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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". 

 

Lord of the Flies

Susan Boyd

"After all, we're not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything."
           
Today I read an article that made me shiver. In England, at a Division Four game between Bury and Chesterfield, when goalkeeper Cameron Belford of Chesterfield allowed an equalizer goal by Bury, young Bury fans rushed the box to not only taunt the keeper, but also physically accost him. The pictures from this event show how completely overwhelming this attack became for the 6' 2" keeper trapped within the net surrounded by at least 10 tweens including one girl. 

Belford had recently had a titanium plate put in his right cheekbone due to a crushing contact from an opposing striker's foot last year. And it was this cheekbone that a young teenager openly punched during the melee. The girl in a ponytail who appeared to be eleven or twelve was forming obscene hand gestures in the face of the keeper while other boys heckled him or joined in the gestures.
           
I have so many questions. Why did these youngsters think they had the right to invade the field and the personal space of the keeper?    Where were the adult supervisors of these delinquents? What lessons have they learned from home or from the media that provided justification for their actions? 

We might expect this behavior from an errant fan impaired by alcohol and bolstered by his equally drunk compatriots egging him on. We've seen the bottles flung at outfielders, the beers dumped on the heads of NBA players heading down the causeway to the locker rooms, the wild abandon of someone running across the field during a game. But we really haven't seen a swarm of fans singling out a player for abuse during a match, much less having that swarm be on the minus side of puberty. 

Of the top ten fan/player confrontations, only one involves a child. This was in Comiskey Park when Kansas City coach Tom Gamboa was attacked by a father and his 15-year-old son. And most of the altercations involve one fan and one player. Only two were brawls – in 1979 between the Boston Bruins and Ranger fans and in 2004 between the Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, and Detroit fans. Of the latter episode, League Commissioner David Stern called it "shocking, repulsive and inexcusable – a humiliation for everyone associated with the NBA." I think the same comment could be made about this incident on the soccer pitch.
           
So how did we arrive at this state of affairs? The press called them hooligans, but I don't think that word is strong enough. Hooligan brings to mind those cheeky lads who throw eggs on Halloween or pants a teammate after a game. These English kids were brutes bent on intimidation and doing violence. Whatever possessed them to think they could enter the field during a game and attack the keeper can only be guessed at. But we can all agree that parents need to offer a strong role model for sideline and bleacher behavior when it comes to our children. 

Kids have a tremendous urge to emulate grown-up conduct in their rush to be adults. Watching dad swear at the referees or mom yell at an opposing team member provides some measure of approval for kids to partake in that behavior. Watching similar sideline actions as portrayed in the media only reinforces that that's what adults do. Somewhere there are parents for these louts who I hope step up to the proverbial plate and make the right statement. Rather than making excuses for their behavior or dismissing their actions, I hope they make these thugs apologize and then give them house arrest for a month or two. These parents will be setting the standard going forward, and I hope it's that this behavior will not be tolerated from kids or adults.

This incident hits home hard for me. I have a 6' 2" goalkeeper son who has been the object of constant ridicule and harassment during several recent games. He has kept his cool and not acknowledged the catcalls, but I often wonder if the fans became even more enflamed or emboldened how quickly they could reach and overpower him. Here was clear evidence of what fans were capable of attempting. But instead of adults who should know better, it was kids who should have been taught better and controlled better. I don't want to see us move to the unhappy world of Lord of the Flies where children develop into savages because they have no outside adult guidance. There are plenty of us adults around who need to reinforce the best of good sportsmanship whether it be at a U-8 game or the World Cup or on a deserted island.
 

On Holiday

Susan Boyd

We have two soccer games to watch tonight, the night before Good Friday. I'm guessing the powers that be decided to squeeze in as much soccer before families begin to celebrate the holiday. Here in the Midwest, we have to use our weekends frugally since so few of them are soccer friendly. We actually had three inches of ice on the ground just two days ago. It looked like a giant slushy scene from "Glee," all gooey and slurpy across the landscape. And last weekend the boys played a game in the rain which turned to snow just as the game ended. It's hard to believe that we are just eight days from May.
           
Playing games during holidays isn't unusual in youth soccer. Last May was the first Mother's Day I didn't have a game to attend. We never make plans over Labor Day weekend because I know there will be plenty of games scheduled. We have been to tournaments over Easter, Memorial Day weekend and July 4th, missed trick or treating, spent Father's Day on the road and, of course, Mother's Day on the sidelines. 
           
Youth soccer isn't meant to overtake your life, although sometimes that's exactly what it does. As youth soccer has grown in America, so have the opportunities for kids to compete. Traveling to tournaments, playing in summer leagues, indoor soccer, and multiple recreational leagues can be a benefit or a curse depending on how it all affects family dynamics. We can quickly get caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment, not considering how this will impact our lives going forward. Everything comes with a cost both in time and money, so families have to take a breath and decide how deep they want to dive. It's not unusual now for clubs to send their youngest teams to tournaments in the area, and I know from experience that many families, wanting to engage in the "full" soccer package, clamor for traveling tournaments as well. 
           
It's important to keep things in perspective. While traveling to some exotic city like Rockford, Illinois or Evansville, Indiana and staying at a Motel 6 sounds enticing, it's not always as glamorous as one might believe. And giving up other family adventures for a traveling tournament needs to take into regard everyone in the family. Once you agree to a more complicated team schedule it's rare to have it simplify. Be sure you really want and are able to handle the extra time and money costs that leaping into a traveling team entails. Adult peer pressure can be very tough to resist, especially when you've been given the opportunity to participate with the "in" crowd.
           
That adult peer pressure can also be fairly insensitive when it comes to families wanting to share significant holidays alone and not with their soccer friends. Many families take their religious celebrations very seriously and consider them an important and significant part of their children's upbringing. So teams need to be sensitive to those priorities when it comes to events like Easter and Yom Kippur. No one should make a family feel unreasonable for insisting on forgoing a soccer game for a family commemoration, nor should a family feel shy about declining to participate in a game for whatever reasons they deem fit.   Youth soccer will give way to Select soccer soon enough, so no one needs to rush the transition if they don't feel ready to do so.
           
We have always enjoyed the routine that soccer brought to our family, but we were lucky that we had two kids close in age who enjoyed the same sport. Had they had different interests, or been further apart in age, or hadn't been our last two kids, then we would probably have had very different priorities.   For the first five years of their soccer playing they were in the same club with the same tournament schedule, so our calendar was full but had a natural pairing of events that made it easy to do things as a family. For others the management of family time wasn't as easy. We all need to be accepting of the limitations that each family places on soccer playing, especially when it comes to holidays since those are the times when memories are built. Clubs can be sensitive to scheduling by avoiding religious holidays when possible.
           
Most of us want our kids to develop not only a passion for activities but a talent for them as well. When it comes to soccer, this usually means a strong year-round dedication to the sport. However, there is definitely time for families to resist the full-time commitment until they are sure it's the best decision for everyone involved. Youth soccer should be fun for everyone in the family.   The experiences of youth can only be had once, so families need to make the important decisions on what those experiences will be. Making memories whether on the soccer field or in church or at the family table should be individually directed and accepted. While being a good team member is an important part of learning commitment and responsibility, so is sharing family traditions. We each need to decide how we'll celebrate the holidays and respect the decisions those around us make. I guaranteed soccer will survive no matter what we decide.
 

What's in name?

Susan Boyd

I had forgotten how much fun the names of youth sports teams can be. Once the boys moved up to U-11 and began playing for select teams they had these sophisticated names that mirrored professional teams in England or South America. The sudden shift to "adult" names also meant a shift to "adult" uniforms, "adult" cleats, and "adult" schedules with an accompanying "adult" price tag. Gone were the days when I could write a check in the two or low three digit range. However, I just got an email with the spring soccer schedule for a grandson. His team is the Vipers, and all the happy memories of those wild team names came flooding back.
 
We had Tigers, Leopards, Eagles, Rattlers, Lightning and Jaguars. Uniform colors were hit or miss since teams got assigned the uniforms without regard to their names. Robbie's Leopard team had orange uniforms so I kept cheering them on as the Tigers, which was Bryce's team at the time and he had green uniforms. As an alternate they would use a white t-shirt with an iron-on number. The shorts were glossy satin, the socks the same color as their jerseys, and the cleats black. Life was definitely less complicated. 
 
The tradition of animal names comes from pro baseball and football. We connect to those names from both experience and comfort. Kids know about the Chicago Bears, the Florida Marlins, and the Seattle Seahawks. So it's not surprising that they naturally latch unto those labels. Without the strong tradition of soccer found in other countries in the world, they either aren't aware of or comfortable with names like Manchester United or Boca Juniors. Our tradition of team signatures usually means a trip to the zoo or the Weather Channel. Occasionally we borrow a group name such as Mariners, Oilers, or Patriots. On the limited end there's a pair of Sox, one color (Reds), a land mass (Rockies) and an aircraft (Jets).
 
Hockey teams provide some of the more innovative and fun names. These owners apparently never wanted to give up those trendy kid team names since we have Penguins, Thrashers, Predators, Flames, Avalanche, and Sabres. There are some dull names like Maple Leafs and Senators. And being a Duck doesn't really seem ferocious enough. But I think having all the standard creature names snapped up by the baseball and football contingent forced some wonderful creativity that kids could definitely appreciate. How cool would it be to hear the sidelines chanting "Go Sharks!"? If I were ten years old I'd want to be the Devils and I'd want my uniforms to be red!
 
Basketball teams follow the animal tradition, but overall their monikers tend to be more subdued: Cavaliers, Jazz, Magic. It's as if the owners felt that the arenas confined any outlandish identification outbursts. Most NBA teams don't have titles that kids would quickly appreciate. In fact most wouldn't even know what the names signify: Knicks, Celtics, Nuggets, 76ers, and Spurs. I think kids would agree that being the Nets or the Clippers doesn't strike the proper image of a terrifying opponent, although Toronto Raptors might find their name appropriated most often. Even the feverish temperature-based names like Blazers, Heat, Suns, and Rockets lack the pizzazz that a kid's sports team should carry.
 
Over the years I have found myself on the sidelines cheering "Go White" or "Go Blue" depending on the color of uniform the team wore that day. It all seems so lackluster compared to being able to cheer on lions, and tigers, and bears. Once the kids move up to those more sophisticated soccer teams, the names take on a very dignified status. They come from the traditions of grand soccer teams around the world. United, Arsenal, FC, Sporting, and Real. About half of the MLS teams adopted names that honor those long lines of soccer team identification. Most families, especially those of kids new to soccer, don't understand these traditions, so they consider the names bland. When the boys' soccer club Mequon United FC merged with the recreational club Mequon Power the new board insisted on getting rid of the United name, not understanding the cache it held in the soccer world. The merged club became Mequon Soccer Club. For many parents the name change held little concern, but for parents who understood the tradition of soccer and coaches who had come up against the team, the name change had the effect of diminishing the quality of the program in their eyes. 
 
Names shouldn't mean that much, but we have seen the battles over team name changes which can sharply divide fans, alumni and players. When Marquette University decided to abandon the name "Warriors" in favor of a more p.c. name "Golden Eagles," the battle was fierce. That's why the Minnesota Lakers became the L.A. Lakers even though Minnesota has 10,000 lakes and L.A. calls ponds "lakes". No one wanted to change the name of the franchise. We become attached to the name and invest our loyalty in the team and its title. Animal and weather related names insure that we won't offend anyone and that we can imbue the team with some ferocious qualities even as the young players prefer watching the clouds drift by. I miss those days and can't wait to cheer on the Vipers this spring and summer. I also love cheering on my sons, who incidentally now play for a team called the Panthers. They even have a "snarl" sound effect for announcements. It's almost like being on the sidelines of their first teams. Almost.
 

Slip of the Tongue

Susan Boyd

Last weekend in their 4-2 victory over West Ham, Manchester United's striker Wayne Rooney scored a hat trick.  Following his third goal, Rooney shouted out to the crowd, then turned directly to the sideline camera and repeated his expletive filled celebration for the world to hear.  He was immediately censured by the English Football Association and given a two game suspension, the standard punishment for public profanity.  Rooney doesn't contest that he swore, after all even my husband heard live what he said, but he feels the punishment is excessive, so he fought that.  The risk was that if the board ruled against him, they would actually mete out a greater penalty.  On Thursday he found out he would have to sit out the EP game against Fulham and the FA semifinal game against crosstown rivals Manchester City.  But he'll be available for the rematch with Chelsea.  So overall the punishment really gives him a much needed two week rest in the middle of a tough season.

In a world where kids have learned that English seems to depend on one adjective and one verb, and they both begin with "f", what Rooney did doesn't surprise them.  While Sir Clive Woodward of the British Olympic Committee argues "Children will see it and say 'if he can do it I can do it too' and behave like that towards parents and teachers," his words come too little too late.  I hate to shake up a Knight of the Realm, but kids already think it's cool to swear.  All Rooney did was reinforce that coolness with his behavior.  Kids hear it coming from their film heroes, their favorite comedians, their sports icons, their friends, their parents, and even their coaches.  I sat at a table in a pizza restaurant with my grandkids and had to finally ask a table of high school students next to us to tone it down.  They were actually contrite, not even realizing how often they were throwing around offensive language.  It all trips so easily off the tongue.

Even now swearing has become a regular event on network television, with the appropriate bleep barely disguising what was said.  Kids aren't stupid.  Sir Woodward was right that kids will mimic what they hear, but Rooney didn't set that ship in motion.  It left dock a long time ago.  If I use my own grandsons as an example, it shows how pervasive and persuasive bad language can be.  My daughter and son-in-law don't use any swear words, even the more "acceptable" ones.  The boys' media viewing is tightly regulated.  They can only play video games rated "E" and they can't go on any of the social media websites.  Yet, after playing a Disney game on my cell phone, they impishly agreed to put the "F" word as their name on the winner's list.  I had to play close to one hundred sessions of that game to finally push the name off the list!  They were five and nine at the time.  Where did they learn that word?  From their friends for sure, but unfortunately they probably also learned it from their sports teams.

Which brings us full circle back to Rooney.  The inherent approval of the use of such language comes when kids hear it over and over from people they trust and respect.  That means parents on the sidelines, coaches, fellow players, and other fans.  Language flies from the mouths of people who should know better into the ears of kids who desperately want to emulate grown-ups.  Parents may argue that there isn't much they can do about it, but I disagree.  Every time we ignore abusive language, we are passively approving it.   Before the season even begins, parents can make a pact to "keep it clean" on the sidelines and to enforce that by reminding parents, even parents of the opposing team, that bad language won't be tolerated.  Kids should know that using swear words doesn't make them cool.  We wouldn't tolerate a kid lighting up a cigarette, so we shouldn't stand passively by and let the word bombs fly.  Kids learn quickly that profanity is used like punctuation to indicate extreme anger, excitement or pleasure.  We need to provide other language which can accomplish the same powerful emphasis.  As an English teacher I can assure the parents of America that their children have far too limited a vocabulary to express themselves.  I once followed a pack of my students across the campus quad listening to them complain about an assignment I had given.  In the course of 400 feet from the classroom to the library these scholars described their distaste for the assignment and me with only one adjective, and that adjective was used dozens of times.  When we reached the library and they realized who was behind them, they burned with embarrassment.  I simply suggested that they get a thesaurus.

We can't cloister our children.  In a world with increasing outside and immediate influences our ability as parents to monitor every experience diminishes rapidly.  Even an innocent keystroke error when doing an internet search can end up with some skimpily clad young woman popping up on the screen.  When Bryce was ten he went to a friend's eleventh sleepover birthday party where the parents popped in R-rated "Matrix" for the kids to enjoy.  When I found out and confronted the mom her response saddened me – she figured all the kids had already seen the movie in the theatres.   Bryce said he thought the movie was really cool, and spent the next two months battling nightmares of men in sunglasses attacking him. 

So we have to accept that kids will see and hear things we would rather they don't.  But we also don't need to condone any bad behavior that arises from those experiences.  Constant and unnecessary uses of profanity steal away from the civility that helps us all work, play and live together.  We want our children to recognize that going to an extreme expression actually diminishes our credibility as reasonable and intelligent people.  English is a rich language that offers some powerful ways to more thoughtfully express ourselves.  Wayne Rooney comes from the land of Shakespeare who expressed himself with grace and beauty and might have said of Rooney's rant:  Mind your speech a little lest you should mar your fortunes. (King Lear)