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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". 

 

Everything I learned about soccer

Susan Boyd

I learned by watching. I'll admit to playing soccer while attending a German high school, but it was a coed physical education class and the main purpose of our activity was to waste as much time as possible, stay as clean as possible, and sneak out as soon as possible to a cafe. But that's also the time I began to watch soccer both on TV and at the stadium which was a short walk and streetcar ride from my apartment. In Germany impressing a boyfriend meant having a passion for or at least feigning a passion for soccer. But watching soccer had little to do with learning the rules or appreciating the tactics. Instead I simply learned the various stereotypes about the sport that my friends held: Italian players were drama queens, English players were cry babies, French players had no grit, and German players were intelligent, strong, and unfairly penalized by foreign referees.

Throughout the subsequent years I would watch a game now and again, but it was difficult to catch a game on TV when in the United States. Every four years I did watch the World Cup finals, but until I had children playing soccer I didn't make a real investment in watching or understanding the game. And youth soccer, particularly before players reach age 12, doesn't mirror the way the game is played internationally. Unfortunately, I and most of the parents I knew thought we understood the game perfectly; so well in fact that that during any game we felt obliged to teach soccer to the referees, the coaches, and our own children.

Many parents aren't students of the game. This is somewhat understandable because we are just now getting to the parental generations who have actually played soccer in large numbers. Yesterday was the Super Bowl with something like 100 million viewers, most of them Americans. There's a substantial parent contingent who regularly watches, may have played, and understands the positions and strategy of football. Same goes for baseball and basketball. But in the U.S., soccer hasn't yet arrived at that level. Nevertheless, we parents owe it to our kids to immerse ourselves in a quick study of the game and to provide an atmosphere at home where soccer is part of the regular sports viewing. Our children need to be proud of the sport they play and they need to know that their parents consider it a significant and worthy endeavor.

As my boys progressed in soccer and understood the game far better than I did, the chatter from parents became not only annoying but downright interference. When one 10-year-old girl passed by the parental hordes shouting and instructing the players, she put her finger to her lips and exclaimed, "Settle down!" That's when I realized I needed a soccer education. I bought a FIFA rule book and studied it. I also began to watch more and more games both live and on TV. We bought season tickets to the local indoor soccer team which gave me a further education and an opportunity to talk about soccer together as a family. We regularly watched EPL and La Liga games together which afforded me the opportunity to learn about individual international players and my sons' assessments of their abilities.

Knowing that a ball isn't out of bounds until every millimeter of its surface is out or the difference between a goal kick and a corner kick doesn't qualify as understanding the game. Because soccer appears to be a fairly simple game, we parents may convince ourselves there isn't much to learn. Pass the ball by kicking it down the field and then kick it into the goal. Defend by trying to steal the ball and by stopping the ball going into the net. However, there's a complex sophistication of how those actions are achieved that ultimately creates the sport that has captured most of the world's attention. Every choice made on the field has geometric outcomes leading to further options. Additionally, learning individual players and the skills they bring to the game can enhance a viewer's experience. Just as baseball managers will have the outfield shift to accommodate a batter's style and power, so too a soccer coach will adjust how a team attacks or defends based on the opposition's player roster.

I would like to challenge youth soccer clubs to offer soccer education for parents. It could build membership because if parents appreciated the intricacies of soccer they'd be more likely to encourage their sons and daughters to stay with the sport.   Since many parents stick around to observe practices, it makes sense for coaches to incorporate them into the practice. Anything from a simple explanation, "These drills help players learn how to overlap," to bringing out the chalkboard and showing how a particular formation is expected to work will make parents feel less like an intrusion and more involved. Robbie had a coach who would regularly address the parents and explain what was going on. I learned so much listening to him and certainly learned to appreciate his coaching decisions since I understood better how he arrived at them. He taught me what a flat-back-four defense was by holding up four fingers and indicating how they operated together down the field.

My boys still correct me regularly when I make comments while watching a game. And they are far more educated as to players, teams, rivalries, and rankings than I ever will be. But over the years I've become much more adept at being a knowledgeable soccer mom rather than just a means of transport to a game and a nuisance on the sidelines. It also means that soccer gives our family a basis for sharing. Bryce will often come downstairs in the morning to announce the latest trades or injuries, and I am proud to say that I know who he's talking about 60 percent of the time. That's definitely progress over the last decade when my soccer familiarity consisted of Pele, Mia Hamm, and a goal is the ball in the net.
 

All soccer, all the time

Susan Boyd

With Fox Soccer Channel officially going HD this past Thursday, three of our household members talk breathlessly about being able to watch the waver of grass blades and the glistening trail of sweat. I just finished reading the message board on Fox Soccer Channel 's website about its launch of the HD channel and judging from the number of entries posted in just a few hours, I would say the percentage of people who are hooked on the sport has to be significant. All of them were clamoring for the HD feed to be added to their service provider's channel line-up. For them HD on FSC is akin to the advent of fire or the dawn of the Renaissance. No longer is it enough to have soccer available 24/7, now it has to be consistently in brilliant, crystal HD. 

I, on the other hand, have a more cautionary view. I worry that we will run out of recording capacity on our DVR. HD uses up to four times the memory than regular TV. Right now we have six English Premier League games stacked up on the DVR which translate to twelve hours. We can record up to 133 hours of SD (standard digital) TV, but only 37 hours of HD. Those six EPL games would translate to one third of our recording capacity if they were in HD. Come World Cup in just five months we'll be in real trouble since ESPN's tier of channels already broadcast in HD. I'm being both practical and protective. I have my own set of shows I want to record, but I'm afraid I'll lose out to the phalanx of HD soccer competitions. If the boys tape all the permutations of the World Cup games available we'll run out of both recording capacity and time to sleep. I also worry that they'll be so busy watching "life-like" soccer that they'll forget about playing "real-life" soccer.

The advent of multiple TV carrier options means soccer broadcasts aren't limited any longer. Twenty years ago all most soccer fans could hope for was the World Cup finals. Ten years later we had ESPN to deliver soccer games and championships but these were often taped and broadcast days after we had already learned of the outcome. In 2006 Fox Sports World went all soccer being reborn as Fox Soccer Channel and opening up the U.S. market to international soccer with live and taped games throughout the week plus Fox Soccer Report to deliver news from the world of soccer. With a geometric proliferation satellite, cable, and ATT services provide additional soccer channels including GOLTV and Setanta. Americans can see games from England, Italy, France, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, Germany, Spain, Canada, and Australia as regularly as citizens of those countries do. Major soccer competitions such as the Gold Cup, MLS, Women's Professional Soccer, NCAA games (men's and women's), international friendlies, United Soccer League games, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, FA Cup, UEFA championship and games, and of course FIFA World Cup qualifiers and games air across ESPN's tier, Fox's tier, Setanta, GOLTV, Telemundo, Telefutura, Univision, and that ratings giant Channel 1 Russia. Occasionally CBS, NBC, and especially ABC will broadcast major soccer games. In addition, some US Youth Soccer National Championships games are shown on both national and local TV feeds. Soccer has now become the sports equivalent of the Law and Order franchise – turn on your TV any day, any time and you'll find a game.

I applaud the burgeoning landscape of soccer transmissions. It celebrates the growth of soccer in America. It provides youth players the opportunity to see soccer outside of their own soccer games and to appreciate the traditions and skillfulness of the sport. It definitely promotes the sport by broadening the fan base and bringing diverse soccer fans together to enjoy a game in a sports bar or restaurant. It introduces soccer to the uninitiated especially to sports fanatics who end up lingering on a channel and having soccer appear unexpectantly. But we also need to get out of the house and watch soccer in the ultimate HD experience – live. Use soccer on TV to bring kids into the game, to better educate them about the sport, and to foster their love for soccer. But don't watch TV soccer at the expense of playing the sport or supporting local soccer teams by going to their games. While the sophistication of play on televised professional and college soccer games are an important part of loving the sport, the immediate camaraderie and intensity of a live game can't be duplicated.

But don't underestimate the broadcasters from doing whatever they can to duplicate the live experience and keep us indoors to watch the games and the attendant commercials. Just today I read that the Arsenal/Man U game telecast on Sunday, Jan. 31 was presented in 3D in pubs throughout Ireland and Great Britain. I only have two questions: How soon will this technology hit US programmers and how much of my precious DVR memory will it demand.   Because I know the soccer fans in my house will not only want this option, but will watch as many games as possible in 3D. And I'll be reduced to watching Judge Judy on my iPhone.
           
 

The cases are real

Susan Boyd

If you have been reading my blog for awhile you know that one of my guilty pleasures is Judge Judy. I plan my laundry folding around that 4 to 4:30 p.m. time frame. I'm not sure why I enjoy JJ except that the show is like the proverbial train wreck that we can't ignore. It also reaffirms daily that my life is at least not as bad as the lives of the litigants. When you've had the tenth blow up with your teenager over cleaning up the basement, it's nice to know that at least he didn't wreck his girlfriend's car while driving drunk with a suspended license and leaving the scene of the accident. He's just messy.

The other day a JJ case hit closer to home. A mom whose son played in the Pop Warner Football League had volunteered to be the team's treasurer. Apparently the team generated thousands of dollars every season through fundraisers, dues, and donations. So she oversaw a significant treasury. She was suing the coach of the team because by her reckoning he fired her without cause and owed her $1,700 for materials she had purchased for team gift bags. That last statement made me very glad my boys chose soccer over football. At the end of the year we usually had juice boxes and some treat. We then gave the coach and the team manager thank you cards and a small gift. If we spent $300 we were on the extravagant end. So I did gasp at the $1,700.

Apparently the main argument from the coach was that she was derelict in her duties by asking the parents to write their checks to her which she then deposited in her account and paid out. She countered by saying she kept records of every check she received and that she took personal checks for only one of the many money collections. My response – big deal! I was team manager for several of my boys' soccer teams when they were very young, and I can tell you I collected money all the time in what could only be described as haphazard. Parents would come up to me in the middle of a game and hand me $20 in one dollar bills. I'd scribble their names down on a napkin using a crayon I found under the back seat of my van and then accidently blow my nose on the napkin. Yet somehow I managed to keep track of all accounts through memory and some retracing of funds. Years later when someone else was a team manager, I never worried that she would take the funds I gave her and have an evening out at Jack in the Box on me. Did I occasionally have to remind her that I in fact paid? Yes. Did I occasionally have to check my bank records? Yes. Did I probably pay twice in a few cases? Yes. When I was manager did I have to cover someone who just never paid? Yes. But the amounts were so small and making waves just didn't seem worth the possible tsunami they might create. This Pop Warner team had taken the entire idea of team treasurer to the level of CFO.

The mom argued that she was dismissed because the coach's wife believed they had engaged in some unsavory behavior at a team party. It later came out that someone had possibly seen them kissing by a car and had told the wife. The mom claimed she wasn't even at the party. The coach pleaded the fifth. The mom further argued that her son had been kicked off the team as well. Then the President of the Pop Warner League stood up to defend the coach's actions. Why he wanted to get in the middle of this soap opera is beyond me. In the end the treasurer got her $1,700 back, but everyone lost some dignity that will be much harder to reimburse.

The final blow came in the after case interviews when the mom said, "And this is just touch football for first graders. I can't imagine what goes on in real football." I nearly fell into my laundry basket. These adults had dug in their heels and carried a battle about $1,700 and suspicion over an affair into a public venue seen by millions, and their children are just six years old. The lesson to be learned screams out to us: youth sports are for the youth. These parents forgot why their kids were playing touch football. The extravagant expenses had nothing to do with kids being able to play the game. Good grief! We played touch football every Thanksgiving with an old football we had to reinflate and whatever clothes we were wearing. It's a cheap sport. Kids don't need gift bags, and I can't figure out what fundraising had to be done unless they used diamond studded footballs. This should have been an opportunity for the kids to get some exercise while having fun rather than for the parents to air their personal secrets, showcase their indulgences and continue their petty feuds. I'm hoping no one recorded the episode, but I'm sure someone did so that Johnny and Molly can relive the horror of their parents' bad behavior. 

We all need some serious perspective adjustments if we take youth sports this intensely. Robbie and Bryce have played on dozens of youth sport teams most of which they never continued. Yet I know they have fond memories of those teams. They loved basketball, baseball, volleyball, gymnastics, skate- and snowboarding, and soccer. But it was only the latter that they eventually pursued seriously. Even today they still participate in each of those sports and talk about the "remember when" moments. I can guarantee that we never paid more than $150 for any sport, that they never got a gift bag, and that we never participated in any major fundraising until we got to upper level soccer. But I can also guarantee that they had great experiences, learned the fundamentals of the sports, and formed good friendships. That's all we can hope for when we put our children in youth sports. If there's going to be drama, let it be on the field or the basketball court rather than a courtroom. Make sure we remember our responsibility – we're the parents, so we need to be role models and take the high road. If we want to indulge our children, then indulge them with love and attention. They won't admit it, but they really want that more than what money can buy. And they certainly want it more than being notorious Judge Judy litigants. Just as I can say thank goodness my children aren't anything like the children on that show, our kids want to be able to say thank goodness their parents aren't anything like the parents on that show.
 

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.