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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". 

 

Support Your Local Player

Susan Boyd

Conservatively there are over 900 men's college soccer programs taking into account NCAA's Divisions I, II and III and the NAIA. Women have over 650 college soccer programs in the same group. Add to this mix the Christian College Conference, Junior Colleges, and a host of independent college soccer programs and you'll end up with nearly double the numbers. Assuming that colleges need to fill around six spots on their teams each year, you end up with close to 10,000 male and 7,500 female soccer players needed each year to fill the college soccer ranks. Therefore, if your son or daughter wants to play college soccer, chances are he or she can. The trick is finding the right fit with the coach, the school, and the major. Plus you can't just leap into this search in the summer between sophomore and junior years in college and expect to come out at the end with a roster spot. You need a plan, and you need to initiate it in your child's freshman year. More importantly, you need your soccer club to help your player find the right program.

College searches usually begin just before or during the junior year, but to find a college where a student can also play soccer requires earlier planning. A great place to start is on the major amateur athletic Web sites: www.ncaa.org (National College Athletic Association), www.naia.org (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), www.nccaa.org (National Christian College Athletic Association), and www.njcaa.org (National Junior College Athletic Association).   These Web sites list all the college soccer programs, links to these programs, and information on qualification requirements. As you look through these lists, consider issues of in-state vs. out of state, school size, academic rigor, and successful soccer programs. Create your own list of up to 50 schools with a variety of options. Research the schools' academic and athletic programs so that you can narrow down your search to a dozen. Then write to the soccer coaches and request an unofficial visit as soon as you can. These visits can help you narrow down your choices even further since the coaches can be very frank with your family about the possibility of joining the soccer team and your player can see if he or she feels comfortable with both the coach and the campus. Stay in contact with the coaches you meet because that's the way you let them know that you are truly interested in the program. Send emails after a game to congratulate the team on a strong victory or to commiserate with them over an unexpected defeat.

All of this research and all of these visits will do you no good if the coaches don't have an opportunity to see players in action. Here's where your club is of utmost importance. If your son or daughter is playing in a select club, you should expect the following from your club. First, they should be taking the team to the best soccer showcases they can enter beginning with U-14 for girls and with U-15 for boys. You should attend one or two showcases the first year and then at least three in the following years. Second, your club should have a Web site with player profiles that coaches can access through a password, and your club should be printing off a booklet of profiles to hand out to college coaches at the tournaments. Third, your club should hold college recruiting seminars every spring and fall and provide an excel spreadsheet to every player of regional colleges with coaches' email addresses set up as links. Fourth, prior to every tournament, the club will receive a list of college coaches who have registered to be in attendance. They should pass that list on to the players in the form of another spreadsheet with linked email addresses so players can invite coaches to come to their games.   Fifth, when asked, your coach should be able to provide for you a letter of recommendation. Sixth, your team manager or a designated parent should be keeping statistics of every game so that you will have an easily accessed record of both the team's accomplishments and individual player accomplishments. Finally your club should have strong contacts with local college coaches facilitating conversations about potential recruits from the club. Your club should be "selling" your son or daughter every opportunity it has.

Too many clubs neglect the next step that a player can take in soccer. They fail to realize that part of development is helping the player move forward beyond the club. On the other hand, most clubs recognize the marketing value of a player who moves on to college soccer as evidenced by such listings on their Web sites. Some clubs just aren't willing to make the investment necessary to assist all interested players in getting to the next level. It's a shame because so many good players end up abandoning their soccer careers at high school graduation or praying that a walk-on tryout will result in a roster spot.

Given the numbers, playing college soccer can be a very real possibility for many kids. Division I soccer could be difficult to attain, but terrific opportunities exist at Division II and III as well as through other college and junior college athletic associations. However, you'll need good planning, perseverance, and strong support from your club. Don't be shy about asking what the club is willing to do for your player and don't be shy about encouraging the club to do more. They are the conduit through which your player may or may not pass into college soccer. A club's neglect of this conduit shouldn't be acceptable. If they want to list the players who move on to college soccer, then they need to be willing to provide the support to make it happen.
 

Snack time

Susan Boyd

Happy soccer gremlins will soon be clamoring for those after practice and after game snacks that parents agree to supply. Snacks once consisted of a bag of orange quarters and a jug of water.   I don't know about any of you, but I'm the mom who realizes on the way to practice that she signed up for snacks that day. I really think that's why oranges and water became so popular. I, and others like me, could leave the engine running in the grocery parking lot, grab the bag of Clementines and the gallon of water, and be back on the way to the fields before the boys had finished tying their cleats. But slowly the tide turned and oranges and water simply screamed, "This woman doesn't plan ahead."

Here's the deal. Snacks need to be nutritional, cost effective, delicious, and avoid common childhood allergies like nuts. Oranges and water fit those criteria, but they didn't fit the final and possibly most important criterion – snacks need to have a "wow" factor. Somewhere along the line responsible, thoughtful, prepared moms and dads started baking muffins, packing Gogurts in coolers, distributing full granola bars, providing individual boxes of natural cereal, and otherwise making snack time into a Top Chef competition. My bag of oranges opened on the hood of my car being sliced with a 1" pocket knife attached to my nail clippers didn't fit into the epicurean banquet other parents provided.

Navigating this snack track can be tricky for those of us who don't visit the gourmet snack aisle and who have to use the circuit breaker to turn our ovens on and off. I would bake. I really would.  But every time I turn the oven on the timer beeper screeches continually. So obviously I can't leave the oven on for the length of time it takes to heat up and then to bake. Our dogs can't take the high-pitched agony. So I moved from oranges to fruit snacks and from water to juice boxes. They aren't fancy, but at least they have their own packaging, which seems to be a part of the current snack requirements.

The only advice I can give any new soccer parent is let your own kids guide you. I'm amazed at how acutely even four and five year old kids have their fingers on the pulse of coolness. While I thought animal cracker boxes would be an ideal snack, my boys nixed that misconception. "What? Do you think we're three?" I have learned that the more bizarre the snack, the better, especially for boys. In other words regular fruit roll ups won't cut it, but fluorescent green alien roll ups pass the test. Square juice boxes send out nerd vibes, but wax bottles or foil packs get the thumbs up. Grapes seem to muster approval, as do bananas on occasion. I do get confused as to when bananas are an appropriate offering. I've been known to bring home bunches of bananas only to be told, "You can't bring those to practice!" When I ask why not I merely get the eye roll that says, "You'll never understand."   It appears to be a generational thing. 

I once brought a box of popcorn balls to an indoor tournament which got lots of positive feedback except from the mother who was a dentist. Undeterred I have gone the popcorn ball route a few other times. I don't make the popcorn balls. That would require far too much planning and creating. But I was fortunate enough to get in on a "20 popcorn balls for $5" special at my grocery store right after Halloween. I have learned that popcorn balls never expire. In the future we are guaranteed that cockroaches, Twinkies, and popcorn balls will survive, although only one can be considered an appropriate soccer snack.
 

The Soccer Train

Susan Boyd

Today I decided to clean my stove. I'm expecting several groups of visitors over the next few weeks, so I felt the pressure to give the top a good cleaning. I've had this stove for 19 years, and I will probably have it another 19 despite the fact that on HGTV people are enthusiastically remodeling kitchens that I would consider an upgrade just as they are. So I got out my scrubbing pad, cleanser, and lint-free cloth for what I thought would be a 15 minute job. 90 minutes later I was done, unless you count the fact that the self-cleaning oven still had two hours to go. 

The cleaning turned into a terrible virus infecting my behavior. As I scrubbed the burners I noticed that the entire unit lifted out. Underneath lurked an accumulation of scraps, grease, and dust not to mention baked on globs along the sides. As I dug into that pit, my feverish swirls of cleanser spilled over to the vent between the burners and the grill (yes, I have a grill, so you can imagine where this will lead). I lifted up the vent cover and discovered a filter that was surprisingly not too bad – I must have cleaned it within the year – but it hid a canyon smudged with more grease and crumbs. That carried me over to the grill, a tangle of charcoal plates, heating elements, drain pan, and grill covers. I also decided what the heck and started the self-cleaning oven. As I washed the charcoal plates in my white porcelain sink I left black streaks that I had to scrub up later, and then when I carried the filthy cloth over to the washer I noticed that the machine could do with a wipe down of its own.

I tell this story because while I was cleaning I had lots of time to ruminate on the world, my life, dreams of winning the lottery, and soccer. I came to a realization: Cleaning my stove parallels youth soccer involvement. You begin with your son or daughter in a group of four and five year olds who can barely kick the ball and are directionally challenged when it comes to which goal they should be charging. And you end up with your children on a traveling team so it comes down to a new stove or a trip to North Carolina.   With insidious cunning soccer draws us from burners to burner wells to filters to grills to sinks to washing machines while we still await the completion of the self-cleaning oven. 

I didn't need to so wholeheartedly clean my stove. But I wanted to see if I could get it looking nearly new again, and I did. So I had a goal that was driving me to continue. The same is true for those who move ever more steadily to the higher levels of soccer with its increased demands and costs. If it's something your child wants to do and shows the commitment to do it, then hop on board and enjoy the ride. If you like the way things are going and don't want more, then by all means don't get sucked into higher levels of soccer just for the prestige element of being on a select team.

While I don't mean to suggest that only the very best and most dedicated soccer players should play select, I do want to leave the door open for the possibility that not every player should get on the select train. Even very athletic and gifted children opt for recreational soccer because their real love is baseball or swimming. They want the experience of playing, love to play, but have another course in mind when it comes to pursuing advanced levels of sport. I succumbed to the pressure to polish up my stove, but I could have just as easily said I'd do it another day. Lord knows I've been good at that over the last 19 years. My visitors might have whispered a few comments about the dirty stove, or they might never have noticed. Either way, I would still be the same person.

Many of the fans of the game never seriously played the game. That's true of every sport. As parents we need to figure out why we have our kids on a team. If our sons and daughters have a real passion and talent for the game, then it makes sense to give in to that select journey. If they want to continue playing with their friends and can make the team, then by all means they should do it. When Bryce's team dissolved between U14 and U-15 the coach of the recreational team in our club offered Bryce a spot. We considered it for awhile. Robbie was still playing in the same club, it would let Bryce stay with some of his friends, and it would hardly cost anything. As we talked it over the next few days it became clear that Bryce was hesitant to join this team. He had his eye on college soccer and he felt that this would create a stumbling block to his goal. So we turned the coach down and spent the next four months searching for a select team. The decision was driven by Bryce and in the end it was the right decision.            

My analogy does break down in one aspect. Unless you are Martha Stewart or Mr. Clean the job I did this morning can be satisfying but hardly joyful and devoid of anything you would want to remember, unlike soccer which brings our family great joy and lots of good memories. However, like my cleaning, we started out thinking that soccer would be simple - something the boys could do with the neighborhood kids that would fill a few hours with exercise and activity. Then progressively it became one of the predominant pursuits in our family. We were lucky because we embraced the increased level of commitment. Not everyone does. Not everyone should because happily other options exist in youth soccer to satisfy varying levels of participation.

Youth Soccer Month is coming up in September. As we approach the activities of the month we need to consider that despite the heavy emphasis on select soccer, youth soccer embraces all levels of competition and involvement. Every child who wants to play the game should be able to play. Every community should strive to provide soccer for everyone's interests and skills. I've been pleased to see that tournaments have been created just for recreational teams, giving them the experience of travel and regional competition without the same stresses and demands. Ultimately it comes down to making the best choices for our children and our families. We can hop on the soccer train but we need to figure out how far we'll go.
             
 

Keeping it Positive

Susan Boyd

Today I heard the song "Charlie Brown" while eating lunch and one line struck me. After the chorus, a baritone voice intones, "Why is everybody always picking on me?" I know soccer players feel that way more times than they care to admit. They get told what to do, what they did wrong, what they could have done, why they can't live up to expectations, and when they should just get lost – often all in the same sentence. Sometimes the criticism comes in the form of well-intentioned enthusiastic involvement from fans and teammates and sometimes it's just mean spirited bullying. The results are confusion, self-doubt, and frustration.

I've watched pint-sized players spin their heads around like they were auditioning for "The Exorcist." The coach on the sidelines barks an order, grandpa on the opposite sideline offers his take on the situation, dad behind the net suggests an alternative theory, and Penny running towards the goal issues her own request. By the time little Jenny filters everything through her brain and tries to do what she feels is the right move, the moment has passed and a whole new retinue of commands have been issued. How can six-year-old Derrick possibly know what to do when it is raining instruction? He ends up taking two steps forward, two steps back, and never doing anything other than look panicked. While we all mean well with our "encouraging words," we actually end up contributing to a bunch of white noise. 

Once we recognize how we are creating confusion we can censor ourselves and focus on more generalized support such as "great job" and "way to go." But unfortunately some of the sideline comments dissolve into belittling.   This denigration could be classified as bullying because it elicits the same response in those player recipients. We are so used to shouting at the TV or anonymously in a baseball stadium of 45,000 that we forget the things we bellow on the sidelines can be heard by the players who aren't seasoned professionals hardened to comments and financially compensated for their participation. These are young kids with developing egos who want to please and worry they are failures if they can't. Parents tearing down a kid can cause great harm. One of Robbie's friends left a team because a teammate's father tore into him so often and so vehemently that he just couldn't play any longer in those circumstances. His coach tried to help, but he couldn't be on both sides of the field. Despite numerous requests to tone it down, this dad seemed unable to. The best control can come from other parents who talk to offenders and get them to see the error of their ways. We all have a responsibility to protect the kids on the field especially those who aren't yet in high school.

It's not just adults who have a problem. A player can become a bully if he or she doesn't feel a teammate is fulfilling his or her responsibilities on the field. Someone may end up picking on a player on the field and then continue the abuse off the field as well. Such behavior needs to be dealt with. Coaches should clearly establish the boundaries for team banter and they need to adamantly oppose any sort of bullying. As parents we need to listen to our children to hear any evidence of being bullied or being a bully and then we need to address it.  Young players get influenced by the frenzy to win that they experience watching professional teams in the company of their parents. They want to find a scapegoat if the team isn't doing well, so a player could be targeted. While support from the fans creates a positive atmosphere for a team, it's probably more important that the players have a positive attitude with one another. For young players teammates are also friends, so the ramifications of being bullied extend beyond practices and games.

When a game goes badly it's natural for frustrations bubble to the surface. None of us are perfect, but we can all aspire to be better. As players get older and games count more for things like the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series and high school championships and tournament trophies the positive comments get peppered with criticism and "suggestions." With older teams, the players are more serious about the sport and often have aspirations beyond high school, so they will face more and more of the fan reactions pro players get.   But we do need to be respectful of our youngest players and keep it positive. Rather than a melancholy refrain, we should be hearing, "I'm glad everybody's always supporting me."