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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". 

 

Work it out

Susan Boyd

I can clearly measure my level of fitness by how willing I am to tolerate a parking spot on the fringes of the tournament lot.   When I see that I have to walk six soccer fields lengthwise to get to my kids' game there's that moment where I weigh motherly devotion against back cramps. The kids so far have always won, but it does beg the question: at which distance will they lose out?   That's the thing about youth sports. It promotes good fitness for our kids, while we parents end up driving long hours in the car, sitting on the sidelines, and joining our kids in fast food meals on the fly without the benefit of a practice or a game at the end. The most exercise I'll get is bending over backwards, running around in circles, and taking leaps of faith.  

I'd love to see soccer clubs engage parents more in the fitness side of the sport. Sure, I should be self-motivated and take the time before a game to walk the perimeter of the field for thirty minutes. But I'm so grateful for a few minutes of time to sit and work on a crossword puzzle that I don't make myself do what would be healthier. Additionally, there's any number of parents who are new to soccer and don't yet appreciate how difficult it is to kick a ball with accuracy to a teammate or into what does appear to be a huge goal mouth. So I'm thinking there's a way to promote both fitness and understanding by sponsoring parent soccer clinics, hopefully weekly.

While our kids are practicing, we parents could gather to do our own sessions. We'd start with warm up exercises, switch to some soccer drills, advance to some Small-Side scrimmages, and finish with a cool down. Coaches often complain because they hate parents watching during the practice. The coaches want the freedom to conduct practices without feeling that the parents are judging the activities. By conducting a parent session each week, clubs could insure two things: parents won't hang around every practice and parents would begin to appreciate the techniques, difficulties, and beauty of the game by experiencing it firsthand. 

Inevitably there would be that mom or dad who ran track in college and goes to spin class three days a week who could make the rest of us look silly, but at least we could look silly in a pack rather than by ourselves in the gym. Looking foolish might actually be motivation because any embarrassment I would cause my children would simply be payback for all the grey hairs they've given me. Plus we parents could cooperatively encourage one another while learning to be more tolerant of our kids' play. We'd discover how hard it is to dribble a ball with the outside of your foot when you're running and someone is trying to steal it from you. And once a parent strikes a ball with what she/he believes is elegance but is actually wild abandon, that parent will understand the chagrin of watching the ball fly yards over the goal. The next time Eddie or Maggie makes the same mistake on the field, mom and dad won't be so critical.

Youth sports should be an opportunity for kids to develop some new skills, make friends, and increase their fitness. For the money we spend giving our kids these opportunities there's no reason we should miss out on the same benefits. Now I don't look good in shorts – as Erma Bombeck stated "according to my girth I should be a 90 foot redwood" – but I can run, kick, and look clumsy doing it with the best of them. And I'd love the chance to share in the fitness, friends, and fun my kids are getting. There's a whole different dynamic in making friends while being knocked on your rear instead of politely sipping tea in a red velvet chair. Get out there and ask your club to run clinics once a week or even once a month which would get us moms and dads involved physically and mentally in the sport. You'll gain a whole new perspective while sprawled on the pitch.
           
 

All You Need Are Friends - John Lennon

Susan Boyd

Everyone who got into soccer because their child's friend was in soccer raise your hand. I see you out there. You're the parents who didn't know much about soccer, maybe even hated soccer, but found yourself pulled in by peer pressure. When a youth sport grows as quickly as soccer has, that's the usual story. I'm sure there are lacrosse, rugby, and cricket parents with similar stories. But I'm grateful to that mom who insisted that Robbie's group of friends make up his first soccer team. We were totally clueless to the soccer process in our town and we probably would have opted for baseball and basketball had her son not insisted that he play soccer with all his friends. So we stapled our eight applications together, collared Bruce into coaching, and made a team of friends.  

Parents need to recognize the role that friendships play in the decisions our kids make growing up. Sometimes the decisions frustrate us. Our oldest daughter was an accomplished dancer who was accepted into a resident performing arts program when she was fourteen. She traveled 1,500 miles from home to go to school and perfect her craft. She made a friend there, who ultimately wasn't going to become a prima ballerina, and with her friend leaving the school Deana was persuaded that she no longer wanted to be a dancer. It was difficult to see her give up something she had been training in for nine years, but at the same time she knew she'd be unhappy at the school without her friend there. Today Deana and her roommate are friends although they live on opposite ends of the country and see each other only once or twice a year. But that friendship has proven to be more significant to both women than their dreams of being a dancer. Deana is now an executive in the fashion industry and loves her job. Her happiness didn't come from continuing her journey with dance, but some of her happiness comes from continuing her friendship.

The best part of youth sports can be found in the friendships formed between players. In Robbie's senior yearbook the family of one friend put in a picture of four boys together winning the US Youth Soccer State Championship next to a picture of those same four boys winning the high school state championship five years later. The state championship was the last time all four of them played together on the same club team. But they rejoined in high school and remained friends. Both Robbie and Bryce have had soccer teammates who no longer play but have become great fans and loyal friends. 

This week we celebrate friendship which infuses youth soccer with the elements of fun and family. When we play with friends we have that much more fun because we share a deeper connection than just teammates. We share a connection off the field as well. The team becomes a family, enjoying picnics, parent-player games, sideline conversations, and the shared ups and downs of competition. Most kids will take away from youth sports not the memories of practices, games, and championships, but the memories of friendships – anecdotes, laughter, and support. Someday all of us will just be fans, even those who went on to play professionally, so it would be wonderful to rejoin our friends in the stands and continue the good camaraderie for years to come.
 

Fairly odd family

Susan Boyd

I have an odd family, but then, to paraphrase Tolstoy, each odd family is odd in its own way. And I can bet that most of you readers know what I mean. We struggle to fit some standard of idealized family perfection and then life gets in the way. In our case, as I'm sure in yours, soccer creates its own bits of oddness throughout each season. The comforting thing is that although we are odd each in our own way, we have bits of oddness in common. And if enough of us have them in common then perhaps that odd becomes the new normal. At least that's what I vote for.    

For example, my sons aren't the only sons who leave their cleats on the garage floor right next to the car door they hop into as we drive away. My husband isn't the only husband who hears "get the grey blanket" and returns with the blue hat. I'm not the only mom who looks up directions for the wrong field so that we drive 20 miles out of our way and nearly make Robbie, and two of his teammates late for the first game of the US Youth Soccer National Championships. We aren't the only family to drive eight hours across the Great Plains with a petulant teenager when his team loses said championship. And we know that we aren't the only family to read the schedule wrong and are sitting in our home in Wisconsin when the team manager calls and asks where we are for a game in Ohio. Or at least we hope we aren't because that last bit of oddness is nothing to be proud of.

I'm sure several of you drive cars that count their miles in the 100,000s. After all you are soccer parents and as such your disposable income goes for trips, gear, more trips, more gear, and fees. It's difficult to consider a new car when the old car works so well and has already been trashed by the muddy cleats, the spilled juice boxes, and the week old soccer socks stuffed under a seat. Just this week we discovered a banana bunch hidden under the seats that had been there long enough to ripen, rot, and petrify. Amazingly no one noticed the smell, or more accurately, no one noticed any different smell. Because the right side speakers are shorting out, we adjust the sound to come only out of the left, but that means that we often only hear one track of a song which could be the melody, the harmony, or the band. In the case of rap, we may get no words at all but have the pulse of the bass clear as a bell. The car would be perfect for committing a crime because if the police ever took soil, hair, and fiber samples they would end up with contradictory evidence and wildly different geographies. 

Here's an oddity that I hope at least one other mother has done. I printed up and laminated roster cards for the parents and left my own son off the roster. It was one of the other parents who pointed it out to me, after I had handed them all out. I redid the cards, but Bryce found out anyway. I had to endure the wrath of a 12 year old who was convinced that I did it on purpose. You would think after 12 years of watching me make mistakes, he'd know better. I'm the same mom who put a red towel in the washer with his white soccer gear. And I'm the same mom who forgot my wallet at work when I was driving Robbie down to practice in Chicago. I discovered it when I was below a quarter tank and had stopped to get more gas. I was able to limp the car to practice on fumes and then borrow some money from normal prepared parents so I could fill up for the trip home. Several of you have done the same, right?

It's no wonder our kids are convinced that they are the only ones trapped in an odd family made more embarrassing when we fill in other people on our quirks and foibles by way of a blog. Arguing that our oddness is what makes us a signature family doesn't really fly because for most kids hiding out in the center of a herd of identical families makes for the smoothest life. However, just like we parents have to discover that our kids aren't the only ones who forget gear, leave important forms sitting on the kitchen table, lose shin guards on the field, and kick balls into the woods never to be seen again, our kids need to learn that their parents aren't the only ones who forget that you lose an hour driving east across the time zones, or neglect to push "submit" on the computer when registering for camp, or sing along with all the Billy Joel songs on the radio. We are all odd in our own way, but we are all odd. Soccer only adds opportunities to express that oddness. And this is the week to celebrate being odd (which is to say, celebrate being a family).
 

Fun doesn't come in sizes - Bart Simpson

Susan Boyd

It's not often I get to quote a cartoon character, much less a perennial 10 year old cartoon character. But Bart makes a very good point. Fun doesn't need to be huge like a trip to Disney World, and fun shouldn't be dismissed because it might be tiny and fleeting. Fun is just fun. And since September is Youth Soccer Month and the first week is devoted to the topic of fun, it seems appropriate to think about how to keep the fun in youth soccer. I've discovered that Bart is not only a philosopher of fun, but he also unwittingly introduced the vuvuzela to us in March of 1997, has a "Soccer Bart" fleece blanket and poster, and joined Ronaldo on the April 22, 2007 episode to teach Homer about soccer. So fun, soccer, and Bart Simpson are not such odd bedfellows.

Besides shamelessly using the Simpsons to add Google search keywords that might bring more readers to my blog, I also wanted to make the point that we often get way too serious about soccer and forget the fun of it all. At the adult professional level soccer can have all the fun of a runaway train – that is to say none. In Europe they have to put demilitarized zones in the stands to separate the opposing fans lest a fist fight breaks out. At the Community Shield game a few years ago, one of Robbie's friends applauded a good play by someone not wearing the jersey of his seating section. The poor kid was nearly muffled by a dozen burly men before security swiftly escorted him out to safety and out of the game. That's serious soccer! Unfortunately I've seen the same serious attitudes at games for kids as young as six. People need to get their Bart on and discover the fun of youth soccer. Here's a few ways to do just that.

One: Practice saying only encouraging things and only cheering for good play. You'll discover it's not that easy because as parents we are naturally inclined to "teach" which often translates into criticizing. So we find ourselves saying encouraging things like, "you can beat that kid," or "next time look before you pass." That's not the kind of encouragement I mean. Try starting every shout out with the word "good" or "great." It's amazing how hard it is to change your habits, but it's also amazing how wonderful your shout-outs will become. Do I practice what I preach – are you kidding? I'm about as fallible as it comes when being a soccer parent. But when I remember, usually after an evil eye look from one of my kids, I find out I am having a lot more fun watching them play. I can laugh at a lot of stuff and it relieves me of having to intently "coach" the game.

Two: Find something fun to do during the game. I hated the vuvuzelas during the Confederation games and the World Cup. But at least those tooting their horns looked to be having a great time even in the face of defeat. The horns hopefully deflected anger and frustration and offered the participants some celebratory joy no matter what the results on the field. While I'm not advocating bringing a bee buzzing plastic instrument to a U8 game, I am saying you might want to have pom poms for everyone on the sidelines or dress in the team colors. I went to a game for a group of 9 year olds where the parents had brought signs like you might for a pro game where they had written "Billy Bends it Better than Beckham" and "Josh Knows Soccer". They jumped around on the sidelines cheering and shaking the signs the entire game. I had fun just watching the parents.

Three: Remember why they play. We spectators have been conditioned to believe that if you lose, it wasn't fun. We're so used to turning off our TVs in disgust when the Brewers are down five runs in the bottom of the ninth. We feel the bitter taste in our mouths from disappointment. Kids on the other hand still find fun just in playing. The more we make games like the adult version, the less fun the kids will have. How many games have you gone to where they don't keep score, yet everyone seems to know what the score is, including the players. The idea is to not have winners or losers. I've come to the conclusion we have this "deception" for the sake of the adults not the kids. Because kids like to know who won and kids forget about it moments after knowing.   It's just a fact they want to know, but it doesn't affect how they feel about themselves, the game, or their participation. To be honest I think they just want to know because that means the game is over and they can go get snacks. At my grandson's last baseball game he won (no one was keeping score of course) and his delight at winning was a mere blip, but his disappointment in not getting a snack lasted all the way to the car and all the way home. "The other team got snacks," he pouted. So they play for fun AND food.

Four: Discover what makes it fun for your child and promote that. When the boys were really young they liked to get pumped up by Smash Mouth's "All Star." We would crank up the volume in the car and rock out as we pulled into the parking lot of the fields. It became an essential ritual. If they won the game, it was due to the song, and if they lost it was due to the volume not being loud enough. Rewards can bring some added zest to a game, although be careful because you may end up paying out a lot. My daughter and her husband promised their 6 year old an ice cream if he got an unassisted double play. The first game he got two! I also saw a girl trot over to her gramma in the middle of a game to claim her dime for not crying when she got knocked down. But of course everyone had a good laugh, which means everyone had a moment of fun.

Five: Fun doesn't come in sizes, so don't discount the smidgens of fun that peek out even in the most serious of games. Last night we went to a college game where Bryce's former teammate was on the opposition. I knew his parents well and told everyone they were in for a treat. Mom is a petite soccer parent with lungs a lion would envy. Her shouts to the team come from deep and are propelled forth with what must be the tautest diaphragm in history. Heads snap round when she belts out her encouragement. And it is always encouragement, never criticism or anger. But there are those who try to shush her, I suppose out of embarrassment. She always laughs and brushes it off. I remarked that her vocalizations were her way of bringing joy to the game. She said I was right. So even though her team lost, she had fun.   And I think she had it super-sized.