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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". 

 

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.
 

Know it all

Susan Boyd

I'm as competitive as the next person. I like to win at word games and trivia, and I always want my kids and grandkids to win at their games. I also found out that I'm competitive with my GPS. On a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio, my TomTom suggested that I take a route I didn't think was wise. Once I veered from the directed course, the machine became insistent, recalibrating my route dozens of times and urging me in a pleasant tone, "in 500 feet turn right and stay right. Turn right and stay right. Turn…" as I breezed past the exits one after another. The machine remained calm in the face of my defiance, finding alternate routes that I swear went through several backyards and across a baseball field to get me back on track. I fully expected it to finally say, "Okay, do what you want. It's your funeral." But it never did. I, on the other hand, kept yelling at it, calling it names and declaring my own superior knowledge of the route. I think, in retrospect, the GPS was right because I did get caught in a big back up, but you never heard me admit that to the machine. On the way home I docilely followed all instructions without question.

This trip was to go down to see my grandsons play in their football games. The conflict with my GPS made me realize that competitiveness is directly related to the amount of knowledge or skill you feel you possess in a particular situation. I get very competitive when I play word games or trivia because I expect to do well. I am appropriately intense at my sons' soccer games because after a quarter century of watching soccer, I think I understand the game enough to have an opinion about the way a game unfolds. But I know very little about football. I could know more. I've watched it enough over the years. Yet I choose to remain blissfully ignorant because, in truth, I don't care to be an expert. I know four things about football: How to score a game including that a safety is worth two points, that you have four downs to go ten yards, that there is a defensive squad and an offensive squad, and that no play last longer than one minute from whistle to whistle with most plays lasting less than 15 seconds. Oh, I also know what the quarterback is, but I can't tell you a nose tackle from a linebacker or a running back from a tight end. I watch football games relatively benignly, although I can get excited about my beloved Oregon Ducks winning.

So in Columbus I found myself enthusiastically positive the entire time on the sidelines. I had no idea what was the right positioning for my grandson or the proper movement. I just yelled "Go Keaton, go" or "Well done maroon" because they were the maroon team. Around me people expressed disappointment at various plays yelling things like "you should have gone inside" or "get off your line faster," but all I saw was my grandson running, taking people down and getting to the person with the ball. I thought he was brilliant. I discovered that being ignorant about what is good, bad, or indifferent about the game let me just be happy about anything the boys did. At one point, after the other team scored, Keaton's coach came down the sidelines yelling, "that's cheap football" with a very scary intensity that made me want to back away slowly like I would from a bear in the wild. Only competitiveness could make him that keyed up.

I will have to get smarter about football because I will be attending dozens of games that matter to my grandsons. But I'm also a bit reluctant because I know once I understand enough of the nuances of the game it will change how I react. It will allow me to be critical, which means I'll have to fight that urge. Right now I can just blissfully and ignorantly say, "good play" to anything the boys do because I'm just proud that they're playing. I can be unconditional in my praise. I know that my competitiveness makes me somewhat intolerant of fans on the sidelines of soccer games who say things about how the game is being played that I considered ill-informed. But at least they can cheer on their sons and daughters without criticizing, being disappointed in their play, or coaching. Their kids can feel their pride unreservedly. It's not a bad trade-off for everyone concerned.

While I would never trade away my knowledge of soccer, it is an intriguing conundrum for us parents. We need to understand the game in order to talk intelligently with our kids about this sport they love. We need to understand the game to show that we respect the sport they play. And we need to understand the game because we naturally want to understand what we have invested so much time, money, and emotion into. But with every bit of knowledge we acquire, there's those instances when we will see mistakes, bad ideas, and questionable coaching, and we will feel the need to comment. Yelling at what I perceive as stupidity on the part of my GPS comes from my own knowledge of the route and my own competitive arrogance that I know better than some piece of electronics. So it's no wonder that we end up yelling at a game where we know there are people who can hear us and alter their behavior based on our "suggestions." But I can tell you that my trip home from Columbus was so much happier and smoother than my trip down when I just let my GPS do its job. If I could just let my kids, the refs, the coaches, and the opposing team do their jobs during a game I might have less stomach acid and more smiles. It's just that sometimes I'm convinced I know better and that's a competitive urge that's hard to resist.
 

Formula One

Susan Boyd

Most sports films follow a similar predictable storyline about an underdog team or player who, despite all odds and realistic expectations, eventually triumphs in the climactic scene. If it's about a team there's usually a curmudgeonly coach who has some personality quirk that either involves a dark history or behaviors bordering on insanity, but in the end he inspires the team to greatness. If it's about a person, he or she has big dreams that seem to have no chance at success, but through perseverance, the player either accomplishes an amazing victory or shows that he or she has the "right stuff" usually with the love of a good woman or man or parent as support. Vegas will offer no odds on the outcomes of these films because there's no question how they will end. The only issue would be did the film engage us and offer that emotional punch at the end (with an appropriately crescendo-filled soundtrack) to make the formula work.

I have lots of favorite sports films that adhere to the formula: Hoosiers, Miracle, We are Marshall, Goal!, and Remember the Titans. I enjoyed The Blindside because it touched me on a personal level. My sons are adopted and African-American, so our family shared some of the experiences highlighted in the film – although I never confronted a drug dealer and threatened him. But for the most part I feel the same way about sports films as I do about romantic comedies – in order to be good they have to step outside of the formula. Not many do that. But I recently saw a film, a soccer film to boot, that took the sports film formula and turned it on its head: The Damned United. In simple terms this film looked at the 44 day career of Brian Clough as head coach of Leeds United in 1974. On that level alone it would be a fascinating film, showing how a professional top level team operates. But the film is bigger than that.

Although about soccer, the movie doesn't rely upon soccer to create its impact and soul. In fact the soccer scenes make up only a small percentage of the film. Instead the screenwriters, Peter Morgan and David Peace, who wrote the original book, chose to focus on characters rather than events. Peter Morgan wrote the screenplays for The Queen, Frost/Nixon, and The Last King of Scotland among others and was nominated for an Academy Award for each of the first two. So he brought his rich writing credentials to this film filling out the principal characters with deep emotional souls.   Rather than being about the triumph of a legend or a legendary team, this film is about failure brought on by vanity and bitterness. Clough proves to be a masterful coach as highlighted by some back story, but his motivation for taking the job at Leeds is to settle an old score and to prove himself a better manager than the previous one, Don Revie. By focusing on his personal issues with Revie he cannot develop a rapport with the team who idolized their former coach. He alienates his best friend and puffs himself up to the media.

Rather than depend upon a real time narrative, the film moves back and forth in time, with each shift giving the audience more information and a clearer understanding of how a coach like Clough, once highly respected and successful, could dig himself so deep a hole in so short a time. Here is a story about the very thing sports media loves to create – the consummate sports hero – and then shows his downfall through his own destructive hubris. The message the film delivers is don't ever believe you are bigger than the game, than the fans, than your friends. When my boys saw this film, they declared it was one of their all-time favorite sports films, not because it was about soccer or how soccer teams work, but because it was about maintaining humility despite great success. It took a devastating collapse for Clough to understand that revenge is best earned by one's own honorable behavior and success based on principled action. Eventually Clough goes on to be one of the most successful coaches in EPL history, earning him the epitaph "The best manager that the English National side never had." The movie delivers the powerful message that we all need to maintain our standards no matter what we think circumstances or opportunities demand. When we abandon our humility and morals, than any success is hollow.

The film is rated R for language and some rough scenes, but I think any player over 13 would benefit from seeing the movie. The overall lessons taught and the deeper understanding of the sport it presents outweigh the ear insults. The movie doesn't shy away from the occasionally baser aspects and ruthless depiction of the sport. It provides the realistic context for all the events which unfold giving them the validity they deserve. In the end, it is a feel good movie but not because the kid who couldn't kick a field goal or make a free throw does so as the clock expires to win the game. It reaffirms the concepts we try hard to teach our kids, that dirty play, insults, racism, and cheating should have no place on the pitch. This film proves that nice guys don't always finish last. That's a movie formula we can all live with.