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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". 

 

Soccer is Life

Susan Boyd

Today I am having my home professionally cleaned. It's an amazing though awkward event. I don't feel quite right sitting in a chair and observing someone dusting my bookcases and vacuuming my rugs. Usually when I am sitting watching someone perform I cheer them on. I'm not sure I can do that with a cleaning crew:   "Way to wipe down that counter," or "Amazing polishing." So I asked them to please do my office first so I could retreat here and write to the hum of their activity. All of this cleaning comes at a cost - I had a flood in the house over winter break and lost 75% of our home. We are now nearing the end of a very disruptive and stressful rebuilding. As the final carpeting and painting is done, I continue to find small odds and ends which need to be either corrected or added or eliminated. But Friday we officially move back in.

We also leave Friday to head to Indiana for US Youth Soccer Midwest Regional League games. Which points out the steady continuity that soccer brings to our family. Through all of this chaos, we have had to focus on soccer as well, which has proven to be a much needed diversion. Bryce began spring soccer at college, where he has earned the number one keeper spot for the moment. Robbie has had practice and a tournament in Las Vegas. Soccer proves life goes on. 

I'm not saying soccer is life despite the slogan. Nor would I assume to say soccer is the only steadying force in anyone's life. Lots of things like jobs or church offer an anchor for families. But I have been grateful for the diversion that soccer offered in these months of frustration. Every trip we went away, we returned to see progress on the house giving us hope that this particular calamity would eventually be behind us.   Soccer gave Robbie a distraction from the discomfort of being displaced to a rental home. He hated not having his bed, his room, his "stuff."

Clinging to whatever life raft I could find in my loss means I also have found comfort in writing more than I ever had. It provides a release for my frustrations and my fears as well as offering some respite from choosing paint colors, carpeting and hardware. Combining writing with soccer has proven to be the ultimate win-win situation for me.   Soon I will be surrounded by my beloved books, papers and music. I'll have my office haven for solitude and rejuvenation. But I also look forward to traveling to California to see the boys play or to Ohio and Nevada to watch my grandkids play.

Today I also got to clear out all the boxes and bags of "rescued" items from our house because I finally had a house to put them in. And then I had the ultimate joy of outfitting my van with my soccer survival kit. My chair, blankets, rain gear, umbrellas and soccer box have now taken their rightful place in the back of the van, and I swear they look positively radiant in anticipation of a new soccer season. Everyone will get to come out and "play" because the weather will vary from warm and sunny to cool and rainy. I'll get to use the gloves, hats and rain jackets. Everything seems right and orderly once again.

Robbie has been in Florida on spring break with friends, but after talking to him yesterday I believe he is as anxious to get back to the routine of weekly soccer games and the camaraderie of soccer buddies. Soccer makes our lives more even, it gives us a common goal (pun intended) and excites our spirits. Like horses finally released to run in the pasture after a long winter, we too yearn to frolic and cavort. It's difficult to imagine our lives before soccer because we can't imagine our lives without soccer. Yet everyone eventually has to come to the end of actively playing and watching to mellow themselves in the life of armchair soccer enthusiast. I hope the day doesn't come too soon. I'm having too much fun enjoying my children and grandchildren having fun. Maybe soccer is life.
 

Protective Custody

Susan Boyd

I make my living as a writer which probably doesn't seem like a real vocation. I began graduate school in computer science which would have been a much wiser financial choice. Everyone I was in school with has now retired from Microsoft and owns soccer teams. I still write for my dinner and wash soccer uniforms.   My relationship with computers now revolves around my seriously significant dependence upon my laptop. It is the repository of all my writing, finances, addresses, calendar, and solitaire games. Losing my laptop would be worse than losing my brain. So although I rarely invest in those protection plans that push up the profit margins of Best Buy and cover everything from big screen TVs to tweezers, I bought one for my laptop.
               
This policy was amazing. I could blow torch my laptop, drop it from the Leaning Tower, roll over it with my car, or allow my dog to eat it. In every case it would be repaired or replaced.   I had an amazing sense of security knowing that no matter how clumsy I might be I would still be able to insure I had my laptop. My Scottish father would have told me just to be careful and save the money. After all he didn't just pinch pennies; he photographed them and kept the negatives in his safe deposit box. Maybe I had a premonition having bought the laptop in Tampa during a soccer tournament. I threw traditional financial caution to the winds and signed on the dotted line.
               
I also further secured the safety of my precious computer by instituting the "no one touches this thing but me" policy with the iron clad rider of  "absolutely no soccer balls in the house." My laptop ended up on Robbie's bed because he "borrowed" it to watch DVDs. It provided the perfect back stop for the size 5 soccer ball Bryce bicycle kicked down the hallway into Robbie's bedroom. In an instant the screen turned into smithereens as the LCD fairies released their Technicolor pixels into cyber space and the boys rapidly began pointing fingers.
               
The Best Buy help desk had a good laugh at my expense, but took my disabled laptop and promised to have it back good as new in two weeks. Those weeks gave me time to think, a dangerous proposition since I seem to have no governor on my ruminations. I got to thinking about how wonderful this protection policy was. For a certain fee, probably way overpriced, I could assure that no matter how awful my calamity and damage, I could once again have perfection. Not too many things in life are so reassuring. With two boys in soccer I immediately thought about all the times I've watched them writhing on the ground or seen their friends limping off the field where no guarantees of full recovery are offered.   We can't buy any sort of policy which offers the promise of full protection for our children. We can only do our best to insure a modicum of safety for them by providing guidance in wise behaviors and by providing equipment which helps diminish injury.
               
Every time we insist on a helmet, buckling a seat belt, wearing a mouth guard, slipping on elbow or knee pads, buying proper sized shin guards, and teaching responsibilities we're buying a small insurance policy on their future. We can't wrap them in bubble wrap and lock them in a room because children need to develop independence, exercise their bodies, and give flight to their imaginations. We accept a certain amount of risk. That's not always easy because it also means giving up some control. When Robbie is tackled from behind and crashes to the ground, I have moments of complete panic until he gets up. I know injury is a very real possibility, so all I can do is hope that the coaches, referees, and players keep things under control to reduce injuries.
               
We can also help our children stay safely mobile by insisting on definite limits when they go down. Any head trauma, no matter how slight at first blush, should be treated seriously. Small hemorrhages can appear in the brain taking up to several hours to show any danger. Anyone getting a significant bump, even if he or she is lucid, should not return to play and should be monitored for 24 hours. Twists, turns, and knocks on any other body part where there is definite pain to the player and where limbs strain when supporting weight mean the player needs to sit out for 10 or 15 minutes to watch for swelling, discoloration, or increased pain. Cuts or tears can be patched up to stem the bleeding, but immediately following the practice or game should be seen by a doctor to assess if stitches will be needed.
               
I definitely encourage teams to elect one parent to be the medical safety officer for the team. This person should always have a good first aid kit available at all games and practices, plus it would be a great idea if they could become CPR certified. The Red Cross website www.redcrossstore.org or the OSHA website www.osha-safety-training.net/FA/firstaid.html provide guidelines and order forms for various first aid kits. The Red Cross and YMCA offer CPR courses for the public. Teams should always have ice and plastic bags available to make ice packs for any injuries. 
               
Children come under our protective custody, but no protection is perfect. Sometimes catastrophic injuries occur. In those cases we have to accept that we can't protect our children from everything and not bury ourselves in guilt. Sports provide children with exercise, life lessons, and joy. Those gifts come with some peril but not enough to justify keeping kids out of sports. Good judgment offers enough protection, that while not perfect, comes close enough to give us some ease. I also just got new laptop last week on which the hard drive crashed after three days. The protection policy got me a new laptop immediately, but didn't get me back the two articles I had just written. So I guess there is no perfect protection out there even for laptops or tweezers. 
 

It's Funny Because It's True

Susan Boyd

The other night I was watching the program "How I Met Your Mother."  I admit this even though it may decrease my credibility in some people's eyes.   But I find the show a pleasant diversion for Mondays.  In this particular episode one story line concerns Marshall, who is married to Lily, a kindergarten teacher.  He agrees to coach her class basketball team. Marshall has an amiable even child-like demeanor, and Lily is just plain sweet. 

So when the scene opens in the gym with Marshall and his pint-size players, our expectation is a bucolic moment.  Lily enters with a large container of orange slices and Marshall turns to his team warmly asking "Hey kids, who wants to knock off early and have some of these orange slices?"  The team erupts in cheers, leaping up and down.  But the crescendo quickly fades as Marshall evolves into a growling, screaming creature. "Well you can't.  Because oranges are for winners and you little runts haven't made a single shot yet.  You're embarrassing yourselves.  You're embarrassing Miss Aldrin.  And worst of all you're embarrassing me.   That's it.  Suicides.  Baseline.  Now run."  Lily stands horrified as he throws the basketball at a kid and shouts, "That's not running.  That's falling."

So the next day, she pleads with Marshall not to pick on the kids.   "Lily, I'm not picking on the kids.  I'm picking on the culture of losing around here.  I'm going to win that game tomorrow."  Lily laughs.  "Win?  We don't keep score."  Like a boxer rising from the mat on the eight count, Marshall reels, "What!?  You don't keep score.  What's the point of playing if you don't keep score?  If you don't know who's winning then who gets the trophy?"  She coos, "Everyone.  It's a participation trophy.  Everyone gets one."  With utter confusion Marshall looks at the love of his life, "It's like you're speaking Chinese to me right now." 

The writer, Joe Kelly, has to have young children.  He wrote scenes that perfectly convey those rite of passage moments in youth sports. The show is funny because it's true.  We have either known or observed the coach who thinks the players under his or her guidance should be handled like Dennis Rodman on his most petulant days.  Hopefully none of us have been that coach, but I think the tendency exists in all of us.  We're a nation that exalts a "winning" mentality.  We have award shows for just about anything you can name, and for what's left over we have the "People's Choice" awards.  We don't know what to do with situations where scores aren't kept and everyone gets an award. 

The episode continues with a flashback to Marshall being taught by his father, who was evidently the model for his coaching style.  Lily realizes that unless she steps in, Marshall will continue the pattern with their children.  So she orders him to be a
"Teddy Bear stuffed with cotton candy and rainbows" when he's on the sidelines.  At the big game, he can barely choke out to the kids "go out and have fun".  He gags on his encouragement.  "Yay, way to let them score that easily."  As a player kicks the ball, he instinctively reacts, "Billy you don't kick the ball.  This isn't soccer."  Then he catches himself, "Unless kicking the ball is something you find fun, then you should do it."   As the team struggles into half time Marshall has an apoplectic moment trying hard not to tell the team that "the score is 51 to nothing.  But it doesn't matter because you are having fun."

Marshall does convince Lily to let him try it his way, which ends up being no more or less effective than the Mr. Nice Guy routine.  At the game's conclusion, Marshall begrudgingly acknowledges that Lily's way isn't completely terrible.  Lily will have none of it.  "Your way stinks!"  This is the real moral of the tale.  These are kids who have limited attention spans and haven't yet developed a cut-throat attitude towards life.  So coaching won't brow beat them into winners, but coaches can contribute to their growth as happy and confident human beings. 

When I went to my grandson's soccer game where parents were urged to be part of the "circle of positive thoughts," I admit I rolled my eyes.  This touchy feely approach was so far removed from what Bryce and Robbie were experiencing in their team practices and games.  I assumed that people couldn't help themselves.  I absolutely expected that everyone would know the score of the game at the end despite the "we don't keep score" policy.  But it was truly a joyful, exhilarating experience for both parents and kids.  Everyone had fun, and as much as I pride myself on my compulsive tendencies, I had no idea what the score was at the end.  Every kid left that field with a smile, even the kid who got stepped on by his own teammate rushing the goal.  The adults made a tunnel for the kids to run through, something I had always regarded as corny.  But after the tenth trip through for each kid whooping it up and feeling very good about his contribution, I had to admit that things are only corny if you can't see the good in them.

Years ago our sons had a coach who wouldn't have known positive if he was hooked up to a battery.  We parents put up with his antics and his swearing and his put downs because, well frankly, I think we were all a bit terrified.  We knew we wanted our kids to stay in this particular successful club.  So despite our better judgment and despite the slumped shoulders and bowed heads after every game, win or lose, we stuck it out.  Flash forward to last summer as I walked to a field to watch Bryce's new club team play.  An under 12 game was just finishing up.  As I approached the field I heard a coach bellowing "You guys are losers.  You can't play soccer.  Move your rear end (I cleaned that up).  You call that passing.  You stink at passing."  Sure enough, when I got close enough I realized it was this coach from years before still using his bullying techniques.  There was nothing in his rhetoric that taught those boys how to be better soccer players, but there was plenty that taught them they were worthless.  Now that he no longer had any power over my boys' future in soccer, I wasn't filtering what he was saying with my own rationalizations.  I was pretty uncomfortable realizing that for my own sake of wanting to create winners in our family, I had subjected my children to this ugly, non-productive ranting.  They weren't motivated to be winners; they won despite his tirades.

I'd love to sit down with Joe Kelly and talk about his experiences with coaches.  I did look him up on Internet Movie Data Base because I had to know how many kids he had and their ages.  But unfortunately I only learned that his nickname was Meathouse.  If you read this blog, Joe, write to me.  I thought your script really nailed it when it comes to the world of youth sports and coaching.  It was funny because it was true.  I hope a lot of parents and coaches saw the show and shared a good laugh as they realized the wisdom of it all.

 

Camp Fever

Susan Boyd

Spring has barely begun. We have snow promised for the weekend in the Midwest, Denver just had its biggest blizzard of the season, and ice dams are causing the Red River to rise above flood stage. So talking about summer may seem premature. But the time to think about summer soccer camps is now because the most popular camps will be full by mid-April. Soccer camps come in as many sizes, shapes, and skill levels as there are registered youth soccer players, so figuring out what camp best fits your child's needs can be as daunting as selecting a college and nearly as expensive.

Depending on your player's age and skill level, he or she might best be served by any of the local soccer camps offered by clubs and professional teams in your area. Check with your own club to see camps they offer throughout the summer. These are traditionally the best options for younger players and provide good training for a reasonable cost, often under $200 for a week. If your club has summer camps, it allows players to continue to train together over the summer and to have the same coaches. That type of consistency really appeals to younger players because it helps diffuse the awkward and scary "first-timer" experience. If you do have a professional team in the area that has camps, they usually use their players as coaches and advisors. Kids love the opportunity to engage with their soccer idols who can often inspire them to work harder and pay attention.

Another local option would be high school camps. These usually focus on older players who are middle school age and up. These camps can be a great introduction to the next level of soccer commitment and give players a chance to test themselves in a more competitive environment. Many high schools offer camps just before the high school season begins to help players get acquainted with their teammates and to improve their level of conditioning.

Colleges sponsor camps to fulfill three needs. First, college camps bring in substantial revenue for a college soccer program. Second, these camps give coaches a chance to see talent they might not see when on their recruiting trips. Third, college camps get the program's name out to the public. Players who have their hearts set on being recruited by a particular college might consider attending the college camp. The chances of being recruited at one of these camps are minimal, but they do happen. My own son benefited from attending a college camp where he eventually got recruited. But for recruitment purposes most college camps are a very expensive way to be seen. Your best bet is to find college camps where several colleges will provide coaches so that you widen your observation base. Going to a local college camp can be beneficial because it gives players insight to what a college level program requires of its players, and you can avoid the costs of an overnight camp.

Camps can be day camps or resident camps. Day camps would, by necessity be local, while resident camps allow players to stretch their boundaries. Most resident camps run about five days to a week and the cost will be about $100 to $150 a day. Selecting a resident camp requires a close study of the brochures for the camp. Are linens included? How many meals are included? How much additional spending money is needed? The cost of a camp can look good at first, but because of additional expenses end up costing more than an all-inclusive camp. Resident camps usually provide transportation to and from the camp and major transportation hubs such as airports and train stations. But you'll want to figure out if there is an additional cost and if that cost has to be paid in cash. Resident camps can be a great way for kids to experience some independence and to meet soccer players from all over who share their skill level.

The ultimate resident camp would be abroad. More and more opportunities exist for foreign travel where either an individual camper can take advantage of camps in South America, Europe, and Asia or entire teams can travel to compete with foreign youth teams. These programs vary in expense depending on the length of the trip, the distance traveled, and the additional amenities such as sightseeing, but most come in around $2300 to $2900. If you can afford them, they are an awesome experience for any teenage soccer player. Robbie and Bryce had the opportunity to train with the Queens Park Rangers and play local London youth clubs. A few years later Bryce trained with his club team at Newcastle and then traveled around playing three Great Britain youth teams. Robbie traveled with his club team to Spain and played against five different Spanish youth teams. These international summer experiences helped the boys understand that soccer has nuances based on the country and soccer has so many more levels of greatness above what they are playing today. They also got to see different cultures, different landscapes, and different history. 

To find out about camps, check your local soccer supply store. They will usually have brochures for most of the local camps and some of the international camps. Be sure to ask teammates and neighbors for recommendations as well. If you have a goalkeeper, you will probably want to find a camp exclusively for goalkeepers. You can also check on line for various camps. A good starting point is to contact your local US Youth Soccer State Association. However, once you locate the camps in which you have an interest, you can search them on the internet to see what has been said about them. Like anything in life, what suits one player may not suit another, so be sure to read between the lines to see if the camp experience would be appropriate for your child. The longevity of a camp also speaks volumes on how it is regarded by campers, parents, and coaches.   This is not to say a brand new camp won't be terrific too.   Ask your son's and daughter's coaches about the various camps as well. They may know the director or coaches on staff, so can speak to the professionalism or quality of the camp.

Most importantly, don't stretch your budget too thin to provide camp. While the glossy brochures of the more expensive and farther reaching camps can be enticing, perfectly good camps that don't break the bank can be found right in your backyard. A week of camp isn't going to turn your two left footed player into David Beckham or Mia Hamm, so concentrate on what a week can do – provide good outdoor activity and be fun!! That will give you the best value for your dollar.