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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". 

 

Socrates Didn't Invent Soccer

Susan Boyd

I'm an optimist when it comes to TV viewing. I record dozens of shows with the very real intent of watching them all, then spend fifteen minutes once a week deleting most of them. If people ask me if I've seen a program I cheerfully answer "No, but I recorded it!" Every once in a while I have the opportunity to actually see one of the shows I recorded, generally because I'm shirking some other responsibility like laundry or writing. Earlier this week I watched an episode of "Numb3rs" about an FBI agent and his genius math brother who solves crimes using brute force and clever number theory. It's a slight drama, but entertaining. During this particular episode there was a crawl across the screen with the teaser, "Test your own math skills by trying the puzzles at CBS.com." I jumped at the opportunity to validate my intelligence (or scoff at the ridiculousness of the questions if I couldn't solve them). This week's puzzle concerned convergence using lines that bisected triangle sides and angles. While I enjoyed the questions, they led me to further consideration about convergence as it relates to soccer. Yes, I'm that obsessed with soccer!

Convergence in math means the same thing it does in English – a coming together from different directions at a single point (Encarta Dictionary). Soccer succeeds or fails because of convergence or the lack thereof. Yesterday, Robbie's team had a state championship play-off game that frustratingly demonstrated the elements of convergence. I should mention that convergence is either exhilarating or frustrating when it comes to soccer. Yesterday an opponent's foot converged twice with one of Robbie's teammate's faces. The second convergence resulted in thirteen stitches. The lightning and deluge converged with twilight to require an early game termination. The uneven new sod patches converged with an errant kick to insure an erratic bounce into the goal.   Players regularly converged for fouls or tackles or steals. We finally had an exhilarating convergence when a ball was struck from the corner by one forward while the other charged in, met it at the goal line and converged it right into the back of the net.

When you relate soccer anecdotes they usually involve convergence. So while you may not have stayed awake during your Geometry class, you still use the mathematical precepts to make your point. "I thought the ball was going in, but the keeper just managed to deflect it." "That defender came out of nowhere to steal the ball right off of my daughter's foot." "The ball caromed off the post and into the goal." "That dad got right in the official's face." Players converge at the end of the game in the traditional handshake. We even use convergence to get to the games when we set our GPS and it charts a course for us. It's creating a convergence between the spot we need to be and the route our vehicle travels even if it isn't a straight bisector.

My other favorite sport is baseball. I'm happy to spend a few hours at the ballpark absorbing the sights and sounds of a Brewers game.   On the face of it, baseball and soccer couldn't be more different in their production. Baseball is a game of fits and starts, especially in the eighth inning of a close game where pitching changes can make that one inning last nearly as long as the rest of the game. Players in the outfield might go long minutes before even moving, much less chasing a ball. But when they are needed, they are needed in a spectacular hurry. Soccer is nearly non-stop, everyone is needed all the time, and players have to be constantly on the move, readjusting their position depending upon the direction and speed of play. But I realized that what I love about baseball I also love about soccer. Both games require mathematical precision which is based on convergence.

That's why I don't like watching baseball on TV, because the camera dictates where I look. I want to survey the field, see where the outfielders are shifting, judge the wind, watch runners lead off, and get a good feel for the ball's direction both when hit and when thrown. Players make judgments about their position based on the angle they expect the ball to travel. In other words, they place themselves in the mostly likely spot for convergence or near enough to a range of convergence points. There are some intuitive calculations concerning trajectories, resistance, and velocity that dictate the point of convergence and the likelihood of success. Pitchers, hitters, infielders, outfielders, and coaches are all doing their own math in their heads to determine what will create the best outcome. Pitchers want to have their pitches converge with the catcher's mitt, hitters want their bats to converge with the ball, and fielders want their mitts to converge with any hit. Likewise a soccer player makes a decision about using left or right foot, inside or outside, force of the kick, and obstacles to pick the most likely point of convergence with the ball that will alter its route right into the goal or to another teammate's foot. These players do this all within a blink of the eye and they do it hundreds of times in a game. Even more amazingly, unlike math students who can do their calculations in relative calm and without immediate criticism, players resolve their mathematical equations in an instant with on the spot evaluations given at the top of someone's lungs. There's no time to recalculate, check the variables, ponder the choices. It's now or never and then on to the next problem.

While I don't advocate protractors and graphic calculators as part of an essential soccer kit, I do recognize the beauty of math in what is happening on the field. The next time you watch a ball leave a player's foot and land perfectly in front of another player, or see a player suddenly step in front of an opponent to triumphantly settle a goal kick, or witness that awesome bend it like Beckham moment, give pause to consider Euclid, Aristotle, and Pythagoras. Sure, these ancient Greeks didn't invent soccer, but their geometrical explorations resulted in tools for analyzing and improving soccer play. With their acute understanding of convergence, they probably would have made fantastic coaches. Maybe they were. "Go Polyhedrons!"
 

Garbo wouldn't have owned one

Susan Boyd

Seven years ago I swore I would never own a cell phone. Now I panic if I forget to toss it in my purse when I leave the house. Someone might want to talk to me and I won't be able to get back to them for an hour. I've become the woman who believes such a scenario ranks up there with the Hindenburg disaster. And I know I am not alone. Whenever a car on the freeway suddenly slows down for no apparent reason, we used to say "oh, a fuzz buster." Now we all nod our heads and say, "Cell phone call." I used to snap my head around when I heard some child call "mommy." Now that reaction is reserved for a cell phone ring tone released in a crowd. How did I get from total aversion to complete dependency? I blame it on soccer.

When the boys began playing on traveling teams, we found our family splintered on weekends. So it seemed reasonable to get cell phones so we could keep connected. We used the cell phones to let one another know about scores, home ETAs, great plays, and just to stay in touch. It didn't take long to add two more lines (I curse the "just $9.99 for each additional line up to five" come – on) for the boys because they needed to let me know when to pick them up from practice or to call for emergency runs for missing cleats or to text every living 15 year old in the world. Loaded up with photo and video sharing, unlimited texting, internet access, extra unlimited talk hours, and added minutes, each at an additional fee, we boarded the cell phone train and we can't get off. 

When I was a team manager I found my cell phone invaluable. It provided a means of averting disaster. I could call about missing referees, locked fields, inclement weather, cancelling a game, and for medical emergencies.   I was able to guide opposing teams to our fields around detours or traffic jams. Using my web connection, I located a soccer shop to buy dry socks for the team during a particularly wet and cold tournament. Before GPS became as ubiquitous as cell phones, I could use my cell to find coffee, restaurants for team lunches, and photocopier locations. Cell phones allow tournament organizers to quickly contact teams about field changes or game cancellations. Now with the Blackberry and other PDAs they have also become the means for e-mail and reporting/looking up scores. Just as many tournaments have moved to doing everything on line, we will probably see the move to using our cell phones to do more and more of the soccer "paperwork." I envision a day when teams will be registering for tournaments on the way there, while in the car or while sitting in the airport.

I do have two main complaints about cell phones (besides the expense). First, they are worse than cars and computers for losing their technological edge. As I am buying one cell phone, its newest prototype is being placed in the display cabinet. I personally couldn't care if I don't have a QWERTY keyboard since I rarely text message, nor do I need to attempt to read the NY Times on my postage stamp screen. But the problem is my son cares. So his phone goes from being "rad" to being "stupid" in the first four months of a two year contract. When the iPhone came out I was roundly criticized for not having had the foresight to select AT & T as our cell phone carrier the previous year. I am a continuing embarrassment because I still possess the same phone I got four years ago and my cell phone ring is "annoying." Second, cell phones are far too small. I place mine in the drink holder of my soccer chair and then when I fold up my chair the phone is soundlessly expelled like a geyser out of the holder and onto the grass. That's why I own a brilliant red phone. It makes it far easier to find when I return to the field 20 minutes later to locate what I lost.

Still, I have to admit that our soccer life has been made better through our cell phones. The nearly four years I drove to Chicago for practices and games were made safer with a cell by my side. Robbie felt less like he was losing all his social life because of those drives. He could stay in touch with friends and get some homework assistance through his cellular connections.

On the other hand I've seen some pretty creative cell phone usage in my soccer experiences. Coaches who have been sent off have used cell phones to continue their management of the game.   Even more interesting I know of a soccer coach who used his cell phone to call his son's team coach from the sidelines and offer coaching nuggets during the games. I'm guessing the suggestions were well-received since the team coach continued to take the calls. At one game I saw a father having a heated discussion with a sideline referee and kept thrusting his cell phone at the AR. He had taken video of a contested play and was trying to do his own version of a challenge.   At a tournament the police showed up at the game on the field next to us. Apparently one father had called 911 because he felt his son was being unfairly targeted by the opposing team. He had told the police that his son was being "beat up." He even used his phone to guide the police across the acres of fields to his exact location. I've also seen cell phones used as weapons heaved across the grass at a parent target during a verbal argument. 

Like any advancement in the sport, cell phones have their place, but need to be used wisely.   As they improve, we'll find ourselves depending on them more and more to the point that they will be a requirement not just for an emergency number but for a platform for accessing and distributing soccer data. This tiny (annoyingly so) convenience has become a significant part of the soccer kit. So I do begrudgingly accept that what I had feared would be an intrusion into my life has in fact become one, but one that I increasingly depend upon to make my soccer life more manageable. And there is this handy feature that I can use called the off button when I just want to be left alone.

 

Something Lost

Susan Boyd

Winning isn't everything which is easy to say, but not easy to live by unless you're under the age of ten. Measuring one's accomplishments by a team's success doesn't really set in until kids are older.  As youngsters they are enough "me" focused with a touch of self-doubt to need personal praise and affirmation.   They can understand and appreciate a team win, but it isn't the most important part of playing. I was watching a soccer game of six year olds when one team scored on the other. As the kids lined up for the kickoff, a parent shouted encouragingly, "You'll get it bac" prompting a player to pipe up, "We already got it back. We're kicking." Duh mom and dad!   Someday hearing, "you'll get it back" will be very important and supportive. That day, it just stated the obvious.

My grandkids like to win as much as the next player especially if they are playing a board game against one another. But whenever I talk to them about their sports I never hear if they won or lost. Instead, I am treated to a blow by blow description of some snippet from their match where they felt they had achieved something extraordinary. Their personal victory over whatever roadblocks existed during play carry far more weight in their memories than wins or losses. Last week Archer announced on the phone that he had done "the biggest kick ever. It went past all the players. It almost went out of the field, but it didn't." I have no idea if the kick resulted in a goal. What mattered was the power of his kick. I expressed supreme praise for having such a strong leg. And when I asked if the team had won he replied, "I love you. Bye."

Don't get me wrong . . . I'm all for winning. Competition leads to life lessons as important as courtesy and safety. What I dread are the by-products of competition that spell the end of innocence. Kids who played together for three years suddenly find themselves split into separate teams based on skill. For those who don't make the "A" team there's the natural feelings of failure and the pain of seeing a group of your friends move on without you. Parents can put whatever spin on the results as they want, but kids still understand what's happening. Clubs need to be encouraged to help players through these transitions. I've witnessed and heard of horrible stories when children first enter the world of select soccer.   At age nine all of Robbie's team except two players were invited to play up a year. We were told we were moving as a team, so it was shock to learn that two kids were "disinvited." All of us felt betrayed. I still remember the anguish in the voice of one mother. It was totally unnecessary. Eventually those players would have self-selected to opt out of soccer and winning didn't really matter at that age. Parents and coaches need to be sensitive to the major upheaval this transition imposes on families. It's not just missing out on a particular team. It can change the social group for children and define them among their peers.

We should appreciate and extend the years when winning takes a back seat to personal achievement. The kids don't have that judgmental attitude towards one another. Every action earns high fives, whether a goal or an own goal. The players have that wonderful raw enthusiasm where nothing can go wrong, except occasional bumps and bruises. Games are a jumble of activity punctuated with outbursts of glee. Somewhere in the midst of this joyous chaos a few gems of learning are picked up. I know that eventually the entire rhythm of the games will shift to winning. The players will express disappointment in one another's efforts and learn to lay blame. I'm not sure how or why this shift occurs, but it does. Some of it may be learned on the ride home from games where we parents point out that Johnny didn't pass very well or Mary is a ball hog. And some of it just grows from the competitive need to win where one mistake can spell the difference between winning and losing.

I often miss the pleasure of just laughing on the sidelines. Once winning becomes important that drive spills over to the spectators. A 16 year old going to kick the ball and whiffing evokes disappointing grunts while a six year old doing the same thing elicits giggles. Own goals aren't funny when they occur in state league play, but are hilarious in recreational soccer especially when followed by leaps of joy from the striker and her teammates, who only understand that a goal is a good thing. When winning gets involved, watching a game can become an exercise in self-control rather than unbridled engagement. I know too well the tension that winning brings to a competition. During last fall's state tournament quarterfinals Robbie's high school team fought to a 0-0 tie in regulation finally scoring a golden goal in overtime. All the restrained tension spilled out in body shakes and tears. That would never happen while watching Archer kick the biggest kick ever. So I'm grateful for those years of just enjoying the moment without any stake in the outcome.  And when they look back, the kids will be grateful too.
 

Off Kilter

Susan Boyd

I pride myself on my organization, but recent events have placed me in a whirlpool of chaos. Suddenly all my careful planning, filing, labeling, and storing have dissolved into 150 boxes with vague notations such as "master bedroom coats". Since I have never in my life stored a coat in my master bedroom, I am totally confused. I may have another woman's box. She may be as organized as I but sitting in her torn up home staring at a box that says "Office Soccer Schedule"" and withering with bewilderment. Unless her own children play soccer, in which case she is probably tearing into the box hoping for sudden and complete order.

Now that soccer season has begun in earnest, I am undone. I don't have my two foot by three foot calendar on the wall where I can fill in every detail of our complicated lives. I don't know where half my soccer necessities chortle in hiding. Random gloves and hats appear from various open boxes without rhyme or reason. Even Robbie has begun to feel my panic. Where he once depended upon me to be able to find any lost or misplaced soccer item, he has had to accept that I no longer have the rock solid and uncanny ability to zero in on the truant article. I am as lost and misplaced as his soccer gear.   The well-oiled machine of our soccer lives now coughs and sputters without dependable results.

So you can imagine the absolute elation and relief when I discovered my soccer survival box intact in the garage. Untouched by the disaster and escaping packing by the movers, the box sat on the shelf like a beacon of hope and tranquility. Within its cardboard corral my rain jackets, umbrellas, paper towels, wet wipes, and other soccer accessories rested tranquilly awaiting their return to my van. Robbie might not have all his uniform pieces, but we have toilet paper for the port-a-johns. Last weekend we traveled to Indiana for Midwest Regional League competition and had occasion to tap into the box for rain gear and umbrellas. We were even able to provide umbrellas for others who had not yet set up their car for soccer season. I felt partially back in control.

This chaos has put lots of things into perspective. For instance, I recognize that my children aren't the only ones who forget to pack their cleats in their bag and realize it after two hours on the road. I'm not the only mother who runs through a check list with my kids before we depart. The phrase "If you keep everything in your bag, you won't lose it" echoes through many a home. Smelly, month old wet shorts sit buried in the bottom of thousands of soccer bags. The mad rush to locate a ball pump repeats itself dozens of times at tournaments. So while organization can be a wonderful way to avoid crises, it isn't completely reliable.

Once, when I was a manager, I somehow lost the player pass, medical release and birth certificate of a player. We were at a tournament that was run by someone even more compulsive than I am, so rules were meant to be followed to the letter. The tournament was in Florida and families had given up their spring breaks, spent hundreds of dollars to travel down, and naturally expected to watch their children play. So I had to figure out how to solve this crisis. I tore through all my paperwork, which had been completely in order prior to boarding our plane – believe me I had checked and double checked everything. So I hoped that somehow the paper fairy would fly down, point her wand in some dark recess of my brief case, and illuminate the missing paperwork. No such luck. Then I had a Eureka moment. I knew this player was in Wisconsin US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and I knew that we had to have a birth certificate on file plus a player profile with picture to participate. I called a friend in the State Association's office, she faxed down a new card, the birth certificate, a blank medical release, and the photo. In fifteen minutes I had reproduced the player pass (not laminated, but who cared), had the parents fill out a new medical release, and returned to the registrar with ALL my paperwork. Did I find the missing paperwork? Yes – apparently the paper fairy was having a bad day – the clear protective folder was stuck to another folder. 

The moral of the story is that no matter how organized any of us might be the fickle finger of fate has a way of demolishing the best system. So we need to be prepared not to panic, to be problem solvers, and to accept a lack of organization as part of being human. Ultimately even the worst case scenario can be resolved. We need to keep our eye on the real purpose of all this structure – letting our kids play this great game and have fun doing it. Until all my boxes are open, all my papers sorted, and everything put in their rightful place, I'll have to accept a certain amount of bedlam in my life. The games will go on without my structured input. And they'll be just as good.