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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.

 

Roadside Distractions

Susan Boyd

Whether your child plays select or recreation soccer, chances are good that in the next six months you’ll travel at least 300 miles to a tournament. It’s not only becoming more and more acceptable for any team to travel, but it has also become expected. Even though a decade of these trips set back our retirement 20 years, we always looked forward to them. They were opportunities to explore different parts of our country and spend quality time as a family. However, traveling proficiently required a learning curve. Being cooped up in a car for hundreds of miles across empty prairie lands didn’t always result in loving togetherness. Instead, the trip sometimes quickly devolved into petty arguments, mega sulking spells, and lots of “Are we there yet?” voiced in strained pleading tones, especially on the ride home after a less than triumphant contest. It became important to not only find ways of passing the time but also ways in which everyone could participate. We hated relying on DVDs because they just isolated everyone and stole their attention away from the landscape we were discovering. Following are some of the delights we bonded over, plus a few new ones I wish we’d had on those trips. Several of these can also be used on planes and even in the hotel room. On rainout days we were able to entertain an entire team in the lobby of our hotel. For a minimal investment, we managed to gather a wide variety of fun.

You all know the standard road games like the alphabet game, auto bingo, and license plate hunt, which work, but not always for all age categories. I still recommend them because they require little expense (auto bingo cards run $1 to $2 each) or no expense at all. The problem comes when you enter the truly “open road” sections of a trip where signs, animals, plants and structures are at a minimum. Hunting for the letter Q in no man’s land usually leads to giving up at worst and restlessness at best. Plus those games don’t work on an airplane. You should keep them in the road trip repertoire but consider adding a few upgrades. For example, University Games offers a twist on travel bingo for $7 called Travel Scavenger Hunt, which consists of a pack of cards. Individuals or teams work to discover all the items on the card. The game works on the road or even in an airport because there are special “hear it,” “feel it,” and “smell it” categories. The game is rated for ages 7 and above, so it should work for the entire family. We teamed up older with younger players and even had 3-year-olds shouting out discoveries.

Loaded Questions on the Go by All Things Equal sells for $12. This is a great game for the road, the hotel room and on the plane. Again, it’s a pack of cards with four small pencils where one person chooses a question off the card (“What’s your best ability?”) and everyone else writes their answer on a sheet. Someone reads the answers and the person who chose the question has to guess who gave each answer. You can keep score, but we never did. It was more fun to see what answers came up, who was attributed to that answer, and why. Answers and reactions usually result in some good laughs. The driver can participate but needs “shotgun” to fill out the answer.

My favorite road trip go-to is Mad Libs. Each pad is around $4 and has dozens of games. Besides teaching some basic English grammar, the fill-in games provide some major laughs. You can rotate who controls the pad and fills in the answers. We reserved nouns and verbs for the youngest kids as those are easier to think of.

There are also several options for quiet singular play. The newest option is adult coloring books. These provide far more complex drawings to color in than regular coloring books. You can keep several levels on hand plus a box or two of colored pencils to keep everyone entertained. I shy away from crayons because they tend to melt in the heat of a car parked long hours in a tournament lot. Crayola sells a box of 50 sharpened colored pencils for $13.50. A small pencil sharpener will set you back less than $2. Some great options for kids are Harry Potter coloring books by Hot Topics for $16.50 and Creative Haven Country Scenes for $4. Dover Press makes smaller coloring books for kids that are the size of a small paperback and sell for $2. Pepin Press has books of tile cards that are 5x6 inches, printed on thick cardboard, and come in a variety of tile designs (Barcelona, Art Noveau, Dutch), which sell for $13.

If coloring isn’t their thing, there’s a fun puzzle by Smethport called Magnetic Doodle Balls for $5. It’s a covered grid board around which kids move and drop iron balls using a magnetic wand. They can make any number of designs and pictures. The board is the size of a regular magazine, but be sure to keep track of the wand which has a storage spot on the board.

University Games created Spot the Difference Travel Game where cards come in a tin. The cards have two pictures and players need to find the differences between the two. Kids can play alone or you can time players to see how many differences they find in 60 seconds. Every smartphone has a stop watch, which is what we used rather than dealing with egg timers.

On the route or once you reach your destination, there are three terrific options that help kids learn something about where they are visiting. National Geographic Kids has the Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas for $6. The book provides interesting facts about the areas through which you travel, unusual roadside attractions, historical markers, and viewpoints along with maps and some games.

If you have AAA membership, there’s still that wonderful Triptik that they created with paper inserts and now create online. There’s a AAA mobile app that allows you to place your Triptik on a smartphone or a tablet. Each Triptik highlights restaurants, charging stations for electric cars, gas stations, various attractions and historical sites, and side trips along your route. Kids can follow along, pick a place to eat lunch, find a spot to take a break, and figure out how much longer the trip will take.

Once you get to your destination, Idea Box Kids has a wonderful tool for making everyone’s trip fun. Called the Adventure Box, it contains dozen of Family Fun Day coins that kids can choose from the box. Each coin details an adventure to find in your new town such as A Cupcake or Donut Shop or A Zoo. It sells for $18. They also offer an Airplane Box for kids with coins that suggest things like How Long Can You Balance a Snack on Your Nose and Go on a Little Walk, which sells for $9.

You can also create some games fairly easily. I always print off alphabetical lists of states that the kids can cross off as they find license plates. Tournament parking lots can be a gold mine for completing the list keeping all the non-soccer family members busy during warm-ups. A small bag of coins can create a fun guessing game. Kids take out some coins and hide them in their hands. Everyone guesses how much total money is being held. Closest guesser gets to hide the next coins. We also play the distance game when you can see far enough ahead to the horizon. Everyone guesses how far it is to some landmark (a rock, a tree, a structure, or the crest of a hill), then watch the odometer, and the person closest without going over (a geographical Price is Right, I guess) wins and picks the next landmark. We also played the car game. Each person is assigned either a car model or color (easiest for younger players) and counts how many of them they find in either a certain distance or time. We kept white and black out of the color choices as those colors are plentiful.

Once you collect some games, you’ll need a place to store them while traveling. I’m a big fan of locking plastic bags. They come in a variety of sizes and keep pieces together. Some are already self-contained. Games on the Go from Continuum is a collection of 50 games in a license plate replica package of flip cards that are held together with a clip that you can attach to a purse, soccer bag, or cooler. Everything is kept together easily and conveniently. For the other games you can use Etna’s Car Seat Organizer a cube that has 10 outside mesh pockets, a cooler, and a hard top for playing or drawing on. The entire thing is portable with straps for carrying and costs $20. There are also fold down tables for seat backs from Car Gadgets that have a flat table surface and three pockets for storage. We wore ours out, and they proved helpful for everything from eating on the fly, to setting up DVD players, to being a drawing surface, to being a lap top/tablet table. These are only $11.50 each, so it’s not unreasonable to buy two of them or even more for that minivan.

Activities for road trips should be compact, have few small parts that can get lost, and be fun for all ages in the car. These few suggestions fit those parameters, but are certainly only some of the options available. All of these can be purchased through the manufacturers, but Amazon also carries all of them at often reduced prices and with free shipping if you are a Prime member. Most are also available through Wal-Mart and Barnes and Noble. You can do a search to see where you might find them cheaper. We kept our games in a half file box that had cut-outs for handles and a lid found in any office supply store. The boys decorated it with dozens of soccer logos and stickers and that box saw us through over a decade of travel. It was easy to transfer it into other vehicles if the boys were traveling with friends and from the car into the hotel room. Players would ask if the boys had the box because they knew it contained some fun time wasters. We put two decks of playing cards in the box and a set of die just to be prepared for some downtime. Eventually we had to create a second box as the boys began playing in separate parts of the country, but the overall cost was not that high to duplicate the best games and worth the expense as the games were well-used. As exciting as soccer can be, there will always be long lapses of boring waits and miles of traveling in order to participate. Finding some great distractions can fill the empty stretches with fun.

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What’s Happening?

Susan Boyd

Last week was not a good one for U.S. men’s soccer. The U.S. U-23 Men’s National Team lost on Tuesday to Colombia, which gave the last Olympic slot to the winner — leaving the U.S. out in the cold and unable to qualify a men’s team in back-to-back Olympics for the first time in 50 years. The USMNT likewise stumbled in Guatemala the previous Friday in a dismal 2-0 loss, setting back their bid for a 2018 World Cup slot. Luckily, they rallied when the two teams met again in Columbus, Ohio, to beat Guatemala, 4-0, righting a ship that was in danger of capsizing. Once again, the tenuous abilities of U.S. men’s teams to compete on the world stage signals the weaknesses in our development and support.

The U-23 MNT that played Columbia is made up of young players most of whom haven’t yet reached the USMNT’s main roster. However, the 2016 Olympic qualifying rules state that men’s team players must be born on or after January 1, 1993, although teams can field three older players during the Olympics. The women’s side has no age restrictions. The age limits do restrict the team the U.S. can field, but all countries operate under the same guidelines. On the USMNT, only three players would fit the Olympic age restrictions, so the U.S. must depend on up-and-coming younger players closer in age to many of our own youth players than to the seasoned players on the USMNT. Even though other countries operate under the same rules, they seem to be able to develop stronger players at the younger ages than we in the U.S. do.

Most development programs around the world have a very intensive training regimen. Here in America, development of youth players is often done by volunteer and school coaches. This volunteer environment proves to be uneven in how our players are developed. In England, for example, the country shifted from volunteer and school coaching to professional team development teams. The Football Association approved allowing pro teams to have a financial interest in players U-9 and above, signing the player to an actual one year contract. The player can leave the club at any time at the end of each year, but if he joins another club, the new club must pay a transfer fee to the original club. At U-13, clubs can sign players for two- or four-year contracts, and at U-17, the club must sign the player to a two-year contract or release the player. Clubs invest around $3-to-5 million per year in their development program. They only need to “sell” a good player every few years (at usually $10 million plus) or an exceptional player (at $50 million) to not only recoup these costs but add to their bottom line. Development season runs September to August and players must adhere to strict rules on personal care, diet, exercise and training.

Such a program would be difficult in the United States. Our MLS teams are scattered around the country, and we don’t even have one in every state, much less one in every city of 150,000 or more like England does. Therefore, players would have to travel great distances or be boarded in order to participate in the development programs. Right now American players might train six to 10 hours a week, whereas the players in England train every day with school arranged around the training, logging at least twice the training time each week as our youth players. The question is would we willingly allow teams to sign players to contracts at the age of 8, train them, either release them or sell them, sacrificing major portions of their education and the educational experiences of youth (such as playing for their high school or doing 3v3 tournaments) in return for stronger youth development? It’s a tangled symbiotic relationship between professionalism and youth soccer that we may not be ready to accept. However, it may be the only way we can ensure enough talent to compete at the younger ages around the world.

We have to figure out if our national pride is worth such extremes. Countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and Germany follow much the same development program as England, and they started decades ago. The soccer fever is strong enough in those countries that parents want their sons trained at the highest levels with the possibility of becoming an elite player. England also implemented a development program for girls with similar guidelines as their boys’ program, and the USSF announced the formation of a Girls’ Development Academy to begin next year. So the world recognizes the benefits of including women in the process. If we want as intensive a plan in the United States we have to be willing to give into a completely different model of training that can take into account the vast distances and remote areas of the U.S., while also changing our attitude about education vs. sports.

Turning our attention to the U.S. Women’s National Team, something extraordinary is happening there. This week, five members of the team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging severe pay inequality between the WNT members and the MNT members. In support of their claim, the women’s attorney points out some really enlightening facts. Women players earn 24 percent to 60 percent less than their male counterparts, those payments coming from the USSF. When the women approached their governing body year after year they were dismissed with the patronizing phrase that they should “consider it an honor to represent your country.” The truth is that the WNT has been far more lucrative than the MNT. Last year, they generated $16 million for the USSF while the MNT accrued a $2 million deficit. The women are paid almost four times less than the men. For example both teams are required to play 20 friendlies per year. The top women receive $72,000 for the total of those games plus a bonus of $1,350 if they win. Men are guaranteed $5,000 and up to $17,625 per game depending on the opponent’s FIFA rank. Even if the top women won all their games, then men earning only the base salary of $5,000 and losing all their games would still make $1000 more than their female counterparts. The women have won three straight Olympic gold medals, while the men failed to qualify for a second consecutive time. The women have three World Cup victories, including last year’s title, while the men finished 11th in the 2014 World Cup and have never made it past the quarterfinals. Last year’s Women’s World Cup final was the highest watched soccer game ever in the United States, equaling the 23 million viewers of Game 7 of the World Series. Abby Wambach, who recently retired, has more international goals than any other soccer player, female OR male. If we remove gender from the equation, it’s difficult to argue that the players on the successful team don’t deserve at least the same if not more pay than the players on the other team. As of my writing, the USSF has not responded to the complaint other than to say they “are disappointed by the filing,” arguing that they have helped establish a women’s professional league where women can pursue more income — a bit of an apples and oranges scenario. This will be a landmark case, not just for women’s sports, but for all women employees who will have a clear precedent to argue for equal pay. No disappointment there.

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Seismic Shift

Susan Boyd

Sports reporter Joe Nocera, along with Ben Strauss, published early this year his book “Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA,” which puts forth the argument that refusing to pay college athletes is a policy that must be rescinded. Presently, the NCAA takes in $13 billion dollars per year, of which $2.7 million go to student athletic scholarships. The NCAA asserts that 90 percent of the $13 billion is returned to athletic programs. However, that money, even if true, is used to construct state of the art venues not for the students but for the alumni, who pay big bucks for season tickets. It is also used to attract TV revenue to these extraordinary locations, which can sponsor regional and national events such as March Madness. Additionally, coaches of Division I football and men’s basketball teams regularly pull down multi-million dollar contracts, as do their athletic directors. Everyone is getting rich except the athletes, many of whom don’t even graduate from college, the ostensible reason they receive their scholarships.

As we commiserate about our tattered brackets, we still celebrate the amazing athletic prowess of the young men (and women) who are battling for the national basketball titles. Overall, less than 5 percent of college athletes will move on to professional contracts. For most of these competitors, college will be the end of their playing careers. Yet, we see how dedicated they are – the heart they invest in playing and the heartache they feel when they lose. As scholar-athletes, they must contribute 40-to-50 hours of work to the sport during every week. Even in the off-season they are expected to hit the weight room, run and do captain’s practices. At the same time, they are also required to maintain an established academic level including a minimum of credits in their major and a minimum grade point average. These minimums don’t insure graduation in four years, but are often all a student-athlete can handle effectively. Additionally, athletes are expected to take part in public relations in the community, including visiting schools, giving clinics, helping run summer camps, and signing autographs after games. They do all this without any guarantee of adequate funding for their education. In fact, most student-athletes must arrange for a substantial sum of money beyond their scholarships in order to stay at school. Therefore, some athletes work at jobs in addition to school and sports. It can be a crushing burden that they struggle to handle. Worse, at the end of their college career, they may not even graduate.

Nocera argues that other college students are paid for their academic skills. A chemistry major earns money running the lab storeroom, a library science major works in the library, an accounting major works in the school budget office, and so on. He sees no problem for athletes being paid for their skills other than the NCAA’s strict rule on amateurism, which arose to protect the sports programs from recruiting professional athletes to play. Yet that policy has its own problems. Take the case of a Nigerian basketball player who wanted to play in the United States. He got the advice that he should go to Russia first, which would be where he could be seen by American college scouts. When he got to Russia he was told by Russian authorities that he had to sign a contract (all in Russian) in order to play in Russia. He was promised money, but never received any. Eventually he was scouted and signed by Louisville, a dream seemingly coming true. However, the NCAA declared him ineligible because he played “professionally” in Russia. At the opposite end, athletes who get professional contracts in one sport can still play a different college sport. They just can’t be professional in the sport they choose for college. It’s these types of inconsistencies that don’t weed out dyed in the wool professionals from a sport but deny dozens of athletes every year from even playing for a college. To then also deny remaining athletes the opportunity make any money from the sport while in college further frustrates Nocera.

The $13 billion the NCAA earns is primarily from football and men’s basketball, which means that paying an athlete might be limited to that gender and those two sports. That would be unfortunate. Even though baseball, softball, soccer, golf and other significant college sports don’t bring in large sums of money, those athletes work just as hard and face as many financial roadblocks, in fact even more, than their football and basketball counterparts. There are fewer full scholarships available per capita in the “lesser” sports, meaning even top athletes often are lucky to receive a 50 percent ride. The difference must be made up somehow, often by going into debt or working or, worse, doing without. Many athletes live on minimal food because they don’t have the money and live in high crime areas to afford the rent or put five or six players in a two bedroom apartment. The shimmer of a college athletic scholarship is quickly tarnished for most players. Even if the NCAA allowed athletes to be paid, the concern is that there will be no trickle down to women’s sports and to the less lucrative men’s sports. Creating a formula for who would get paid and how becomes problematic.

The last five years have seen some major push back to the NCAA, which most athletes see as simply creating rules that the organization pays itself handsomely for enforcing. Nocera even says that his book was written in the middle of a revolution that will play out over the next decade. He admits he’ll need to write at least one more book on the topic. As athletes decide to use the power of their notoriety to affect change, we may see a huge upheaval. Just this November, the Missouri football team refused to play because they felt that university system President Tim Wolfe had grossly and insensitively handled several racially charged incidents on campus. They said they would boycott all football-related activities until Wolfe resigned, which he did two days after the boycott began. Nocera only half-jokingly challenges one of the two finalists in the National Championship game to refuse to take the floor to protest the way the NCAA denies them access to the billions they help rake in. That’s the difficulty with the situation. No one wants to be the sacrificial lamb. These kids hope to play professionally and even if they don’t they would love to be able to know all their lives that they were part of a championship team. It would probably take multiple teams boycotting at the start of the tournament to make a real dent in the policies, and the likelihood of that happening is small. Coaches who are paid millions of dollars need to show they are in control of their teams, players don’t want to jeopardize any chance of moving up the bracket, and no player wants to be labeled a troublemaker if he expects to be considered for a professional contract. That’s why Nocera says they are indentured – they have freedom to act, but can’t if they want to maintain a lousy but hopeful status quo.

There is also that special status that comes with being a college athlete. Not many achieve that standing, which is meaningful to both the athlete and to those who know him or her. Therefore, they accept the rules and restrictions that come with the position. Teams do have power, but possibly not enough to change the NCAA. Teams have organized to get rid of prejudiced coaches, bad athletic directors, and suffocating institutional policies. But it will probably require teams within and across conferences organizing to even get the NCAA talking about changes. Right now, the governing body refuses to give more than lip service to considering the possibilities of paying athletes. A big step would be to release more funds for scholarships and to change the formulas by which different sports can award the scholarships, even forming work-study programs open only to athletes allowing them to earn money for non-playing activities they already perform for free such as cleaning the locker rooms, setting up the sidelines, and making public appearances. Perhaps there could be paid internships in the athletic director’s office learning about sports scheduling, NCAA eligibility enforcement procedures, and public relations. Certainly at the very least athletes should be compensated for those public appearances. The main difficulty will be sorting out how to fairly distribute compensation. Very few softball players’ jerseys are in demand, especially as compared to football and men’s basketball. But should the relative popularity of a sport be the sole factor in deciding who gets the money? It’s difficult when Marcus Mariota’s number was the highest requested in t-shirts and jerseys for his last two years playing for Oregon. Should he benefit more from that fact than the others on his team or the other teams at his university? It’s a tough issue with good arguments on both sides.

The cautionary tale here is that if your player is aiming toward a college scholarship, you should keep in mind three important factors. First, the scholarship most likely will only cover a small percentage of the cost associated with the school. It may cover 50 percent of tuition but not touch room, board, books and travel. If you go to a state school outside of your home state, you are responsible for any additional out-of-state tuition charge, which can be substantial. Second, college athletics are a full-time job, so your player must be dedicated to getting an education in the limited hours available for study and be organized enough to do so. Athletes can quickly fall behind despite the presence of tutors, and many coaches restrict the number and type of courses an athlete can take to help ensure the athlete maintains eligibility slowing their progress towards a degree. Third, there are rules preventing a school from removing a scholarship under circumstances of injury, but schools do find a way to rescind scholarships if the coach feels an athlete is underperforming, so be prepared to have fluctuations in what your player receives.

Given all this negativity, I can speak as the mother of two Division I soccer players to say it was worth all the trouble, expense, and occasional heartache because both boys were passionate about playing. The camaraderie of the team, the discipline of balancing study, sport, and fun, and the joy of playing all outweighed the tough times, which provided a parallel set of benefits to their academic ones. Watching March Madness, we can all see that same joy and determination in the faces of the players as they battle for their school, their team and themselves. The game matters. There is something pure and wonderful in knowing that they aren’t doing it for a big bonus check or an endorsement deal, which is the argument the NCAA falls back on when the issue of payment comes up. But Nocera argues, and I agree, that giving the athletes a small stipend is a far cry from the mega-bucks of professional athleticism. It’s about giving them one less thing to worry about while they work diligently for the dual goals of being a high performing athlete and a successful student who graduates and gets the full benefit of that college education held as carrot to all NCAA student-athletes. I look forward to seeing what happens over the next few years. It might be a seismic shift, but I suspect it will be a series of tiny tremors.

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Good to Know

Susan Boyd

Soccer is great for our kids, but not so great for our pocketbooks. We all wish our players improve and continue to grow into stronger, passionate players, but every step forward adds to the expense of the venture. We move from recreational soccer, where a nominal fee includes a kit as well as coaching, to select teams with travel, top-of-the-line uniforms and gear, and elite summer academies. Costs escalate without any respite in sight. However, there is some relief with discounts out there specifically for the soccer player, the player’s family, and coaches that can help offset some of the monetary burden along with national membership programs that provide wide-ranging cost reductions.

US Youth Soccer, through its sponsors, provides several helpful discounts. Liberty Mutual offers some significant discounts to coaches, teachers and players, along with some special insurance riders, including paying no deductible if you are in a collision while on soccer/school business and protecting your valuables in your car up to $2,500 while parked on soccer/school property. Sports Authority makes special discounts available to US Youth Soccer members. Check the US Youth Soccer website and look for coupons in player packets at tournaments. Likewise, Kohl’s has special discounts for player members as well as distributing coupons at tournaments and through US Youth Soccer events. Although a direct relationship between US Youth Soccer and hotel chains isn’t presently in force, it doesn’t hurt to ask when traveling to tournaments if your hotel will give you a discount as a soccer family attending a soccer event. Often, hotels will provide a 10-to-15 percent discount in the hopes that you’ll rebook with them the next time you attend a tournament in a city where they have rooms. You have even more leverage if you are booking for the entire team. Don’t be shy about using the power of multiple reservations to insure the lowest rate. Also, if you are in a hotel which doesn’t offer breakfast in the price but has an onsite restaurant serving breakfast for a fee, negotiate a voucher for every person equivalent to cover at minimum juice and a bagel.

If you are a member of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) you are entitled to some great benefits. In association with Nationwide insurance, NSCAA offers members very competitive auto insurance rates. Additionally, all members are covered by a $1 million general liability policy and also can take part in group health insurance options for major medical and limited medical, dental, and vision plans. Even more interesting, the NSCAA offers Veterinary Pet Insurance backed by Nationwide for a 5 percent discount. Chronic care for pets is covered with unlimited claims allowed. KwikGoal is an NSCAA partner and gives members a 15 percent discount on purchases. Members can also avail themselves of NSCAATravel.com, a one-stop booking site specifically geared towards soccer coaches and families with emphasis on soccer tournaments, conferences, camps, and conventions throughout the United States. The site can find great airfares, hotels and rental cars for the soccer participant. The service is both convenient and cost-conscience while understanding the particular needs of soccer teams such as late or early check-outs affected by a team’s results during tournaments. NSCAA memberships include the Soccer Journal, published seven times a year with great articles on improving coaching techniques and available tournaments. Memberships cost $95 per year and are open to all coaches (even parent coaches), club administrators, and other roles in the club such as team managers.

Although not soccer specific, obtaining an AAA membership can bring you some instant benefits for a very limited yearly fee. Classic memberships are $56 a year with additional memberships available for family members at $30 each, but the good news is that AAA will waive the first year’s fee. The benefits are well-suited for traveling soccer families. There’s the standard roadside assistance which we’ve used several times for break downs traveling to a tournament or dead batteries after the kids run the radio in the car during a three-hour rain delay, not to mention lock out service when you forget you set those keys down in the trunk while pulling out the chairs and slam the lid down just as you remember. There’s also five miles of free towing, which more than covers the yearly fee. But it’s the non-auto benefits that make the card a great deal. For your travel, you can get up to 20 percent off room rates at several major hotel chains, Hertz Rental Gold Program membership, which includes an additional driver for free, 10 percent off Amtrak fares, and discount tickets to Universal Studios Hollywood and Sea World. Denny’s offers a 10 percent discount on meals and Papa John’s gives 30 percent for online orders with a special code you can get through your AAA online account. Off the road, AAA gives you 10-to-30 percent off various Dell computer configurations. Lenscrafters provides 10-to-30 percent off eye exams and on eyeware and contacts, and even if you find a lower deal which includes the discounts they will give you an additional $5 off. Payless Shoes allots a 10 percent discount to AAA members. There are various discounts with DirecTV, Dunham’s Sports, Reebok, OfficeFurniture.com, and 1-800-Flowers. There are AAA prescription discounts and if you use AAA approved auto repair shops you can get 10 percent off labor up to $50. If a discount isn’t mentioned here, be sure to ask if the business or hotel offers AAA discount because there are several local discounts not listed on the national site.

You don’t have to be the grandparent of a soccer player to qualify for an AARP membership. They are available for $16 a year for anyone age 50 or older. The benefits are far too numerous to mention here, but needless to say they are great for soccer families. You can get free cups of coffee from Burger King and Denny’s or get a free donut from Dunkin’ with the purchase of a drink. Besides similar hotel discounts as AAA, AARP has a long list of restaurants that award you with 10-to-15 percent meal discounts, the savings with Lenscrafter’s are double those of AAA, Ticketmaster can give you substantial discounts on four-pack tickets (Stars on Ice are 25 percent off right now), when you swipe your membership card at checkout at the grocery you receive instant discounts without the hassles of coupons, and Walgreen’s offers the same service as long as you have a Balance Rewards card to which you link your AARP card helping you earn far more bonus points translating into spendable dollars. AARP is associated with Budget, Avis, Payless, and Zip Car rentals offering various discounts or free days to members. At Days Inn and Super 8 you can get a 20 percent rate discount and La Quinta gives 10 percent off plus a free breakfast. There’s up to a $400 discount on British Airways and 10 percent off Park Ride Fly USA parking reservations. Again, asking at the businesses (including online businesses) and hotels if they give an AARP discount can give you savings you didn’t expect. For example, Amazon Kindle gives 50 percent off select Kindle book downloads. Cell phone services such as Cricket, AT&T, and Consumer Cellular have savings off their wireless contracts.

Use the power of your team to get discounts on the road when ordering team meals, buying groceries, or taking them to a movie. Ask to speak to the manager and request a 10-to-20 percent discount. Make it clear that you are one of dozens, even scores of teams, at a tournament, and you’d be more than happy to let them know how helpful their business was to your team. Over several years of negotiating these deals I’ve found large chains like Publix and Kroger’s to be quite helpful in giving teams a discount. Olive Garden has given me a discount for the team when ordering their catering service for team dinners both on the road and before our local team matches. You can’t get a break if you don’t ask. It’s rare a manager will be offended by your request, and usually he or she can be very helpful in finding you even more ways to save at their store (I have dozens of “retired” grocery membership cards that saved us plenty over the years). When booking hotel rooms try to get the entire team, even the entire club, to book along with you – it requires early planning but can pay big dividends. Also ask the hotel to comp the coach’s room. Whenever the US Youth Soccer ODP Wisconsin team traveled, we made sure we got two rooms comped – one for the bus driver and one for the coaches. Hotels usually agreed when we booked 10 or more rooms.

Soccer can be expensive, and even with discounts it isn’t going to be kind to the bank account. However, seeking out discounts not just for travel but also for peripheral soccer needs can help you save enough to make a dent. Contact tournament directors to see if they are aware of any breaks for teams in their area that are being offered by local vendors. Go online to find coupons for national and local establishments which may exceed discounts you can get with AAA or AARP. Check out Groupon which can get you restaurant coupons for a price that often will take 50 percent of a dining bill. There are savings out there which we shouldn’t let get away from us. Take advantage of everything you can find and everything you can create. It’s good to know you can.

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