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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". 

 

It Takes Thought to Find a Gift that Counts

Susan Boyd

Winter holidays mean three things: the celebration of beliefs and traditions; less soccer; and gift buying. Families make their own decision about the first, and I can't really do much about the second, but I can help out with the third. Soccer fans, especially young soccer fans, have no end of soccer items they want (translate – need) to get them through any winter hiatus and give them a reason to last until spring. Unfortunately soccer gear usually comes with a very high price and professional teams have a way of redesigning their jerseys every year, so that last year's $75 jersey needs to be replaced by this year's $80 jersey. Additionally, star players move among the top international clubs and change numbers as well as affiliations. So kids don't want to be wearing Ronaldinho's Barcelona 10 jersey. They want his A.C. Milan 80 jersey instead. If we had Ronaldinho's $30 million contract, we could easily keep up. But most of us are just trying to get by with far fewer zeros on our pay checks.

So what can we get for a more modest sum that answers the wants and needs of our younger soccer fans? Plenty, it turns out if we think creatively.

Let's start with small items that can be stocking stuffers or help stretch out the gifts over Hanukkah. Zipper pulls run around $3 and come in the classic soccer ball design or in team logos. They can add some pizzazz to a warm up or a soccer bag. And speaking of soccer bags, consider purchasing a luggage tag that you can have custom made for your player. These usually run between $10 and $20 depending on how much customization you have done from name and address on already designed tags to having a cut-out of your club's logo. It certainly helps to quickly identify your child's bag from the long identical line of bags behind the bench. To keep that bag from getting too rancid buy several bag dog deodorizers at $10 each. Shoe bags are a great way to keep mud, indoor rubber confetti, and moisture from ruining everything in the soccer backpack. They usually cost between $10 and $15. Girls appreciate rubber hair bands and sleeve clips that get lost easily. Packages holding five or ten of each usually cost under $10.

Unique gifts for $20 to $50 exist for any soccer fan. Rugs, wastebaskets, sheet sets, wall stickers, and over door hanging racks all come with pro team designs or have soccer themes and can brighten up a bedroom. I found a magnetic soccer cork board that hangs on the refrigerator and can be used to tack up maps to games, game schedules, and photos and programs making them readily accessible and easy to change. These boards cost between $15 and $30 depending on size and design. Glitter soccer tote bags in hot pink, fluorescent green, and brilliant purple could add that extra flair to a girl's soccer bag and help hold jewelry, hair brushes, and toiletries in style for $17. Mom might appreciate soccer themed jewelry in necklaces, earrings, and hair clips for around $20 each. Dad could go for a soccer tie, soccer socks, or a soccer headband in the $20 range.

Getting a gift for the coach isn't always easy. Any coach who has seen a few years on the pitch already has a cupboard full of soccer mugs and a tree full of soccer ornaments. Finding a more personal and memorable gift can be solved with a few of these items. For around $17 you can get a soccer autograph pillow that every player can sign for the coach. Coach Guy Newman designed a Coach Deck which is a set of cards for $22 which show over 50 drills divided into passing, dribbling, shooting, and defense. They fit easily into a pocket or backpack. For $45 you could get your coach a PEET shoe dryer which he and she would definitely appreciate so that they didn't need to stand in wet shoes on the sidelines for several games over a tournament weekend. Buying a soccer frame and then making a collage with team photos, autographs, and team records would create a wonderful personal coach's gift for under $50.

Instead of jerseys which can run as much as $100, consider buying a club team or national team flag for around $40. The boys hung them as room dividers and on their doors. For a bit less you can buy a soccer scarf for $25 either for national or individual professional teams. Robbie and Bryce hung them around the top of their walls like a border and put pictures they cut out of soccer magazines under the scarves to show who was on what team. And that's another great gift to consider, soccer magazine subscriptions. These can run $20 to $50 for a year. Players who want to be serious about the game should be reading up on the sport on a regular basis. Some titles are soccer specific such as Soccer America, Four Four Two, Fair Game (women's soccer) and Soccer Times while others are general sports magazines such as ESPN which always has a great soccer section. 

With the World Cup next summer in South Africa, World Cup themed gear has erupted. Every kid wants the official World Cup ball which is $150 and is sure to be lost or stolen in the first practice. Or for $25 to $40 you can get a replica World Cup ball which will also probably disappear, but with a smaller blow to the wallet. Few of us can attend the World Cup, but we can all attend live soccer games. So consider getting tickets to MLS games, MISL games, college games, or even high school games. I can guarantee that there is live soccer within an hour of 80% of American families. Support your local college or junior college teams by attending a game or two or becoming a season ticket sponsor. Usually players on these teams are fairly accessible to spectators and the teams are always looking for volunteer ball boys and girls. Going to a local soccer game can be cheaper and more entertaining than going to a movie. So look around for an opportunity to buy some tickets as gifts.

I don't endorse any particular Web site for finding these gifts. Most can be located using a simple browser search engine and typing in "soccer gifts" or even specific items such as "World Cup ball." I do suggest that you also locate promotional codes for the website you land on by searching "promo codes" on the web since many venues offer free shipping or 10% off using one of the codes. With some creativity and some bargain hunting, you can pick up great soccer gifts for your players and fans without falling back on the expensive standbys such as official jerseys and warm-ups. However, if you want the ultimate gift for your player, consider having a large, even life-sized wall clinger poster for up to $200 made from a high-resolution photo of your son or daughter. Several online businesses and even your local photographer offer this option. If you can afford it, this would be a memorable and personal gift for the holidays.
 

Lost in Translation

Susan Boyd

Watching my grandson's soccer game last week I was reminded that even when we think kids aren't listening, they really are, it's just that they don't understand us. But they try, because they want to please us. The following results come from some of the most confusing and therefore entertaining vignettes of my journey through youth soccer.
  • A U-6 coach attempted to exhort his tiny players to get more energy into the game. "Come on. Pick it up you guys." With some confusion the team paused to consider this instruction. "What are you stopping for? I said pick it up." With a shrug of his shoulders, one player ran over to the ball rolling across the field, and picked it up.
  • At an indoor game the teams were 3v3 using the smaller Pugg goals. When the players came out for the second half, we noticed that the team on the near side only had two players on the field. The coach started to laugh, walked over to the goal and pulled the third player out of the far back edges of the Pugg. "But you told me to get in goal," the frustrated five year old shouted.
  • During a particularly combative U-10 game, the coach of one team was continually barking instructions to his players. One girl seemed frozen unable to respond to the increasingly strident orders from her coach. Finally, on the verge of tears she turned to him, "What do you mean goal side? Which side of the goal?"
  • In a post game dissection, the coach, trying to explain passing, asked if anyone could do a cross. A player popped up his hand. "I can do that. We do it before we pray."
  • Once when Robbie was playing in a 3v3 tournament he got the ball and began to dribble down the field. I cheered, or so I thought, "Go Robbie go!" He stopped immediately. Stomping his foot, he yelled right at me "I'm running as fast as I can."
  • When Bryce was eight he used to run behind the goal during defensive plays. It took us a couple weeks to piece it all together. The coach told him to defend the far post. 
  • Innovation saved the day when a U-8 girl was admonished several times during the game to "mark her man." First of all it was a girls' game and second of all she had nothing to write with. After the fourth or fifth insistence a light bulb went on. She picked up some dirt, ran over to the sidelines, rubbed it on her father, and then looked proudly to her coach.
  • Another coach explaining defensive midfield to his young player was telling him that he needed to move up during offense and then run back during defense. Unfortunately he said, "I need you to straddle both lanes." A bowling reference in a soccer pep talk just doesn't cut it.
We parents all too often forget that what we know about the world we learned through decades of experience. What seems abundantly clear to us comes across as confusing and occasionally ridiculous to our half-pint players. Bless them for wanting to do the right thing, so we need to just enjoy the ride. It may be a cliché, but it's true: they are young for such a short time. Let them invent their world.  What they discover can be more fun to experience with them than what we try so hard to teach them. Their fresh minds can translate life into adventure.
 

Oh the Gaul

Susan Boyd

When a single soccer goal ends up being argued in publications as diverse as the Huffington Post, India Times, and Wall Street Journal, you know it's a big deal. Add the drama of a David and Goliath story and international intrigue to create a tsunami of blogs, editorials, and irate message boards. Wednesday Thierry Henry, a French player known for his grace on the field and his integrity off the field, clearly used his left hand to control the ball in the box and then play it to his teammate William Gallas which tied Ireland 1-1. Of the three on-field officials all were struck momentarily blind at the exact same moment. None of them saw the handball, and so the goal stood. To add insult to injury a further review of the play also shows that two French players were most likely off-side. So France went on to secure its berth in the 2010 World Cup and Ireland did not. Even Henry admitted that he had "unintentionally" handled the ball, but stated that since the referees didn't call the foul, he continued to play. He says he told the center ref immediately following the goal and let the captain of the Irish team know. He even suggested that a replay of the game would probably be the fairest way to handle the incident.

When Ireland approached FIFA to request several ways of rectifying the situation including replaying the game or outright awarding the victory and the World Cup berth to Ireland rather than France, FIFA's reply was swift and forthright: "The Laws of the Game state . . . The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final." Therefore the game stands. There was some precedent for replaying the game. In 2005 Bahrain played Uzbekistan in a World Cup qualifier. There the referee disallowed a successful penalty kick for Uzbekistan because of early encroachment of an Uzbekistan player into the penalty zone. The rules state that the penalty kick would then be replayed, but the referee instead awarded Bahrain a free kick. Therefore FIFA ordered the replay because the referee had not properly interpreted the rules.

All of this controversy leads to the inevitable two questions: What is fair? Should instant replay be introduced to soccer?  Fairness ends up being a relative concept whenever a variety of elements exist in determining fairness. Rules are established as a means of containing controversy by preempting challenges. FIFA says that what the referee sees is what happens on the field. If the referee can be persuaded by fellow referees that he or she missed something the decision can be changed so long as play has not restarted and the game is not over. Clearly (or perhaps blindly) what the referee observed was a legal goal. Since everyone agrees to play by the rules, then the rules have to be followed. Complicating the issue of fairness becomes the overall attitude that FIFA seeds brackets in such a way as to insure that the big guns get into the World Cup and the smaller nations suffer. So when a big gun wins because of an illegal play, the clarions of anger will be louder and more strident than ever.

Could this all have been avoided had there been instant replay? Probably, although the deeper issues of how FIFA conducts the qualifying rounds would still fester. Nevertheless, since YouTube, Huffington Post, and sport outlets all have the video of the handball playing endlessly on the internet, it's clear that proof of the foul exists. Would instant replay serve the game? As one who has tired of the fits and starts added to already fitful NFL games with the replays, I'd hate to see the flow of any soccer matches fall prey to instant replay technology. Considering how rarely the issue of extremely questionable play comes up, it seems an unnecessary addition to the game. FIFA might consider adding two end zone officials to watch specifically for fouls in the box that are difficult to see from behind and by ARs on the opposite side of the play when looking through a sea of legs, bodies, and goal posts. 

But truly I'm more in favor of just letting the controversy flare up, get its day in the light of public opinion and then tuck away in the history books for another two or three years until a new controversial goal snaps everything back into focus. I love watching Judge Judy. She's my guilty pleasure while I fold laundry. If I've learned anything, I've learned that occasionally the law ends up being unfair. The aggrieved party can't prove their case and so the clearly smirking and guilty thug ends up getting away with it. It hurts to lose when you know you should win, but then you move on and let it all go because there are new opportunities on the horizon that have much better outcomes.

I loved reading the Irish Herald's editorial about the event because of all the papers talking about this incident this was the one who had the most right to be angry. Yet the editor took the opportunity to point out some hard truths. "Why were we in the position where a disputed goal put us out of the World Cup?   It is not a popular thing to say in the current climate, but shouldn't we have scored the second goal to ensure our qualification? If we had done that there wouldn't be a word about Thierry Henry this morning." Exactly! How often do we tell our kids that they can't blame the weather, the field conditions, the dirty play of the opposing team, or the officiating for losing a game? Instant replay will never provide strong play and the will to win. Fairness will never be achieved 100 percent. So we have to muddle through and not try to achieve some perfect environment for play. Let soccer be what it is – a somewhat flawed arena in which we project our nationalism, our bravado, and our hopes.
 

Battery Park

Susan Boyd

The lead stories on Monday's Today show were, in order, Hurricane Ida, the Fort Hood shootings, and a female soccer player accused of rough play. The fact that in the midst of wars, economic concerns, and health reform, the manner of play in a soccer game would warrant the number three lead story on a national news show instantly piqued my interest.

For those of you unaware of this story here's a short recap. Last week BYU hosted New Mexico's Lobos women's team for a game. One Lobos player overstepped the boundaries of civilized play. Her behavior included kicking a ball full force right in the face of a downed player, punching another player in the back with her fist, and most horrifyingly yanking a player's pony tail so violently that her neck arched back and she collapsed on the ground. Did she ever get a card or at minimum a whistle? She was admonished just once with a yellow over the ball in the face. Otherwise all her actions went unnoticed and unpenalized. When the video of her actions hit YouTube and the national news, her coach suspended her from the team for an unspecified time and many in the public clamored for her suspension from the university. The player in question apologized for her behavior by stating that, "I let my emotions get the best of me in a heated situation." She knew she had chosen to behave badly.

We read stories like this all the time, and worse we personally witness violence in sports. For example, this fall I witnessed a player long after play had stopped stomp on a downed defender's head opening a wound that required five stitches. He was sent off with a red. French player and three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane head butted two players in 2000 and 2006 respectively. He also was sent off with a red. Just recently a Rhode Island high school girls' soccer championship game turned into a brawl between the teams. The game was suspended. A club player last year was sucker punched as he walked off the field. The victim ended up in a coma with severe head injuries. Although no card was issued because the game was over. 

Assault and battery are legally defined as "the intentional and unjustified use of force upon the person of another, however slight, or the intentional doing of a wanton or grossly negligent act causing personal injury to another." Assault is also defined as "the threat of violence while battery is the actual act of violence resulting in injury" (Judicial Definitions, State of Massachusetts).   We excuse battery in the course of a sporting event because we accept it as a justifiable offshoot of the aggressive nature of the competition. In reality it's not. Sports have rules that carefully and constructively lay out the acceptable limits of behavior. Most sports don't tolerate excessive aggression or contact between players, and that is certainly true of soccer. Yet players consistently get away with extremely unacceptable violent behavior with little more than a card and possibly a one or two game suspension. Referees have limited ability to enforce anything further than sending a player off. The real police need to be coaches and the governing agencies of the sport. When a player is unnecessarily violent – and those instances should be clear to all who witness them – then a coach needs to exercise swift and serious consequences.

A case in point was a recent event between the University of Oregon and Boise State University football players LeGarrette Blount and Byron Hout respectively. Hout taunted Blount after the U of O lost to BSU and then tapped his shoulder in a mildly aggressive way. Blount retaliated by punching Hout and momentarily knocking him out. The U of O coach and AD both responded within hours of the event with a suspension of Blount from the football team. Blount's behavior was no more dangerous than that of the player who stomped on the defender's head in a soccer game. And at least Blount was directly provoked by Hout. But in the case of the soccer player only a red card was issued, he served a one game suspension, and was back to playing soccer without any further recourse. That's not right. While the letter of the law was followed, the spirit was certainly neglected. Players need to be held as accountable for their on-field actions as they are for their off-field actions. The same weekend as the head stomping incident, a student was suspended from school for kicking another student in the face during the course of a verbal argument. The injury required some stitches and no hospitalization. So it was on a similar level as the injury the soccer player administered. The only difference was that one injury occurred during the course of a verbal confrontation and the other occurred during the course of a sport competition. Both were unacceptable and excessive demonstrations of violence and both were preventable had the aggressor made the choice not to follow through with harm.

That is the key point. Any contact sport will have violent moments. It comes as a matter of course from heavy, moving objects flying about. But when the violence comes from an action outside the boundaries of play, then it is a choice made by a player. I'm talking about intentional infliction of injury by one player upon another and not those injuries which might be intentional, but come about due to reckless play such as tripping or sliding cleats up. Intentional injury, for this argument, comes when an aggressor has time to consider his or her actions and then decides to proceed.

The video of the Lobos player showed that all of her actions were a matter of choice and didn't arise from the flow of the game. For that reason and no others, she needs to be held accountable. Luckily nothing she did resulted in injury, but it could have. She was a poor representative of her team and played with poor sportsmanship not to mention the potential for injury. Better she got caught now rather than later with more serious results. Coaches need to be willing to address those actions and to let it be known that they won't be tolerated. Should injury occur they need to institute serious and extended consequences. We can't eliminate violence on the field, but we can certainly make sure that it is dealt with swiftly and seriously.  Knowing how gravely a coach will react might give a player extra pause in that moment he or she considers an attack. At least it will erase the false protection of the pitch as a place with different societal rules.