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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". 

 

Who is Zadok the Priest

Susan Boyd

Back in college when I majored in psychology in the hopes of making the same breath-taking salary as I now make writing, I studied this psychological assessment of a person's cognitive level. Given nine objects the person had to group them based on size, shape, color, and material. Each object could be part of several different groups, so their separation required some creative thinking. I reverted to the test's structure this week when I had the chance to see two very different and yet very similar soccer games. With soccer as the broad context, the comparisons and contrasts seemed limitless.

Wednesday I watched the UEFA Champions League Championship game between Barcelona and Manchester United. Spoiler alert! I'll be revealing who won. An American equivalent to the match might be the Super Bowl except the pageantry for UEFA has a sparse swagger rather than an over-produced excess. Nevertheless a comely lass dressed in the Championship Cup did do her best Victoria's Secret runway walk towards the camera as confetti fluttered around her and a huge chorus belted out  the Champion League Anthem based on Handel's "Zadok the Priest" from the Coronation Anthems. It wasn't Bruce Springsteen, but it did get the emotions boiling. Then the teams marched out along the center line and spread out across the field flanking the officials.  Every team member showed his anxiety in jittery limbs and tense expressions.

Likewise I got to see several US Youth Soccer Association State Championship games in Wisconsin this weekend and last. The players weren't as seasoned or physically mature, but the same stakes existed: win or go home. While the only confetti bits were errant napkins and wrappers, the celebratory mood did exist on those fields. The teams marched out to the center line, fanned out beside the officials, and basked in the applause of parents, siblings, and fans. I really delight in watching the entrance of the teams on the field. For the younger players it may be the first time they have ever participated in a tradition they have seen preceding World Cup and Gold Cup games. The nerves they felt had to be as intense as any of the nerves Thierry Henry or Cristiano Ronaldo felt on Wednesday. It's their taste of the world-wide rituals of the game. And it was their chance to relish it.

For the first few minutes of the UEFA game Man U dominated. As a team they seemed confident and motivated, but when Samuel Eto'o suddenly used a brilliant pass by André Iniesta at the ten minute mark to power a goal behind Edwin Van der Sar they just as suddenly dissolved into confusion and reticence. How often have we watched our own children be psychologically taken out of a game after an unexpected goal? Team dynamics really aren't much different for 12 year olds and 28 year olds. That intangible network that holds team members together and drives them collectively towards success can dissolve in an instant and never be regained. Such was the case with Manchester United. Many a state championship game turned on the inability of a team to create or maintain that group dynamic.

Even someone as skilled and seasoned as Ronaldo managed to received a pass in the six yard box and then boot it over or wide of the goal. Remember that the next time you groan when your daughter's teammate does the same. The complex and delicate mix of skill, temperament, nerves, and placement may not be mastered by Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United or Sara Smith of Hometown FC. The problem is that Ronaldo is being paid to have mastered it and our sons and daughters do it for the joy of the game. So we need to cut them some slack.

All this brings me to the fans. While I heard occasional jabs at the officials or angry shout outs to players, for the most part state championship fans have been well-mannered and supportive. Not so for the fans at UEFA. Fan intensity in soccer comes with the territory especially at the professional level. Fans don't accept any sort of error. So cat calls, whistles, boos, and even unprintable chants echo regularly throughout soccer stadiums of the world. But at the youth level in the United States we have managed to maintain an atmosphere of near civility. A few members of Robbie's team got yellow cards during the game for having garbage mouths, which comes with being a teenager and knowing everything about everything. The frustration with perceived bad calls erupts in verbal harangues. In that regard they are no different than any of the players at the UEFA game, but in the professional ranks such outbursts are more regularly tolerated and ignored. 

Although it probably seems like an inconsequential element to the game, uniforms can play a very important role for the players. My sons will often express the hope that they will be playing in a certain uniform combination for reasons of superstition, pride, or comfort. When that combination can't be worn, it can have a trickle down affect on team spirit and motivation. As a mom I only hope they won't wear the white shorts on a muddy day. I wonder if Man U felt less strong in their all white uniforms. They did seem to melt into the background compared to Barcelona in their bright blue and red stripes. There's no way of knowing if uniforms had anything to do with the team's demeanor, but as a former psychology student I have to read something into everything.

I look forward to the US Youth Soccer Association Championship Series. I love seeing other teams and watching players whose jerseys I'll be buying someday for my grandchildren. It's a grand gathering of talent, hope, and enthusiasm. Again I'll encourage families to try to attend their Regional Championships and, if they are in the Northeast, the National Championship. While it isn't the World Cup or the FA Cup or UEFA, it is a spectacle in its own right and a show of earnest, passionate soccer. While a ticket to UEFA probably set a fan back several hundred if not thousands of dollars, the Championship Series is free of charge (except possibly for parking) and offers dozens of games to watch and enjoy. The one good thing about soccer being a growing sport in the US is that it is still a relatively inexpensive spectator sport.  Bring along a recording of "Zadok the Priest" and you'll nearly have the complete UEFA experience.
 

Save the Date

Susan Boyd

Spring finds most states are in the midst of their US Youth Soccer State Championships. Winners earn the opportunity to compete in their US Youth Soccer Regional Championships with an eye towards advancing to the National Championships. Unfortunately spring also brings unpredictable weather that disrupts carefully crafted championships schedules. Add to that all the activities that fill April, May and June, prom, finals, graduations, service projects, field trips, bat and bar mitzvahs and confirmations, and you end up with a tangle of frustratingly impossible scheduling.

So far Robbie hasn't played a single State Championship game either as scheduled or completely. Rain storms devastated fields and lightning brought one game to a halt before the 90 minute mark. His team is due to play their final round robin game on Monday, but the weather reports are for rain and lightning, so we hoping for the best and expecting the worst.   That's because once the schedule has to change, team administrators find themselves in an alternate universe called "no way." Any of you who have been team administrators know this land well. 

First you have to send out the email that cancels the game and await the emails that border on accusing you of personally ordering the inclement weather just to mess up everyone's calendar. I liken it to the pilot of a plane announcing that the wings don't seem to be attached properly so the flight to Orlando will be delayed and the majority of people nearly storm the cockpit demanding the plane take off any way. This is the same group who undoubtedly complain that planes should be safer.   The usual reason for cancellation is weather. Sometimes game day is beautiful, but the rain the night before made the fields unplayable, which only makes the howls more strident. 

Once it all calms down it's time for the reschedule emails. These usually involve first figuring out three or four possible dates for the rematch and then emailing both your team members and the opponents. Trust me, President Carter negotiating the Camp David Accord between Sadat and Begin didn't have as complicated a time as any team administrator trying to reschedule a game. The older the team, the harder it becomes. By high school you are bucking proms, senior trips, graduations, final papers, and finals in general. Since team members attend a variety of schools nothing is parallel so nothing is easy. Plus there are always those teammates who never respond and then, once a date is agreed upon, announce that they can't possibly play that day. When the flurry of emails has settled and a date declared, everyone holds their breath that the weather will cooperate.

Despite these roadblocks, all games manage to be played with minimal input from the State Association level. This speaks to both the flexibility and amiability of soccer managers, coaches, parents and players. People do bend, do compromise, and do facilitate, so that even the most complex, backs-up-against-the-wall deadline gets completed. Soccer can be civil off the field, at least at the youth level.

I have to say I love the State Championship. Last year Bryce's team won and went to the US Youth Soccer Region II Championship which was in our backyard down in Rockford, Illinois. This year it's in Sioux Falls, S.D., which would be a wonderful road trip. However, I'm not sure Robbie's team can win this year. They are primarily graduating seniors and as such have little interest in anything that doesn't involve a game console and sleeping late. So motivating them to practice and play isn't always easy. I think Robbie's coach has the patience of Mr. Rogers and the implacability of Ryan Seacrest. Maybe he goes home and throws darts at squirrels to take out his pent up frustration, but on the field he never shows it.

In Wisconsin Memorial Day weekend is the main date for State Championship with central locations for the games. Because Robbie's team has graduating seniors they couldn't play most of their games this weekend because at least a third of them are graduating. So they'll just play the Monday games. But that means we'll still get to experience some of the celebration that surrounds the event. I definitely encourage players and families to take some extra time to watch other games, visit any of the vendors on site, and enjoy the chance to compete at a top level. Likewise, if the Regional or National Championship is within easy driving distance you should plan to spend a day or two at the venue. These competitions provide families with the opportunity to see a variety of teams and discover what talent can be found outside of their own neighborhoods. It's also a chance to reconnect with teammates from the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program. Win or lose these championship events bring out the best players, the best soccer, and the best games, so long as they can all get scheduled.
 
2009 US Youth Soccer National Championship Series Dates
Region I
Village of Barboursville, W.Va.
July 2-7, 2009

Region II
Sioux Falls, S.D.
June 20-24, 2009

Region III
Frisco and Plano, Texas
June 18-24, 2009

Region IV
Lancaster, Calif.
June 15-21, 2009

US Youth Soccer National Championships
Lancaster, Mass.
July 21-26, 2009
 

Socrates Didn't Invent Soccer

Susan Boyd

I'm an optimist when it comes to TV viewing. I record dozens of shows with the very real intent of watching them all, then spend fifteen minutes once a week deleting most of them. If people ask me if I've seen a program I cheerfully answer "No, but I recorded it!" Every once in a while I have the opportunity to actually see one of the shows I recorded, generally because I'm shirking some other responsibility like laundry or writing. Earlier this week I watched an episode of "Numb3rs" about an FBI agent and his genius math brother who solves crimes using brute force and clever number theory. It's a slight drama, but entertaining. During this particular episode there was a crawl across the screen with the teaser, "Test your own math skills by trying the puzzles at CBS.com." I jumped at the opportunity to validate my intelligence (or scoff at the ridiculousness of the questions if I couldn't solve them). This week's puzzle concerned convergence using lines that bisected triangle sides and angles. While I enjoyed the questions, they led me to further consideration about convergence as it relates to soccer. Yes, I'm that obsessed with soccer!

Convergence in math means the same thing it does in English – a coming together from different directions at a single point (Encarta Dictionary). Soccer succeeds or fails because of convergence or the lack thereof. Yesterday, Robbie's team had a state championship play-off game that frustratingly demonstrated the elements of convergence. I should mention that convergence is either exhilarating or frustrating when it comes to soccer. Yesterday an opponent's foot converged twice with one of Robbie's teammate's faces. The second convergence resulted in thirteen stitches. The lightning and deluge converged with twilight to require an early game termination. The uneven new sod patches converged with an errant kick to insure an erratic bounce into the goal.   Players regularly converged for fouls or tackles or steals. We finally had an exhilarating convergence when a ball was struck from the corner by one forward while the other charged in, met it at the goal line and converged it right into the back of the net.

When you relate soccer anecdotes they usually involve convergence. So while you may not have stayed awake during your Geometry class, you still use the mathematical precepts to make your point. "I thought the ball was going in, but the keeper just managed to deflect it." "That defender came out of nowhere to steal the ball right off of my daughter's foot." "The ball caromed off the post and into the goal." "That dad got right in the official's face." Players converge at the end of the game in the traditional handshake. We even use convergence to get to the games when we set our GPS and it charts a course for us. It's creating a convergence between the spot we need to be and the route our vehicle travels even if it isn't a straight bisector.

My other favorite sport is baseball. I'm happy to spend a few hours at the ballpark absorbing the sights and sounds of a Brewers game.   On the face of it, baseball and soccer couldn't be more different in their production. Baseball is a game of fits and starts, especially in the eighth inning of a close game where pitching changes can make that one inning last nearly as long as the rest of the game. Players in the outfield might go long minutes before even moving, much less chasing a ball. But when they are needed, they are needed in a spectacular hurry. Soccer is nearly non-stop, everyone is needed all the time, and players have to be constantly on the move, readjusting their position depending upon the direction and speed of play. But I realized that what I love about baseball I also love about soccer. Both games require mathematical precision which is based on convergence.

That's why I don't like watching baseball on TV, because the camera dictates where I look. I want to survey the field, see where the outfielders are shifting, judge the wind, watch runners lead off, and get a good feel for the ball's direction both when hit and when thrown. Players make judgments about their position based on the angle they expect the ball to travel. In other words, they place themselves in the mostly likely spot for convergence or near enough to a range of convergence points. There are some intuitive calculations concerning trajectories, resistance, and velocity that dictate the point of convergence and the likelihood of success. Pitchers, hitters, infielders, outfielders, and coaches are all doing their own math in their heads to determine what will create the best outcome. Pitchers want to have their pitches converge with the catcher's mitt, hitters want their bats to converge with the ball, and fielders want their mitts to converge with any hit. Likewise a soccer player makes a decision about using left or right foot, inside or outside, force of the kick, and obstacles to pick the most likely point of convergence with the ball that will alter its route right into the goal or to another teammate's foot. These players do this all within a blink of the eye and they do it hundreds of times in a game. Even more amazingly, unlike math students who can do their calculations in relative calm and without immediate criticism, players resolve their mathematical equations in an instant with on the spot evaluations given at the top of someone's lungs. There's no time to recalculate, check the variables, ponder the choices. It's now or never and then on to the next problem.

While I don't advocate protractors and graphic calculators as part of an essential soccer kit, I do recognize the beauty of math in what is happening on the field. The next time you watch a ball leave a player's foot and land perfectly in front of another player, or see a player suddenly step in front of an opponent to triumphantly settle a goal kick, or witness that awesome bend it like Beckham moment, give pause to consider Euclid, Aristotle, and Pythagoras. Sure, these ancient Greeks didn't invent soccer, but their geometrical explorations resulted in tools for analyzing and improving soccer play. With their acute understanding of convergence, they probably would have made fantastic coaches. Maybe they were. "Go Polyhedrons!"
 

Garbo wouldn't have owned one

Susan Boyd

Seven years ago I swore I would never own a cell phone. Now I panic if I forget to toss it in my purse when I leave the house. Someone might want to talk to me and I won't be able to get back to them for an hour. I've become the woman who believes such a scenario ranks up there with the Hindenburg disaster. And I know I am not alone. Whenever a car on the freeway suddenly slows down for no apparent reason, we used to say "oh, a fuzz buster." Now we all nod our heads and say, "Cell phone call." I used to snap my head around when I heard some child call "mommy." Now that reaction is reserved for a cell phone ring tone released in a crowd. How did I get from total aversion to complete dependency? I blame it on soccer.

When the boys began playing on traveling teams, we found our family splintered on weekends. So it seemed reasonable to get cell phones so we could keep connected. We used the cell phones to let one another know about scores, home ETAs, great plays, and just to stay in touch. It didn't take long to add two more lines (I curse the "just $9.99 for each additional line up to five" come – on) for the boys because they needed to let me know when to pick them up from practice or to call for emergency runs for missing cleats or to text every living 15 year old in the world. Loaded up with photo and video sharing, unlimited texting, internet access, extra unlimited talk hours, and added minutes, each at an additional fee, we boarded the cell phone train and we can't get off. 

When I was a team manager I found my cell phone invaluable. It provided a means of averting disaster. I could call about missing referees, locked fields, inclement weather, cancelling a game, and for medical emergencies.   I was able to guide opposing teams to our fields around detours or traffic jams. Using my web connection, I located a soccer shop to buy dry socks for the team during a particularly wet and cold tournament. Before GPS became as ubiquitous as cell phones, I could use my cell to find coffee, restaurants for team lunches, and photocopier locations. Cell phones allow tournament organizers to quickly contact teams about field changes or game cancellations. Now with the Blackberry and other PDAs they have also become the means for e-mail and reporting/looking up scores. Just as many tournaments have moved to doing everything on line, we will probably see the move to using our cell phones to do more and more of the soccer "paperwork." I envision a day when teams will be registering for tournaments on the way there, while in the car or while sitting in the airport.

I do have two main complaints about cell phones (besides the expense). First, they are worse than cars and computers for losing their technological edge. As I am buying one cell phone, its newest prototype is being placed in the display cabinet. I personally couldn't care if I don't have a QWERTY keyboard since I rarely text message, nor do I need to attempt to read the NY Times on my postage stamp screen. But the problem is my son cares. So his phone goes from being "rad" to being "stupid" in the first four months of a two year contract. When the iPhone came out I was roundly criticized for not having had the foresight to select AT & T as our cell phone carrier the previous year. I am a continuing embarrassment because I still possess the same phone I got four years ago and my cell phone ring is "annoying." Second, cell phones are far too small. I place mine in the drink holder of my soccer chair and then when I fold up my chair the phone is soundlessly expelled like a geyser out of the holder and onto the grass. That's why I own a brilliant red phone. It makes it far easier to find when I return to the field 20 minutes later to locate what I lost.

Still, I have to admit that our soccer life has been made better through our cell phones. The nearly four years I drove to Chicago for practices and games were made safer with a cell by my side. Robbie felt less like he was losing all his social life because of those drives. He could stay in touch with friends and get some homework assistance through his cellular connections.

On the other hand I've seen some pretty creative cell phone usage in my soccer experiences. Coaches who have been sent off have used cell phones to continue their management of the game.   Even more interesting I know of a soccer coach who used his cell phone to call his son's team coach from the sidelines and offer coaching nuggets during the games. I'm guessing the suggestions were well-received since the team coach continued to take the calls. At one game I saw a father having a heated discussion with a sideline referee and kept thrusting his cell phone at the AR. He had taken video of a contested play and was trying to do his own version of a challenge.   At a tournament the police showed up at the game on the field next to us. Apparently one father had called 911 because he felt his son was being unfairly targeted by the opposing team. He had told the police that his son was being "beat up." He even used his phone to guide the police across the acres of fields to his exact location. I've also seen cell phones used as weapons heaved across the grass at a parent target during a verbal argument. 

Like any advancement in the sport, cell phones have their place, but need to be used wisely.   As they improve, we'll find ourselves depending on them more and more to the point that they will be a requirement not just for an emergency number but for a platform for accessing and distributing soccer data. This tiny (annoyingly so) convenience has become a significant part of the soccer kit. So I do begrudgingly accept that what I had feared would be an intrusion into my life has in fact become one, but one that I increasingly depend upon to make my soccer life more manageable. And there is this handy feature that I can use called the off button when I just want to be left alone.