Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer

Clubhouse

Like our Facebook!

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority

Marketplace

Wilson Trophy Company

Happy Family

Nesquik

Capri Sun

Active Family Project

Active Family Project

Olive Garden

Play Positive Banner

Print Page Share

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". 

 

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.
 

Who Needs It

Susan Boyd

I don't suppose most of us would pair up Sesame Street and The Rolling Stones in the same thought. But I did. This week is the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. Our oldest daughter was born just weeks after Sesame Street began, so you could say we grew up there together. In 1981 they added a brief character called Mick Swagger and the Cobblestones who sang their hit, "I Can't Get No Co-Operation." While I enjoyed the rendition, I had always thought there was a more appropriate Stones tune that reflected the moral lessons of growing up.  And when the 40th anniversary was celebrated on the Today Show, I thought about it again.  The chorus spoke perfectly to what I thought then and what I still think – "No you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find that you get what you need."

All too often we confuse want and need especially when it comes to our children. We wish they can have everything, and we do our best to make it happen which often leads to overspending or unreal expectations. Saying "no" to requests becomes so infrequent that our children can't comprehend that "no" exists. You've all been there in the store and witnessed a child (your child) having a complete meltdown at the checkout counter because she didn't get what she wanted.  We have advertisers and peer pressure making things worse. When the boys turned sixteen, most of their friends got new cars that were fancier than mine. Of course, I guess anything is fancier than a car with 250,000 miles and a permanent check engine light. But the message was clear – what the boys wanted fell far outside of what they, even what I, needed.

For example we get told that what our kids wear can affect how they play. While that fancy pair of bright green or red cleats create flash on the pitch, they can't provide any assurance of skill. Most cleats are a case of want over need, otherwise why would manufacturers design and build new, outrageous options each year. At $200 a pair, cleats are an extravagance that can't be supported by outcome, although both our boys were adapt at making that argument. Lighter cleats, wider cleats, kangaroo leather cleats, side-tie, no tie, gel, and ad nausem became the rallying cry for needing a new pair every few months. If cleats provided as utilitarian a purpose as young players argue, then why aren't the boots all just black and functional? I think we all know the answer to that one. Function in a spanking new format is the name of the promotion game. You can't get a product out the door of a store before the new banner touting a faster, brighter, cleaner, streamlined version unfurls. Ask either of my boys how often I said, "the color doesn't matter," and they'll tell you how often they rolled their eyes. The same argument holds true for training devices, outerwear, bags, goalkeeper jerseys, and balls. "No" became very easy after I ordered with costs and duty a World Cup ball directly from Germany only to have it "disappear" less than four hours after arriving. 

When it comes to being in youth sports, parents try their best to manipulate outcomes often with disastrous results. Parents become bullies to coaches and club administrators in order to get their kids on the "right" team, which often doesn't mean the team which is right for their child's abilities and interests, but the team that is perceived as the standout team. When I was a club administrator and later a US Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development Program assistant I fielded a huge share of these threats and ultimatums. But parents couldn't accept "no" on behalf of their kids. In the end they got a reputation as being difficult and burned bridges. And need flew out the window with want.

Right now my oldest son is looking to transfer colleges. We have been paying a huge premium for him to attend the school he's at so he could play soccer there. But the cow has run dry. Without a major bump in scholarship money, we can't afford to continue sending him there. That's a huge "no" and hard to swallow. But he's been very understanding. I credit that understanding to having heard "no" other times in his life when he achingly hoped he'd hear "yes." What he needs is a good education; what he wants is a good education while he plays soccer. It may not be possible to give him what he wants. We hope it can still happen. We're working on that goal, but in life wanting it will never fully justify getting it. 

Sesame Street taught my kids and now my grandkids their numbers, the alphabet, and life lessons. But it also reminded me as a parent that an hour a day with some Muppets won't make a huge impact without the remaining twenty-three hours with me reinforcing the message. I know I was indulgent with my kids. I am definitely indulgent with my grandkids, but that's what grandparents were put on earth to do! But we all have to temper our desire to give our children everything they want because that's a bottomless pit of yearning. Soon it will be Hanukkah and Christmas, and we are already being inundated with the not so subtle message that love equals big gifts. I imagine Mick Jagger rarely denied himself or his children anything, but he still managed to get it right in a song. What we should be trying to do is to find what we need. What we want will always be around to tempt us, so there's no trouble finding that.
 

At Least There's Indoor Plumbing

Susan Boyd

Outdoor soccer is winding down in most of the country.  Even if the fields weren't turning into Elysian mud bowls and even if snow didn't obscure the lines, the dwindling daylight with the advent of standard time dictates that outdoor soccer isn't practical. Some facilities boast lights which makes them very special indeed, but in my soccer travels I've found that most of the lighted fields are in areas where the weather permits outdoor soccer year round and many overlook artificial turf.

So what's a player to do until spring and the return of daylight savings time?  The answer that immediately springs to mind – play indoor soccer.  But that's not always possible.  While some communities have indoor soccer parks, many indoor soccer practices and games occur in school gyms on less than ideal surfaces.  Obviously soccer clubs who want to both retain players and maintain training over the winter months end up reserving as much school and church gym time as they can.  In Milwaukee it's often a race to see who can get their applications into the recreation departments early enough.  That used to be my job – making sure our club procured sufficient indoor practice time.  I would stand outside the district office early on the first morning applications were accepted.  I even brought coffee for the staff as they arrived.  I'm no idiot – a happy government employee is a helpful government employee.  Every year we got our full complement of gym time minus the music concerts, election days, book fairs, and carnivals.  I wasn't just up against other soccer clubs; I was up against basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and after-school club.  I was once greeted in the grocery with the phrase:  You're the lady who steals all the gym time.  There's a reason my phone number is unlisted!

Despite taking risks that might drive my neighbors to march on my home much like the villagers did against Frankenstein's monster, I was not beloved in my soccer club either.  No, I was chastised by parents and coaches for reserving such inadequate facilities at inconvenient times.  The gyms rented for $7 an hour while the indoor soccer park rented for $180 an hour/field.  No coach was willing to accept a smaller wage and no parent was willing to pay a larger club fee, yet they felt that they should still be practicing indoors on a "real" field; that is to say a field one-third the size of a standard soccer field with walls abutting all four sides, artificial turf laid on a concrete slab, and an odor that on a good day could be described as burying your face in your child's soccer socks after a game in the rain.  Because the indoor park sponsored dozens of leagues, reservation times were usually Saturday and Sunday mornings before 8 a.m. and after 11 p.m.  Not exactly what the displeased wanted to hear.

There is another option for families, especially for families with young players – do another sport over winter.  This probably sounds treasonous coming from a blogger on a youth soccer site, but truthfully even soccer coaches agree that taking a break from soccer in the early years can be both healthy and beneficial.  Certainly once a player graduates to a select team he or she may need to practice year round to continue the development of individual and team skills.  But for players under age 12 taking a break from the sport gives them the opportunity to try out other sports, decide if soccer is the sport they want to singularly pursue, and open up to a new group of friends.  Additionally there's the argument that repetitive muscle training isn't healthy and leads to injury.  I tend to sidestep the medical issues and look more significantly at the social side of the argument.  Life is too short to be so focused so young.  There are winter sports that keep kids outdoors and give them a world of great experiences.  Few of our kids will end up being the next Michael Essien or Abby Wambach, but they will all grow up to be adults who need to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled.

Our sons chose to stick to soccer.  They love the sport.  When they aren't playing, they are often talking about the sport, reading about it, or watching it.  Yet even in the midst of all that passion, they also enjoyed basketball, baseball, snowboarding, running, golf, volleyball, and gymnastics.  They aren't proficient in any of these, but enjoyed doing them and continue to play many of them for fun.  They have friends who golf who have no interest in soccer and friends who snowboard who couldn't tell you what PK stands for.  Taking a two or three month break from soccer but not from healthy activity can't be bad for our children especially when the soccer they are missing is some reconfiguration of the sport to fit the constraints of an odd facility and its availability. 

Hopefully your soccer club or sports organization allows you to take winter off by providing a fee structure split among the seasons.  They should definitely do this until select soccer.  If they don't, it never hurts to ask if you can be relieved of the winter assessment if your son or daughter wants to try something else over the winter.  Or you can follow one grandkid's route.  He did gymnastics in the fall and now wants to do soccer indoors for the winter.  Go figure!
 
 

Glory without Victory

Susan Boyd

This past weekend my grandson's undefeated team met the other undefeated team in his league. One team had to lose and that team was my grandson's. Although they scored right away, that would be it for them. Their opponents scored several times, including a score in the waning seconds of the game. It wasn't just a defeat; it was a rout. When you're nine, lessons on the value of defeat don't really penetrate and bring life altering enlightenment. On the other hand, the agony of defeat has a half-life equal to the time it takes to walk from the field over to the snack cooler. As Coach Darrell Royal said, "I learned this about coaching: You don't have to explain victory and you can't explain defeat." It's true whether you're a kid or a multi-million dollar pro. But the role of coach changes over the years. Cutthroat can work with adults, but is far too heavy-handed for youth. Kids are still developing a passion for the game which isn't served by a coach being overly passionate for success.

Being a youth coach ranks as one of the most difficult jobs around. You need to deal with short attention spans, behavior problems, delicate egos, tantrums, and unrealistic expectations – and that's just the parents! Coaches need to be teachers, counselors, arbitrators, prophets, handlers, healers, schedulers, and cheerleaders. Most youth coaches are also parents of players on the team, so they have to step in and out of their coach and parent roles. It used to be that youth coaches were just thrown into the soup without preparation. Some might have extensive playing experience or some may have had soccer in 8th grade gym. So it's no wonder that youth coaching can be uneven. However U.S. Youth Soccer Association and United States Soccer Federation have taken steps to make youth coaching more professional and standard. They require any youth coach in their programs to attend a course and receive a coaching certificate. The course is brief, but does help put every coach at an equal starting point. 

Victories and defeats can end up defining the strength of a coach. Not because a coach oversees more victories than defeats, but because the coach has developed a way to be a strong role model and leader during either event. The old adage about being humble in victory and gracious in defeat has to be taught by example. Too many coaches want to be Vince Lombardi with his attitude that "if you can accept losing, you can't win." Losses result in long diatribes about failure and weakness and incompetence. Wins end up being an excuse to insult the opposing team and reward arrogance. Wise youth coaches opt for a positive appraisal without the agonizing dissection to ferret out the weaknesses leading to defeat.

There's definitely something to be said for having a winning outlook. But the truth is that even the Miami Dolphins eventually lost a game. Winning over and over can indicate that a team isn't being challenged. And most of us face challenges in our lives with varying degrees of success. We need to learn how to deal with the less successful outcomes – dare I say defeats – with character and perseverance, developing the ability to improve.   Malcolm Forbes, who could be the poster boy for success, said that "victory is sweetest when you've known defeat." So coaches need to infuse the playing experience with a joy that transcends the outcome. It's not about winning or losing at this age. It's about developing an interest in and a passion for the sport.

The glory of victory and the humiliation of defeat don't need to be taught. Over the years all of us innately learn that the former is far more desirable than the latter. But because kids are both resilient and short of memory, we can't feed them our anxieties and expectations for game outcomes. Keaton's team lost, but he didn't lose his love for playing. In fact he got to play a different position at the end of the game, which got him very excited about being on offense rather than defense. He's fired up for the next game, which is exactly the way it should all play out. His league has the last two games set up to be between teams with equal or near equal records. So it's very possible he'll meet this team again and maybe even lose again. But I applaud his coaches for making the game and the love of the game far more important than marks in a win or loss column. If he stays with it, he'll have plenty of time to get the speech about "defeat is not an option." Done right, it may even inspire him to give the extra bit needed to carve out a victory. But for now, it's enough to be able to get a granola bar and a juice box win or lose.