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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". 

 

Are we back yet?

Susan Boyd

When the boys were toddlers they used to squirm around in their car seats as we left the driveway, craning to catch a glimpse of our house as it disappeared around the corner. Then they would ask the same question: Are we coming back here again? Leaving in a car must have felt like leaving on a jet plane – don't know when I'll be back again. If they couldn't see the house, it must have ceased to exist. Once we made our way back into the neighborhood, the boys could barely contain their excitement as the house peeked out between the trees. "Oooh, there's our house!" they giggled with glee. And everything was set straight again until the next errand or trip to the library.

Soccer families might feel the same way about their soccer fields. Every time you leave them, you don't really know if you'll see them again. Weather related closures, use by competing groups like lacrosse or football teams, away games, and canceled practices can make those convenient fields just down the street seem like they wandered away to a foreign country.   One mother in our club bragged that she was just a two minute drive from the fields. Two months later she was bemoaning the fact her two minute drive was now thirty minutes as practices and games had shifted to another part of town. Clubs who have the privilege of owning their own fields become remarkably protective of them to the point of closing the fields most of the year lest they become damaged. It's like that living room you spent thousands decorating and furnishing, but no one ever sits in there. 

Even city and town parks are becoming more and more difficult to use as officials look to reduce maintenance. Every time a storm began to brew prior to a Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development Program practice, everyone in the office went into panic mode waiting for the news that the fields we planned to use were closed and scrambling to find alternate fields controlled by less protective overseers. When I managed my sons' teams, I would dread the "fields are closed" phone call because I had to find an alternative for that day, call the referees and direct them to the new site, do likewise with the opposing team, and finally inform my own team and coaches. If I couldn't get a field that day, then the dreaded "rescheduled game" inserted itself in my life like those mucous creatures in the TV ads.   Anyone who has tried to reschedule a game knows the hideous helplessness the task creates. To add insult to injury I often had to drive past the pristine but empty fields while headed to that rescheduled game because the opposing team could only reschedule on their fields.

One particularly waterlogged spring we practice twice on our home fields and played one game there. I'm not opposed to going to an alternate site; it's just that I based part of my decision about where the boys would play upon the convenience factor of the club's location. My only advice would be to ask where the club plays when it can't play on its own fields. This might seem a silly question, but in locations like Chicago and San Francisco, the alternate fields could be an hour away. Alternate fields could disrupt car pools, interconnected schedules, and time limits. Every parent needs to consider what contingencies the club uses and how the family will adapt to those.

The recent floods in the southeast and past flooding such as Katrina add an even uglier dimension to the soccer field saga. In those cases fields may have disappeared altogether. Even if families avoided flood damage of their own personal property, they undoubtedly experienced a complete disruption of their soccer schedules due to flooded fields and flooded routes to practices and games. In those extreme cases, families have far worse concerns than some extra travel on their schedule. As a national soccer community, we should find out what we can do to help those Atlanta and other southeast families get back on track. Dozens of soccer fields at schools, parks, and soccer clubs were submerged and may not be back for the rest of the season. The Georgia State Soccer Association can be reached at gssa@gasoccer.org.  While having to move to an alternate field can be aggravating, at least most of us have alternate fields available. And we are lucky enough to have fields to come back to when the weather clears.  
 

A Month We Can Enjoy All Year

Susan Boyd

I knew that I would eventually be rewarded for leaving my autumn foliage stickers on my patio doors. It only took a year but now the transparent gel leaves look stunning against the backdrop of the slowing evolving trees beyond my deck. Usually I change the stickers four times a year to reflect the changing seasons. But this winter we were out of town so I never got the holiday decorations out. We returned to a home destroyed by burst pipes, so we weren't even in the house over spring, and summer was spent getting settled back in. Now here we are back to autumn, and I finally feel in step once again.
           
I love September. September ranges from the heat and drought of summer through the cool grey and brilliant colors of autumn. Kids begin school, but still fill the waning evenings with play. Families return to the routines they followed for nine months of the year.  And youth soccer starts up. So it's fitting that September serves as Youth Soccer Month. Now that the month is winding down, the four features of the month – family, fun, friendship, and fitness – don't just fall away like the leaves.   While we celebrate youth soccer in September, we participate in youth soccer year round. Each of these features figure prominently in our lives even outside of soccer. So we should continue to focus on these as the seasons progress.
           
Soccer is one of many ways for families to share activities and goals (pun intended). Obviously I'm a huge proponent of soccer, but any activity that a family shares can help form strong ties and happy relationships. In fact, parents should bring some of the family experiences from other activities into soccer. I seriously doubt that most of you at a third grade recorder concert shout at the musicians about their tempo and publicly accuse the music teacher of faulty conducting. Instead we watch with great pride, oooh and aaaah over the cute moment when one child puts the recorder up his nose, and applaud loudly at the end. We probably don't discuss the individual players on the way home and suggest ways our son or daughter could be a better player.  We don't make such an emotional investment in a music concert, even though it's possible that three or four of those kids will end up with college scholarships in music. 
           
Fun is definitely not limited to soccer. But remembering that what our kids do in life should always have an element of fun means we can bring joy to every activity even school. Again making too big an emotional investment in our child's success can absolutely drain the fun out of anything. We don't need soccer to have fun, but we shouldn't forget fun in the rest of our lives. While we're rushing around trying to fit in soccer practice, homework, dentist appointments, jobs, meals, and sleep try to fit in a bit of fun – car games, sing-alongs on the way to events, a detour to get an ice cream, playing Frisbee before a game, green milk for St. Patrick's Day.
           
The friendships we develop through soccer should be just one collection of the many friends we make throughout life. Kids have so many interests and those interests change often over the years, so it's important to nurture friendships within those interests. Soccer may be replaced by another sport or activity, but the friendships developed with teammates can last beyond the change if they have more than soccer in common. Likewise friendships outside of soccer can give kids a wider perspective on life. Because soccer is a huge passion for our family, many of the boys' enduring friendships have come out of soccer, but they also have strong connections to kids who never had an interest in any sport.
           
Fitness can be both physical and mental. Physical fitness naturally comes from playing a sport, but can be part of a non-sport routine as well. Having children bike or walk to school and lessons will give them several hours a week of aerobic exercise. Even more importantly giving kids an hour a day just for random outdoor play can do more for both physical and mental fitness than any organized sport. That one hour a day of unstructured activity gives kids a chance to relax their minds and exercise their hearts and muscles. It also gives them a chance to be with friends, have some fun, and enjoy their families. Those three principles contribute to good mental fitness. Strong families who have fun and enjoy supportive friendships impact their child's mental health positively.
While autumn will dissolve into winter with shorter days and for many of us cold, grey months, we can use the cornerstones of Youth Soccer Month to bring substance to our lives. We love soccer in our family, so we have many of our activities and interests centered around soccer. But we don't need soccer in the same way we need our family, fun, friendships, and fitness. The true measure of our children's growth isn't being a soccer superstar. It's becoming a strong, capable, happy adult. These four soccer month principles contribute to their growth and can support them throughout their lives. Celebrating youth soccer serves as a conduit to both growing the sport and growing a strong generation of children. 
 

Vacation Depravation

Susan Boyd

Our eight year old neighbor informed me yesterday that it was only 29 school days until teacher convention break. There have only been seven days of school so far. This type of countdown to vacation preoccupies most students who attend any type of school. I had one of my college students, who can't seem to remember an assignment deadline, correct me about the dates of the mid-semester holiday without even referencing his calendar. Yet depressingly Americans don't take advantage of their time off. Every year Expedia does a vacation depravation survey which, depending on your point of view, Americans either ace or fail miserably. We get the fewest number of paid vacation days a year, thirteen, and even then we leave three of those days on the table.   Of the nations surveyed, America comes in the lowest, meaning that we are the best at depriving ourselves of vacations.

French workers get 38 paid days of vacation a year. Germans get 27 while Britain has 26. Austria, Spain, Italy, and New Zealand average in the 20s, while Australia and Canada get nineteen days.   Japan gets fifteen days a year, but 92% leave an average of seven days on the table. The only reason they aren't the worst vacationers is that they power vacation, meaning when they travel, they go for a week or more and travel outside the country. What I have noticed is that those countries with twenty or more vacation days also have intense soccer fever.  Laugh if you want, but I'm thinking they have grown to depend on those extended vacation days so they can follow their beloved teams or attend UEFA Cup or even the World Cup without making a huge dent in their vacation time.

Given our nation's woeful vacation history and our burgeoning, but not yet fully realize, interest in soccer, perhaps there's a way to make soccer work for family vacation time in America. While those families with players on traveling teams obviously have an immediate and necessary vacation excuse, any soccer family should be able to combine vacation time with their soccer schedule.   Use the sport as your vacation portal.

This Saturday, for example, my grandson has a game in Poynette, Wisconsin (pop. 2,300) about thirty miles north of Madison. At first blush the possibility of doing anything vaguely family vacation oriented seems unreasonable in a small town. But with the power of the internet you'd be amazed what a family can find. If you're going to drive to play a game, you might as well find somewhere fun to eat and visit. Check the Chamber of Commerce, your state's recreation department and tourism bureau, or just put the town's name in your search engine and see what appears. Poynette it seems is home to the MacKenzie Environmental Center, a 250 acre nature preserve with trails, a fire tower, three museums, maple sugaring demonstrations in the spring, and a large picnic grounds. There are herds of buffalo, packs of wolves, flocks of birds including bald eagles, and abundant smaller wildlife all visible from trails. So after the game we'll head over and spend the afternoon having a walk amongst nature and if the weather holds out a picnic as well. This is free of charge, although donations are always welcome.

Rather than rush up to a game and then rush home, families can extend their time together with some creative planning and limited expense. Not every vacation has to include a cartoon mouse and twenty story thrill rides. More importantly, every vacation doesn't need to be longer than a few hours of family togetherness in order to recharge the batteries. Look upon soccer as an opportunity to create an adventure. While you might not independently travel to see the chicken who always wins at Tic-Tac-Toe, you might take a five minute side trip on the way home from a game. The books "Off the Beaten Path" written for a number of states offer some great surprises. They emphasize the finds on the back roads nearby many of the small towns and fields you'll be visiting as you play league games or even tournaments. Taking time out to do a corn maze or see a Hopi Indian Village can take some of the stress out of preparing for a game or having to travel for a while. It doesn't have to be long – it can be as short as a stop to get some homemade ice cream from an old time soda fountain. But having the family discover it and plan it jointly adds even more family time together. 

For really young players you might consider doing planning together as a team. Sometimes large families have to be three places at once so you can't plan something for every game, but the team could plan things to do together. Given the internet savvy of kids, teams could even assign a town to each player to research and find something fun for everyone to do when in town. It could be something they do for fun or a place to eat or picnic. On one trip to Iowa, we were introduced to Maid-Rite by a team member's mother who grew up in Iowa.   Maid-Rite is ground beef cooked in boiling water that is dished out onto a bun and garnished with whatever you want. It's kind of like a dry Sloppy Joe. But it's good, and we would have never thought to eat there because in truth it sounds like a cleaning service. 

If we can't get 38 vacation days like the French, we can use American ingenuity to carve more days out for ourselves by crafting mini-vacations. Rather than dissecting the game on the trip home, you can hop out at a fruit stand and dissect a few apples. Rather than dwelling on a tough loss, you can relax at a trout farm catching dinner. Instead of dreading the drive back, you can break it up with a stop to see the world's largest rubber band ball. They aren't things you'd ask Expedia to reserve for you, but given the next Expedia survey you might be boosting America's score.
           
 

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Susan Boyd

Here's a tale of two games. In game one, the kids begin with a serious sit down session with the coach who critiques the last game and voices the expectations for this game. Warm-ups consist of precision drills under the coach's watchful eye. Any mistakes and the drills stop abruptly to make corrections and point out failures. When the game begins, the parents prowl the sidelines barking instructions at the players. The coach likewise paces the opposite sideline always yelling out some direction or disfavor, and occasionally engaging the referee about a call. 

At half time the team gathers in the corner of the field for an intense coaching session. When the game restarts the team is scored against immediately and the floodgates of disapproval open with a vengeance. At the end of the game, having won by a goal, the players get reminded of their mental lapse early in the second half and how it nearly cost the team a win. The players cross the field to their parents with heads hung low. On the ride home, they get advice on how they could play better next week. 

In game two the kids arrive and immediately begin shooting balls into the net. After a few minutes the coach gathers them for a jumping jack exercise where they chant "Up, down, don't frown." Parents set up on the sidelines and unfurl a banner reading "Go Tigers!" Each parent has a pom pom and wears a ribbon with their player's name and number. During the game the parents only cheer and all have a good laugh when one team member takes a hearty swipe at the ball in front of the goal, only to miss the ball completely and end up bottom-down in the box. The coach stands and occasionally reminds the team of their positions, and of how they should be passing. When a player comes out of the game, the coach gives a high five and a pat on the back. When a foul is called on a player, the coach says; "That's okay. Just remember not to push."

At half time, the team meets briefly and then returns to the field for some shooting and passing. At the end of the game, having lost by a goal, the coach congratulates them on a game well played, has them shake hands with the opposing team and the referees, and then sends them across the field running to their parents who greet them with cheers and a parent tunnel. During the trip home talk turns to ice cream and what they'll do in the afternoon.
           
As you might have guessed, these were opposing teams in the same game. In one case, the coach and parents set the wrong tone. I'm sure they meant well, still they fell into the trap of believing that intensity equals improvement. But consider this, if you found out that your son's or daughter's teacher spent most of the day just yelling at the kids about their poor performance or poor behavior, you'd be mortified. If those same teachers invited parents into the classroom once a week to stand over the kids and criticize them as they worked, you'd consider the teacher unprofessional. Yet somehow we've been brainwashed to believe that's the way sports should go. Coaches should be gruff and unforgiving and parents should be critical.  Who learns like that? Imagine if Oscar the Grouch was the only character on Sesame Street. I doubt the show would have lasted 40 years. Kids need humor, fun, encouragement and support to learn, whether they're grasping the alphabet or dribbling.
           
Don't we all feel good when we can smile and laugh? These years of youth soccer should create some of your best memories. What you bring to the game dictates what you take from a game. If everything spills out negative you can't expect to have that warm fuzzy feeling later. You make a huge difference in how your child, and even how the team, views the sport. Encourage parents to find ways to make the practices and games fun. Kids should respect the work ethic of learning how to be better soccer players, but they can work and have fun. Even the seven dwarfs managed to whistle on their way down into the mine. Plan team surprises, nominate players to be the boy or girl of the match, reward good practices and attendance at practice, celebrate things together as a team such as birthdays, Columbus Day, first day of fall and spring, anniversary of the first college soccer game, and other events that will both entertain and educate. Organize a trip to a high school, college or professional game. Volunteer the team to be ball boys and girls for a local high school. Scrimmage parents vs. kids. Don't make it all about winning and losing. Let the kids know that you love soccer as much as they do and that your greatest joy is watching them play.
           
If soccer is life, remember that life is short.   Relish every moment. If some of that good humor and positive energy spills into high school and college soccer, that would be awesome. Let the kids develop their intensity for the game over time, but on the sidelines and in your heart, leave some room for joy. Statistically kids laugh 500 times a day, but adults only 15 times. How cool would it be if statisticians had to add an asterisk to that fact: *soccer parents laugh 40 times a day especially while watching practices and games. I'm challenging all of you to keep having fun, keep laughing and keep positive for as long as possible. Let's have people recognize soccer parents by their pronounced laugh lines!