Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer

Clubhouse

US Youth Soccer Intagram!

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority

RS Banner

Marketplace

Wilson Trophy Company

Happy Family

Nesquik

Capri Sun

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". 

 

Mascot Love

Susan Boyd

In exciting news for soccer fans all over the United States, the second tier professional United Soccer League is aggressively expanding, pledging to add a total of five more teams in 2014 and then adding another half dozen over the next three years. The North American Soccer League also has expansion plans and third tier Premier Development League has moved into smaller markets, making professional soccer even more accessible. The opportunities for families and especially youth players to be within easy distance of professional teams are rapidly becoming as good as Europe and South America. That exposure will help kids observe and rub elbows with a higher level of soccer that will also amp up their own game. Even more exciting, David Beckham announced that he will be bringing an MLS team to Miami. He has already lined up private funding for building a stadium, considered the most important first step in acquiring an MLS franchise. However, I would argue that an even more significant first step must be taken by all these expansion teams — the selection of a nickname and appropriate mascot.              

We are mascot crazy in America. We identify with our sports organizations through their nicknames and mascots, sometimes even more prominently than through their actual names. Teams nurture their mascots as significant branding using them both at the games and at promotional appearances. Kids love to high-five, hug, and occasionally punch their favorite mascot, clamoring to get close to their beloved critters for a picture. Amazingly, many English, Brazilian, German and Italian teams have mascots that never really see the light of day. We don’t identify mascots with our favorite EPL teams. No one cheers Arsenal’s Gunnersaurus Rex running on the field, his spiky tail flickering in the bright lights as he urges the crowd into a frenzy. Sadly, as the number of teams increase, the field of possible mascot candidates narrows.              

Beckham conceded that he and his investors still haven’t come up with a name for their proposed team, although he confirmed it wouldn’t be “Goldenballs FC” after his own famous nickname. In America the team name is important not only to establish the identity of the franchise but to determine the mascot to promote the brand going forward. People need to know what stuffed animal they will be buying their kids, what image will be emblazoned across their T-shirts, what loveable character will be making trick shots during half-time, and how they should be informally addressing their team. We depend on our mascots to serve as the intermediary between the team and ourselves. If we can’t have a picture with Clint Dempsey, then we settle for a picture with Gorilla F.C., the mascot of the Seattle Sounders (yes a gorilla is the mascot of a Pacific Northwest team on the shores of Puget Sound not in the mountains of Rwanda – go figure).              

Seattle demonstrates how difficult it is to locate and select a mascot that makes sense. How did the entire culture of mascots begin? We actually have the French to blame even though America has embraced mascots with far more vigor than any other country. Edmond Audran wrote an opera in 1885, “La Mascotte” with libretto by Alfred Duru and Henri Charles Chivot. La Mascotte translates as good luck charm, and the tale was about a girl who brought fortune to all who came in contact with her. So the purpose of a mascot was to bring good luck. The first serious mascot in America was for the Chicago Cubs and was an inanimate taxidermy bear cub introduced in 1908. Early mascots were all “live” creatures (either caged or stuffed), but eventually they morphed into costumed mascots whose actors must remain anonymous and be mute for some reason. Many teams have had nicknames predating mascots, which did not lend themselves to physical characters, for example Alabama’s Crimson Tide and Indiana University’s Hoosiers. Alabama opted for “Big Al” an elephant, because as we all know, elephants are indigenous to Alabama. Indiana tried out a bulldog named Ox, a bison (not named Bulldog), and “Hoosier Pride” for a short period of time and then just gave up and, gasp, has no mascot. By the way, their school colors are white and crimson, so maybe crimson is a mascot curse. However, most schools with non-mascot evoking names have mascots. For example, Brooklyn College, known as the Bridges, has a bulldog, and Knox College, nickname The Prairie Fire, has a mascot called The Prairie Fire. I’m not sure what it looks like but I’m hoping it’s not a stunt person set ablaze right before the start of a game.             

Knox College points out another difficulty with creating nicknames and mascots. In the past, no one thought anything of naming a team after Native American icons such as Seminoles, Braves and Redskins. Knox used to be known as Siwash, a name referring to certain tribes in the Pacific Northwest, even though the college is in Illinios. However, its French roots (those pesky French again) mean savage, so it became offensive. In 1993, the name was dropped in favor of “The Prairie Fire.” The controversy over names considered racially inflammatory has created serious clashes between fans, owners and the general public. These battles clearly indicate the level at which nicknames and mascots drive team loyalty. Marquette University dropped their Warriors affiliation in 1994 because it was considered to be disrespectful to Native Americans and opted for The Golden Eagles. However, 20 years later there is still a prominent and vocal group who want to return to the Warrior nickname and mascot, circulating petitions and appealing to the university Board of Trustees to approve the change. We have recently seen a tremendous backlash against the Washington Redskins with many sports reporters refusing to use the nickname in their writing, while the Washington front office refuses to consider a name change. Those who defend the names argue that they are honoring Native Americans and their proud history of strength and endurance, while distractors point out the stereotypical behaviors associated with these names such as the Braves’ “Tomahawk Chop,” which have no basis in ethnic traditions. These mascot battles will carry on even if all teams remove their Native American components as evidenced by long standing battles over previous changes.              

With the Olympics in full swing, we are introduced to the mascots of the games. This tradition began with the introduction of mascots at the 1968 Winter Olympics in (wait for it) Grenoble, France. Now we are occasionally confronted with up to five mascots (China Summer Olympics 2008), made all the more confusing with names in the sponsoring nation’s language. The Olympics provide the only significantly recognizable non-American mascots, whose primary purpose is to sell merchandise and create a “cute” visual to promote the games. This policy has backfired several times. Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat during the Australian 2000 Summer Olympics was meant as joke and protest against all Olympic mascots yet ended up becoming more popular than Syd, Olly and Millie, the official mascots. People agreed that Nevi and Glitz for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy were just plain creepy as a human snowball and ice cube. 

Mascots can be so tricky. Just as some children have faces only a mother could love, mascots have constructions only a fan could appreciate. Stanford’s “Tree” looks like Tannebaum on drugs. I recently learned that the costume is homemade by a Stanford Pep Band member, so that may explain its disturbing appearance. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have “Big Red” as their mascot, which appears to be a giant, gelatinous felt blob. This shapeless mass has a “head” demarked from his “body” by a black swash of a mouth extending clear around what would most likely be his neck. If I were under the age of 12, I wouldn’t want to get within 50 feet of this creature, much less pose for a picture with it. The Texas Christian University Horned Frogs mascot is a mix between the Teenage Ninja Turtles and “Child’s Play” villain doll, Chucky, complete with demonic grin. I’m sure I’m offending the fans of these teams, but if they could look objectively at their mascots I think they would have to agree with me.            

Our family has strongly supported the University of Oregon with its engaging “Donald Duck” mascot. Up the road is Oregon State’s Benny Beaver, a bit less cuddly and the focus of any number of cheap jokes. But out there are worse mascots like a slug, a parrot, a shock of wheat, an artichoke, a spider and a hockey puck. As schools, professional teams, Olympic committees and club teams scramble to find distinctive and appealing mascots, the pool dwindles. It will be interesting to see how David Beckham decides to brand his new MLS team. He may hold a contest to find an appropriate nickname and mascot. I would like to humbly suggest that he stay away from some possibilities: The Daunting Dugongs, South Beach Southies, Flaming Flamingoes, Miami Sunstrokes, Reef Rowdies and Everglade Gladiators. The power of a good nickname and mascot to accompany that name can make or break a franchise. So avoid anything blobby, slimy and/or creepy.

Comments (0)

 

Hail Mary

Susan Boyd

When I begin to lose faith in youth sports witnessing the absurd competiveness, the overbearing parents, the “professional” emphasis that singles out better players at the expense of others, and the lack of joy in play, I wonder if we can ever find that core experience that translates into fun for all young players. Then a story crops up that renews my faith in the real reasons we play and support youth sports. Last month, an amazing feat was achieved by a high school basketball player in North Carolina, but that wasn’t the complete story. In a richly nuanced and powerfully emotional chain of events, a boy and his team made a strong statement about the power of youth sports to change lives without any of the trappings of ambition, self-promotion and parental intervention.             

Josh Thompson, the coach of Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School in North Carolina, decided to have a “Dedication Game” as they met their rival Mount Airy. He brought an old basketball to a practice and asked his boys to write on the ball the name of someone they wanted to dedicate the game to. Most boys chose a parent, grandparent or another significant adult in their life, like a teacher or clergy. However, Spencer Wilson knew immediately who he would write on the ball, his friend Josh Rominger. Josh wasn’t a teammate or even a classmate. Spencer had met him while undergoing treatment for a rare form of tissue cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. Spencer had beat the cancer once, but it came back requiring him to have leg surgery when he was 13. Despite weakness, immune problems, and damaged leg muscles, he persevered at basketball, his refuge from the pain, nausea and often hopelessness of his disease. When the cancer returned he was told he had less than a 7 percent chance of survival beyond six months. Then an experimental treatment became available at the National Institute of Health, and Spencer was approved for a trial. In 2011, his cancer went back into remission and his strength and health returned to its pre-cancer levels. His friend Josh was not so fortunate. He passed away from his cancer last year.          

Once Spencer wrote Josh’s name on the ball, he said he felt a burst of strength and optimism. Throughout the nail-biter game, he would touch the ball during each time out and get a new surge of power. He said he felt that Josh was there with him, urging him on. The game eventually wound down to the final seconds with Mount Airy ahead by one and at the free throw line. With only two seconds left in the game and no time outs, Mount Airy missed the free throw. Spencer’s teammate got the rebound and passed it to him at the top of the key. Spencer dribbled once and then heaved the ball 50 feet toward the basket as the clock ticked down. The buzzer went off just as his shot fell through the net, giving Bishop McGuinness three points and the win. Spencer couldn’t believe what he had just accomplished. “It was a dream.”            

Before the game, Spencer wrote a letter to Josh’s mom in which he said, “His joy illuminated the room, and it was always apparent to me that he was special. Just wanted to let you know the impact your son has on my life still to this day. I will never forget him. Play for Josh." Spencer’s coach stated, “It was one of those surreal moments where you know you were part of something bigger than yourself.” These two statements exemplify the best of youth sports. The game was about playing not only for the team, the school and the win, it was also about understanding that no one is more important than the sport. When Spencer played for his friend, he did so without any expectation of glory for himself. He wanted to highlight Josh, and even when the shot went in, his first thoughts were for the role his friend played in the win. Spencer’s parents also had no expectations. His mom stated how difficult it was to watch her son struggle through 15 rounds of chemotherapy and two battles with cancer with little hope of survival. She and Spencer’s father were just grateful that the coach made allowances for Spencer’s treatments and his limitations, keeping him on the squad so he could continue enjoying the sport that sustained him through his agonies. While his shot would certainly make any high school player proud to put on his or her highlights tape, Spencer isn’t looking to cash in on his success. He just wants people to remember his friend. As he put it a week after the game, “Today is Josh’s birthday. He would have been 19 years old. I think of him every day.”            

This message of both hope and dedication enrich the experience of youth sports for all of us. It reminds us that playing a sport isn’t about getting a college scholarship or a professional contract. Those are achievements which may or may not come. Instead we need to live in the here and now, enjoying the  moments of play that occur daily without having to apply each event to some unrealized ambition. Today my granddaughters ran to raise money for their school. They were asked to get pledges for up to 36 laps around the track. My youngest granddaughter just ran her laps and my daughter texted me as she completed 26 still going strong. Eventually she ran all 36 laps plus four more. The event had no winners or losers because it wasn’t really a race other than the runners competing  against their own drive. But in completing the 40 laps, I couldn’t help but think of my granddaughter as a winner for persevering without any reward other than a pat on the back. I wished I could be there to give her a big hug for her day. It’s difficult to remember that youth sports can exist solely for the enjoyment and physical training of our kids. We don’t need any other agenda for them to achieve. We forget that because we are constantly bombarded with stories about 8-year-olds being signed to European soccer contracts and 16-year-olds skipping high school and college to play pro. We are so driven for our children to be the LeBron James of their generation that we forget there is only one of him and there are millions of young players. Having a dream isn’t bad, but sacrificing the fun of childhood in the pursuit of that dream steals from our players and us the opportunity just to luxuriate in the moment.             

My hope is that Spencer’s and Josh’s story will inspire all of us to play selflessly for the joy of the sport. If we can honor the contribution of friends, parents, coaches and families along the way, that would be wonderful. Learning to be part of “something bigger” teaches our children humility and perspective. We would all do well to develop the vision. It is difficult to remember that this is a planet of 6 billion, so the chances of our child being the best and brightest in a sport isn’t even as good as the odds of winning the Powerball. But the odds of our kids having great memories of a childhood well-spent are in our favor if we can remember to provide them love, praise and joy. We always hope that we’ll be the parents of that special one. The irony is that each of us already is the parent of a special child. If that exceptionalness translates into someone as strong and capable as Spencer Wilson and Josh Rominger, then I would say we’ve hit the jackpot.

Comments (0)

 

Celebration Time

Susan Boyd

The clock is ticking down. With determination and sheer will, the ball ricochets off one player to the next until a player — knowing that time is nearly gone — strikes the ball with blind hope. In legendary “he shoots, he scores” fashion, it sails past the keeper and into the back of the net. The celebration erupts. Players pile on the scorer, and the fans go crazy.             

We’ve witnessed this scenario play out in every sport. Auburn did it to Alabama this season in football, retrieving the ball in the end zone after Alabama’s field goal attempt fell short, then running it back for a game winning touchdown as time expired. Baseball fans love a walk-off home run and love a walk-off grand slam even more. The first post-season walk-off grand slam didn’t happen until October of 2011 when Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers hammered one out against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series. In August 2007, Georgia won with a walk-off home run against Japan in the Little League World Series. In each of these triumphs there was an eruption of joy from fans and fellow players. In other cases, the last second victory takes a bit longer to evolve. Take for example, a first round match at the 2010 Wimbledon tournament. American John Isner met French qualifier Nicolas Mahut in a contest that wasn’t considered worthy of being broadcast until it promised an unprecedented match length of 11 hours and five minutes stretching out over three days. The match began at 6:30 p.m. on June 22. The third and fourth sets went to tie breakers, bringing play to a halt due to darkness before the fifth set could begin. When the match resumed, the eyes of the world were on a pair of battling players. The fifth set began at 2:05 p.m. on June 23 and as the set evolved into another long tie breaker at 59-59, it had to once again be suspended due to darkness. They continued on June 24 and drove the score to 68-69 in favor of Isner. Then, with a passing shot, Isner secured the necessary two point margin to win the tie breaker 70-68, the fifth set and the match. Isner collapsed to the ground and Mahut seemed genuinely glad, despite his loss, to have the trial ended. These squeaker victories encourage wild and rough celebrations by players and prompt spectators to surge onto the field of play to congratulate their team or player and to share in the emotional moment in a stampede of joy.              

Sometimes in the course of a celebration, disaster can strike. Just this September, Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell leaped to chest bump Todd Gurley after the latter scored a 75-yard touchdown against rival Clemson. Mitchell landed awkwardly after his leap and ended up with a season-ending ACL tear. Rafael Nadal leapt over the net during a practice match for the 2004 Roland Garros tournament, tripped and injured himself enough to have to withdraw from the event. That same year, tennis player James Blake caught his foot on the clay surface, lurched forward into the net post and broke his neck. Despite the rough guy reputation of hockey, Ryan O’Reilly was injured by a hug. Just last week the Colorado Avalanche player was celebrating a goal with his teammates. During the group hug his shoulder became dislocated, and he had to leave the ice missing the rest of the game and the next one. Soccer isn’t immune to celebration injuries. After Steve Morrow scored the game winner for Arsenal in the League Cup final against Sheffield in August 1993, teammate Tony Adams lifted him up in celebration and broke Morrow’s arm. Morrow was out for the rest of the season, including Arsenal’s FA Cup victory that year. In 2010, Kendry Morales of the Angels hit a 10th-inning walk-off grand slam against the Dodgers. The exuberant team rushed to home plate to congratulate their hero and celebrate their win. The ensuing dog pile quickly turned from joy to concern as Morales’ lower left leg suffered a season ending fracture due to players falling all over him after he landing awkwardly.             

Injury shouldn’t be a reason to stifle celebration as those injuries are rare. We do see fewer tennis players leaping over the net as they consider the possibility of catching a toe or foot on the fly. But players will continue to do their chest bumps and the even more risky head butts following a great score or tackle. Baseball players still pile on when a contest is won by a teammate’s great hit or strong defensive play. Players throw their shirts, shoes, sticks, balls and helmets as they experience the exuberance of a victory. While a celebration can result in injury, everyone seems to take it in stride as an unusual but not unheard of outcome from the physicality of these fetes.               

That is until a few weeks ago. A Little League coach has sued one of his players for injuring him during a celebration. The Sacramento area team needed one run to win their game. The runner rushing towards home plate realized he would score the game winner and couldn’t contain his enthusiasm any longer. As he crossed the plate, he threw off his batting helmet. Apparently the helmet bounced off the ground and then struck the coach in the heel rupturing his Achilles tendon. In most reports, doctors agree that the bouncing helmet wouldn’t have caused the injury, although moving to avoid the helmet and turning his ankle in the process probably snapped the tendon. Nevertheless, the coach felt his injury was entirely due to the player’s actions and filed a lawsuit two weeks ago asking for $100,000 for medical costs and lost wages and $500,000 in punitive damages for pain and suffering. When he was served, the boy’s father at first thought the suit was a joke but quickly discovered the coach meant business. I suspect that a clever lawyer found out the family’s home owner’s insurance allowed for exactly the amounts in the suit for a plaintiff. In a sense, the excuse will be that only the insurance company will suffer. But naturally that won’t be the case. The costs will be passed on in the form of higher premiums for the family and other insured. Possibly, the family will have their policy canceled and be unable to secure a new policy putting their mortgage in jeopardy. Even if the boy’s family should win the case, they would have been put under the financial stress of paying for an attorney and the emotional stress of dealing with a trial. I can’t even begin to think how much guilt this young player will feel if his family suffers some form of financial consequences due to his actions. I’m also certain that any joy he found in playing baseball has been sucked out of him.              

I’m not unsympathetic to people suffering medical problems at the hands of others. Two summers ago, I contracted a rare bacteria at an expensive seafood restaurant. I suffered from a serious loss of fluids leading to extremely low potassium far below that which can cause the heart to seize up. Luckily, I got great care and survived with no ill effects. My health insurance covered all my hospital costs and the doctors’ care, so I had no out of pocket expenses. The recuperation also kept me from returning to teaching that fall semester. But I made the decision just to be sure that this restaurant improved its hygiene and acknowledged that it had created the situation so that future patrons would be protected. I do think people can be made “whole” without going to excess. If this coach had out of pocket medical expenses, it might not be unreasonable for the boys’ family to cover those if it can be established that there was a direct link between the toss of the helmet and the injury. More than that is, as the boy’s father said, “absurd.”              

Beyond the issue of the injury, I take another exception to this lawsuit from a coach. When people agree to the position, whether volunteer or paid, they are accepting the job of being mentors and role models. Teachers, coaches and caretakers experience some form of abuse during their careers and occasionally are injured, yet few will sue the kids seeking some windfall from these circumstances. They understand that part of the job includes some minor risks. This coach could just as easily have slipped while teaching a drill spraining his ankle, or breaking his leg, or tearing his Achilles’ tendon. I would expect a coach to put this incident in perspective and look to the more significant moral role he should be playing. There was no intent or belligerence. This player didn’t attack the coach because he was angry about playing time or the coach’s style. He was a 12-year-old caught up in a moment where he felt suddenly significant. I’m certain that when he realized the coach was injured he felt terrible in sudden, huge emotional nosedive. A good coach would recognize that he or she needs to bolster a child in that circumstance. The coach is the adult who by the nature of his or her commitment has agreed to be a teacher, not just of the sport but of life’s lessons.             

The injury was definitely painful as anyone who has had an Achilles’ tendon rupture knows. But it’s not a life-threatening injury and has a good long-term outcome after healing. I understand that we don’t know all the facts in this case, but the excessive amount asked for in the suit doesn’t lend itself to a positive point of view from outsiders. I’m worried that if this coach wins anything more than unreimbursed medical expenses that it will set a serious precedent for further suits by coaches, referees, fellow players and spectators. We’ve watched basketball players who crash into photographers, cheerleaders and fans behind the basket, sometimes causing physical damage and property loss. The same holds true on the sidelines with football players and soccer players sliding into team benches and referees. Baseball players regularly send line drive foul balls into the stands occasionally striking a fan. Pitchers can seriously injure a batter with a misplaced throw. We don’t even need a celebration to have injuries occur during a game that are accidental. But when these injuries come as a result of a celebration we need to take a step back and view them in the light of good spirits and unintentional fallout. I fault this coach for not taking his role seriously enough to overlook a possible financial bonanza from his player in favor of making this a teachable moment of forgiveness. He could have asked and expected the player to apologize and offer support like volunteering to mow the coach’s lawn until he can get around on his own. Celebrations should be a way to validate a player’s and team’s performance, giving them a sense of self-worth and pride. They also should be a way to teach players to learn humility in victory. But they shouldn’t turn into a lesson in crass materialism. I don’t see that behavior as anything to celebrate.

Comments (0)

 

For All the Right Reasons

Susan Boyd

Lionel Messi returned last week to playing soccer after a torn muscle sidelined him for two months. This was his third injury of the season and fifth in 2013. At just 26 years old, Messi has suffered through several torn muscles and hamstring injuries. Nevertheless, his accolades continue to pile up. This year, he became the first player to score four hat tricks in the Champions League, and he has scored 24 hat tricks in his career. He has scored the most away goals in league history. He may be the best player ever, and he will certainly be in the top 10 no matter when his career ends. He plays for FC Barcelona, but he is Argentinian and led the Argentine national team to an Olympic gold in 2008. His list of individual honors totals 101 between 2005 and the present, meaning he averaged 14.5 awards a year. That list doesn’t include 28 team league victories in La Liga, the Olympics, Copa America, Copa del Rey, UEFA Champions League, and several others. His contributions to his teams in particular and the popularity of soccer in general can be measured both in boosting fan interest and the incumbent financial benefits for his clubs and opposing clubs. Barcelona’s investment in the player (as legend has it, sealed with a contract written hastily on a napkin) when he was just 13 has been repaid a hundred-fold.             

So how did he come to play for Barcelona as a youth player? Messi had been clearly identified as one of the best youth players in Argentina by age 8. Argentina’s powerhouse club River Plata took an interest in him. However, it soon became obvious that Messi was lagging behind his peers in growth and size. While soccer definitely offers opportunities for smaller players, clubs often shy away from them. When he was diagnosed at age 11 with growth hormone deficiency, his parents made the decision to embark on nightly hormone injections. The therapy soon strapped the family financially. They asked River Plata to take on the expense as part of their investment should they sign Messi as a youth player, but the club refused. Through relatives in Spain, the family made overtures to teams there, and FC Barcelona agreed to take the young player on and pay for his hormone treatment. Even with the growth hormones, Messi grew to just 5-foot-6, not necessarily small for a professional soccer player, but certainly smaller than most. Nevertheless, he proved to be a tenacious and skilled striker. What plagued him were injuries.              

Weak muscles and thin bones are common in children diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency, so in general the treatment improves both muscular and skeletal conditions. The treatment stimulates the liver to release a second hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Together, growth hormone and IGF-1 tell the bones, muscle and tissue to grow by adding more cells. This results in bones that are strong and long and can increase a player’s size up to 2-3 inches a year until the end of puberty. The known adverse effects are a possible increased risk to develop diabetes, stimulating already existing cancers to grow dangerously, and to expedite colon-rectal cancer later in life. Studies on what happens to rapidly growing muscles and bone growth plates have not established a link with serious injuries. In fact, without the treatment children can suffer with thin, weak bones as they move into adulthood. Because levels of human growth hormone fade as we grow older (because we are done growing!), some people believe that increasing the levels in adulthood can delay the aging process. Despite no proof, many adults use it for that purpose, while other adults use the hormones to help muscle development and definition. These are not approved uses.              

Overall, Messi just seems to be prone to injury. But those injuries, while keeping him sidelined for a period of time, heal, and he comes back with the same skills and power he had before the injury. The question is will those injuries eventually catch up to him. At 26, he has the injury history of older players with a longer playing career than he has had. In 2013, he suffered through five injuries of which four related to his hamstring. His latest injury was a torn muscle.           

My youngest son always measured in the lower 5 percent on the growth charts, but he eventually grew to be as tall as Messi without the addition of growth hormone therapy. My husband was 4-foot-8 when he entered high school and grew two inches after we got married. His short stature kept him from playing the high school sport he most wanted to play, baseball, but he found a niche in wrestling, although each year he had to change weight classes as he slowly grew. Robbie is adopted, so he didn’t get his abbreviated height from our genes, and his half-brother is 6-foot-3, so genetically tall growth was possible. They both had the same birth mother who was only 5-foot-3. We never even considered having Robbie tested for growth hormone deficiency, and I suspect he never had the condition. But as parents we often need to consider the issue when faced with an athletic child who doesn’t seem to be sprouting. In this age of hormone abuse by athletes, growth hormone therapy for children falls in a completely different realm of empowerment. On the other hand, parents must be cautious about wanting to improve their child’s chances of competing in sports at the teen years and beyond by subjecting them to a treatment they may not need. The condition should be carefully tested for and evaluated by an endocrinologist since the child must endure daily shots for possibly as long as four years.              

Some people have accused FC Barcelona and Messi’s parents of attempting to create a “super-athlete” by having Messi treated. Since none of us are privy to his medical records, we can only hope that the treatment was appropriately prescribed for an actual condition. However, I do know of parents who have consulted doctors that they hoped would agree to the treatment, even using some bullying techniques to ensure it for their child. The thin line between necessary treatment and desired treatment can easily be crossed by zealous parents and coaches, especially when a child shows promise in a sport. Treatment for growth issues can be and has been done with anabolic steroids, a serious and potentially dangerous decision for any child. In addition, insulin has also been used to stimulate growth. With some diligent doctor hopping, parents can always find someone to prescribe questionable treatments. Therefore, it’s important to keep things in perspective. If a child is growing slowly, like my husband, and an endocrinologist says her growth is normal, no parent is doing their child a favor by insisting that something be done to speed up or augment that growth. Even though slow growth can prevent some kids from participating in certain sports, we sometimes just have to accept that our child isn’t going to be that athlete we had hoped for. The world is made up of so many other wonderful professions and skills, we can’t just fixate on sports.            

While medical solutions can be drastic steps which most of us wouldn’t even contemplate unless clearly indicated, we can consider other ways to boost our child’s abilities.  Good nutrition would be an admirable option to help our child achieve his optimal performance, but again we have to avoid zealousness that leads us to rely heavily on supplements and vitamin regimens that haven’t been proven to be either beneficial or even safe. No one regulates these supplements. In April, the FDA issued a warning that several nutritional supplements contained dimethylamylamine or DMAA, which is a stimulant and causes rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure and even heart attacks. You can actually overdose on vitamins and minerals, especially since so many foods are now enhanced with things like calcium and vitamin C.  You may take a safe dose of a vitamin in the morning, but because your cereal, juices, yogurts, and other foods have boosted their vitamin and mineral content, you could be giving yourself or your child toxic levels of these. Even more worrisome is how some supplements can interact with prescription drugs in a dangerous way. “All natural” isn’t always “all safe;” arsenic and digitalis are also natural products. We can also provide extra condition training for our children. Again we need to be cautious. Training should be age appropriate for the musculo-skeletal developmental level of the child and shouldn’t be over-strenuous. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments need time to relax after any workout. Keeping them in a constant state of exercise can cause tremendous and, on occasion, irreparable damage, certainly not the result anyone is looking for. Find an educated and credentialed trainer, not just someone at the gym with a great physique and a loud voice. Be watchful for signs of stress on joints, muscles and tendons. Always have a medical physical before augmenting any sport activity and get your physician’s approval for the program you’ve selected for your child.

While Messi adds to his string of honors, he also adds to his hamstring problems. Most likely his growth hormone treatment helped to make him taller, but more importantly improved his bone and muscle strength. Without the treatment, he might well have already had a career-ending injury. For some children, medicine can promise a stronger body and a healthier life. As parents, if we suspect some insufficiency in our child’s well-being, we need to seek out the best medical, nutritional, and physical help we can find.  What we shouldn’t do is pin our hopes for a superior athletic child on any treatment. Instead we should simply be looking to improve the child’s health. Messi was an amazing player before his treatments, and for all we know may have been just as amazing without the treatments. The problem is there is no way of knowing unless we can borrow Mr. Peabody’s Way Back machine and replay history without growth hormones. Therefore, we must pursue what is right for our child based solely on sound medical reasons and advice, not on our dreams of her becoming a stronger competitor. Messi may eventually be completely incapacitated by his injuries, but he was given an opportunity to overcome a serious medical condition and, for whatever period of time, shine.

Comments (0)