few years, have some success, and then move onto a regular career and family path. If we treat our children as if they have a gift, when in fact they don't, we pressure them rather than uplift them. 

Certainly nurturing and encouraging a budding talent is part of a parent's job, especially when our children show the interest and commitment to move to a higher level. But having an unrealistic view of their talent can lead to unhealthy demands and put you at odds with coaches and teachers. I hear all the time on the sidelines how parents think the coach doesn't understand how good their child is. We take the job of being a good parent as translating into being a good judge of athletic, artistic, or academic talent in our children. We know our child but not necessarily how our child compares to others in her peer group. We single out the one skill our child has and somehow expect that to be enough to put her in the top echelons of the activity. And we can often feel that the coach is ignoring that talent. Most coaches and teachers see the bigger picture because they have two advantages we parents don't have: they have years of experience in the activity so they understand the levels and skills which are either normal or exceptional; and they don't have the bias of our pride to cloud the issue.

Nevertheless, it's difficult for parents to not let their pride dictate how invested they get in their kids' activities. Finding a balance which gives a parent a clear view of how truly good his or her child is makes for less stress. Rather than talking to coaches and teachers about how they should recognize our child's talents, we should be asking them to help us put those talents in perspective. We should be asking "what could Mary be doing better?"; "are there additional classes or training sessions she could be taking?"; "do you see any special spark or talent in her we could be nurturing?" We also need to be sure that we have a good read of our children's interest in an activity. Sometimes we'll need to encourage them over a hump where their interest flags temporarily and sometimes we have to accept that they no longer have any interest. We have to be able to step out from behind our pride and offer good advice that encourages but doesn't pressure. It's difficult. I know this from personal experience – our daughter who had the chance to dance with some of the top ballet companies in the United States decided she couldn't take the pressure of the constant threat of rejection. She continued to take dance classes to keep up her fitness and her love for the art, but she no longer wanted to pursue dance to the next level. 

When "The Music Man" parents shouted out their pride in their children's musical talents in the film, it probably seemed a bit ridiculous to the movie audience. We could all hear how terrible they were. But the message wasn't off the mark. We see the possibilities in our kids and we are delighted when they reach even the fringes of those possibilities. The pride in the child who is 15th chair in the orchestra is no smaller than the pride in the child who is 1st chair. But the pride has to be grounded in some realism. Parents, even the parents of River City, have the ability to recognize the limitations of their children's talents. We have to be willing to exercise that ability while never giving up on our pride in what our kids do. Kids are smart enough to figure out what they love to do and what they are good at. They have a keen sense of how they fit in with their peers. So our pride in the things they do isn't giving false hope, but if we push, if we buy into false hope, then we create pressure rather than support.
 

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.