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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". 

 

You Can't Prepare for Everything

Susan Boyd

Right now I am on an extended road trip which is ranging farther than any soccer trip we have made. On the plus side we are seeing parts of the country we have previously only flown over. On the down side we are trapped in a car for long stretches of time traveling through long empty expanses of landscape. All too often an exit sign will have as an auxiliary notice "no services for 106 miles." During a particularly desolate part of our journey in Utah the check engine light came on. Those of you who have followed my blog for awhile know that I had a Toyota van which I drove for three and a half years with the check engine light blazing. So with the hubris of experience, we continued on our journey on roads that rose from elevations of 2000 feet to 9000 feet and back down along long twists of no service. We assumed it was a faulty gas cap since we had just gotten gas when the light came on. According to the service book we had either put in the wrong type of gas (we didn't), or driven through a deep mud puddle shorting the electrical (it was 111 degrees out so that wasn't likely), or had a leaky gas cap.

Upon arriving in Las Vegas we took the car to a dealership where the mechanic also said, "Oh, it's just your gas cap. Give it a few cycles of readings to reset." And he was ready to send us on our way, but I asked if they had time to run the electronic diagnostic. An hour later we discovered that the clutch had burned out and by some act of mercy had not failed in the high plains desert. So after a day of repairs, we were ready to set out again.

Technically this qualifies as a soccer trip because I am delivering Robbie to college to play. So a lot of the same standards I have set for making soccer trips held true.  Since many of you will be departing soon for those late summer/early fall tournaments I'll just highlight some of the things you'll want to be sure to have in your car. I put these in a box that I can easily take out of the car if I want to leave it in the garage and which I can quickly pack into the car when the trips demand. Be sure you have toilet paper and paper towels. Believe me you'll thank me for this suggestion when you are faced with a row of portable toilets devoid of paper. Pack some wet ones preferably with alcohol for disinfecting. A good first aid kit can't be neglected which includes scissors, tape, a roll of gauze, and a finger splint besides band-aids, cortisone cream, pain relievers, anti-bacterial, rubber gloves, and cotton swabs. Include extra shin guards, shorts, underwear, and socks. Add a small pump and extra needles. Bring black and red electrical tape to change or add numbers on the back of shirts. Drop one or two small umbrellas in the corners of the box. Complete your kit with sunscreen and bug spray. I also throw in some brimmed hats to help when the parents' sideline faces directly into the sun. For later in the season and for the spring, you'll want to include a blanket and some plastic bags to line the car floor and to collect muddy uniforms. Bring lots and lots of water. I'm trying to wean myself from bottled water for the sake of the environment, so you might want to fill a few metal water bottles at home or bring a gallon jug of water to fill bottles at the fields. 

As some of you also know, I am always on the hunt for the perfect soccer chair. My last purchase was a chair that included a roof. During this past spring I kept very dry even during some rough downpours. But last week while leafing through a catalog I came across a chair where the seat was heated! It was a folding aluminum chair with a small side table for setting drinks and cell phones and on the opposite arm hung a bag with a multitude of pockets for books, programs, and odds and ends. Alas it lacked a roof, but a golf umbrella would fix that. All I would have to do is charge the chair up the night before and it would keep the charge for four hours. It also came with a car charger so I could refresh it while driving. I may order it once I get back home. That is if I survive this trip. I still have to make it three quarters of the way back across America and there are plenty of moving parts on the car that can break down.

This is my way of saying that no matter how much you prepare, the unexpected shoots down your preparations. I had a mechanic go over the car two nights before we left, but there was no way he could check the clutch. No matter how big your soccer box grows it will never cover every problem. So you have to latch on to the positives and forgive yourself for not having infallible foresight. Despite the crises of this trip, we have also made some special memories. Coming out of the Rockies we descended through Glenwood Canyon, where the space to place the freeway was so narrow, they had to construct a viaduct with the westbound traffic on top where the views were. So we lucked out on some spectacular sight-seeing. We also stopped in Utah at an off the road viewpoint to discover an amazing hidden canyon and huge red ripples of stone rising thousands of feet from the valley below us. Robbie ventured down to the edge of the canyon while I resisted the urge to say "that's far enough." He discovered a huge Utah Banded Gecko (we looked it up that night on the internet) that had bright orange and pink speckles. Outside of Denver we stopped at a restaurant for lunch and as we were leaving the restaurant a voice shouts, "Hey, Robbie Boyd!" A classmate from his high school in Milwaukee Wisconsin was eating lunch there with his parents. Now that's as serendipitous as you get - and a good conversation generator for several miles down the road.
 

Loyalty

Susan Boyd

As belts tightened across the nation, soccer clubs are no more immune to budget concerns than any family or organization. Most clubs operated on a thin margin of financial viability even in boom times, so they acutely feel the pinch now.   You'll hear the mantra of "loyalty" more incessantly than ever as clubs try to maintain membership and to attract more members. Unfortunately loyalty from the club's perspective is a one-way obligation and families who have given years of service to a club can find their sons and daughters cut from their teams when select tryouts are complete.  Ironically loyalty is a fickle concept.

Coaching directors brush off any criticism with "that's the way it is in the world of soccer." They are correct as far as professional clubs go. But this is youth soccer without paid contracts, sports agents, and back room negotiations. Soccer teams provide more than just a place to train and hopefully win. They provide a social center where parents feel strongly connected. Being cut from a team can be like being ostracized from a community. Youth clubs need to both expect and honor loyalty by being loyal themselves or they need to accept they can't offer loyalty in return so stop demanding it from their players and families. All too often youth clubs only want the pendulum to swing one direction. Loyal, but unskilled players rarely get consideration for their loyalty. On the swing side we all know the "star" player who misses practices, whose family rarely volunteers, and who bad-mouths the players and the coach, yet starts every game. Under the umbrella of loyalty, families expect fairness, they expect that the rules will apply to every player, and they expect some consideration for their loyalty. But youth clubs continue to apply the professional standard to their choices exposing loyal members to dismissal, while expecting members to accept the risk they may be cut, blindly stay true in the name of loyalty until then and not pursue better opportunities when they come up.

If clubs want to operate like professional teams bumping off players without consideration to their loyalty, then they have to accept the converse: that every day professional players defect from the club that nurtured them, gave them the biggest salary, and put up with their shenanigans. When another club dangles a more lucrative contract, loyalty flies out the window. Kids read and hear about this all the time, so they know how the real world works. It should be no surprise to youth clubs when a player leaves for his or her own reasons since these same clubs are willing to cut a kid when it serves their purposes. 

US Youth Soccer and local State Associations have attempted to put in rules that will temper this cut-throat atmosphere. But every rule has a thousand loopholes that clubs have expertly learned to maneuver. For example there's the rule that coaches can't recruit players in the weeks preceding tryouts. The reality is that recruiting happens all the time, just not directly by the coaches. Robbie got hand-written personal invitations from parents of players in other clubs asking him to consider trying out and touting the club's accomplishments. While the notes were clearly following a template created by someone in the club no one could fault the club for a recruiting violation. After all this was just a proud parent exercising his or her right to free speech! Even players will approach other players after a game in an attempt to get them to consider joining their team, a tactic that works much better if the recruiting team beats the player's team. And players on their own decide to make a switch without any recruiting happening at all. One family on Robbie's first select team was subjected to threats of a lawsuit because they "defected" and were made to endure dozens of phone calls asking them to admit that the player was recruited illegally when the kid actually left because he couldn't get along with one player. All this anger and politics seem unfitting for youth soccer.

In Wisconsin players have three days to consider an offer from a team, but most coaches will demand an answer the minute they call the player. Coaches will play the loyalty card stating that if the player "really wanted to play for this club" there would be no hesitation. Anxious players, faced with the possibility of not having a team, usually succumb to the pressure and agree immediately even if they are waiting on another team's offer. Coaches will attempt to limit where a player tries out by threatening that if a player doesn't show up for all days of try outs she forfeits the opportunity to play for the club. Players are supposed to be free to try out for any and all teams they want, but the reality is that they put their eggs in one basket because of intimidation. Naturally, most top players don't face intimidation because clubs recognize those players have the power to pick and choose.   So the equity that the rules attempt to create doesn't exist.

Loyalty to a club can be a noble concept, but turns out to be impractical as players make different decisions about their soccer future. Robbie's first club team still contains a few players from the original group, while Bryce's first club team completely dissolved at Under-15. Anything can happen with a team, so ultimately families need to decide what's best for them and for their children. There should be no rancor over making a change because change happens naturally in the course of life. In the case of soccer, players seek different opportunities such as less travel or tougher competition. Players may move because of the "grass is greener" belief or they may move because they want to be with friends. Clubs have no compunction about cutting a player, so families should have no guilt about leaving. Be true to your own ideals and family. Life is too short to sacrifice your own future to the questionable promises and demands of loyalty.
 

A Fatal Flaw

Susan Boyd

I'm not a duster, I don't do windows, and I hate vacuuming stairs, but I despise clutter even more. So my Martha Stewart talent is organizing. Every item in the house has a particular location. It's not exactly the Dewey Decimal System, but it does allow me to rapidly guide someone to an item or swiftly put my hands on it myself. However if people don't replace items exactly where they belong my system breaks down. Its fatal flaw takes the form of two sons and one husband, who expect me to know instantly where jackets, pencils, wallets, and car keys can be found, but steadfastly refuse to "reshelve" their products properly.   If I was the only one in the house I could find a particular DVD in less than 10 seconds. But when Bryce asked if we had "All the President's Men" and I answered "Yes" I had no idea that this would lead to two hours of mucking through drawers, digging under couches, peering behind bookcases, and looking in more and more bizarre locations until finding it in the bathroom in the cupboard with the towels. Don't ask because I have no idea why it was there.

So it is little wonder that all my efforts to be organized about soccer have limited success. My initial idea was to organize uniforms into various backpacks. By the time the boys were 10, I already had to keep track of three different soccer teams for each of them, not to mention baseball and basketball team gear. Eventually the number swelled to five soccer teams – club team, indoor team, summer city league, Super Y League, and US Youth Soccer Olympic Development (US Youth Soccer ODP). I have shelves in the mudroom to hold the various backpacks and whenever I washed the uniforms they were packed away immediately in the appropriate bag. Cleats were stored on a shoe rack hung on the wall.   Extra socks went into a box under the shelves. However, this organizational utopia disintegrated in a seismic wave of indifference to the rules.
 
In a domino effect of obliteration, each case of disorganization disrupted the entire system. Should one boy be asked to spend the night with a friend he would need an overnight bag. Never mind he already had an overnight bag because naturally it was stuffed in some dark recess of the closet or the garage or under the bed. So in a rush of expediency he would grab one of his soccer backpacks and dump it out. The uniforms ended up like so much flotsam and jetsam bobbing on the sea of clothes covering his bedroom floor. Later I would discover the bag on the mudroom floor and replace it on the shelf. Then he would grab the bag for US Youth Soccer ODP practice. As he rushed to get dressed on arrival we would discover a wad of dirty clothes, the Game Boy he had been missing for a week, a soggy bag of chips, and no US Youth Soccer ODP shirts. Cleats that should have been hanging on the rack seemingly sprouted legs and skittered like giant centipedes into the darkest, dankest, most undiscoverable corners of the house or car. The box full of socks held no pairs but plenty of mismatched and holey stockings. Our panicked scramble to find what we needed for any given event or game never seemed to disappear despite all my admonishments on how we could avoid this scene. On average the system worked about 20% of the time which I grew to accept as an admirable result.

The other day I was digging through some boxes in the basement. These were my privately organized clear plastic boxes labeled and complete. I was searching for a particular photo that I wanted to put in a new frame I'd received as a gift. Once I located the proper box and lowered it to the basement floor I knew immediately that it wasn't right. This box should have held stacks of photos organized by year and event, but I could see something decidedly not photographic at the top of the box. When I opened it I discovered two SYL team jerseys that we had had to replace despite days of searching. How they worked their way down to the basement and into the box of photos will remain a mystery, although I suspect it had something to do with needing to clean the basement quickly and finding an expedient, albeit inappropriate hidden storage spot. I will validate that theory sometime in the future when I find a pair of missing shoes in the box with maps and a missing MP3 player in the box with collectible magazines. 

In reality organization ends up being about never losing anything. In that area I suspect I am close to 100%. The trick will be to discover where items have drifted, retrieve them, and return them to their rightful place. After cleaning out Bryce's room this summer I made huge progress in my success rate having discovered thirty plus DVDs, the charger for my cell phone, a box of game cartridges, and various missing utensils and glasses. Over time these items will once again begin to disappear, but for a few weeks I can pat myself on the back that I know right where to find "All the President's Men."
 

The Empirical Strikes Back

Susan Boyd

I don't believe much in statistics. As an undergraduate math minor I assisted a professor in proofing her textbook on probability and statistics. I'm well aware of the various statistical measures a researcher can use to create a favorable or unfavorable statistical result. Surveys can be carefully constructed to elicit skewed responses. Would you rather have a warehouse store in your neighborhood or a prisoner half-way house? Surprise! Survey shows overwhelming support for the construction of Costco. Or a political ad might go something like this: Joe Smith would be a powerful law and order district attorney because as a prosecutor he has had less than two per cent of his convictions overturned on appeal. What they fail to tell you is that his conviction rate is only one per cent. So when someone tells me what the numbers say, I'm naturally skeptical.

Those experts reading trends, interpreting spikes in surveys, watching registrations, recording attendance, and generally keeping their noses in the data don't "see" the big picture. The proof that youth soccer is flourishing in this country can be seen by anyone even if they don't have the benefit of the numbers. I trust the empirical evidence more than number crunching because it's my vision that I trust rather than some statistician's conclusion. True my observations aren't scientifically supported, yet pragmatic factors can carry more weight because everyone can judge for him or herself how reasonable the conclusions are.  Following are three purely empirical indicators that youth soccer continues to expand.

This morning I was searching through the on screen TV guide for something interesting to watch while I cleaned my bedroom. When I spotted it, I couldn't believe it, but there it was – an entire half day of soccer - not on Fox Soccer Channel, not on ESPN's platoon of channels, not on any of the Spanish language channels, all of which are my usual haunts for finding soccer to watch. Instead it was on the Time-Warner Wisconsin Sports Channel famous for showing marathons of fishing programs and the occasional high school sports state final. Now they were showing the U.S Youth Soccer Wisconsin State Championships for U13 boys and girls, and not the finals mind you, but third round games. These were well-produced programs with two commentators, two cameras, and relatively sophisticated editing and graphics.   It wasn't high definition but the commentators actually knew the players' names and talked intelligently about the teams, the coaching choices, and the on field strategies. Now I seriously doubt that a public service of the cable company would have abandoned their treasure trove of cheaply and easily produced fishing programs for this far more complicated and costly production unless they felt there was an audience for the series. After all they need to answer to their advertising sponsors of which there were at least ten. I might understand showing the final games of the older teams, but the fact that they expanded their coverage to all the age levels at the State Championships and to include third round and semi-final games as well tells me that youth soccer, at least in Wisconsin, is making an impact.

Speaking of advertisers, over the course of the last ten years there has been a huge increase of soccer related advertising, even for products that have little or nothing to do with soccer. Just this month an ad for a pain reliever begins with a grimacing woman being "side-lined" by headache pain. She then takes the product and is now on the "side-lines" of her child's soccer game. A decade ago the same campaign would have ended on the side-lines of a football game. At first blush soccer has little to do with a kitchen floor cleaner. But I'll admit anything that gets up the worst soccer cleat marks has an important connection to the sport, at least for me. I developed soccer parent knees from crawling around scrubbing the tiles in my kitchen. But the advertiser could have shown baseball cleats or football cleats or even track cleats. Instead it chose a soccer team to run across that poor kitchen floor.

While watching the crowds at a July 4th celebration I was struck by how many people were wearing soccer apparel. Now I suppose this approaches a statistical analysis, but I did finally decide to count the number of soccer shirts and shorts compared to the number of "other." Better than half the people were wearing some soccer gear. Just to prove my observations weren't skewed, I was not at a soccer team function or even near a soccer field. This was just a gathering of people from the town who came to eat corn on the cob, watch some fireworks, and flaunt their interest in soccer.

With approximately 3.8 million registered youth soccer players in the United States of which 3 million are registered with US Youth Soccer, a lot of kids with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are linked to soccer. That's a giant size target group. According to US Youth Soccer its membership has grown in thirty five years from 100,000 players to the 3 million today. That's just what the numbers say, but anyone with eyes and ears can bear witness to the increased influence of soccer on everyday life. Even President Obama takes time out from his schedule to go see his daughters play and has endorsed the U.S. bid to FIFA to host the 2018 World Cup.  We last hosted in 1994 with a huge impact on interest in the sport in America. Just imagine what the 2018 World Cup in America could do to boost youth soccer interest even further. I'm sure people will create statistics to attempt to answer that question long before it actually happens.  I say let's just wait and watch.   If present observations are any indication I predict we may be seeing network feeds of U5 games by 2019!