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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". 

 

Sportsland

Susan Boyd

I just got home from my 6-year-old grandson's baseball game. Once again the disconnect between what the adults do and say and what the kids are hearing was obvious. I've done a blog about those funny moments as they relate to soccer, so I don't want to repeat myself. But I also think it's important that parents remember that we have to try to get into the kid frame of mind when coaching or mentoring our children, because in their world things are very different.

The field was really muddy, so the coaches wanted the children to bat in from of home plate. Every child marched up to the plate and took his or her stance as taught, lifted the elbows and then saw a coach approaching signaling for the player to move in front of the plate. The coach would point to a spot on the ground and tell the child to stand there. The batter would take a swing and then return to the "proper" place beside home plate. The coach would stride out again, move the batter again, and the cycle continued. The confusion on the child's faces was clearly evident, because for weeks of practice aqnd play they had been told to straddle home plate. Now today, out of nowhere, these parents changed the rules. The parents understood why, but not once did the coaches gather the children together and announce, "Hey, it's so muddy today that we're going to move home plate to a different spot," and then physically place something on the ground to represent home plate. Instead, every child strode to home plate, got told that was wrong, got physically moved to an invisible home plate, and then stood looking bewildered at these coaches who seemed to have no concept of consistency. 

I hate criticizing volunteer coaches because it's a tough job dealing with all the children, their parents, and other well-meaning fans. However year after year, volunteer coaches are sent out to the playing fields with nothing more than a key to the equipment box, a copy of the schedule, and occasionally a slap on the back. While some parents may rail at the US Youth Soccer requirement for all youth coaches have a license, it does raise the level of preparation and information for those coaches. Playing a sport doesn't insure you know how to coach the sport, especially for children under age 10. You can tell a child to throw to second, but if he thinks second base is the second one on the field, then he'll be throwing to first base. You have to have the patience to laugh at that logic and the patience to explain why Abner Doubleday's logic has to prevail. Dealing with a group of children each having their own logical perception of the rules of baseball means dealing with anarchy.

Today a child spent his fielding time between first and second base digging a booby trap for the base runners. He etched out a square on the base path and then methodically dug a trench in the square. When his activities were punctuated by the sound of a hit, he would check to see if the ball was coming in his direction. If it did, he ran after it, but once it got 10 feet beyond him, he returned to his trench. After all if he couldn't throw them out, he could ensnare them. His dad was one of the coaches, so he had to deal with some frustration as ball after ball flew by his inattentive child. Eventually a ball actually rolled into the pit he had created and was stopped.  He was able to pick it up, dust it off, and throw it to first just as the hitter streaked by him towards second leaping over the trap. 

Youth coaches need to be able to deal with kids not "getting" it. So many variables have to line up before any child finally understands how a game is played. It's for a reason that Candy Land uses colors and pictures to travel a singular pathway to its conclusion. Some children who watch a lot of sports or have older siblings catch on faster because they have some experience. Other children approach their sports' experiences as if they are going through the looking glass. It's a new language, new muscles to stretch, and a new skill set. Everything seems strange, wondrous, and intimidating. Soccer coaches know that dribbling means kicking the ball ahead of you as you run, but new soccer players may only know dribbling from idolizing LeBron James. If a coach says "Dribble the ball across the field" he may not always get what he expects. 

Therefore, attending classes to earn an entry level coaching license can give volunteers the opportunity to share with one another how to handle the frustrations of miscommunication and a slow learning curve. Having a professional give some pointers on how to conduct practices and how to approach the entire experience with humor and patience can give new coaches that extra bit of self-confidence to get through the rough spots. 

There's one other important reason to have coaches licensed and that's safety. Volunteer coaches for the most part are fabulous, dedicated, selfless moms and dads who just want to give their children and their children's friends the opportunity to play recreational sports. But unfortunately the occasional bad apple pops up who has a hidden agenda or an uncontrolled temper, and having background checks on all the coaches insures that the bad apples get weeded out before coming into contact with our kids. 

I'm thinking that the coaches in today's game could have used a few hours of training to help them see the need for straightforward instructions, making all decisions clear to the children, and learning how to cope with some of the issues when faced with making baseball clear to 12 6-year-olds. For starters, label all the bases so there are no variables, only certainties. And a line with arrows from home plate around 1st, 2nd, and 3rd back to home might not be a bad idea either. It works for Candy Land.
 

First Impressions

Susan Boyd

Two of my grandkids are in soccer camp this week. I nearly forgot how long it takes to dress them in their soccer gear. One is a girl, and she's very particular about things like how her shin guard strap bulges out her sock. We have to undo and redo the Velcro closing at least a dozen times until it lies flat enough not to make the top of her sock look "fat." Soccer clothes need to make a fashion statement. Her cleats have pink inserts so her socks had to be pink. We had to settle for red shorts since the pink shorts didn't come in her size. The red shorts have a tie string waistband which must be cinched within a millimeter of cutting off all blood supply to her lower extremities. The first day we discovered that tying the string with a knot made it nearly impossible to untie and this was during a major bathroom emergency. So I discovered a way I could tie it up without a knot. I'm going to patent the method and make millions.

My grandson, on the other hand, likes to dress himself. Normally I would applaud, but he requires at least 45 minutes to pull his socks on over the shin guards. I watch him bunch up the socks, stick his toes in the end, and then try to pull them using the top of the socks only. This leaves a wad of sock around his ankles and an extremely thin stretch of sock for the remainder of his leg. So in frustration he rips it all off and begins again. My offers to help or to teach him are totally rebuffed. This is his battle to win every morning. Eventually he works the sock up and over his ankle, although it is twisted at least 720 degrees around the axis of his leg, and maneuvers it up to his knee. Then the real work begins as he pulls at the sock, moves it around his leg, and then grabs the next level to untwist and so on. And that's just the first sock. When he's finally done and he goes to put his cleats on, I hear him say, "Why doesn't this work?"   Before I can stop him, he has pulled the sock off again because it felt too bunched up in his cleat. The process begins again as the clock moves unrelentingly to the time we have to load up and go.

Andrew loves his soccer outfit so much that he has worn it all day, every day, for the past week. Yesterday it was really stormy here and the kids got drenched, so I was able to coerce him out of the clothes and finally wash them. He plans to wear the outfit home on the plane. So does Siobhan, which means a flight attendant will get a first-hand look at my clever tie job. But that's a risk I'll have to take. I'm just happy they love their soccer clothes because I have discovered that's the first step to loving soccer. If the outfit isn't cool, neither is the sport.

The other thing I've rediscovered is how magical a new sport can be. The soccer balls have become trophies that they even take to bed with them. The cleats have super powers to make them run faster as in "Gramma watch how fast I can run." At the end of the first day of camp I was informed by Siobhan that she had made "lots of points." Andrew says he's the best passer in his group. Every day they have stories to tell of their adventures and soccer prowess. Soccer is new, special, and for the moment achievable. I make it a point to reinforce all their beliefs both in soccer and in themselves. They may never end up playing soccer, but I don't want them to dismiss it because their first experience wasn't exciting and fulfilling. For the moment, soccer rules. Now if I could just figure out a way to speed up the preparation process, soccer would rule for me too.
 

It's always something

Susan Boyd

Most of us have at one time or another felt like absolute incompetents when it comes to getting our kids to a soccer game on time with all uniform pieces, equipment, treats, and sideline necessities in hand. Maybe a few of you have the organizational skills, memory, and foresight to be able to head out the door fully prepared, confident that everything you need has been carefully inventoried the night before, placed either in the car trunk or laid out neatly in the bedroom, and have directions programmed into the GPS. In my fantasies this is how my life goes – I do try hard to achieve this perfection. But I'm guessing most of you live some form of my real life. Here is a typical soccer scenario for two boys, one Saturday, and two games at different fields at 10 a.m. and noon.
           
Friday – 10:00 p.m. Robbie asks if I can wash his uniform which he has pulled out of his bag crumpled, grass stained, sweaty, musty, and muddy. I'll need to soak it for at least 30 minutes, wash it, and then dry it. I prepare the sink with hot water and Oxyclean.
 
Friday – 10:30 p.m. I rinse out the clothes in the sink and move them to the washer. The cycle begins. Robbie trots downstairs with his socks which were under his bed. I stop the wash cycle, set up the sink again, and put the socks in. They are disgusting. I consider buying a new pair on the way to the fields, but hope my usual treatment works.
 
Friday – 10:45 p.m. Bryce brings me his rancid uniform (since I am doing the wash). I throw it in with the socks. I ask him where his socks are. He goes to search for them.
 
Friday – 10:55 p.m. Bryce locates his socks in the car balled up against the floor heat vents. This explains the odor I've had in the car for a week.
 
Friday – 11:20 p.m. I rinse out the clothes in the sink. They actually look pretty good. I throw them all in the washer and start the cycle. I go on the computer and print off directions to the fields for both games. They are just 10 miles apart, so I'll drive Bryce to his game during half-time of Robbie's game and then return to pick up Robbie. When I check the calendar for the game times I realize I'm responsible for the treat after Robbie's game. Luckily I have fruit snacks and granola bars in the pantry, but I'll have to grab juice boxes on the way to the game.
 
Friday – 11:55 p.m. Wash cycle is done. I decide to get up early to dry the clothes. I go to bed and set the alarm for 7 a.m..
 
Saturday – 8:05 a.m. The dogs wake us up to blinking alarm clocks. The power has gone off due to a storm over night. A quick look outside shows that the storm was probably powerful but swift. Things don't appear waterlogged, but I need to go on the teams' websites to see if the games have been canceled or moved due to field closures.
 
Saturday – 8:30 a.m. Websites confirm that one game has been moved. They are now 15 miles apart. I need to scramble and find Robbie a ride home since I can't get Bryce to his game and get back to Robbie's game. I wake up Robbie's teammate's family who had also lost power. They are grateful for my call and quickly agree to help out. I smile a certain self-satisfying smile that another mom is worse off than I am right now.
 
Saturday – 8:40 a.m. Bryce wants to sleep longer. He feels no urgency for Robbie's sake. After several minutes of "discussion" which ends with "Fine1" he gets up and takes his shower. Robbie comes down to eat breakfast. We need to leave in 15 minutes so Robbie can be at the fields 45 minutes before the game. "Where's my uniform?" That smirk flies off my face.
 
Saturday – 8:45 a.m. I throw the uniforms in the dryer. I'm hoping 10 minutes will get Robbie's uniform nearly dry. I run upstairs to get dressed. I return downstairs to see Robbie and Bryce eating the granola bars that I have laid out for treats. Perfect. Now I'll have to get treats along with juice.  My smirk earlier seems not only ill-timed but also unwarranted. I ask the boys to please pack up their soccer bags with cleats, shin guards, ball, water bottle, and for Bryce, keeper gloves. I hear activity in the garage. I'm hopeful.
 
Saturday – 8:55 a.m. I pull the uniforms out of the dryer. They are moist. I tell the boys to hold them out the window and let them air dry. This is met with , "Are you kidding me?" and dramatic eye rolls. We get in the car. Luckily my chair, umbrella, and visor are always packed in the car. I have the directions, so we are off. Five miles down the road I hear from the back. "Mom, I don't have my cleats." Apparently Robbie knocked them off and then set them by the car to put in his bag later. We rush back home.
 
Saturday – 9:21 a.m. We arrive at the fields late. The team is already warming up. The teammate I called has not yet arrived, so Robbie won't be the last one. Apparently other families actually put backup batteries in their alarm clocks. Bryce complains that his uniform is still wet. I tell him to spread it out on the hood of the van and let it dry in the sun. He resists as this is not cool. I tell him he can be hip or wet. His choice.
 
Saturday – 9:25 a.m. I open my trunk to see an empty space where my chair should be. I vaguely remember seeing it as I backed out, but was too focused on getting to the game on time for that image to register. Bryce tells me they took it out of the car to make room for their soccer bags. I call my husband and ask him to bring the chair to Bryce's game when he is done with his rounds at the hospital. 
Saturday – 9:55 a.m. I tell Bryce to collect the uniform off the hood. I forgot I have to run to the market and get treats and juice. The only grocery nearby is a gas station. I pay 40 percent  more for what I need. Beggars can't be choosers.
 
Saturday – 10:10 a.m. I return to the fields. Robbie has already scored a goal. I hand the treats off to the family who will take him home. I get told how spectacular the goal was that I missed. I know I will pay for missing it with the silent treatment.
 
Saturday – 10:30 a.m. Time to drive Bryce to his game which has moved. I realize I forgot to download directions to the new location. I know approximately where the fields are, so I'm hoping if I get close enough I can find someone to help me. I do not have a navigation system which Robbie tells me I need. If I have to keep buying treats for about the cost of a system I'll never get one.
 
Saturday – 10:43 a.m. Trapped in a construction zone. They are repairing the only bridge over a 2 foot wide stream. I consider using my four wheel drive to ford the stream, but there are houses on either side. I just have to wait for our direction to go. The person running the slow/stop sign seems to have something against west heading traffic.
 
Saturday – 11:10 a.m. I have arrived at the general location of the fields. Everyone I ask looks at me suspiciously as if I am seeking directions to an ultra-secret undercover government storage facility. Eventually I find someone whose child plays soccer and they know what I am talking about. Receive a phone call from husband who is at the original fields. I apologize for forgetting to let him know about the field change. At least I can give him directions now.
 
Saturday – 11:25 a.m. We get to the fields late. Bryce discovers that he left his socks behind on the grass. I call the family who are taking Robbie home and ask them to pick up the socks. I discover Robbie scored another goal - So much for rooting him on from the sidelines. My soccer box is also missing from the trunk. Bryce borrows socks from a teammate whose parents manage to keep things in their trunk.
 
Saturday -  11:45 a.m. Husband arrives with chair. He also brings me a water. Somehow we have managed to survive another soccer game day. We have two more games tomorrow. I make a mental note to buy a 9 volt battery for the clock.
 

Even the Mighty Fall

Susan Boyd

          I just watched Brazil, ranked by FIFA number one in the world, get defeated by the Netherlands, which is ranked fourth. Consider these statistics: When scoring in the first ten minutes of a World Cup game Brazil was 8-0-1 until today; when leading at the half Brazil was 35-0-2 until today; Brazil had never lost under coach Dunga when both Kaka and Robinho played together 30-0-4 until today; and the own goal to tie the game was the first own goal in Brazil's 97 game World Cup history. Adding insult to the inconceivable, Brazil lost Felipe Melo (who scored the own goal) to a red card in the 73rd minute, so they played a man down in the last 20 minutes.
            The lesson, painfully learned by the Brazilians, but oft repeated among all teams, is that no one is immune to defeat no matter what the numbers say. My grandson just lost his season championship in baseball. His team was undefeated all season and they were playing a team for the championship that they had beaten handily earlier in the season. To make victory even more certain, they had two chances to win since it was a double elimination tournament. Monday night they lost to the Cubs 4-3 and then Wednesday night they lost again 4-0. Losses are painful and even more painful when you are expected to win. But all sports have with them an element of uncertainty which makes them exciting to watch and subject to Vegas odds. 
            Having left the Region II Championship series earlier this week, I saw or learned of a number of upset victories. They are part and parcel of soccer. How often have we attended a game where one team dominated with dozens of strikes, but no goals? Then the opposing team capitalizes on an error and scores the winning goal with their only strike. ""That's soccer,"" the coaches will say. That's life too. We try hard to succeed, do everything right, play by the rules and end up getting short-changed. It happens because fairness isn't a guarantee. It happens because the serendipitous overrides planning on a regular basis.
            In the first round of Wimbledon two players, John Isner and Nicholas Mahut played a three day 183 game tennis match, the world's longest. After that marathon, where any mistake could spell defeat and an errant blade of grass or sudden gust could create those mistakes, it was amazing that they synchronized point for point over the course of the final set of the match which went 70-68. Isner eventually won, but in the end no one wanted to declare a victor. The Wimbledon governing committee even held a ceremony directly after the match that rivaled the Men's Singles Trophy presentation, including royalty to give gifts to the referee and the players. Mahut could only accept the gifts graciously and then melt into the locker room to lick his wounds. And Isner? He lost in straight sets in the next round. These history makers completely faded into the background of more well-known and still active names. Now the focus turned to a championship and away from the diversion of an aberrant match.
            I enjoy the World Cup because nothing is sure. Between cards, injuries, upsets, and untested match-ups, the outcomes take unexpected journeys. I also appreciate that the World Cup takes a moment to acknowledge the issue of racism, especially in a country well-known for its former racial policy. It's comforting to know that no matter what happens in the games, these nations and their fans are expected to respect all the cultures, races, religions, and political views of the participants since those are not the factors on the pitch determining wins and losses. Even the vuvuzelas (those bee humming horns that hang in the background of every match) prove that national cultural traditions will be tolerated during the matches. I don't expect the World Cup to foster sudden world peace or even a truce in conflicts. But I do like the fact that the conflict on the pitch has a definitive end and outcome that all sides must accept even if they feel it was achieved unfairly. Like all athletes, those who lose will feel that outside forces conspired against them and bad calls or bad plays contributed to their defeat. But even the mighty have to accept the score that exists when the final whistle blows. That's soccer.