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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". 

 

Head Bangers

Susan Boyd

An explosive book was published last month that exposes the concussion crisis in the NFL. "League of Denial" by two brothers, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, who are reporters for ESPN, takes a critical look at how the NFL ignored for decades the long-term debilitating effects of concussion on thousands of players. They use statistics, interviews, anecdotal stories of particular players, and a review of hundreds of documents referring to the effects of concussion leading to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The leading expert on the subject is Ann McKee, who in 2012 examined the brains of 34 former NFL players discovering 33 showed evidence of CTE. As she put it, when questioned on the extent of the problem, "I don’t think everyone has it, but it’s going to be a shockingly high percentage." Her assessment is borne out by a study of high school athletes in the 2008-2009 academic year by Meehan, d’Hemecourt and Comstock in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. They looked at 544 athletes in various sports, both men and women. Of the players they examined in each of nine sports, they discovered that 56.8 percent of football players had suffered a documented concussion. The next highest percentage was surprisingly girls soccer with 11.6 percent compared to boys soccer with 6.6 percent. Wrestling and girls basketball follow with 7.4 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Girls do suffer more concussions and have a longer recovery time, which has been largely ignored in the discussions about head injuries. Most news stories focus on injuries to boys and men, but the statistics show that we should be closely monitoring females. A 2008 study by Northwestern University showed that 29,167 girls compared to 20,929 boys had concussions in 2005. Given that more boys participate in high school sports than girls and given that boys play football, having the highest percentage of concussion per player population, we should be not only cautiously aware, but seriously attend to the condition in women.
               
Dr. Ann McKee figures prominently in another book by Robert Cantu, M.D. and Mark Hyman, "Concussions and Our Kids," which, as the title implies, explores the causes, effects, recovery and prevention of concussions in youth athletes. Dr. Cantu is one of the founders of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University. Dr. McKee performed studies on the brains of scores of athletes who had died either unexpectedly or from self-inflicted wounds finding widespread abnormalities in those brains. Dr. McKee takes the view that, "We need to do something now, this minute. Too many kids are at risk." Of course, she sees the worst case scenarios, athletes who suffered from CTE, most of them competing at the professional level with intense practices, games and training. However, Dr. Cantu sees mostly young people in his practice who have their routines and dreams shattered by the effects of a concussion. Mark Fainaru-Wada in an interview on "The Daily Show" admitted that he loved the game of football and "its violence" even as he had studied the widespread incidents and after-effects of concussions in those players. As he put it, "They are adult players who now willingly understand and take the risks, so there is no reason for fans to feel guilty." What he neglects to understand is that in order to get to the level of NFL membership, players have to come up through the ranks beginning with youth football, where the risk for concussion is just as great and where the players are too young to make informed decisions on their participation. Where will the new generation of tough NFL players come from if not from the networks of youth, high school and college teams? Parents have the primary responsibility to decide which sports their kids will play, how intensely and for how long.
               
Recently our local NBC affiliate went around to various football games to interview parents after a particularly devastating study on concussion was published. Sticking microphones in front of these parents during games, the reporters asked, "Knowing how serious concussions can be, why do you let your son play football?" Naturally, the responses all tended to the defensive since their parenting had been directly challenged publicly. I wish the reporters had asked instead, "Does your school have a concussion policy?" or "Has your child ever suffered a concussion and how did you handle it?" Obviously, most parents are aware of the possibility of brain injuries in sports, but many may not be aware of the symptoms and proper treatment of these injuries. The choice to allow our kids to play sports, especially sports with a high degree of concussion consequences, can’t be totally dictated by the possibility of any injury. If it was, no one would play. The more responsible approach will be to educate ourselves on how to recognize and treat these injuries. 
               
Concussions can occur without any head-to-head contact, but those types of concussions usually result in the most severe and long-lasting effects. Concussions can happen with any type of jolt to the brain stem or brain itself that could be due to things such as a jarring leap to the ground, whiplash, sudden twist of the neck or shaking of the brain. There are four main categories of symptoms:
 
o   Cognitive: Feeling in a fog, difficulty in remembering things, poor concentration
o   Emotional: Nervousness, irritability, sadness to the point of depression including thoughts of suicide
o   Sleep Disorders: Trouble falling asleep and sleeping more or less than usual
o   Somatic: Headaches, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise, dizzy spells, problems with balance, visual problems
 
The latter are the symptoms most commonly associated with a concussion and are the usual immediate signs, but just because these pass doesn’t mean that the concussion wasn’t severe or is "over." Most effects of a concussion can last for days, weeks and even longer. The standard recovery period is 7-10 days of rest from all activities including diminished academic participation. We rest the body, but really it is the brain we need to rest. We need to remove as much stimulus to the brain as possible in order to give it time to heal. This is the element few doctors, coaches and parents consider. However, Dr. Cantu states that this could be the most important aspect of avoiding the long-term effects of a concussion, including CTE. We parents need to be aware of and address all the symptoms.
               
We also can’t assume that a "real" concussion requires that a player be unconscious for a period of time. Going out cold is definitely a serious condition and can be a clear signal that we need to be diligent in treatment. However, many concussions don’t result in a black out, which is why so many go unreported. Therefore we have to look at other symptoms. Athletic trainers and coaches need to be well-versed in how to assess concussive episodes. Many organizations provide laminated cards with key points and questions for detecting concussions. The most comprehensive test has been endorsed by several sports organizations, including FIFA. Called the Sports Concussion Assessment Test 2 (SCAT2), it seems overwhelming but is exactly what coaches and trainers should be administering on the sidelines. The test gives scores that help assessors detail in a more objective manner what used to be done totally subjectively. Many evaluators have expressed amazement at how detailed the assessment is and how it quickly pinpoints serious conditions that would have been previously overlooked. Parents should ask their clubs to print this off and have it kept on the sidelines in the coach’s bag for every practice and game. Most importantly, adults need to err to the side of caution until a child can be assessed by a doctor. That means no reentry to a game with even the slightest concern about a concussion.
               
Now comes the most important question, the question those reporters asked, but it is not being offered to invoke defensiveness: Why do we let our kids play sports that could result in serious, debilitating, even long-term injury? The answer is simple – because kids need to play sports. The benefits far outweigh the anecdotal and statistical data conjured up by the number of studies done in recent years. Kids develop better physically and cognitively when engaged in sports, they learn important lessons about success, failure, collaboration and sacrifice, and they have fun. The real issue is how we mitigate the injury issues that come with doing sports. We have to make sure that kids have the best safety equipment and training possible, that coaches are well-versed in proper management of potential injuries, and that proper emergency equipment be available either on site such a body boards and first aid kits or readily available such as ambulances and EMTs. We also need to be willing to insist that our children take a much-needed interruption from playing should any injury occur until completely cleared to reenter the sport by a physician. Big games will come and go, but a child’s health needs nurturing and protection since it is the only health he or she will have for a lifetime. With all the attention now being paid to the issue of CTE in NFL players, there will certainly be even more research on how to prevent and treat concussions which can only benefit our children. Most importantly, we can’t just be focused on boys receiving concussions or on football being the primary culprit. We need to be vigilant for our girls and for all sports as well. 
               
Some children are more prone to concussive events and unfortunately they may not be able to continue playing the sport they love. Two of my grandsons play football and one plays lacrosse, both of which have concussion issues. My oldest grandson, who is 13, has a teammate who has already suffered his third concussion. His grandfather is a college football coach and he lives in Columbus, Ohio, home to Ohio State, so leaving the game will be difficult. However, this is a decision his parents may have to face soon. There are other activities with less risk for concussion, and athletic children should be able to make a transition to another sport. We have to be prepared to counsel our children properly without taking into account our own dashed dreams for their athletic career. As a nation, we have not taken concussions seriously enough, but over the past five years a number of significant studies have highlighted not only the extent of the episodes but the possible prevention and treatment of concussions. This serious attention to brain injury hasn’t completely trickled down to youth sports, but it has made important changes. As a parent you can ask what your sports organization, club, team and high school have as policies concerning concussion. You can demand that they keep up with the latest studies and standards, including offering them the SCAT2. Significantly you need to be the advocate for your child’s safety no matter what the policies might be. If you expect a higher standard don’t be afraid to demand it for your child. We don’t want our child lying on a medical examiner’s slab at age 50 due to complications from years of concussive episodes and CTE. We’d rather our children were healthy enough to become the medical examiner or any other profession beyond the decade they might be able to play professional sports. In the eight decades of most people’s lives, that’s a tiny sliver of time for a particular achievement, and no one’s achievement needs to be measured solely by athletic prowess.

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Bits and Pieces

Susan Boyd

Every week I read several soccer-related news outlets such as the USSF website, Soccer America, College Soccer News and Soccer Times. These sources give out information on the various youth and adult national teams, college rankings, soccer stories and various soccer matters. However, many of the more interesting youth sports stories come from the general news media. This week seemed to deliver a more than usual number of stories that impact those of us with youth players. The issues raised by this week’s reports cover a wide-spectrum of provocative topics which highlight fascinating ideas affecting youth sports. So this week I decided to look briefly at each of these stories giving you readers a taste of the discussions out there.
               
Last week, it was reported that Peter Edwards in Wales had made a £50 bet with a bookmaker 16 years ago that his grandson, Harry Wilson, who was 18 months old at the time, would not only grow up to be a proficient soccer player, but would actually play on the Wales National Team. When Harry entered as a substitute in a National Team game last Tuesday against Belgium, Peter collected £125,000 (just over $200,000). True, Wales is a country of only three million and only 360,000 of those are 18-24 years old, meaning Harry was one of approximately 180,000 men a year available to be drafted by the National Team. That translates into Peter Edwards having a 1/180,000 chance that his grandson would be a playing member of the Wales National Team, odds that would prompt me to place a bet and further indicate that the bookmaker might have been a bit hasty in taking the bet. Nevertheless, I’m wondering how many parents and grandparents might seek out a Vegas odds maker to lay down a bet on their budding soccer player on the off chance that the tens of thousands of dollars we lay out for our kids to develop into competent athletes might be covered at the end with a well-placed bet. The expenses will certainly never be covered by any scholarship to college or mega-million dollar contract with a USL, MISL or MSL team. We ostensibly lay a bet every day when we write a check to our clubs for that year’s training, or pay for summer soccer camps, or fill-up the car for another trip out of state which will never result in a monetary pay-out. In fact, statistics clearly show that if we invested the money we spend on youth sports in a college fund instead, most of our children would be able to afford an Ivy League education without borrowing a penny! But we make the investment in their sport because they love to play and it gives the family an activity in which everyone participates. We get to cheer our children on, possibly see a bit of the world in the process, and end up with the satisfaction that we all "win" even if we don’t see the results on our bank’s balance sheet. Priceless.
 
Texas has become the symbol for Friday night high school football. They love their teams there, and most towns support the teams with a fervor not borne of a personal connection to any player. Families attend football games well before any of their kids hit high school and for years after their kids have gone on to college, marriage and their own families. It’s a tradition that runs as deeply through the psyche of the population as the waters that run through the Rio Grande. So last week when Aledo High School faced Fort Worth’s Western Hills High School, football fever was in high gear. So was Aledo High School, which by halftime had piled up 56 unanswered points against Western Hills. To rub further salt in the wounds, Aledo is a town of 2,700 to the west of Fort Worth, a city of nearly 800,000 and the 16th largest city in the United States. It was certainly a classic David vs. Goliath tale. When the final whistle blew, the score was 91-0, the true definition of a beat down. Following the game, a Western Hills parent filed a complaint with the Texas High School Athletic Association alleging that Aledo’s coach was guilty of bullying for allowing and possibly encouraging his team to quash its opponent. This is an interesting concept that a team can bully another team by defeating them so decisively. The Aledo coach, Tim Buchanan, argued that he actually kept the score down by using second and third string players, running out the clock, and not using unusual coaching options to run up the score. Even the Western Hills coach stated that he didn’t feel that Aledo bullied his team. Neither did the athletic association, which dismissed the case.
 
This all brings up an interesting issue about playing a game that is properly coached with proper team tactics. Robbie’s club team had a similar situation one summer. They were playing a Super-Y league game at noon and then immediately leaving to go play in the US Youth Soccer National Championships. Their opponent for the Super-Y league brought only 12 players (so just one sub) on day that was well over 90 degrees. Robbie’s team took an early and commanding lead, but his coach had a dilemma. If we played a different tactical game to insure the score didn’t get even more lopsided, he risked his team not going to the championship in top form, but continuing to play "tough" against a weak and poorly manned opponent wouldn’t really yield any better preparation for the team. In the end, he opted for employing unusual tactics moving the offense to the defense, requiring that all goals be headers, and ordering that every player have only one touch before passing. Even with these "rules" in place, Robbie’s team eventually won 12-0. The opposing team groused loudly about the bad sportsmanship we showed. The only other alternative was to either call the game early or to have the opponents forfeit the entire game. And that idea was presented to them, which they refused. The Aledo coach had the same reaction, "How do you tell your kids not to play hard?" I tend to agree. We train our players to a certain level of proficiency making it difficult to ask them to revert to bad habits and weak play. Sometimes games just end up lopsided, embarrassing and painful to swallow. Most of our kids, mine included, have been at the humiliating end of that spectrum. I’m not sure if it is character building, but it is a fact of life that sometimes our adversary is really that much better than we are.
 
We have all heard the taunts from both players and fans that cross the line denigrating racial, religious, social and gender characteristics. Pro players, including all-stars Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah have been fined for using homophobic slurs. Recently, a video went viral of a 7-year-old Jets fan taunting an adult Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan without a single grown-up (and I use the term ironically) putting a stop to his outrageous behavior. As one authority put it, "People shouldn’t become numb to it and tolerate it." And that’s exactly what is beginning to happen. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees all high school sports, has issued a ban on biased language at any game that has officials. They are the first state to do so, but several other states are looking at New Jersey’s policy with the idea of creating their own. The ban is read to all players and coaches by the referees, who carry a laminated card outlining what language will result in immediate removal from the game and a report to the state’s Division on Civil Rights. The same rules are read to fans over the loudspeaker before the opening play and fans are subject to removal from the game and prosecution by the Civil Rights authorities. The issue came to head last Thanksgiving in a game between Paramus Catholic High and Bergen Catholic High when the Bergen fans began taunting Paramus player Jabrill Peppers, who is black, with racial epitaphs and signs such as "Peppers Can’t Read." Fans also wore prison stripes, a clear reference to Peppers’ father who was incarcerated at the time. The Paramus coach, who is white, also came under fire for supporting his black players. The level of disrespect, vulgarity and bigotry had reached a level that people could no longer ignore. My sons are African-American and Hispanic, so they have faced their share of bigoted comments from fans, players and even their own coaches. But the ban extends to all levels of biased language, including religious bigotry and homophobia. The ban is so important that swearing may not land a player in hot water but using the "N" word or calling any player a homophobic name will result in a one game suspension and disciplinary action by the Division of Civil Rights. While New Jersey readily agrees that it can’t legislate an individual into becoming unbiased, the state can insure that public outbursts directed at players as young as 14 won’t be tolerated. As the level of rhetoric at sporting events gets more manageable, perhaps people won’t feel so free to express their own prejudices openly in other venues. Only time will tell.
               
Addressing this issue of language has been the mission of an organization called Athletes Ally. Much of their focus is on gender and sexually biased language, particularly with Russia’s recent declaration on not allowing gay athletes into Russia for the Winter Olympics, but the organization also seeks to curb racially and religiously biased language against all athletes. In an interesting move, Athletes Ally recently took on the issue of language that maligns women and their athletic abilities including phrases such as "You play like a girl" or "Take a knee, ladies" said to male players as a way to demean their abilities. This type of personification of male players as somehow inherently weak and incapable because they are like "girls" has been a pet peeve of mine for years. Both our daughters were athletes as was I growing up, so I know how hard women work and how capable they are. We only have to look to soccer to see the amazing athletic prowess of women. Our Women’s National Team regularly appears in and wins both World Cup and Olympic championships. Diana Nyad became the first person (not just the first woman) to swim from Cuba to Florida. Dara Torres broke her own 50-meter freestyle record at age 40, which she had set 25 years earlier when she was 15. Oh, did I mention she was just a year past delivering her first child? Female athletes train as long and as hard as any male counterpart. Playing like a girl should be a badge of honor for any competitor. 
               
Across the United States and around the globe, sports can serve as an indicator of our social climate. I find those stories fascinating because they highlight our deepest desires and our basest behaviors. Keep your eyes and ears open because sports isn’t just about scores and statistics. Sports, especially youth sports, can be a barometer by which we measure many of our moral and social issues. Sports can produce some lively discussions that range well beyond the field or the court.

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Yes Virginia, There Is a Soccer Clause

Susan Boyd

Increasingly soccer clubs are taking a more professionally legal approach to signing players to teams.  They do this to A) insure they will be paid all the fees families owe to them and B) to dissuade players from club hopping every year.  It’s probably a great idea for them, but could be problematic for members.  It’s important that parents know what they are agreeing to when they sign up their child after tryouts.  Just like a car loan or a credit card, parents need to be sure there are no hidden fees or surprise expenses for which they would be liable under the terms of the "contract" the club asks them to sign and that they aren’t giving up their ability to negotiate or to leave if warranted.  We parents need to educate ourselves on what rules exist under our state soccer associations and what are our rights.
 
Club can’t survive without great coaching and a strong development program, both of which require continuous and stable funding.  Since for the most part soccer is an optional diversion and not a necessary expense, parents will often decide to forgo the ongoing costs during tougher economic times.  Additionally our sons and daughters can be fickle especially at the youngest ages.  Their participation doesn’t spring from a passion for the game, but instead from outside factors such as friends, social standing, and achievement.  When those things change then their attitude to continuing in the sport changes. 
 
Since soccer training is a service rather than a commodity, clubs can’t recoup their losses by reselling a returned product.  When parents stop paying, the money is lost unless clubs get paid up front or have a tight contract obligating a family to pay whether or not their child continues in the sport.  Therefore, many clubs are requiring credit cards for all payments, even payment plans, because they then have arbitration through their bank to insure that the club continues its funding. 
 
When I was my sons’ soccer club administrator, we had to argue several cases a year to the banks which ultimately supported us in our actions citing that we were providing a service rather than a tangible product.  So parents need to be aware that they may be liable for all expenses no matter what situation arises – even injury.  In fact many of the contracts that clubs request parents to sign clearly outline all the circumstances in which the families will continue to be obligated for all expenses:  injury, job transfers or losses, lack of interest, and/or a move.  Be sure that you completely understand what you are signing and what your rights are should you want to appeal.
              
Many state soccer associations carefully protect clubs financially.  For instance, no player can be released legally from a club to play with another club until all fees have been paid.  And no other club can sign a player who still has a financial obligation to a previous club, even if the season is over.  These rules protect clubs not only from monetary losses, but discourage the threats parents will often make that they will pull their child from a team if certain conditions aren’t met.  The club can’t be held hostage.  The parent can absolutely remove their child any time they want, but they must pay all fees before they can get a release to play on another team.  Even if fully paid up, families may not get a release from a club and will have to wait until the next scheduled state tryout date before being able to jump ship.  Without a release, no other club can sign their child.  Many parents may be under the false impression that all they have to do is leave, but state soccer associations protect clubs from such manipulation and threat.  So be sure you educate yourself on the regulations from your state’s governing association to insure you don’t get an unpleasant surprise.
              
On the reverse side, clubs can be quite sneaky about what the real expenses of being on team include.  It gets more difficult the more advanced your player becomes.  Elite travel teams don’t want to scare off potential players from joining, but they also don’t want to have those players asking for scholarships because the expense of the team is too much to handle.  So clubs will have a fee for playing on the team which will include practice facility use, coaching, a certain number of practices a week, and possibly even tournament fees. 
 
But parents have to enquire about the hidden or possibly surprising costs.  The biggest surprise will often be the cost of indoor soccer.  When the fall season is over, the coach will begin to talk about the indoor league the team will join and indoor practices.  These activities are considered "voluntary" so aren’t included in the original contract, but there is often an unsaid expectation that if we want our children to remain on a team we’re expected to participate.  Three or four months of indoor soccer can be as expensive as eight months of regular soccer.  Facilities are few and far between, which makes for high demand and pushes up their costs for rental.   Tournament fees may be included in the contract, but parents can find themselves obligated to pay the expenses for coaches to travel and stay at the tournaments.  Clubs will argue that these costs are unknown at the time of tryouts and are therefore calculated after the fact. 
 
You will want to check to find out if basic uniform costs are included in your fees or are an added expense.  One thing that I’ve learned is that manufacturers rarely keep a certain style in stock for longer than three years, so you might want to find out where in that style cycle you are when joining the club.  If your first year at the club is the last year for the uniform style, you’ll have the expense of buying uniforms for two years if you stay at the club (and if you leave you’ll obviously have the expense of the new club’s uniforms).  So you need to budget for those costs.  Also consider where the travel tournaments will be held.  Can you drive?  Will you need to fly?  What types of hotels does the club use?  If you have a travel miles membership with a certain airline and/or hotel chain, you’ll want to find out if you are free to book your travel and rooms.  Consider also that group reservations will usually be cheaper than regular airfare/hotel, so you may want to figure out if the savings justify the lost mileage.  Finally know what your rights are when there are expenses outside of the contract that you were not expecting and can’t afford.  Clubs need to be upfront about all expenses, and often are but sometimes you need to be prepared to ask the right questions.
 
Since clubs are using credit cards more and more often to make the transactions simpler and to protect themselves against the financial default of the parents, you will need to either factor in the cost of interest over time or find a way to pay off the debt immediately to avoid credit card fees.  Many parents like the convenience of credit cards since they let them pay the high fees of a club over time, but you could also use your debit card to provide those monthly payments which would then come directly from your bank account.  On the other hand, you may not feel comfortable advertising your credit card information to your soccer organization.  If the club won’t accept a check, ask if they will take cash (and why wouldn’t they?). 
              
Since the contract parents are asked to sign may actually be quite ambiguous when it comes to parental rights, no parent should sign quickly without reading it through thoroughly.  That statement if fact for any contract you are asked to sign.
 
All states have clauses that protect consumers giving them a grace period, even after they sign, to opt out of the contract.  Check those laws in your state, so you can protect your interests.  Some clubs will try to pressure you to sign immediately making such threats as "until you sign your child isn’t on the team, so we can give the spot to another player."  Those are empty threats.  Even with state legal restrictions, the state soccer associations usually give players 24 to 72 hours to commit to a team in which time the club cannot, once offered, give away that slot to another player.  Since these offers are often made over the phone or in another verbal format, parents can request a written offer which will ensure their rights are protected.  Clubs are naturally worried that players may attend various tryouts and then pick the best option, rather than the first offer.  Even if you aren’t dealing with tryouts and competition for your child’s talents, clubs can be quite insistent that you make a quick commitment to even their recreational program.  Again, be sure what you are being asked to commit to when it comes to time and money.  Despite the carefree sense of the choice, parents can find themselves suddenly ensnared in a financial obligation they may not have realized.  Even young teams may be under pressure from other parents to participate in tournaments, albeit local, which will add expense and time to your investment.  Ask the questions and demand the answers before you sign on the dotted line.
              
Youth sports is a big business in America supporting thousands of coaches, referees, training facilities, and uniform manufacturers.  Therefore, no one takes this investment lightly.  Since parents are footing most of this revenue stream, it behooves us to protect ourselves by getting all the details of our obligations so we can make an informed choice on what are the best options for our families.  We may want to add a "soccer clause" of our own to the contracts we’re signing.  Don’t be afraid to ask the club to oblige you in that regard.  They aren’t the only ones taking a risk.

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A Stinging Defeat

Susan Boyd

It unfolds in slow motion, though it’s all over in a split-second. The ball floats unfettered toward the goal as we try to absorb the inevitable outcome. Before we can completely come to grips with what just happened our opposition erupts in celebration. There are no "do-overs," no further chances to erase the defeat. It is known by many names: buzzer beater, golden goal, Hail Mary, last-minute goal. It’s not a film filled with the bucolic images of stalwart losers and gracious victors as a musical score swells and the camera reveals close-ups of tough competitors who have a begrudging appreciation of one another’s efforts with life lessons well-learned. We’ve all been at the receiving end of such disappointment. It leaves us feeling hollow, angry, and even depressed. As Robbie said after a recent golden-goal loss: "I hate losing way more than I love winning." Our entire self-worth has been challenged in an instant.
 
It’s never fun to lose, but it’s less fun to lose in such a calamitous sudden manner. You can’t run the ball quickly back to the center line; there is no hope; the game is simply over. The ramifications can be disastrous. Players have come to blows over these losses. Coaches have even attacked players that they felt competed unfairly. Referees charge off the field knowing full well that they will often be the first recipients of the crowd’s disfavor. Dejected and stunned, players, spectators and coaches have salt rubbed in their wounds by the boundless joy of the opposition. As a result, several unfortunate consequences can occur.
 
There can be physiological effects on fans. P.C. Bernhardt and others studied 21 male fans watching their team in a World Cup game where their team lost. The study showed that the fans’ testosterone levels dropped dramatically following the loss resulting in depression, lethargy and, ironically, aggression. These fans actually suffered from long-term mood changes lasting up to two weeks following the event. This vicarious identification with the defeat of a favorite team happens all too frequently. Fans see opposing fans as real enemies that must be conquered to right a wrong. When they experience physiological effects, they often are less in control of their emotions. In addition to testosterone, a sudden loss can lead to a precipitous drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter related to emotional well-being. Participants can experience depression, a loss of self-worth and anxiety, which can affect future sports performance. It’s not surprising that incidents involving a loss of self-control increase following any loss, but worsen with a sudden, unexpected loss.
               
Research also documents the contagion of these physiological effects even if a participant doesn’t experience any physiologic changes. As a member of a group, either a team or a fan base, we have shared expectations and outcomes. This "social psychology" has been well-documented. "These sports-triggered responses have their root in human evolution," says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. ''We join groups to enhance our self-esteem and decrease isolation. It's a way to connect . . . it's tribal," Miller said. He goes on to point out that our "fight or flight" response that comes from the anticipation and anxiety participants feel has its roots in evolution. Len Zaichkowsky, head of the sports psychology program at Boston University, notes that one fan’s behavior can give other fans license to act out in ways they would normally never do. He has measured the breathing rates, blood pressure, and sweating of fans in close games and after a distasteful defeat and found that there are similar changes among the group.
               
Most importantly, feelings of anger can absolutely crop up after a sudden loss. This anger can be directed toward the opposing team, a particular member of the opposing team, the referees, opposing fans, our own team, a member of our team and our coach. When we experience a devastating loss, we have feelings of frustration, indignity and animosity. Some of us can channel it away quickly without any self-destructive behaviors. But many of us may act out. It could be as benign as smacking our fist into our palm or letting loose a curse word, but for others the anger is more deep-seated. We are looking for revenge. We might goad someone into offending us so we feel vindicated in taking physical action, bark at our kids or our spouse, actually openly attack the object of our revenge, or turn the anger inward participating in self-destructive behaviors.
               
What does this all mean for youth soccer? While we expect such complex physiological and psychological effects in adults, they actually can extend down to our youngest players. Recently, the Kentucky High School Sports Association banned the traditional after-game handshake ritual because there were too many confrontations. Lest we think this behavior happens only in post-pubescent students, take note of players as young as six spitting in their palms before shaking the hands of opponents, or slapping the hands, or even punching an opposing player in the chest. I’ve seen these actions all in teams under the age of 11. We encourage competitiveness, so it shouldn’t be surprising that kids, who have less well-developed brains and impulse centers, can’t turn the competitiveness off at the sound of a final whistle. Add to the equation a sudden loss and the feelings can be exponentially increased. As parents, we need to model the best behavior we can in these situations even as we feel the same sting. We should encourage our kids to express their feelings in the safety of no judgment and support. Acknowledging for our kids that we feel the same anger and frustration lets them know that we can have those emotions without acting out on them. Despite what we may have witnessed or felt, the opposition hasn’t personally insulted us even as we feel insulted. It’s a game with outcomes that sometimes go our way and other times don’t. Letting our kids hear this philosophy consistently helps them internalize it. We especially need to avoid laying blame because that justifies feelings of injury and obstruction. We give our "enemy" a face.
               
Finally, we need to move on. The longer we dwell on any particularly distasteful and sudden loss, the more we feed our detrimental physiological and psychological reactions. Find a distraction for your young players. Most kids can drop their frustration in the face of a post-game treat or a movie. Go walk on the beach, throw a Frisbee or visit a museum, anything that you know your child would love to do. Make it a rule that no one can talk about the game during these activities. Hopefully by the time you finish, the bad feelings will be finished too. Keep your opinions to yourself — don’t denigrate any player, coach or ref. If your child has to vent, let him or her do so, but don’t jump in with any agreement or argument. Simply let your child know that you understand and sympathize with their concerns and further let him or her know that it’s time to focus on the next game because this chapter has already been written. It’s okay to have anger, but expressing it with verbal barbs, or worse, with physical behaviors, does nothing to resolve the issues and may even bring unwanted consequences. Life will be filled with drivers who cut us off, rude sales clerks, game losses, incompetent supervisors, test failures and other frustrations that need to be handled with calm, positive solutions, and restraint. 
               
Last week, Robbie’s college team ended their unbeaten streak with a golden goal loss at home. Worse, it was to a team in their league, so disrupted their run to winning the league. After every home game we parents serve the boys dinner, so we weren’t sure what we would face. Fortunately, the lads showed up happy to have warm food to fill their stomachs and a positive attitude about moving forward. I attribute that to the coaches and some great parenting over the years. Only one young man stormed off without participating in the meal. Hopefully he’ll find a way to cool down and move past this loss. We have another game in a few days, so the team needs to concentrate on winning that game and we fans need to bring our most positive support to the bleachers. All anyone can do is their best. In the long term there are far more important life events. That knowledge doesn’t completely remove the sting, but it can be the way to deal with defeat.

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