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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". 

 

Mayday, Mayday

Susan Boyd

A strange thing happened last night.  Life as I know it came to an abrupt and complete standstill.  While watching "House Hunters International," the TV picture froze and remained frozen for several minutes.  Then I noticed that my laptop was no longer connected to the internet.  Dialing the phone to call AT&T to attempt to get the problem resolved, I discovered that my phone also didn't work.  This amazing bundled package I had purchased a year ago had crashed, nearly hurtling me back in time to the late 1800's.  Without my cell phone, I would have had no choice but to take the journey.
 
So, today I wait in my four hour window for the service technician to arrive.  The phone call last night had a surreal aspect since I never spoke to a real person and I was reminded several times during the call that I could "go online to find solutions" or "tune to channel 1000 for help" prompting me to yell at the recording that I had no phone, internet, or TV service – idiot!  I wouldn't have even been able to call for assistance without my cell phone.  With one sudden crash I became stranded on an island in the sea of technology unable to reach civilization.  Helpfully, the recorded voice told me he would be running a few tests and there was a series of R2D2 beeps and boops I assume to assure me that tests were being run.  Then the voice said essentially "I can't help you.  You're really, really broken," and set up a service appointment for today.
 
I realize now how totally dependent I've become on my wireless life.  And it got me thinking about when I first began working for the boys' soccer club; we were just beginning to establish a website for the club.  That was just ten years ago.  We couldn't make our website too complex because most people had very slow dial-up connections that couldn't handle uploading huge picture files to give the website a more professional and colorful presentation.  Instead we focused on simple Word files to get out the information and provided some basic forms for things like camps and tryouts.  Yet once that website opened the club had a far more efficient means for communicating with its members.  We could announce field closings, provide game and practice schedules, post coaching bios, make available maps to other clubs' fields, provide links to the state soccer association and to US Youth Soccer and give members easy access to any and all club information.  I built that first website using Front Page and some basic HTML coding.  The websites that exist now have so much complexity I wouldn't even want to venture into creating those multi-windowed, picture rich destinations.
 
Club websites opened slowly, but now we assume every club will have a website.  We count on being able to search a club name and have the link pop up in our browser.  We don't give it a second thought.  The same evolution has occurred with social networking sites.  Now organizations will have a Facebook and/or Twitter account just to keep their name out there.  People expect that they'll be able to connect with their club, the coaches, even teams and players as easily as they do with their best friends.  With smart phones we can connect with the internet just about anywhere.  The old days of the phone tree are long gone since we can send a text message out to as many people as we want with a single push of the "send" key.  Last minute field changes or game cancellations don't create as many hard feelings because we can get the word out quickly and easily to everyone involved.  When the boys were just starting select soccer, the wireless age had barely begun.  Now we are at the mercy of a single blown modulator in our home!
 
While I'm not all that happy that I don't have the last 15 minutes of "The Good Wife" DVR'd from last night, I understand that with that disappointment comes great freedom and life improvement.  By six tonight I'll have all my wireless conveniences up and running.  I'm grateful for the hundreds of websites I can visit to give me immediate soccer information whether I need directions to the fields, I want to order tickets to the El Salvador vs Cuba game in Chicago, I have to find the right goalkeeper gloves, or I want to read a press release or check out a video on www.youtube.com/usyouth. Just fifteen years ago, I was extremely limited in what I could find on the internet.  So despite this infuriating glitch, I recognize that it's a mere blip on the ever-improving information highway.
 
Before the internet went down I read a very interesting story.  Chad Ochocinco, the Bengal's football player, recently tried out for Sporting Kansas City of the MLS.  He didn't make the team, but he was invited to continue training with them.  As coach Peter Vermes said, "I think it's also good for him.  He realizes this is a lot more difficult than it (appears to be).  For our sport, it's great because I think there's a lot of people out there who question how hard it is to play this game and it's very, very difficult."  I hope this is a trend.  As athletes seek out opportunities to extend their athletic careers perhaps a few more football players will turn to soccer (especially if the lock-out continues).  They won't have the respite of game stoppages every ten seconds or be offered oxygen after racing down the field, so they will need to be very fit.  But soccer can offer them an opportunity to condition their brains as well as their bodies while they can bring to soccer some of their fan loyalty.  After all, if you can't watch the Bengals play next fall, then drive two hours to Columbus and watch The Crew!  Bryce went to a Seattle Sounders home game last week.  There were nearly 40,000 fans in a huge stadium.  He had been to games in England and agreed that this experience had a lot of the same energy and fun.  So we may be seeing the hopeful signs of a trend – NFL players seeking out the MLS and fans embracing the electricity of a game.
 
Regardless, the Internet has furthered our ability to find and embrace our sport as well as the opportunity to express and share our love with others at the click of a button.
 

April showers

Susan Boyd

Getting that spring soccer schedule in your hand can be pretty exciting. First of all it indicates that the season is about to start, and after a winter, where for a whole bunch of soccer has been crammed into a turfed warehouse smelling of sweaty gym socks, we're like boarded horses ready to frolic across the fields. Second, it means we can finally put our soccer plans on the calendar. Third, we can look forward to watching our kids play. Last night my husband brought the boys' spring schedule home, which precipitated all kinds of preparations. Besides filling in the calendar, I had to begin thinking about the soccer box. Over the course of the winter I end up pulling things from it because I run out of paper towels and toilet paper, and or I need clean towels to dry off the dogs' muddy feet. So it's time to take an inventory. It's also a time for some anxiety. For those of you enjoying your first spring season, you're in for a roller coaster ride.
 
Let's start with that schedule. Use pencil on your calendar. Every date that you think you have a game, think again. One spring season the boys' teams only played one game on the date scheduled. First, second, and third there's the weather. First the weather affects the fields. You can wake up on game day with the temperature in the 50's, the sun shining, and the sky completely cloud free, only to get the phone call that the rainstorm the night before rendered the fields unplayable. Now the scramble to reschedule begins. It would be relatively easy if this was the only game that had to be rescheduled, but second, the weather affects the game. Spring brings showers. If it's raining badly, games will have to be canceled. It's not just the rain, but the temperature. Little bodies don't retain heat that well, so being drenched in 40 degrees creates health issues. Third, weather affects the length of games. Showers can turn into storms with the attendant lightning. Guidelines say that any thunder means that players need to take shelter until 30 minutes from the last clap of thunder. That means games can go well past their allotted time.   Therefore, games that stretched to later in the day, when the lightning and rain are finally gone, may be canceled because they encroach on previously scheduled games or because the referees couldn't hang around having other commitments on other fields.
 
So be prepared to be flexible. Chances are very good that no matter what part of the country you live in you'll be rescheduling those spring games. Even tournaments face the difficulties of weather related problems. We've traveled hundreds of miles to spend most of the tournament closed up in our hotel trying to prevent pick-up games in the hallways and forming a bond with the pizza delivery person. This rescheduling becomes a nightmare the older the kids get because you run into school dances, field trips, graduations, confirmations, bar and bat mitzvahs, varying spring breaks for team members, and ACT/SAT tests. So be kind to your team manager/administrator. I've been there, done that. I can attest to it being one of the most difficult jobs in the world. There's nothing more demoralizing than finally settling on a rescheduled date only to wake up that morning to claps of thunder and heavy precipitation.   The perception of an "unplayable" day quickly changes as kids grow older. A 45 degree day with some spritzing can trigger phone calls, "Are we playing?" when our kids are eight and a deluge with gale force winds finds everyone at the field on time when our kids are fourteen. We quickly adjust what we consider "bad" weather once we realize the consequences of being too fragile. 
           
So how do you prepare to face the elements? Get your "soccer box" in shape. Every box should contain: paper towels, toilet paper, plastic bags including gallon and 33 gallon sizes, extra soccer socks, extra shin guards, ball pump, extra underwear, hats, gloves, first aid kit (that includes scissors), rain gear, umbrellas, hand warmers, mylar "astronaut" blankets, terry towels, blankets, and water. Add a chair to ensure a place to sit. I have my heated Tempachair that I love and the same company makes a portable heated bleacher seat. But any chair will do. I even have a chair that has a "roof"" so I don't have to hold an umbrella. If the sidelines are ridiculously muddy, you can use one of those 33 gallon plastic bags to put on the ground and keep your feet dry. The soccer box ensures that anything I might need at the fields I have readily available. 
 
Finally, work out with the team how people will get contacted for cancellations. Be sure that you give the team manager any and all numbers where you can be reached. Before the season have each team member write down all his or her conflicts dates so that the team manager can reschedule without having to go back to the team every time to check on availability. There will never be a perfect reschedule – someone will have a conflict – but teams can only do the best they can in these circumstances. Be sure to have some empathy for the difficult task of rescheduling that your team manager has to go through. It's a no-win situation in every circumstance. Coaches hate it because they usually coach more than one team so have multiple disruptions. Referees are difficult to reschedule because remaining available dates get overfilled with games. Players have to sacrifice other activities. Parents have to adjust to new surprises weekend after weekend. Field schedulers have to squeeze games in around practices and limited daylight hours. Everyone has to work together because unfortunately the weather doesn't like to play nice. Be grateful for the spring flowers because showers are inevitable.
 

Time for March Madness!

Susan Boyd

Do we all have our brackets filled out? Have our favorite teams made the bracket? Did we finally hook up cable just so we could get Tru TV and see every game? And in so doing, how many of us are actually intrigued by "Big Brian The Fortune $eller" now that we've seen the promos a hundred times? How much sleep (and/or work) are we missing to watch all the games? College basketball is the real Fortune $eller.

I wonder when we'll have that intensity for November/December Madness. See, right there is the first problem. The College Soccer Cup runs over two months so we can't create some promotional catch phrase like November Nuttiness (too many syllables anyway) or December Derangement that covers the entire event. There is a bracket with the familiar Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four. So that part of the equation works. The part that works the least is interest. Sports fans haven't yet caught on to the love of soccer the way they have with basketball or football. At least, briefly, ESPN televised the bracket selection without the major hoopla (pun intended) of the basketball brackets. But there is no tier of cable stations showing "every game, every goal."

Such limited college exposure can make the sport seem forgettable, even useless. It's no wonder that many parents discourage their children from participating past the first few years of youth soccer. They see no future in it. With visions of televised games and possible endorsement deals dancing in their heads, parents can quickly forget why 99.9% of kids play a sport. For fun. That's a novel idea, I know. We are inundated with images of slow motion lay-ups and stadiums filled with over 100,000 fans. That's the college sports experience we want for our kids. Not some field buried on the fringes of campus with rickety wooden bleachers scantily covered by a few hundred fans. We are thinking bigger picture – like the wide screens at the sports bars during March Madness.

The reality, of course, is that only a very small percentage of youth players in any sport advance to playing college sports. My sons' high school this year won three state championships so they had a lot of talent. Out of 600 boys who played varsity sports about fifteen signed letters of intent in all sports. That's 2.5%. And as the NCAA ads declare, most college athletes will go pro in something other than sports. So picking a sport solely with an eye towards any advanced play, even high school sports, doesn't make much sense. I agree the difference between going to a high school soccer game and a high school football game can be depressing. But playing something they love gives kids a great sense of pride, a strong self-image, and satisfaction for succeeding at something they enjoy. Girls have always had the problem of getting the same attention for their sports' prowess as the boys. Therefore they recognize better how important playing for passion can be.

The great thing about soccer is how the sport fits so well with players who aren't on the fringes of the developmental bell curve. Basketball you need to be tall, fast, and big. Football you need to be big, fast, and tall. Baseball/Softball you need to be fast, big, and tall. Soccer you need to be fast, smart, and durable. The problem for all the other sports is that you often don't discover if your son or daughter fits the extreme physical demands of those sports until they hit puberty or even later. Therefore they either invest a lot of their youth training for a sport where they physically begin to fall behind, or they find out too late that they have the physical attributes for the sport. Soccer accepts anyone so long as they can develop a "soccer brain" and have the fitness to endure long stretches of running. It's a perfect sport for an athlete of average build.

Of course if we lived in Mexico, or England, or Ghana there'd be no question that our kids played the number one sport. We'd have no worries about their sport being respected, televised, and endorsed. On the downside, we would have to deal with more competition – every kid wants to be a soccer star in most of the rest of the world. So we should actually count ourselves lucky that our kids were smart enough to choose a sport that still has room to grow and can appreciate the dedication of its players to a sport that isn't rich with fans and money. We may not get a month dedicated to watching the best youth players compete, but we have an entire year to watch our kids enjoy themselves.
 

Best Dressed

Susan Boyd

Spring soccer begins soon if it hasn't already started in your neighborhood.  Even the MLS kicks off this week.  So, after the doldrums of winter, the time has come to pull out that soccer gear and discover what fits and what doesn't.  With kids you never know until you try.  Those expensive cleats that they wore four months ago may now be two sizes too small.   Those fancy practice shorts now fit them like something Larry Bird would have worn in 1981 when players didn't mind showing off their thighs.  And turning the house upside down still only reveals one shin guard.  So, it's time to go shopping.
 
Your options for purchasing soccer gear now rival any other sports options.  Not too long ago, the big box sports stores had soccer sections that looked like an afterthought.  Now you can find just about anything you need, especially for the youth player.  Online options abound that offer everything from the basics to the most expensive international gear.  But I'm pretty loyal to my local independent soccer store, Stefan's, because the staff is knowledgeable both about gear and its customers.  I know I'll get the best advice on cleats and other gear.  They may not have the rock bottom bargains of the internet or the big boxes, but my boys were always fitted well which meant fewer blisters and better foot control.  Plus, if anything went amiss I knew they would help make it right.
 
Because soccer gear is such a big business internationally, the marketing by the manufacturers gets pretty intense, which is not lost on dedicated youth players.  No matter the occasion, these giants create launch dates for new cleats, uniforms, and outer wear.  Along with their tempting images of soccer heroes striking the ball with sweat flying and muscles rippling, these promotions come with hefty price tags. The ads promise "faster," "higher," "smarter," and "sharper."  Black cleats barely exist for these titans; they are orange, yellow, lime green, red.   You can easily spend over $200 for a pair of these "replica" youth cleats for your son or daughter.  Some of us have experienced that they will grow out of them in just months thanks to that unforeseen growth spurt.   It's difficult to fight the urge, especially when a kid or two shows up at practice streaking down the field in her neon blue cleats.   Make sure you set your budget and your limits before you begin looking for your gear so you can resist the doe-eyed pleas for the electric cleats.
 
Our family's biggest expense every year seemed to be shin guards.  The boys managed to leave one or both guards on the bench or on the field.  We orphaned dozens of shin guards until I hit on a plan to stem the madness.  Most players get pretty particular about their shin guards – they have to be the right size, shape, color, padding, and weight.  So once the boys located their perfect pair, they were told that was it for a year.  If the shin guards got separated, lost, destroyed, or wandered off, they had to use the cheap pairs I purchased at the same time.  I'd pick up two additional pairs that cost no more than $10 each and kept them in my soccer box in the back of the car.  Once the only options for shin protection became either their perfect pair or some cheap, embarrassing pair, they seemed to be able to collect their shin guards and store them away after every game!
 
I also learned quickly that I have no memory when it comes to soccer purchases and that my kids believe they have perfect memory.  So this weakness has been exploited on a regular basis. I have been told dozens of times that my kids have had the same pair of cleats or warm-ups for "at least a year" and short of digging through my credit card receipts I have no way of countering.   However, with the convenience of cell phones I now have the perfect response.  I just take a picture of every purchase.  Then with a quick scroll I can locate the exact date AND time that the item entered our home.  I've discovered that "at least a year" actually translates to "about three months."  This one technique has saved countless arguments while sitting in the soccer store clinging to a pair of must have cleats when a perfectly good pair sits at home.
 
Since kids outgrow gear so quickly, most of it remains gently used.  If you can hand it down, then bravo to you.  But usually that won't work.  So consider finding a spot to donate that gear.  U.S. Soccer Foundation has the Passback program (passback.org) which usually collects through local state soccer associations.  Sports Gift (sportsgift.org) collects gear from all sports for both local and international organizations.  Goodwill, Salvation Army, and St. Vincent DePaul are always grateful for good sports equipment since the demand is huge for those items.  If your team is willing, donating their uniforms as a unit will help provide for teams both in the states and abroad.
 
Once you have all the gear collected, you now have to maintain it.  That's not always easy.  Spring soccer means rain, mud, and even snow.  That gear takes a beating and then transfers the elements into your car on the trip home.  There's nothing like an errant sock pressed under the seat against the heat vent to provide fumes that even a Hazmat team fears.  I have long advocated the use of plastic bags to help keep mud and wet in their place.  I also believe in recycling, so you can collect those grocery fruit and vegetable bags and shopping bags to use in your efforts to control filth and odors.  I like to cover my car floors with the 33 gallon garbage bags to contain the dirt.  These can be removed, shaken out, and even hosed down to use again.  Use smaller bags to collect the cleats, uniforms, socks, and even shin guards before they have a chance to contaminate the car or the soccer bag.  In fact, I always keep everything in bags so even the clean is sealed. 
 
I suggest keeping all soccer related clothing and gear in one spot.  I bought a cheap five drawer dresser at Target and set it in the garage.  One drawer holds uniforms and warm-ups, one holds gloves, hats, socks and undergarments, one holds peripheral gear like shin guards, goalie gloves and head bands, and two hold cleats.  I hung a rack with hooks over the door to hold jackets.  They set their soccer bags on top of the dresser and so it's really easy to load up the bags before a game.  The added bonus of being already in the garage helps insure we don't forget much before a game.  When I wash the uniforms I put them in the drawer.  The boys clean off their cleats and put them in the drawer.  It becomes an easy and helpful set of routines that prevent most, but not all last minute panics.  It also helps at the end of one season to insure that several months later at the beginning of the next season we know where to locate everything.  Once the boys expanded to club, high school, and indoor soccer teams we expanded to two dressers to accommodate all the additional uniforms.
 
Getting new soccer clothes and gear can help boost enthusiasm for the game.  Even just adding a new pair of socks can bring enough pizzazz to a new season to give it extra fun.   Keep all the purchases at a reasonable cost.  Consider one special item each season if you have the money – a jacket, a backpack, or a professional jersey.  But these aren't necessary to playing the game, so don't feel obligated to spend more than you can afford just to keep up with the soccer Joneses.  Once they get out onto the field and score a goal or make a great pass or defend successfully against a rush, they'll be so happy to be playing it won't matter what you did or didn't spend.