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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." 
 
 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.

 

Lost and Found

Susan Boyd

An apt visual metaphor encapsulating the dashed dreams of the UEFA Euro 2016 teams was cut away at the end of one match to a lone soccer ball floating along the Seine and bumping into the barges traveling downstream. The announcer opined, “Somewhere there’s a little soccer player sadly watching his ball disappear towards the sea.” When England lost to Iceland, it was much more than a soccer ball slipping down the river – it was a nation’s pride. A country of 53 million couldn’t assemble a soccer team to beat a country of 350,000. That would be like a club team from Madison, Wis. beating the English. Unbelievable and embarrassing. Big losses are far more humbling than we expect because we cling so strongly to the promise of a win. I am always leery of the parent, who upon seeing her child’s bracket, announces confidently, “This will be a piece of cake.” Be careful. You may only come away with crumbs.

No one wants to think about losing. The point of competition is to be victorious. Kids learn this lesson very early. They see people’s reactions to wins and losses and quickly understand that winning is far superior to losing. Life is about achieving. Grades, reading and math placements, social hierarchies, NBA Finals, streaking through the yellow light, winning an argument, or becoming a starter on a team are just a few of the ways kids witness and experience the expectation of triumph. However winning exists in a binary arrangement – losing is the corollary. As parents we tend to avoid focusing on what we consider to be a negative. Yet we have to accept that our kids will lose at some point, and they need our help in coping with losses as much as celebrating success.

Pat Summitt passed away a few days ago. She was the powerhouse coach of women’s basketball at University of Tennessee. Her numbers are amazing. She coached her teams to eight national championships and 1,098 career wins, the most of any NCAA D1 coach male or female. She became the coach on a fluke when she was hired as a coaching teaching assistant and then promoted immediately when the head coach unexpectedly quit. It was 1974, she was 22 years old, and Title IX, assuring equality between women’s and men’s college athletics, was just two years old. She never had a losing season finishing 1974 at 16-8 and moving on to 18 NCAA Final Four appearances, securing the 1987 National Championship and following with seven more championships over her 38-year career. When she retired, Summitt had only 208 losses. She is obviously remembered and honored for the wins, but it was the losses, many of them coming in runs, that really defined her coaching style and ultimate success. As she wrote to one player, “Winning isn’t the point. Wanting to win is the point. Always doing your best is the point.” Every loss was a teachable moment that could lead to better play and perhaps better outcomes.

Despite all her wins, Summit couldn’t escape one final devastating loss. How she handled it shows that we are often more defined by our losses than by our wins. In 2011 she was diagnosed with early dementia Alzheimer’s type. In 2012 she retired from coaching and made it her purpose to shine a light on the issues of Alzheimer’s. She raised millions of dollars for research through a foundation she began, wrote a memoir detailing her battle with dementia, and spoke as often and for as long as her disease allowed. Tuesday, June 28th she lost that battle, passing away in the early morning. She told a friend that she thought she would be remembered for her wins, but realized she would rather be remembered for how she fought her disease, a battle she knew she would ultimately lose.

When we teach our children how to manage losing, we aren’t handing them a pessimistic or fatalistic world view. Although steeped in winning, Summit relied on her losing experiences to give her the strength and the determination to meet the loss of her memory and of her life head-on. The way players and teams handle losses often shapes their character in much more significant ways than winning does. Losing means that we have had a failure in our plans, and how we pick ourselves up from failure can have a powerful impact on how we move towards successes. England will win again. They will assess how the loss occurred, find new leadership, adjust the team make-up, and train to overcome the shortcomings that led to the loss. The 2018 World Cup is close at hand, other European soccer tournaments will test their readiness, and the team has the Olympics just weeks away. Iceland never even earned a spot in the UEFA Euro prior to this year, so their win to catapult them into a quarterfinal with France was so far off the radar as to be impossible, yet they did it. The win was stupendous and will be remembered in the annals of soccer history like the US win over England at the 1930 World Cup. But the Iceland win won’t suffice to create a legacy team going forward any more than the US’s 1930 victory turned us instantly into a soccer power to be reckoned with. Lionel Messi’s missed shootout shot in the finals of the Copa America cost Argentina the win. It’s a loss Messi will remember far more sharply and often than his many victories. Yet it won’t diminish his many accomplishments and the fact that he remains the best soccer player in the world. Losses should not strike us down; they should motivate and build us.

It’s not easy for kids to take that point of view. It’s especially difficult when they see the disappointment and even disapproval in their parents. Kids want to be loved, but they also want to be respected. They may not doubt our love, but after seeing how we react following a loss, they may not feel respected. It’s difficult to invest so much in winning and have that investment end in defeat. It’s even harder when the defeat comes after building to a win like in a tournament or a league season. The more kids win, the more they expect it to continue. As parents we must never forget that one word of displeasure can wipe out a boatload of praise.  It’s okay for our kids to be fully committed to winning, but as parents we need to take ego out of the equation and not be so fervently cheering for a win that we end up expressing annoyance to the point that the team would lose or that our child or another teammate was complicit in the loss. Our role is to provide perspective not irritation. Our children will express anger, but we need to steer their emotions towards, if not the positives of the match, at least the significant takeaways.  

As kids grow and move through life there will be plenty of losses to encounter. If they end up falling apart every time they get disappointed, defeated, or fail, then the loss becomes powerfully damaging.  They can be angry or sad, which is a normal emotional reaction, but they also need to shake it off, typically by finding a way to make a loss useful. We can offer support by acknowledging the difficulty and the sadness, but refrain from expressing our own negativity towards anything or anyone.  We should take the opportunity to guide our children through loss and to come out of it stronger and smarter.

The English National Team will have many more games to play, so they can’t wallow in one loss. Lionel Messi will be called upon to shoot many more penalty kicks, so he can’t let this miss negatively affect the rest of those shots. The young player who accidently kicked his ball into the Seine will kick many more balls, several of them into unrecoverable places. The parents of the child who lost the ball in the river will deal with that frustration, buy another ball, and wait for the next time they are told, “I lost my ball.” Every loss will elicit a response. How that response is shaped and expressed can have a huge impact on how future losses are handled. So our responsibility is to help our children cope with and respond to loss.

The ball drifting aimlessly yet purposely towards an open sea makes a good metaphor, highlighting the way many of us feel after a loss. The result was not inevitable, but the aftermath seems to be a sense of humiliation, sadness, frustration, and anger follows. A loss has a finality which can appear to be all-encompassing. Yet we parents understand that events are not the “end of the world” though they may be perceived as such. We can use our own experiences to show our children how people can bounce back better than before. Something is lost, but something can be found during adversity. We can provide the example of dealing calmly and appropriately with loss as long as we don’t take our children’s losses personally. We don’t become lesser parents because our kids have a loss or a failure. Instead we prove to be better parents when we give our children the tools to handle and learn from loss.

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What a Messi

Susan Boyd

Tuesday night the United States got schooled in the beautiful game - how the world (and specifically Argentina) plays it and how much we have to learn.  It was all led by a striker named Lionel Messi who will celebrate his 29th birthday two days before playing in the final of the Copa America Centenario.   Messi set the tone in the third minute with a perfect pass to Esquiel Lavezzi.  With all the US defenders pulled forward, Lavezzi received the ball and charged forward.  In one move he was suddenly one on one with goalkeeper Brad Guzan who seemed stunned to see the player ready to unload and reacted far too late to stop the shot.  In the 32nd minute Argentina was awarded a free kick outside the box.  Calmly retying his shoe before shooting, Messi sent the ball into the upper right corner striking a miniscule window between the crossbar, Guzan’s hand, and the upright.  It was a shot worthy of the century and also secured Argentina’s career scoring record for Messi.  In the second half, Guzman couldn’t hold onto a stopped shop, and with second effort Argentina scored.  Then Messi assisted in the waning minutes on a fourth humiliating goal.  As Jurgen Klinsmann, the US coach said, “Our players could just feel in every position on the field they were better than we are.”  He was stating the obvious for anyone watching the match.

Given the US population pool as compared to most of the other confederation nations, we should be far more dominating.  However the US obviously still has a long way to go in developing its male players.  For example, the US Men’s National Team (MNT) failed to qualify for the Olympics this year.  Since Olympic soccer players must be 23 or younger, this disappointment calls into question our youth development.  Our young squad just wasn’t ready for the level of competition they faced.  There is evidence of improvement.  The MNT has had some significant wins since 1991 and has made the knockout rounds in several international tournaments such as World Cup and FIFA Confederation Cup, feats not achieved since 1930.  Our biggest glory came in the 2009 Confederations Cup when the US beat Spain 2-0 in the semi-finals.  At the time, Spain was ranked 1st in the FIFA World rankings with 35 undefeated games including a run of 15 consecutive wins which ended with the US victory.  This was the first and only finals in a full-international competition that the US has achieved since the 1930 World Cup.  There we defeated England in the group round and ultimately went on to win third, our highest finish for a World Cup.  Our major achievements recently have come in our CONCACAF Gold Cup competitions which include five wins and four runners-up.  However in the 2015 Gold Cup the US was defeated by Jamaica in the semi-finals and then lost to Panama in penalty kicks in the 3rd place match.

Now comes the Copa America Centenario, a competition that encompasses CONCACAF and CONBEMOL, FIFA’s South American confederation.  The US did well against its CONCACAF competitors of Costa Rica and Ecuador, winning decisively, but did less well with CONBEMOL members, losing to Colombia, and barely hanging on against Paraguay.  Then they met the Messi-driven train that is the Argentine National Team, and all our weaknesses were on display.  We couldn’t pass, we couldn’t win 50/50 balls, we couldn’t possess, and considering the score, we certainly couldn’t defend.  Watching Messi move quickly to an advantageous position when off the ball and making pin point passes or shots when he had the ball presented a stark contrast to America’s best players who looked befuddled and disorganized.  A herd of deer on Interstate 95 at night wouldn’t have looked more dazed in the headlights than our team when faced with the brilliance of Messi and his teammates.

The good news, if there is any, comes with the youth who are beginning to fill the ranks of the MNT roster.  Despite our inability to qualify with our younger players for the Olympics, we do have several promising members under 25 who are on the full MNT roster including Christian Pulisic who is just 17.  Additionally players on the U-23 and U-19 squads are developing into strong forces, all of them playing internationally on professional teams around the world in addition to their MNT commitments.   We have a distance to go before we can consistently claim to be among the world’s best soccer nations, but as we chip away at our confederation competitors we are also gaining confidence and experience that will translate down the line to a stronger team.   We will face Colombia again in the Copa America third place match which will have been played the Saturday before this blog posts.  Perhaps we can redeem our CONBEMOL performances with a brilliant match.  In the meantime we will continue to build the MNT on the shoulders of our young players.

This is both the promise and the power of youth soccer.  Every player now at the top levels of soccer began as a youth player in a local club.  Many have amazing stories of how they grew from youth club players to national team players.  Like most youth players, Messi began to play soccer when 4 years old with his brothers and cousins and had his father as his first coach.  At age 6 he joined the youth club of his hometown’s professional squad, Rosario’s Newell’s Old Boys.  When he turned 11 he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency that threatened to end his developing soccer talent.  The disease required an expensive and long-term medical treatment.  Ironically it was his disease which, rather than thwarting his dreams, actually led him to a top club.  When his parents’ health insurance benefits ran out, the family, recognizing his talent, sought a soccer club which would sign their son for development while also continuing to pay for his treatments.  Club River Plata, a top club in Argentina, wanted to sign Messi, but didn’t have the funds for his treatments.  Messi’s father had relatives in Spain, near Barcelona, so he reached out to their club.  At first reluctant to sign such a young foreign player, they ultimately relented.  Messi proved to be an amazing investment.  He incredibly led the youth team to a triple win of their league, the Spanish Cup, and the Catalan Cup in his first full year playing.  He scored 36 goals in 30 games.  Despite an offer to play for Arsenal in the English Premier League, he chose to remain with Barcelona and became a powerhouse player for the club and for the Argentine National Team.

While few players have the natural soccer gifts that Messi possesses, every youth player has the potential to play at the highest levels should he or she have both the passion and the determination.  Most players who make either the MNT or the Women’s National Team (WNT) cite as the most important factor their willingness to work through every roadblock and to find ways to play no matter what.  Certainly many kids dream of a professional career as they idolize a favorite player.  As parents we need to nurture those dreams while making sure our children find joy in the journey.  Watching Messi play Tuesday night was a speedy reality check.  Few people in the world can master soccer the way he has, meaning that only a few will ultimately reach that level of ability.  Nevertheless, having someone like Messi or Ronaldo or Carli Lloyd as a role model can be a significant influence in a child’s life giving him or her something to strive for.  Ultimately most kids will play soccer for the fun of it and the benefits of conditioning and learning to be part of a team.  Whenever I go to watch a youth game it’s humbling to consider that the future stars of soccer are right now buzzing around a U-8 or U-10 field learning to control their dribbles and emulating as best they can the fancy step-over moves they see the adult players use.  The powerful, exhilarating play we have been witnessing this summer with Copa America and UEFA Euro 2016 grew from players born in some cases less than two decades ago.   

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) oversees the various US National Teams.  It is charged with forming, growing, and maintaining the youth development programs in America.  Over the last decade the USSF has instituted some significant changes in order to hopefully improve the means to identify and train top players around the United States.  They established the boys’ Development Academy which is an association of top youth clubs and MLS affiliated youth clubs in order to create a more consistent training program with unified goals and outcomes.  Next year they plan to do the same for girls.  The Academy supplements the Olympic Development Program (ODP) which began in 1977 and was expanded and refined from 1979 to 1982 (when a girls’ program was added) into a format which exists up to the present.  Boys and girls join through their State Youth Soccer Associations and attend a state camp where players are identified and invited to a regional camp where they are further evaluated and possibly recommended for National camp.  Players who belong to a Development Academy team don’t go through ODP as they are identified within the Academy.  There are five years in which players can try out for the state teams.  It isn’t unusual for a player not to make a state team one year but then do so in subsequent years and vice versa.  Age groups can vary state to state, but in general kids will be eligible to participate when they are 12 until they are 17. 

We have far to go with the Men’s program, but we can also take pride in successes, albeit inconsistent.  We no longer have to wax poetic about a 1930 series of matches because we can take pride in our contemporary play.  We’re a huge nation which deserves to have a world top ten soccer team.  I have no doubt that as our youth players have more and more training opportunities and can emulate our own national soccer heroes, we’ll break through those rankings and join the world’s elite.

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Summer of Soccer

Susan Boyd

Right now, you could plop yourself down in front of the television and watch a world-class soccer match most days — beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET and continuing every two-and-a-half hours until 10:30 p.m. ET — as Copa America Centenario and UEFA Euro 2016 dovetail with one another. Copa America concludes June 26, while UEFA Euro 2016 continues to July 10. While I don’t suggest foregoing most of the summer parked indoors with a remote and a big screen, I do want to encourage parents and youth players to share several of these matches. They are an excellent opportunity to see how complex and fast the best tactical soccer unfolds. Copa America can be seen on Fox networks, and ESPN broadcasts and streams Euro 2016. While waiting for an airplane on June 11, I was able to watch the U.S. play Paraguay on my computer. Technology is awesome.

Americans are used to weeks and weeks of play-off competitions in every sport, beyond the regular seasons of football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Adding to the professional sports schedules, we can also watch hours of collegiate games. On average fans spend 8.5 hours a week viewing sports, according to a 2013 study. That compares to an average overall TV habit of five hours a day. Using those numbers, sports makes up nearly 25 percent of our video consumption. Young players develop their interest and ultimately their passion for a sport by watching teams who perform at the top levels. It’s that interest, which inspires a player and supports him or her when times are rough. When players immerse themselves in watching matches, they develop a keen sense of how tactics evolve in the course of a competition. They can key in on a particular player or position to watch how he or she reacts both on and off the ball. As young players mature, so will their sophistication when it comes to understanding the game and their role in it. Unfortunately soccer players have been at a disadvantage for many years because soccer hadn’t snagged a huge portion of sports broadcasting. Therefore, players had a better chance of watching any other sport than soccer. However, over the last ten years broadcasters have put a greater emphasis on “the world’s game.”

In 2013, NBC signed a three-year deal with the English Premier League to air 196 matches each season, with 20 matches being broadcast on NBC and the rest on NBCSports, CNBC and USA. This year, they doubled down on their commitment with a new six year deal, penning a $1 billion contract with the EPL. Compare that to ESPN’s yearly fee of $1.9 billion just to air several NFL games. For NBC, this soccer contract is a bargain. With sports accounting for 37 percent of all TV ad spending, NBC is delighted to secure a large niche of soccer broadcasting. Fox, who began their off-shoot cable channel as Fox Sports World in 1997, broadcast mostly rugby and Australian rules football with a slowly growing soccer schedule until 2006, when it shifted to Fox Soccer, dropping all other sports. However, it lost the rights to the EPL to NBC, and eventually moved all soccer to Fox Sports 1 and 2 — turning Fox Soccer into FXX, a second entertainment channel to FX. Fox has the rights to several college soccer matches and all CONCACAF games, including the Copa America. Where Fox will now shine is their contract with FIFA for World Cups 2018 and 2022 and the Women’s World Cup in 2019, plus several FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups. ESPN has focused on UEFA and will share MLS with Fox.

This increase in soccer coverage means that events the rest of world knew and looked forward to, such as the FA Cup and the FA Community Shield in England and the various other major European leagues like the Budesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), and Serie A (Italy), could be seen by American audiences. Since the United States is a country of immigrants, it makes sense that there will be a large pool of viewers for a myriad of soccer programming. The tremendous success of the Premier League contract for NBC has spurred other networks to look closely at what soccer communities exist in the US that would support a broader schedule of matches. For example UEFA covering Europe is one of the six confederations of FIFA. CONMEBOL is the South American confederation and is competing with North America’s CONCACAF teams in this year’s Copa America. CAF is the African confederation and AFC is the Asian confederation. All of these have Cups which help determine World Cup qualifiers and international country team ranking and these Cups are of interest to soccer fans from those continents and beyond. Therefore more and more of these events are coming to American television, which serves to highlight the significant influence of the sport around the world. As youth players become more and more exposed to the highest levels of the sport, they begin to understand what they need to achieve and how to reach those standards, just as young NBA fans learn from watching LeBron James pivot to avoid a defender.

What else this summer do we parents and our children have to look forward to?  How about the Olympics?  That schedule runs from Aug. 3-20. Young players can watch the best of both men’s and women’s soccer, although the U.S. Under-23 MNT failed to qualify for this Olympics. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of great soccer to relish. The U.S. Women’s National Team will be defending their Olympic title from London 2012 while introducing new players to American fans. Naturally, all the other sports of the Olympic competition will be worthy of our attention, but this will be a great time for young female soccer players to embrace old and new soccer icons while plunging for a month into the sport.

For fans of English soccer, the Premier League will begin Aug. 13 following the FA Community Shield game on Aug. 7, which pits the winner of the FA Cup (Manchester United) against the winner of the EPL (Leicester City). Leicester City is a Cinderella story, a team who was given 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the League (worse odds than Kim Kardasian becoming President). The club had never won the Premier League title in their 132 years and barely escaped relegation last season. However, they succeeded utilizing an incredible defense, who committed just 10 defensive errors all season, only one of which resulted in a goal. The offense came through when needed, racking up nine 1-0 games (11 is the record) to keep Leicester at the top of the bracket from April forward.

While our kids should be outside in summer practicing the game they love, taking a few hours to enjoy some of the top level soccer being played by the professionals enhances both their investment in and understanding of the game. Our children will appreciate sharing these events with us which helps acknowledge the activity they enjoy. We can all benefit as we watch and learn more about soccer - its history, its impact, its stars and its execution. The level of athleticism and commitment during these contest is intense and impressive. Our young players will find so much they can ascend towards and so many reasons to try. It’s important that they experience the power and universal standing of soccer in order to appreciate the special place they occupy in this phenomenon while finding a player they like or a country they support and watching those matches. It can be a special summer joining the world-wide soccer fellowship.

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Finding Memories

Susan Boyd

Last week, in a fit of spring cleaning fever, I decided to tackle our kitchen pantry. My dream is to one day convert it into a laundry room, so I figured if I could pare down the contents, I’d be that much closer to realizing my vision. For years, it had become a collection point for those bulky odds and ends that didn’t seem to make sense storing in linen, clothes or utility closets. I pulled out two dozen flower vases, large kitchen gadgets like a tomato grinder and a countertop apple/potato peeler of which I had two both unopened in their boxes, and scores of plastic storage containers. Mixed in with the canned goods and the cereals were picnic baskets, cheese boards, flashlights, and maintenance guides to every electrical product we’ve ever owned. Then, delightfully, I came across a collection of soccer trophies and patches tucked in a corner. Most of the boys’ trophies had found their way to cabinet shelves in their rooms displayed along with scarves, certificates and medallions. However, these had probably been set out on the kitchen table after tournaments from which I’d banished them to the pantry in a quick clean up, intending to retrieve them later to display upstairs. That obviously never happened.

Finding those soccer mementos reminded me of the good times surrounding the events the trophies and patches commemorated. I’ve been reminded a lot lately. We had a severe sewage backup in the basement, so everything had to be removed while the contractor repaired the damage. It gave me a good excuse to sort through all the photos, school art projects, soccer items and papers, and general memorabilia we’ve collected through the years. I’d always meant to organize the photos, separate things out for each of my four children, and label boxes, but life and inertia regularly intervened. Now that I was finally digging into it, I found myself cheerfully reliving some of our best family experiences. I found stacks of those tournament photos, regular photos, trophies, medals, certificates, news clippings, even World Cup items including bracket posters and sticker books. The boxes yielded a soccer bonanza.

Sometimes I wonder why we put so much effort in to holding on those scraps of our soccer past. Kids move on to other activities or just grow up and out of soccer. Yet those trophies, patches, and medals seem just too substantial and permanent to toss out. I’m not sure if my children will keep them long enough to share with their own children, but I really can’t bring myself to be the one to decide that by chucking them. They exist less as a symbol of achievement and more as a spark to memories. When I saw the faceplates and embossing I instantly remembered the event and all the contingent experiences:  where we stayed, the various games, the players and their parents, and the adventures we had. One badge reminded me of the great Starbucks search a group of us parents held before there was an app for that. A handful of us began pulling up the regional Google map on our phones and attempting to navigate in an unfamiliar location to reach our caffeine connection only to look up from our screens to see three other parents crossing the pitch holding the familiar green-logoed cups. Not all memories have to be for the kids. Another trophy reminded me of the final game between Robbie’s old club team and the club team he would join the next year. He scored the one and only goal in that game, defeating a Chicago team who had never lost to his club. When he joined that Chicago team, that’s all the parents could talk about. While the trophy represented an accomplishment, it also represented the atmosphere he entered.

Going through the World Cup collectables I was reminded not only of the competitions dating back to 1998, but of the boys’ reaction to witnessing the matches. Early on they had country allegiances based on favorite players and their own heritage. However as they progressed in the sport they developed more sophisticated interests. Unrolling bracket posters revealed the evolving understanding of soccer the boys had. Rather than picking teams because they were familiar, the boys researched the various teams and chose based more on data than devotion (though England and the USA were always there). I found World Cup booklets filled with notes on things like player and team statistics, outcomes of friendly matches, and bracket analyses. In 2005, Thierry Henry began the Stand Up Speak Up campaign against racism. Nike created wristbands to support the movement, and I found one among the World Cup materials. It was a strong reminder of how important the issue of race was just 10 years ago, and more importantly how much it impacted youth players who witnessed fans taunting some of the best players in world because of their race. That’s not just soccer; it’s a history lesson triggered by a simple band.

Looking through the tournament books I discovered how much we all focused on the outcomes. The books held notes on all the teams in our bracket, their wins, losses and goal differential. The notes visibly demonstrated how we were working out the scenarios that would allow our teams to advance. In some cases the books didn’t print the rules of the tournament, so there were cryptic lines like “FIFA rules” or “unlimited subs” reminding me of those games where Robbie or Bryce played different positions or didn’t play at all because of the rules. The booklets also were a reminder of the level of competition. Both boys competed against players who now are professional and on the Men’s National Team. Seeing the ads posted by proud parents congratulating their child and their child’s team or looking at team photos showed how many great players the boys came across. On occasion they could brag that they defeated those players. At one tournament where the final game came to PKs, Bryce in goal faced a player who just a few weeks before had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the top high school prospect and stopped his shot. That moment wasn’t commemorated by a photo or even a news story, but it was remembered through a college coach’s card stuck between the pages. He’d seen the stop and had expressed interest in recruiting Bryce. A proud moment for sure.

The best reminders are always photos because they steal an instant of an event, which somehow tells a bigger story. There are the tournament photos captured by roving photographers. When I see pictures of Bryce frozen in mid-air going for a save, I am reminded of how intense and athletic he was. When Robbie had dreadlocks, his photos invariably showed them flying behind him which even in a static shot told of his impressive speed. I especially loved coming across the team photos with players holding their medals or trophies or just those wonderful photos taken every year so we could buy copies to send to relatives. The players are always either smiling or acting goofy (occasionally both) bookended by tall, sometimes stern coaches. Looking at them season upon season, I could watch the boys and their friends growing up and slowing turning into men. They were a special reminder of great times, significant friendships and grand adventures. I also love the individual photos kneeling next to a soccer ball or standing with a foot on the ball. Again they create a picture of an entire history of playing. Nothing that shows their abilities or triumphs; just a simple reminder that they grew up playing a sport they loved.

Sometimes when I looked at the piles of soccer keepsakes I had amassed, I would wonder why I so diligently preserved them. I even had stacks of news articles, one sheets of team rosters for high school games, and team schedules. It seemed anything remotely related to the boys’ playing soccer was ferreted away for another day. When I pulled it all out, I got very nostalgic and I was surprised that the boys, seeing some of the stuff, added details I hadn’t been privy to originally. Who knows if they will maintain the giant box of things I saved. They are moving on in their lives and will soon both be finished with playing except the odd pick-up game or recreational adult league. Yet soccer was a significant part of their growing up, so I hope they keep some of the bits and pieces as a way of remembering the best of what transpired. What I am most happy for is that I don’t have any regrets about missing some of the soccer reminders. We all need to bear in mind how easily we can throw things out, but how impossible it is to reconstruct them. So I urge parents to be hoarders. I’m glad I was because it is all here now, even if some of the things found their way to odd hiding places like the kitchen pantry or the garage storage chest. I’m sure that someday we’ll move, and in the winnowing out process I’ll come across other hidden treasures. When that happens they will once again prick my mind and bring me some memories of a wonderful life with my kids.

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