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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". 

 

Letter Men (and Women)

Susan Boyd

I received a box from my aunt of letters my mother had sent her over the years. Each letter detailed events from her life and the lives of her five children. They gave me great insight into how my mother regarded our development into adults and our various achievements along that road. With five children our family hummed with activities. My two oldest brothers did a year or two of Little League, but for the most part we were the science fair, poetry contest, film competition kind of kids. I did ski competitively for a few years, which I loved and which took me to some interesting locations, but I also did forensics, writing contests, flute, piano, and guitar, singing, and acting, excelling at only a few of these, which you'd never have guessed by how my mother cooed over each of my recitals or minor stage roles. 

Recently my youngest brother and his wife had a baby. They announced it via email and with the click of the reply button I sent my congratulations and some auntly advice. Then I got to thinking about those letters my mother used to write. With the advent of email and now text messages and twitter, we certainly haven't given up on the written word, but we have made it more transitory. I doubt any of us regularly print off our text or tweet logs. Few of us save those emails from family and friends. We write them, read them, and then vaporize them to make room for more.

One might argue that such facilities promote more regular communication which is a good thing. But I would argue it doesn't promote the legacy of communication that letters provide. While I can mentally catalogue many of the amazing events in my children's lives, I can't bequeath my heartfelt reactions. We have some evidence of achievements in the form of certificates, news articles, pictures and trophies, but no real evidence of my pride in them not just for the wins but for the attempts. I realized this when I read my mom's letters. Every one of my attempts whether or not they resulted in ski victories or poetry wins earned a chronicled place in my mother's letters. The tiniest moment of my life, now forgotten, has come back to make me feel the pride my mother felt. Decades later, I am touched. The connection I have to my mom renews itself in the reading of those letters. I have not left a similar legacy to my children, and I regret it. They don't have any tangible reminder of how proud I was of all their efforts.

Likewise, I don't have any collected works of letters to and from my brothers I can pass on to my nieces and nephews. I read an email, I may even forward it to my husband or to another brother, and then it eventually fades into the queue of my "read" emails and at some point completely vanishes. So when my middle brother writes about my namesake niece's work in a DNA lab, the evident pride of his words are now gone. I should have printed the email off, but I never thought of it because the very nature of cyber communication is the ease with which it comes and goes. With a single keystroke we can make it appear and make it disappear. We don't need to hunt for stamps, envelopes, and writing paper. We don't need elegant leather bound address books that show the history of our relatives' and friends' life journeys with each move scribbled tightly into any available space. Now they could move a thousand times, but their email address lasts forever.

A corollary to our ephemeral communication is our fascination with our digital and video cameras. While the cliché "a picture is worth a thousand words" may have some validity, I disagree when it comes to passing on how you felt about the person in the photograph. We can take a picture of a goal, our child playing the piano, the blurred streak of riding a bike without training wheels, or the sweet smile and new backpack on the first day of school, but the picture doesn't convey a personal message from the photographer to the subject. The photos and videos are so easily created and just as easily discarded that they lose the impact of being special.

Perhaps letters have become communication dinosaurs, but I could have kept a diary for each of my sons so they would have a record of what I felt each time I experienced something in their lives such as school dramas or soccer tournaments. I have very inelegant handwriting. I'm embarrassed by how bad my penmanship actually is, but I realize that it's a part of my character that I can pass on as a thread tying together generations. While my mastery at typing allows me to win more easily at word games on line and avoid confusion as to whether I wrote "affect" or "effect," it does little to distinguish me at a quick glance from any other writer. But we all recognize one another's handwriting nearly instantly. 

I'd like to make a proposal for returning to a more permanent and personal form of communication. As your children grow and venture out into the world, record those adventures and your reaction to them in a way that will persist with the gravity and personality that writing permits. You can still share experiences via a quick text, "Mia scored the winning goal!" but also give yourself the luxury of expanding on that achievement with more details of how you felt and what your child showed at the moment. If you don't write letters to relatives, write letters to your children so that years later they can discover how significantly the smallest event played out in your life. They will be able to touch the paper you wrote upon and see the movement of your pen as you documented it nearly contemporaneously. They will be able to put the letters away and bring them back out because they exist with the same permanence as furniture or homes. 

I encourage each of us to set down the digital camera, the cellular phone, the wireless computer, and the Blackberry, and take a few minutes each week to write down with pen and paper what happened that week with the kids and how proud you were of them. It's a special legacy that parents have had available for centuries and can continue to provide for centuries into the future. When Bill Gates promotes our paperless society I can promise you that his children would rather be grasping a tome of letters he wrote than a flash drive found in the bottom of a safe deposit box. There is something vital and engaging about a letter written or even scrawled. It embodies the smells, the oils, the movements, the thoughts, the emotions and even the soul of the writer which brings comfort and connection to anyone who holds that paper.   Our written words can be a hand that reaches through the years to offer a gentle caress to the hearts of our children.
 

Refrigerator Soccer

Susan Boyd

With the Winter Olympics just weeks away, I'd like to make my proposal to the Olympic committee that they approve Refrigerator Soccer as an official winter sport. Refrigerator Soccer is played in several nations including Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Antarctica, and the northern United States. The sport follows the same rules as regular soccer – I'll call that Temperate Soccer – but has a different playing surface and different ambient conditions. True Refrigerator Soccer requires tundra, snow obscured lines, below freezing temperatures, and brooms and shovels. Players and fans of Refrigerator Soccer take terms like hypothermia and frostbite seriously, though neither condition has ever prevented a Refrigerator Soccer match from occurring. Without benefit of sideline heaters, hand warmers, or those giant capes football players wear, Refrigerator Soccer players may even forgo sweatpants, gloves, and hats. There's a certain purity to the sport that most true Refrigerator Soccer players and fans insist be respected.

My children have participated in and continue to participate in Refrigerator Soccer. Just yesterday Bryce had practice in a structure called appropriately "The Icebox." This structure has a roof, but is still exposed to the elements. It has a concrete slab on which a 2 mm thick carpet of green has been applied. The outside temperature was 18 degrees and the inside temperature was 20 degrees. Today we have a winter storm warning with 8 to 12 inches of snow expected. It is a balmy 19 degrees and the wind is increasing to 30 mph insuring white out conditions. And yes, there will be practice. This is what makes it true Refrigerator Soccer - the colder and the snowier the better.

A typical Refrigerator Soccer game is played between November and May on frozen earth covered by snow and ice. Spectators participate by sweeping off the lines and team benches. All the regular rules of soccer are followed, but it is the atmosphere which ultimately dictates the game. It's tough to kick a ball that has effectively frozen into a block of pentagrams. It's even tougher to sprint down the sidelines dribbling that ball and not slip on an ice patch or see the ball skitter uncontrollably on the tundra. Goalkeepers recognize the near futility of stopping a strong shot since the ball will have all the velocity of a soccer ball with the additional weight and rigidity of a frozen projectile. When icy objects meet frosted appendages it often leads to an unpleasant shattering. Referees learn to become students of the Force. For example determining out of bounds becomes more a matter of an educated guess rather than a clearly delineated violation. Placing the ball in the legal corner kick crescent requires a leap of faith.

Some of you in warmer climates have never experienced Refrigerator Soccer so you can't completely understand the purpose and the addiction. One February the Wisconsin US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program team was practicing at the Marquette University fields. These are located in a wind tunnel valley just below Interstate 94. The artificial turf was covered in ice and snow, made even slicker by the hundreds of feet pounding the surface into a rink. While standing there under the lights and bracing against the gale force winds I was aware of a gentleman with a camera next to me. "I saw this from the freeway and I just had to come down and take some pictures. My kids won't believe this." He was from Tennessee which has traditionally been a Refrigerator Soccer-free zone. In 2006 the NCAA College Championship was played in St. Louis following one of the worst blizzards the city had ever experienced. The two teams in the final had definitely never played Refrigerator Soccer, but UCLA and UC Santa Barbara got a quick lesson in the sport as they battled snow banks impeding the corner kicks and piled tight against the sidelines, not to mention the freezing temperatures. I'm sure the players had never played soccer in temperatures under 40 degrees.

Why does anyone play Refrigerator Soccer? Because when you live in that territory, you have to or lose out on outdoor training and playing for nearly half the year. Some very good players have come out of the Refrigerator Soccer tradition such as DeMarcus Beasley, Jay DeMerit, Abby Wambach, and Leslie Osborne, so I think that serves as proof that Refrigerator Soccer serves a legitimate purpose in the sports world. I can't think of a better endorsement than the fact that Refrigerator Soccer players could choose hockey for the same ice cold experience with a similar set of rules, but they opt out of the heavy shirts, thick gloves, long pants, and most importantly hockey skates, and instead stay true to the pure soccer experience while gliding across the ice in cleats. I think the addition of the sport could only improve upon the appeal of the Winter Olympic Games and would certainly attract those Temperate Soccer fans that are looking for a winter soccer fix. So Refrigerator Soccer fans rise up and demand the respect due this sport. Your efforts could create the groundswell for an historic change.
 

Not Exactly Nostradamus

Susan Boyd

Most pundits like to consider the year in review during this season and with a new decade beginning the review can extend back to 2000. I'd rather look forward – primarily because I don't have that good of a memory and I'm too lazy to do any research. So I'd like to make some predictions about soccer for the coming year.

First, I predict the U.S. Men's National Team will advance out of their bracket during the World Cup this June in South Africa. I also predict I won't be attending. I looked up a few packages for the World Cup and discovered that unless I had been a "retired" CEO for some of the failed banks and brokerage firms last year I couldn't hope to come up with enough money to attend. Most tour packages including airfare begin at $5000 per person. Of course for that price you only get one ticket to one game. Just for fun, since I couldn't afford Economy, I check on First Class. After all, if I can't attend, I may as well not attend on the highest level, which begins at $25,000. I've needed a tooth implant for the past five years which will cost me $1600 after insurance. Every time I get that much money together I have some child related expense. So even if I decided to remain toothless and deprive my children of their education, that $1600 would only take me somewhere over the Atlantic. I'll also go out on a limb and predict that I won't be attending the World Cup in 2014 in Brazil unless I win the lottery which I have been predicting I'll win for the last two decades.

Second, I predict that youth soccer will grow by at least 2 percent this year which is a pretty safe prediction given the fact that high school soccer has grown 72 percent in the past ten years compared to football, basketball, and baseball at 3.4 percent, 5.1 percent, and 7 percent respectively as reported by American Soccer History (http://homepages.sover.net/~spectrum/).   Also our local soccer store opened a new branch last year. I figure any business that expands in last year's economy has to be based on a fairly strong growth curve. Now I just need someone to do a survey to prove me right.

Third, I predict we'll see another major shift in youth soccer training and competition in the next two to three years. In the 12 years my sons have been in youth soccer they have seen the formation of US Club Soccer, the Y-League, Regional League, Red Bull League, USSF Development Academy, and the US Youth Soccer National League. Some new variations on those programs or entirely new programs will arrive on the youth soccer scene to further confuse parents and complicate decision-making. While most changes look good on paper, in practice they end up with lots of bumps requiring either refinement or complete overhauls. Once soccer gets to the numbers here it enjoys in other countries, we'll be able to develop a nationwide training and development model which will provide all youth soccer players with convenient, consistent, and significant opportunities to advance to the higher levels of the sport. For the time being, youth players are well-served by programs supported through US Youth Soccer Association and their local state Soccer Associations. While development isn't perfect, it does exist with identification programs such as US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and increasingly stronger requirements for coaches' training and licenses.

Finally, I predict that youth soccer will continue to provide players with a great forum for physical fitness, mental development, and fun. There's nothing to compare to watching a six year old streaking towards the goal, shooting, and scoring. The joy on her face can't be erased by the fans' knowledge that she streaked the wrong direction! When kids run on that field, begin to kick the ball around, and discover that they can actually look just like the pros they see on TV, the pride and pleasure are priceless. I think the real allure of soccer comes from how easily anyone can play the game. You don't really need any equipment. Many kids around the world don't even have a ball. As long as players have an open area with something round to kick, they can play soccer. This is a sport that comes from the heart of the player. So I predict the more we play, the more we'll love the game.
 

'Tis the Season for Giving

Susan Boyd

Last week I talked about some ways you could find appropriate gifts for the soccer player or fan in your family. But we also realize that many children don't have access to even the barest necessities of life including food, clothes, medicine, and housing. Many soccer associations and players have formed charitable organizations to address the needs of children through the game itself. While there are literally hundreds of these organizations throughout the world, I'd like to point out a few that could use your support this holiday season as well as the rest of the year. Consider donating to one of these foundations as part of your gift giving tradition.

America SCORES (www.americascores.org) is an innovative foundation that serves 14 metropolitan areas in the United States. It provides after school soccer for inner city kids while also engaging them in a writing and literacy program. Using soccer as a means to both recruit and excite the children, the foundation then shifts during inclement weather to a literacy program tied to the kids' experiences both on the soccer pitch and in their world.  Sponsors of the program are diverse ranging from ASCAP, which is a song composers' organization to adidas. Nearly 100% of donations to the organization are used directly for the program as it is largely volunteer-staffed. The poetry the kids have created in the program has been featured on Wall Street and the Sunday Boston Globe.

Many of you will use Hanukkah and Christmas as a time to replace cleats, jerseys, and other soccer equipment, most of which will still be useable. The U.S. Soccer Foundation (www.ussoccerfoundation.org/site/c.ipIQKXOvFoG/b.5438455/k.CCC2/Passback.htm) sponsors a program called Passback which collects, organizes, and sends out used soccer gear to kids in need both here in the U.S. and around the world. Usually they will advertise a collection two or three times a year through each US Youth Soccer State Association office. Clubs are asked to collect donations and bring them to the state office. Or you can organize your own collection and arrange with the foundation for pick-up. Naturally monetary donations are also welcomed.

In 1997 Garret Hamm, Mia's brother, passed away due to complications from aplastic anemia. The best hope for a cure for many patients is a bone marrow transplant. Therefore Mia formed her Mia Foundation (www.miafoundation.org) to raise research funds for and awareness about bone marrow transplants and to provide support for families going through the process. In addition she uses her foundation to promote the growth of women's sports. She wants to see the progress made in the last ten years continue so that all girls who wish to play sports have that opportunity.

With the first ever World Cup in Africa coming in 2010, eyes will be upon both South Africa and on the entire continent. Unfortunately HIV and AIDS continue to be a deadly epidemic throughout Africa. In 2002 Tommy Clark, who had played soccer professionally in Zimbabwe and then became a physician, joined with other soccer players, including Ethan Zohn who won Survivor, to form Grass Root Soccer (www.grassrootsoccer.org). They had the idea that kids learn best from people they respect as role models. So using soccer players and the sport, the organization entered Zimbabwe with the mission to stem the advance of HIV/AIDS in the country through a soccer centered education program. Using an innovative "Skillz" program, the foundation teaches kids how to prevent HIV. The program has now spread to other African nations and has the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

All over the world soccer can be found in the most impoverished areas of any country or city. In the United States soccer has gained a reputation as a more elitist sport for those who have the money for club fees, travel, and top gear. However, in the streets of Rio de Janeiro or the dusty back fields of Botswana, kids play soccer bare foot with a melon or a bucket for a ball. That passion for and universal attraction of the game became the starting point for Street Soccer USA (www.streetsoccerusa.org). Founders use soccer as a means to reach homeless men, women, and children, bring them into a community of players, and create leagues in order to provide them with a purpose beyond crime or self-destruction. The idea is to end homelessness through soccer. The organization has teams in sixteen metropolitan areas. Their model uses a mentoring program to help players get off drugs, deal with mental health issues, find employment, and eventually permanent housing. They have reached 20 percent of the homeless in the areas they serve and have a 75 percent success rate in affecting a life change among the population they reach.

We can affect a major change in someone's life with a simple donation of $5.00. Just think if every US Youth Soccer member contributed $5.00 to one of these or any other charitable organization, we would make a net $15 million contribution to those in need. We can be a powerful factor in helping the poor in America and around the world. So please consider clicking on one of the links above and giving them a small donation that when joined with others can be a significant gift.