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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". 

 

Survival skills

Susan Boyd

If I haven't already made it abundantly clear I hate winter. Yesterday I had to shovel the driveway, deck, and front walkway three times. When a fourth dusting came down, I threw in the shovel and let the snow sit white, powdery, and glazed on my traffic areas. After driving over it several times with tires holding road salt I now have gray, slushy tracks that look ugly and make walking the dogs a wicked adventure. As I type this a new dusting has begun. I don't believe it will ever end. The temperature refuses to get above 26 degrees, so there's no hope that the snow cover will disappear naturally. Anyone who asks why Christmas lights stay up until April hasn't lived in the Midwest. I can't put a ladder up safely and I can't maneuver tiny wires and hooks with gloves on. So my home is festive until the hyacinths come up.

The tough part about winter is the lack of "live" soccer. I can go to the indoor venues and catch some games, but those have all the ambience of putting my head in a basket of sweaty socks. I enter the soccer warehouse building with its glaring fluorescent glow, and sit on metal bleachers that place me on eye level with the field or stand on a catwalk over the action. Seeing old friends mitigates the institutional feel of the event, but we are all buried in our winter gear and not always so easily recognizable. Indoor soccer for the uninitiated races wildly with lots of banging on the walls, hard and sudden strikes, and corner pile-ups. If soccer is formula one racing, then indoor soccer is a stock car rally. When the boys were younger they used to go in the basement in the winter and play indoor soccer slamming one another against the concrete block walls. I'm not sure how either survived without losing teeth. Even though indoor soccer doesn't give me a true soccer fix, most kids love it. Girls and boys alike have the chance to let it all hang out with the rowdy abandon of feral children. Since most games are played at night, we parents have the benefit of totally drained youngsters to pour into bed.

I can also go watch our local professional indoor club, the Milwaukee Wave. They offer lots of specials to make going to a game an affordable family outing. The speed of the game takes your breath away. Since not all communities have professional teams, you can search out local clubs whose majors teams play in an indoor league. Those games are usually free and have the same speed of play. Just use your search engine to explore "adult indoor soccer leagues" or "professional indoor soccer" to discover what's available in your area.

For the youngest players many clubs sponsor indoor clinics at local school gyms. Despite the same closed in, fluorescent lit environment, kids love the chance to stretch their muscles when the ground outside is slick, slushy, and inhospitable. I love watching the kids slide into the Pugg nets to make a goal and dribble their balls through the cones as they try to control their motion on a slick wood floor. They also flail a few soccer balls into the basketball hoops just for good measure.   The phrase "controlled chaos" comes to mind during these clinics. Most coaches recognize that the kids need the run and screech time as much as they need the training. In winter kids can sled, snowboard, or ski but they have to put up with the restrictions of winter outerwear and bursts of activity followed by trudges back up the hill. Ice skating, especially indoors, can offer some of the same continuous freedom of movement, but can be expensive. Soccer mini-clinics cost less than $50 for around six sessions and, other than the ball, the gear is just what they would wear to go outside and play in the summer.

Winter offers another activity – looking up soccer camps for the summer. Between January and March clubs, academies, pro teams, and colleges begin announcing their camps. Selecting the right one from dozens of appealing possibilities can be daunting. So it's not a bad idea to spend part of that enforced indoor time to download brochures, talk to friends, and have your kids give you their wish lists. I'll do a blog later about camps but now would be a good time to get all the info together. Attending soccer camp requires some delicate scheduling in order to preserve your own family vacation, other camps, and, of course, summer soccer leagues. A fun soccer camp can go a long ways to keeping a player interested in soccer. Although he or she may not become a select player their interest translates into continued play meaning continued exercise and fun, which remain the main benefits for the majority of youth players. That's why winter's such a bummer – it interrupts that activity. We just need to be persistent and creative to find soccer buried in the snow and ice. If anglers can drag sheds out on a frozen lake, drill a hole, and fish, then I think soccer players can be just as inventive to insure they survive the winter.
 

Soccer Creed

Susan Boyd

While the U.S. Postal Service promises "neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever," we all know it applies only to mail already sitting in local post offices. The recent blizzard along the East Coast illustrates that any mail delivery involving planes, trains or buses from destinations outside of the blizzard won't be possible. Once mail delivery became dependent on more than horses and walking, it could only be as reliable as Mother Nature and the Federal Aviation Administration allows.

Simple slogans can't address the domino effect that weather has on our lives. We experience it all the time with our kids – will there be school closures, will we get to our vacation, will they cancel soccer practice? In 2006 Bryce and I were due to drive down to St. Louis for the Final Four tournament. Mother Nature once again didn't cooperate, pounding the middle section of America with a blizzard that shut down everything from Milwaukee to Denver. I was fully prepared to make the seven hour drive knowing it would probably be twice that with the snow, but as the blizzard became more and more intrusive, fewer and fewer teams could find their way to St. Louis so that eventually the tournament was canceled and only the NCAA College Cup was held. While I was disappointed Bryce couldn't be scouted that weekend, I was relieved to miss out on "slip-sliding away."

When the Final Four tournament was canceled in 2006, the organizers scrambled to find indoor space where any teams that had made it to the tournament could play in "pick up" games where any college coaches who did manage to get to St. Louis could still see players for recruiting purposes. Which goes to show if they come it will run. I was just in Orlando during the Disney Soccer Showcase Tournament. The tournament for the boys was due to begin the day after the snows in the northeast began. Luckily the stories I heard were of teams that got out of New York City or Boston or Philadelphia on the last flights before the airports shut down, so Disney only had two teams not make it. Had the snow fallen 12 hours sooner, the organizers would have faced a huge rescheduling mess. But there would have been a tournament.

That tenacity to play no matter what gives soccer a bulldog image. I've attended games where the fans had to sweep the lines free of snow, where sand bags held back flood waters just feet away from where I was sitting, where the artificial turf was so hot that the ARs' soles melted, and where we had so many lightning delays that the game took four hours to play. Now I know a few other sports carry the same postal service "can do" attitude and play in any weather, but American football players have the advantage of more clothing and rugby players are generally even crazier than soccer players. 

Like the postal service, soccer will play in snow, rain, heat, gloom of night, and winds. We can't always guarantee that the weather will let us get to the game, but once there, the show will go on. During one lightning delayed game we parents had to surround the field as best we could with our cars and illuminate the field for the last 15 minutes in order to get the game completed. A quick trip to a local store yielded enough hats, gloves, and blankets to keep the team warm during a sudden snow storm in Fort Wayne. Mother Nature can prove to also be the Mother of Invention when it comes to getting a soccer game in. Parents new to soccer quickly learn that they shouldn't ask if there will be practice no matter what they see outside their windows. If the fields are too muddy, the play will move to the parking lot or a different field, but it will go on.  Seasoned parents know to keep a broom, shovel, tarp, gloves, hats, and blankets in the car. Hand and foot warmers only complement the preparations. 

While the weather doesn't always cooperate, the soccer creed says that practices and games will go on.  It's a grand tradition that dates back to the original postal motto written by Herodotus in the 5th century B.C. In describing the ancient Persian courier service he writes that nothing will stop them from accomplishing their "appointed course with all speed." Watch any excited 6- year-old soccer player leap onto the pitch under blustery grey skies, and you'll realize that the weather is merely an afterthought. What matters is playing and playing means having fun. So bundle up, grab an umbrella, and enjoy the ride, if you can out of the driveway.
 

Now sit right back

Susan Boyd

We are the stories we tell. No matter the real truth of an event or accomplishment, most people will only know what we choose to tell them. So it's not surprising that we may embellish, restructure or omit certain facts in what we say. I got to thinking about this because of two interesting occurrences. First, my brothers and I are in the process of parceling out my father's belongings. He passed away three years ago this December, and now my stepmother is ready to sell my father's studio. So it's time to decide who gets what. The second occurrence was a recent discussion I had with my sons about their early soccer lives. They had a different memory than I did of the same event.
 
Among my father's possessions are two large antique pine chests and an antique pine dresser. My brothers knew they were very old but knew nothing about their history. Apparently I was the only one to whom my parents had told about their background. When I had first gotten married, my mom had given me the twin to the pine dresser to furnish our first apartment. At that time my dad had told me that the two dressers and the two chests had been built to fit into a wagon his great-great grandfather had used to move from Ohio to Fort Howard, WI then later to Waupun, WI. The dressers and chests were lined up on either side of the wagon with mattresses laid down the middle. The dressers held clothing, tools, dishes, and books while the chests held all the supplies such as flour, salt, cured meats, and potatoes. They hung the cooking pots, traps, and larger tools off the back of the wagon. At night they would stop and make a fire, cook, and then go to sleep on the floor of the wagon all bunched together. It was the precursor of the RV. 
 
Now I have no idea how much of this history is truth and how much is extrapolation from years of studying the migration of pioneers to the west. I do know that my ancestors moved from Ohio to Fort Howard and then to Waupun because my dad did a fair amount of detailed genealogy including having me drive him up to Waupun on a visit so he could check out documents at the local library and Congregational church when my great-great-great grandfather was a pastor. My dad also has the diary this pioneer wrote during his travels, but it doesn't really prove that this furniture was his. So I have to take my dad's word for it and also consider that I may have unwittingly embellished the story with my own preconceived notions of how one would move in a wagon in the 1840s. On the other hand, I do remember my great grandfather telling me how when he was five years old he and his family went down to the railway station to watch Lincoln's funeral train go by. I love that story because it connects me and my children to a piece of history that seems so distant but is actually just three or four generations removed. I can't verify that the story is true, but my great-grandfather was a pastor and the son of a pastor, so I'm assuming he wouldn't lie. No matter, I'm happy to repeat it because of how wonderful the story is.
 
A few years ago the boys played in at a tournament up in Green Bay. Robbie was guest playing for Bryce's team which was already playing up two years, so Robbie was playing up four years. A 13-year-old playing with 17-year-olds would already be at a height disadvantage that was only exaggerated with Robbie, who for most of his life languished in the lower 5% on the growth chart,. These U-18 players took one look at Robbie and surmised that he'd never be a threat. After his second goal, they were less sure. Finally in frustration, as Robbie was dribbling to the net, one of the opposing defenders wrapped his arms around Robbie and threw him, wrestling style, to the ground. The referee indicated play on.  Robbie, none too happy, let the referee know of his displeasure at the call and received a yellow card for his dissention. When we were talking about this recently, the boys disagreed that the referee didn't call a foul. I am sure he didn't because the foul was in the box and should have resulted in a PK. The boys are sure it happened outside the box and did result in a free kick. And my husband coyly doesn't remember either way. I like my story because it shows Robbie's feistiness and how occasionally referees erred against him because he was good enough to hold his own and didn't need their help. Told the boys' way, it's just another story of a foul.
 
In our lives we collect lots of stories and each one serves a purpose, either to illustrate a point, make us feel good, provide context to other stories or serve as a rebuttal. When our kids play lots of games, we collect lots of stories which end up as anecdotes during parties, holiday letter news or a way to connect with our past. It's not surprising that over time those stories get refined, expanded and polished into a new truth that's usually not too far off the mark, but also isn't really the way it happened. We can be forgiven for those stories because they do no harm. They aren't lies to get us out of trouble, or fabrications to bolster our resume, or stepping stones to deeper deceit. They arise out of pride and form the fabric of our past. If some of the stitches are missing or doubled up it just gives the fabric texture and originality. I'll continue to tell the story of the foul that wasn't a foul because first of all I think I'm remembering it right and second of all it doesn't matter if I'm right or not because the story is just a way to reveal something about the character of my son which is the important truth.
 
I can't ask anyone if what I remember about the chests and dresser is exactly what I heard. And even if it was, there's no telling if my dad or his father or an ancestor down the line misremembered or misrepresented the real story. It actually doesn't matter. We won't be going on Antiques Road Show and discovering that we have a chest now worth $100,000 because of that story. One brother plans to take one of the chests up to his cabin in the mountains to store blankets and pillows and another brother will use the remaining chest for his tools. Someday they'll pass those chests on and tell my story but will probably add a few highlights of their own. I plan to tell Robbie's story to his future wife and children so that they can learn the nature of this man. The story doesn't matter, but the intention does.
 

Finder's Fee

Susan Boyd

Cam Newton is arguably the best college quarterback, even the best football player, this year. But he's been embroiled in ongoing questions into his eligibility stemming from accusations of pay for play negotiations with Mississippi State by his father. As Auburn climbed into the BCS No. 1 spot last Sunday, the school faced the possibility of having Newton declared ineligible and having their wins vacated. However on Tuesday the NCAA gave Newton provisional eligibility stating that it didn't appear that Newton knew anything about his father's attempt to get a six-figure bounty for delivering Newton to Mississippi State. 

For purposes of full disclosure I received my graduate degree from University of Oregon who was number one until Auburn took over last Sunday edging out my beloved Ducks by .002 points in the rankings. Nevertheless this discussion of Newton is not sour grapes on my part. Rather, I'm concerned about parents who feel entitled to a cash reward for doing their job. That's the real point. No matter how much we spend on our kids, it's our job to support their dreams both emotionally and financially. I'm not saying that our children are entitled to unlimited contributions from our family income. But when we can afford it, we should be underwriting our children's dreams to the best of our abilities. 

If Cam Newton's father Cecil felt he was owed something for his years of sacrifice, he's wrong. If I had to place a value on what I've spent on my four children it would exceed this week's Powerball jackpot. Seriously! There isn't a college around that could pay me enough to cover what I've spent. Even if one of my children was a superstar, I couldn't imagine risking their eligibility and everything he or she had worked for by seeking some remuneration for doing my job. As things stand now, I'd merely give some coaching staff a really good laugh if I asked for money to convince my child to play for their school. All we can hope for is our kids' thanks. Robbie once told me that when he makes it big he'll get me a Lincoln Navigator. I don't really want a Lincoln Navigator, but that was his way of saying thank you, so I said thank you back. I'll never see a Lincoln Navigator or even Lincoln Logs, but I have had the pleasure of watching my children play in their respective sports and the knowledge they each had an activity that kept them involved, healthy, and happy. I'm not owed anything more than that.

Many non-sport kids have parents supporting their aspirations. There's rarely any major payoff down the road for anyone, athletes or not. But the amount of attention and money sports generate for colleges, could give the parents of athletes some wrong-headed idea that they deserve to share in the pot. Good parents support their kids whether it be sports, music, forensics, or model building. Non-athletic pursuits can require as much or more financial support than those who play sports. And I suppose there are parents of super smart kids who push for bigger scholarships by playing one college against another. But that's not money directly in their pockets. That's not a reward for being the bearer of the fruit.

Whatever our kids achieve stems from their passion and their investment in themselves. We can facilitate, but we're not out there running the field or practicing the scales. We may get up at 3 a.m. to take our son or daughter to 5 a.m. hockey practice, but that doesn't merit a paycheck. When we're so involved it's difficult not to have our ego invested in our children's accomplishments because we feel those accomplishments somehow reflect on our parental abilities. To some extent it does reflect on our parenting because if we weren't supportive, if we didn't pay for lessons or team fees, if we didn't drive to practices our kids most likely couldn't achieve in their interests. But ultimately their success falls solely to their own investment in their talents. If they don't work hard, if they don't learn from their mistakes, if they don't give 100 percent, then it won't matter how much money we throw at the situation. 

Cecil Newton deserves to be in the parent hall of shame. No matter how talented and extraordinary Cam turned out, there's no development bonus for the parent. Cecil risked his son's ability to earn the highest accolades in football including the Heisman Trophy and a national championship because he saw an opportunity to cash in. He risked not only his son's future, but the future of every player on his son's team – kids who have talent, but may have just eked by to win a coveted spot on the football team. Those kids had parents who probably made as big, or bigger, a financial investment. But they chose to respect that their obligation comes without compensation. Since the NCAA investigation is still open, there remains a chance that this will be a house of cards that collapses on Cam, his Tiger teammates, and Auburn. I don't really care what happens to Cecil, but I do care about what happens to young dedicated athletes whose only sin was guilt by association. I can't imagine my boys working hard enough to have their team reach the number one rank in the United States only to lose it all because the parent of a teammate wanted to line his pockets.   But my kids would have to wait in line to box that parent's ears. I have first dibs.

Side note: As I was writing this blog I was watching the awarding of the FIFA World Cup hosts for 2018 and 2022. Russia won for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. The United States was thwarted in their bid for 2022, so it will be back to the drawing board for 2026, although the early favorite for that year is China.