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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". 

 

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.
 

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.