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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". 

 

A Fatal Flaw

Susan Boyd

I'm not a duster, I don't do windows, and I hate vacuuming stairs, but I despise clutter even more. So my Martha Stewart talent is organizing. Every item in the house has a particular location. It's not exactly the Dewey Decimal System, but it does allow me to rapidly guide someone to an item or swiftly put my hands on it myself. However if people don't replace items exactly where they belong my system breaks down. Its fatal flaw takes the form of two sons and one husband, who expect me to know instantly where jackets, pencils, wallets, and car keys can be found, but steadfastly refuse to "reshelve" their products properly.   If I was the only one in the house I could find a particular DVD in less than 10 seconds. But when Bryce asked if we had "All the President's Men" and I answered "Yes" I had no idea that this would lead to two hours of mucking through drawers, digging under couches, peering behind bookcases, and looking in more and more bizarre locations until finding it in the bathroom in the cupboard with the towels. Don't ask because I have no idea why it was there.

So it is little wonder that all my efforts to be organized about soccer have limited success. My initial idea was to organize uniforms into various backpacks. By the time the boys were 10, I already had to keep track of three different soccer teams for each of them, not to mention baseball and basketball team gear. Eventually the number swelled to five soccer teams – club team, indoor team, summer city league, Super Y League, and US Youth Soccer Olympic Development (US Youth Soccer ODP). I have shelves in the mudroom to hold the various backpacks and whenever I washed the uniforms they were packed away immediately in the appropriate bag. Cleats were stored on a shoe rack hung on the wall.   Extra socks went into a box under the shelves. However, this organizational utopia disintegrated in a seismic wave of indifference to the rules.
 
In a domino effect of obliteration, each case of disorganization disrupted the entire system. Should one boy be asked to spend the night with a friend he would need an overnight bag. Never mind he already had an overnight bag because naturally it was stuffed in some dark recess of the closet or the garage or under the bed. So in a rush of expediency he would grab one of his soccer backpacks and dump it out. The uniforms ended up like so much flotsam and jetsam bobbing on the sea of clothes covering his bedroom floor. Later I would discover the bag on the mudroom floor and replace it on the shelf. Then he would grab the bag for US Youth Soccer ODP practice. As he rushed to get dressed on arrival we would discover a wad of dirty clothes, the Game Boy he had been missing for a week, a soggy bag of chips, and no US Youth Soccer ODP shirts. Cleats that should have been hanging on the rack seemingly sprouted legs and skittered like giant centipedes into the darkest, dankest, most undiscoverable corners of the house or car. The box full of socks held no pairs but plenty of mismatched and holey stockings. Our panicked scramble to find what we needed for any given event or game never seemed to disappear despite all my admonishments on how we could avoid this scene. On average the system worked about 20% of the time which I grew to accept as an admirable result.

The other day I was digging through some boxes in the basement. These were my privately organized clear plastic boxes labeled and complete. I was searching for a particular photo that I wanted to put in a new frame I'd received as a gift. Once I located the proper box and lowered it to the basement floor I knew immediately that it wasn't right. This box should have held stacks of photos organized by year and event, but I could see something decidedly not photographic at the top of the box. When I opened it I discovered two SYL team jerseys that we had had to replace despite days of searching. How they worked their way down to the basement and into the box of photos will remain a mystery, although I suspect it had something to do with needing to clean the basement quickly and finding an expedient, albeit inappropriate hidden storage spot. I will validate that theory sometime in the future when I find a pair of missing shoes in the box with maps and a missing MP3 player in the box with collectible magazines. 

In reality organization ends up being about never losing anything. In that area I suspect I am close to 100%. The trick will be to discover where items have drifted, retrieve them, and return them to their rightful place. After cleaning out Bryce's room this summer I made huge progress in my success rate having discovered thirty plus DVDs, the charger for my cell phone, a box of game cartridges, and various missing utensils and glasses. Over time these items will once again begin to disappear, but for a few weeks I can pat myself on the back that I know right where to find "All the President's Men."
 

The Empirical Strikes Back

Susan Boyd

I don't believe much in statistics. As an undergraduate math minor I assisted a professor in proofing her textbook on probability and statistics. I'm well aware of the various statistical measures a researcher can use to create a favorable or unfavorable statistical result. Surveys can be carefully constructed to elicit skewed responses. Would you rather have a warehouse store in your neighborhood or a prisoner half-way house? Surprise! Survey shows overwhelming support for the construction of Costco. Or a political ad might go something like this: Joe Smith would be a powerful law and order district attorney because as a prosecutor he has had less than two per cent of his convictions overturned on appeal. What they fail to tell you is that his conviction rate is only one per cent. So when someone tells me what the numbers say, I'm naturally skeptical.

Those experts reading trends, interpreting spikes in surveys, watching registrations, recording attendance, and generally keeping their noses in the data don't "see" the big picture. The proof that youth soccer is flourishing in this country can be seen by anyone even if they don't have the benefit of the numbers. I trust the empirical evidence more than number crunching because it's my vision that I trust rather than some statistician's conclusion. True my observations aren't scientifically supported, yet pragmatic factors can carry more weight because everyone can judge for him or herself how reasonable the conclusions are.  Following are three purely empirical indicators that youth soccer continues to expand.

This morning I was searching through the on screen TV guide for something interesting to watch while I cleaned my bedroom. When I spotted it, I couldn't believe it, but there it was – an entire half day of soccer - not on Fox Soccer Channel, not on ESPN's platoon of channels, not on any of the Spanish language channels, all of which are my usual haunts for finding soccer to watch. Instead it was on the Time-Warner Wisconsin Sports Channel famous for showing marathons of fishing programs and the occasional high school sports state final. Now they were showing the U.S Youth Soccer Wisconsin State Championships for U13 boys and girls, and not the finals mind you, but third round games. These were well-produced programs with two commentators, two cameras, and relatively sophisticated editing and graphics.   It wasn't high definition but the commentators actually knew the players' names and talked intelligently about the teams, the coaching choices, and the on field strategies. Now I seriously doubt that a public service of the cable company would have abandoned their treasure trove of cheaply and easily produced fishing programs for this far more complicated and costly production unless they felt there was an audience for the series. After all they need to answer to their advertising sponsors of which there were at least ten. I might understand showing the final games of the older teams, but the fact that they expanded their coverage to all the age levels at the State Championships and to include third round and semi-final games as well tells me that youth soccer, at least in Wisconsin, is making an impact.

Speaking of advertisers, over the course of the last ten years there has been a huge increase of soccer related advertising, even for products that have little or nothing to do with soccer. Just this month an ad for a pain reliever begins with a grimacing woman being "side-lined" by headache pain. She then takes the product and is now on the "side-lines" of her child's soccer game. A decade ago the same campaign would have ended on the side-lines of a football game. At first blush soccer has little to do with a kitchen floor cleaner. But I'll admit anything that gets up the worst soccer cleat marks has an important connection to the sport, at least for me. I developed soccer parent knees from crawling around scrubbing the tiles in my kitchen. But the advertiser could have shown baseball cleats or football cleats or even track cleats. Instead it chose a soccer team to run across that poor kitchen floor.

While watching the crowds at a July 4th celebration I was struck by how many people were wearing soccer apparel. Now I suppose this approaches a statistical analysis, but I did finally decide to count the number of soccer shirts and shorts compared to the number of "other." Better than half the people were wearing some soccer gear. Just to prove my observations weren't skewed, I was not at a soccer team function or even near a soccer field. This was just a gathering of people from the town who came to eat corn on the cob, watch some fireworks, and flaunt their interest in soccer.

With approximately 3.8 million registered youth soccer players in the United States of which 3 million are registered with US Youth Soccer, a lot of kids with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are linked to soccer. That's a giant size target group. According to US Youth Soccer its membership has grown in thirty five years from 100,000 players to the 3 million today. That's just what the numbers say, but anyone with eyes and ears can bear witness to the increased influence of soccer on everyday life. Even President Obama takes time out from his schedule to go see his daughters play and has endorsed the U.S. bid to FIFA to host the 2018 World Cup.  We last hosted in 1994 with a huge impact on interest in the sport in America. Just imagine what the 2018 World Cup in America could do to boost youth soccer interest even further. I'm sure people will create statistics to attempt to answer that question long before it actually happens.  I say let's just wait and watch.   If present observations are any indication I predict we may be seeing network feeds of U5 games by 2019!
 

Calendars and Coins

Susan Boyd

This is a cautionary tale for all of you who encourage your children to reach for the next level in life's endeavors. I'm all for raising the bar for my kids. So I'm not suggesting we shouldn't aim for the next target. But as we step up the ladder we need to anticipate how much more complex the journey becomes.   Many a parent suddenly finds themselves dropped in a whirlpool of demands with no means of escape. Schedules, finances, sacrifices, and time double, triple, even quadruple in an exponential fashion. You can't just take soccer to the repair shop and ask someone to install more time like installing memory in your computer. Parents and kids get stuck with too full a calendar and too expensive a lifestyle. We want to have it all, but we can't always manage it.

Since many players have completed or are completing their tryouts for the fall, now is the time to take stock of what will be expected.   Too often we're so excited that our kids made the select team or got a spot in a prestigious club, that we forget a lot comes along with that honor. Our insurance agent was so excited that his son made the select team, but he didn't even know which club! I imagine he also doesn't know what he's in for as far as hours and dollars are concerned.  To help slow down the demands, parents need to do two important things before the season begins. 

First and foremost now is the moment to do time management. Clubs, coaches, and other team parents will have expectations for the team. You've been told to buy into them or else. This is "time" extortion that preys on our desire to do the best for our kids. You can give yourself some breathing room by creating a small "ransom" of time now. Buy a huge calendar, a red marker, a blue marker, and a bunch of colored highlighters. Sit down as a family and figure out to the best of your abilities what demands there will be on your time outside of soccer as well as in soccer.   Keep in mind as many of the activities as you can. Look at the school calendar to figure out when the dances, recitals, parent conferences, open houses, and field trips will occur. Be sure to include every child's school demands because unless you keep a clone of yourself on ice, you will need to be two or three places at the same time on occasion.   Add in church classes, music lessons, other sports, and your own schedule such as board meetings or exercise class. And don't forget to fold in any volunteer requirements for the team. Write each thing in the appropriate calendar square in time order and highlight with a different color for each family member.  Where conflicts occur use the red marker to place a check where you will need to find a ride for your children. Use the blue marker to place a check where you will be the transportation (so you also know when you can provide a carpool for another family). Don't forget family vacations, events (weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, etc.), and those ever present soccer trips. Finally fold in time for just relaxing. Kids will be much more energized to go to practice if they don't feel they have sacrificed their social life to do so. If it means missing two practices a month, don't sweat it. Soccer will survive, the team will survive, and you need to survive!

Second, make up a family budget now. Looking at the calendar, figure out the expenses the various activities will incur. Usually we're not thinking about anything but the immediate expense of club dues. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. You don't want to put your family in deep debt to fulfill soccer needs. Find ways to economize. As much as I loved seeing my boys play, it wasn't always practical to go to every tournament. By sending a boy with another team family, we could save the expense of our travel. Similarly, we helped out for other families who needed to send their sons on other events. In addition, there's no reason for eighteen or twenty cars to head to a tournament two hours away. Using your calendar, figure out events where you might carpool two or three families together and share the gas costs. Then begin to set up those carpools now rather than waiting. If you begin to crunch the numbers and find that you just don't have the money to fly to Florida or North Carolina for a tournament, then talk to the coach now. The club may be sending the coaches down on a group airfare that you can get in on or someone may have airline miles they can use to pay for the ticket.   The club may even have a plan for families to do extra volunteer work for the cost of an airline ticket or you may have a talent you can barter such as plumbing, landscaping, data entry or painting which saves the club an expense. Most importantly don't have any hesitation to ask. And by planning ahead you may find a way for your son or daughter to earn the money. Just remember that you can only do as much as your finances allow and that's the way it is.

It's amazing how quickly and insidiously the tiny demands of being on a soccer team can begin to pile up. The only relief is planning early. Make sure the club is very clear about time and financial demands. The coaches get their way paid when they go to tournaments and away games, so they often aren't thinking about expenses. Just don't be shy about asking. And don't be shy to demand that group hotel rooms are kept to a certain maximum amount a night. Believe me, you won't be the only one who thinks $139 a night is exorbitant, but you may be the only one to speak up. In fact if you need good control over these types of expenses, feel free to volunteer to be the team travel secretary! If you don't plan and you don't put your foot down, you can find yourself drowning in an overscheduled and expensive life. Soccer is supposed to be first and foremost fun. Make sure it stays that way for your family.
 

Something Happened on the Way to the Send Button

Susan Boyd

I wrote a completely different blog for this week, but then two things happened. First, the U.S. Men's team posted an amazing and well-deserved win over number one ranked Spain in the Confederations Cup. Second, before the game, FIFA had each team captain read a statement which condemned racism on the soccer pitch and asked for an end to racism in the world. FIFA has continued a program it began supporting several years ago that addresses the problem of racism in soccer. In 2005, disturbed by a racial slur cast on him by, ironically, the Spanish National Team coach, Thierry Henry began his "Stand Up, Speak Up" campaign. He asked Nike to support the cause, which they did by manufacturing and distributing rubber wrist bands of two intertwined circles of black and white.   They also funded public service announcements before, during, and after games that featured major soccer stars decrying the blight of racism in the sport. Then in 2006 for the World Cup, FIFA began its own program – Say No to Racism. Yesterday, hearing the fans cheering the on-field pronouncements gave me new hope that racism can be defeated.

The U.S. Men's win over Spain proves two very significant aspects of soccer. Anything can happen and heart plays a huge role in the sport. I had so little faith in the U.S. Men after their lackluster performances in the preliminary rounds of the Confederations Cup that I actually went out grocery shopping during the first half of the game. The U.S. had barely squeaked through to the semis. They had required the perfect storm we all calculate at our kids' soccer tournaments to open the door to Wednesday's upset of Spain. The U.S. had lost two games in their bracket. The only way they could go through was if they beat Egypt by three goals and Brazil beat Italy by three goals. Other than very young youth games, it's a rare day when teams win with a three goal margin. To have two teams do it defies the odds, but that's what happened. The fact that U.S. team did its part to insure a berth in the semis speaks volumes about their collective change of heart from going through the motions to clawing for victory. So I should have expected that given the chance on the world stage to show that the U.S. can now be a force that they would do exactly that. By the time I arrived home from the store, the U.S. was up 1-0 and when the dust settled they had added a second goal and played the waning minutes down a man after Michael Bradley received an extremely questionable red card. They played brilliantly, especially in the back where a frustrated Spain had opportunity after opportunity stolen by our defenders and Tim Howard, the goalkeeper. I can't wait for the game Sunday. By the time this blog is posted, everyone will know the outcome, but right now I don't even know their opponent!

What motivated me even more to change my blog was the ceremony before the game, which I saw later in the evening when we watched the game again (note my previous blog on recording games and playing them back). It was moving to see the Spanish team captain reading a statement deploring racism. Since it was two incidents involving Spanish teams that sparked Thierry Henry's crusade, it was both fitting and significant that Spain read the first statement. When Henry was insulted by the Spanish National Team coach he didn't respond, believing instead that FIFA would condemn the statement. But nothing happened. Then a month later the black members of England's national side were barraged with a slew of racial insults during a "friendly" match in Madrid. Again nothing happened.

As Henry explains in an interview in Time magazine, he felt he had to speak out. "As a player, you'd hear or see the occasional racist insult or gesture, but you'd tell yourself it's unfortunate but normal, a price to pay if you want to play pro football. But after all these things happened, I realized that footballers have a duty to defend important values, and use their media exposure to deliver messages when the occasion presents itself." He solicited Nike and the rest is history. What Henry didn't say was that no player should have to pay the price of racism, especially youth players. Yet they do every day here in the U.S. and around the world. They don't receive monetary compensation for putting up with racial attacks. I understand this personally. 

I don't speak about it much because I don't feel it is relevant to most discussions, but our sons are adopted and bi-racial. They have endured their share of racial attacks during games and off the field, but they also understand that people will find any way, even hatred, to try to put them off their game. We have always said that the boys can't use racism as an excuse for not succeeding because many African-Americans and Hispanics have succeeded before them in atmospheres of far less tolerance than today. Nevertheless, they have had to toss off both overt and implied racism. Bryce has been spat upon in goal and called names. Just this week Robbie, who is working for a landscape contractor, was refused a cup of ice water by a client because she was "out of cups," while just moments later a white coworker was given a cup. Clearly racism is pervasive and ugly, but certainly not worthy of being tolerated within the international power and scope of soccer. When FIFA came out with their Say No to Racism campaign, I applauded. It has happened far too late for an organization with such world-wide influence and recognition, but it happened. For that I am grateful. 

Soccer encompasses the world and as such can provide the leadership to rise above intolerance. Soccer sponsors more international competitions that bring together disparate races, religions, politics, and economies than the highly touted Olympics. Both men and women play.  It fosters both national and individual pride. So it shouldn't be the venue where racism is allowed to be practiced unabated. Therefore it was a powerful moment in that South African stadium where two teams spoke out against racism. Today Brazil and South Africa will meet in the second semifinal game and these teams will also read statements before the game. Having players unite shows, in Henry's words, "that racism is a problem for everyone, a collective ailment. It shows that people of all colors, even adversaries on the pitch, are banding together in this, because we're all suffering from it together." When teammates are attacked on the basis of their race or religion, it affects everyone.

As parents, coaches, and referees we have a responsibility to both lead by example and to confront racism when it appears. It's a sad commentary that a program like Say No to Racism is needed but it is also heartening to see that an official stance has been taken by the international organization. I am not so naïve as to believe that racism will disappear altogether, but I am hopeful that we can make racism difficult to flourish. After all, if the U.S. Men's team that lost to Costa Rica, barely beat Honduras, and clawed its way into the semifinals of the Confederations Cup can then defeat the number one team in the world, I think that collectively as human beings we can find the heart to squash racism.