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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". 

 

Let me check my calendar

Susan Boyd

Last night I shopped online for calendars. I like to give them as gifts because everyone needs a calendar, because I can buy a calendar to suit someone's interests, and because calendars are fat-free (except for the chocolate filled Advent calendars). There's a website I use appropriately called calendars.com that probably has every calendar ever made for 2011 plus games and mugs.  I came across the website several years ago when I was desperate to find a calendar that could handle all the entries I had to make. Most calendars I found in stores had these anemic little squares that couldn't hold three entries much less the dozen or more I needed. As I filled in my new, super-sized calendar I realized that soccer had taken over my life.

I'm not really complaining because I love sharing this activity with my kids. At the same time, I also know the feeling of jolting awake in a cold sweat as I panic over forgetting a game or an after practice treat assignment. Now I just have two kids to worry about, but Robbie has a friend who has seven siblings, all in soccer. I can't imagine juggling eight soccer schedules. I talked to the mom at team registration and she seemed remarkably calm. She must have an incredible calendar. She also has her kids all in one club minimizing travel for practices. But what about games and tournaments that never seemed to mesh for our family. She just shrugged and said serenely, "It seems to work out." Maybe she has taxis on call. In any case her aromatherapy must be amazing.

Youth soccer does take on a life of its own. Before you know it, your time has been stolen, now channeled into driving for, watching, shopping for, and organizing soccer. You not only know the clerks in your local soccer store, you have them on speed dial. You can explain the offside rule to anyone. When you turn your television on it's already set on Fox Soccer Channel. Birthday parties have soccer themes, you haven't bought a shirt without a number on the back in years, and you have to unload 12 soccer balls in various states of inflation to reach your spare tire. What began as a fun way to spend Saturday morning has now become the dominant entry on your calendar.

Finding the necessary balance in life seems impossible with soccer dominating one side of the scales and the rest of life clinging to the other. The best way to push back the soccer encroachment is to do it early and put those non-soccer events on the calendar right away. In our family we made an agreement that soccer would never take precedence over certain family activities. Sticking to that commitment wasn't easy. Occasionally it wouldn't have been inconvenient or a sacrifice to change our plans, but doing so would have opened the door to a full-blown soccer take over. So school dances, a weekend for snowboarding, a field trip, and other life experiences got their spot on our calendar along with the soccer games and trips. We also limited the number of days the boys could miss school for soccer. That's really tough because spring travel tournaments never seem to fall during spring break. Setting those limits before soccer season starts makes all the jumble on the calendar easier to handle.

As much as my boys love soccer, they also got tired of the routine. Every once in a while they needed a break just to hang out in their rooms, play some video games, or have their non-soccer buddies over. That last thing is really important because friends can get left behinds when soccer takes over. So, I encourage you to find room on the calendar for those breaks. Have a Friday night pizza party, buy tickets to a basketball game, or go out for dinner that isn't a quick bite before or after practice. I love soccer with my kids because we interact a lot together traveling, sharing game stories, and finding common ground in the sport we all love. But we also need to recognize that talking about the last goal or analyzing a disappointing game isn't a substitute for talking with our kids about values, teenage issues, and their dreams. We need to find topics outside of soccer to occupy our discussions.

When we get those blank calendars in December, it's the best time to pencil in some non-soccer activities. Even though soccer isn't some evil swarm of insects seeping under our doors to invade our lives, it can be a bit like a dog barking incessantly. We love the cute dog, but we also wish it would just quit yapping for a while. We can use the calendar as a way to control how out of control soccer can become. Don't get me wrong – we're still crazy for soccer in our family. After buying calendars online I sat through a soccer game that we lost 5-1 in 41 degree weather with 30 mph wind gusts and rain and hail. That's when you know you've won some battles in keeping soccer at bay, but you have definitely lost the war.
 

99% Perspiration 1% Inspiration

Susan Boyd

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) recently sponsored a public service announcement (PSA) contest. The WIAA oversees all high school athletics in the state of Wisconsin, but it's not well known and, when it is known, it isn't always respected.The problem for any oversight organization is that it can't please all of the people all of the time. The WIAA is charged with making determinations on athlete eligibility, transfers, recruiting violations, and other not so pleasant tasks. Their decisions can have far-reaching implications for student athletes who seek college opportunities and high schools which are looking for a state championship. So it's not surprising that they enlisted the creative efforts of their clientele to design a PSA promoting a more positive image of the association.

The contest rules were fairly simple with most of them covering format and eligibility. The overriding factor was that "The video public service announcement must convey the importance of education and athletics, sportsmanship and the role of the WIAA in the high school sports experience. The best videos will be selected based on their creativity, originality of content and ability to inspire." Those last three words speak volumes. In polishing up its image the WIAA wants to be seen much like the NCAA has advertised in the last two years as the organization that shapes and builds future adults. Forget about sanctions, forget about expulsions, forget about returning trophies, forget about policing the sports, and definitely forget about enforcing rules on eligibility, violations, and conduct. We want to be the organization which inspires!

Certainly youth sports couldn't exist without clear boundaries, expectations, and arbitration. Because sports embody competition, that competition can extend off the field to disputes concerning perceived unfair practices from bad referee calls to stealing players. So I am grateful to have oversight associations to regulate and arbitrate. Without their supervision, infractions would skyrocket and increase in severity. And as players grow older the boundaries, expectations, and arbitration grow ever murkier, cut-throat, and significant. The older the player, the more the sport takes on a gravity with far-reaching consequences. So any decision, much like a referee's calls, makes enemies of one side and momentary comrades of the other. No wonder they want a new cloak that hides all their warts. They don't want to be Ferris Bueller's vice principal; they want to be Robin Williams in "Dead Poets' Society."

The contest yielded two co-winners with different approaches. The first from Luther High School in Onalaska used stirring music, flames, and dissolves from high school athletes to their adult counterparts to send the following message in banners over the images: Fueling future athletes, fueling future competition, fueling future battles, fueling future leadership, the WIAA fueling the future. The second from Wauwatosa West High School in Wauwatosa focused on a tennis match with the natural sounds of the match as a backdrop to its message in banners: A game need not be won, an opponent need not be crushed, ethics do not need to be compromised to learn and grow while enjoying a sport – It's the journey.   I'm including the link here so you can see these winning videos http://www.wiaawi.org/index.php?id=504. They did inspire. High school athletes and their parents watching these videos should be inspired to stretch further and dream higher. But I'm not sure that's the result or the function of the WIAA.

I'd actually like to see someone tackle the job of selling the duties the WIAA or other governing associations that are charged with fulfilling as a worthwhile and honorable role in youth sports. Putting a wolf in sheep's clothing doesn't make the wolf a sheep, but selling the wolf as majestic and important in the ecosystem lets people admire the wolf even as they fear him. Don't get me started on changes that governing committees need to make to the rules. There are too many rules in most sports' organizations and many of these rules are contradictory or punitive. But we need these associations just like our kids need parents – we need them to set the boundaries and the rules. And like parents, these groups aren't infallible but they do have the best interest of the sport, the players, and the competition in mind. They exist to be sure that the sport can exist civilly and fairly. They exist to create the brackets, to oversee the officiating, to arbitrate disputes and violations, and to monitor changes in the sport in order to incorporate them into the organization. That's a worthy profession. Leave the inspiration to the parents, coaches, and professional sports heroes. I'm happy to have the WIAA create a safe, level, and controlled playing field. 
 

Random observations

Susan Boyd

At a soccer game this week the opposing coach took exception with the center referee's calls.   Shocker! But what I loved was how he handled getting his yellow card for his dissension. "Good," he shouted, "At least I finally got my point across. You've got both benches yelling at you." Oops, he must be new to the game. Everyone knows referees are 100% wrong – it just depends on whom the call affects.  I doubt many refs leave the field at the final whistle saying, "Wow I didn't ruffle anyone's feathers," or even, "Wow I didn't ruffle one team's feathers." Referees know they have a virtual "Kick me" sign on their backs. Oh, sure they hear the occasional "Thank you" which is usually followed by "Finally!" But even as the thank you floats over the field it's surrounded by "Get some glasses," "Are you crazy," and "You've got to be kidding." I would support a Referee's Day – like Mother's Day – where all players, coaches, and fans in every sport send a card to at least one official letting him or her know how much their officiating is appreciated. Without referees games would be even more out of control than we already think they are.

I saw an ad for an insurance company where a mother humpback whale cavorts in the ocean with her calf. The voiceover tells how protective the whales are to their young even, "guiding the calf to the surface for its first breath." Humpback whales don't buy insurance – they just leave their kids with whatever wisdom about survival they can impart. When it comes to youth sports, parents see survival training as pushing their kids. I often hear parents exhorting their children with, "You've got to get on the select team" and "You need to be a starter."   There's a line between encouragement and expectation which is often slippery and vague. Knowing when to push and knowing when to let them swim on their own ends up being relatively simple for whales and terribly complicated for humans. But then humpbacks only have to worry about blubber hunters and orcas. Humans have to worry about getting on the right team, into the right college, and finding a home in a good school district. We parents have already been through these rites of passage and want our kids to do better, even if we did great. That leads to lots of pushing in every area when we probably should pick our battles better. I wonder if they sell insurance for high pressure parenting?

This week I traveled from Milwaukee to Detroit and back home in one day in order to see a soccer game. It was an 800 mile journey and well worth it. This is what we do for our kids when it comes to supporting them.   Or it's lunacy. I haven't quite figured it all out. But as long as I have the time, the money, and the working vehicle I'll continue to go to as many games as possible. Of course I'm eating up their inheritance, but that's the little secret we'll keep among us. Luckily I have grandkids too, so I foresee lots of long trips to see all kinds of games continuing far into the future. I chalk this all up to the first trip I ever made right after moving to Milwaukee from Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks were playing Nebraska in Lincoln, and I and Bruce drove there, watched the game, and drove home. We didn't even have very good seats but we did have fun. Once you drive 1200 miles round trip in one loop to see a college football team with no one you know on the roster, then driving 800 miles round trip to see two of your kids play doesn't seem quite as crazy. Right?

The push is on to find indoor practice space for many soccer teams. School gyms, indoor soccer fields, indoor driving ranges, and even roller skating rinks get calls begging for times for practice sessions. Coming from a state that usually has a blanket of snow on the ground from mid-December to mid-March, I know the panic that sets in when indoor space can't be found. So imagine my envy when I found out that the team we played in Detroit has an indoor full field facility of their own with bleachers that can accommodate up to 5,000 fans. I wondered whose deep pockets paid for that. But then I also thought why don't teams join forces and build an indoor facility that they can share. Club teams are so competitive and want their facilities to be a selling point for drawing in good players, so they usually focus just on themselves.  But I don't see a lot of clubs with indoor practice spaces of their own. So it might be an excellent business move for clubs to share in constructing, maintaining, and renting out indoor facilities to allow for consistent, affordable, and controlled practice space. Just a thought.
 

Maybe participation trophies

Susan Boyd

I don't know how many of you followed the unfolding drama of the 33 Chilean miners trapped for 69 days one-half mile below ground, but I found the rescue mesmerizing. Each miner had a particular trait that the news media used to label him, and so we got to know the miners as the one from Bolivia, the one who had a new daughter, the one who had a mistress, and so on. They each have names, of course, but we got to know them not as Luis or Pedro, but as some aspect of their private lives, now made glaringly public. One miner had been a professional soccer player in the 80s and 90s, Franklin Lobos. The media spoke often about his soccer playing and how he had even played for Chile in a pre-Olympic international qualifier. He spent most of his career on teams in either the 2nd or the 1st Division, so he was known around the country. He began on his regional team in the Atacama Desert where he returned in 2005 to drive trucks for the local mine. His soccer nickname was "El Mortero Màgico" – the Magic Mortar – a bit ironic for someone trapped in a collapsing mine.

While trapped, the miners received feeds of Chilean soccer games for entertainment, which makes sense. It's their most popular sport and a good way to kill two hours of the many they spent underground. I was a bit curious as to how they watched the games. I understand sending down a cable through which programming could be provided, but what did they watch it on? Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer never seemed to find that a curious enough question to pursue. Did they project the game on a sheet on the cave walls or did they manage to send down a 19" TV that 33 men were supposed to gather around to watch? I digress. My point is that soccer seems to make its way into lots of the world's events no matter how remote they may be from actual soccer.

So here's the kicker (excuse the pun). Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has announced that there will be a soccer game between the miners and the rescuers. The miners will be captained by Frank Lobos.  No word on who will captain the rescuers. The game will take place Oct. 24, and I suspect CNN will carry it live either on the network or on its website. The President stated that the winners would get the presidential palace La Moneda and the losers will have to go back into the mine – ha ha. You know how comics say that sometimes it's too soon to joke about something? Well President Pinera should have heeded that advice.

First of all a contest to determine a winner between men who narrowly escaped death and the men who brought them to safety seems a bit macabre. Would I want to get into the boxing ring with the policeman who saved me from a kidnapping? Would a family want to challenge the fire department to a game of street hockey a few hours after surviving a house fire? It may be that I really don't understand the full allure of soccer in other countries since we aren't as fanatical in the U.S. But the prospect of a contest between rescuers and the rescued makes me wonder if anyone could be a winner in that situation.  Will there be trash-talking, cheap fouls, aggressive play? Will the referees issue cards? Will there be a Cup?

Sports are a matter of pride for those who play them. Yes we play for fun, but we never play just for fun. Ask anyone on a U-8 team or on the sidelines during a "friendly" game what the score is and everyone knows. Sports embody competition. So how will winning or losing a soccer game help the psychology and post-traumatic stress of the miners? If they win, they have just defeated their saviors and if they lose they will take another public ding to their fragile self-confidence. Right now I would think that everyone involved would want to find ways to restore their sense of well-being. How can defeating their rescuers or losing to their rescuers accomplish that? Nevertheless, according to news reports, the miners "warmly" greeted the idea, cheering and clapping when the president proposed it in the hospital. Realistically I'm not sure they were in a position to show any dissent if they felt it given that the president was the one who organized and authorized the expenses for an aggressive rescue. Some of you may say I'm over-thinking this entire event; after all it is just a game and might be a bonding experience. But if that is the case, then I suggest they play a game in which the teams are mixed with rescuers and miners on both sides.   And I absolutely suggest that President Pinero refrain from jokes making losers return to their worst nightmare. Find a way to make everyone a winner because right now that's what they are.