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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". 

 

Loyalty

Susan Boyd

As belts tightened across the nation, soccer clubs are no more immune to budget concerns than any family or organization. Most clubs operated on a thin margin of financial viability even in boom times, so they acutely feel the pinch now.   You'll hear the mantra of "loyalty" more incessantly than ever as clubs try to maintain membership and to attract more members. Unfortunately loyalty from the club's perspective is a one-way obligation and families who have given years of service to a club can find their sons and daughters cut from their teams when select tryouts are complete.  Ironically loyalty is a fickle concept.

Coaching directors brush off any criticism with "that's the way it is in the world of soccer." They are correct as far as professional clubs go. But this is youth soccer without paid contracts, sports agents, and back room negotiations. Soccer teams provide more than just a place to train and hopefully win. They provide a social center where parents feel strongly connected. Being cut from a team can be like being ostracized from a community. Youth clubs need to both expect and honor loyalty by being loyal themselves or they need to accept they can't offer loyalty in return so stop demanding it from their players and families. All too often youth clubs only want the pendulum to swing one direction. Loyal, but unskilled players rarely get consideration for their loyalty. On the swing side we all know the "star" player who misses practices, whose family rarely volunteers, and who bad-mouths the players and the coach, yet starts every game. Under the umbrella of loyalty, families expect fairness, they expect that the rules will apply to every player, and they expect some consideration for their loyalty. But youth clubs continue to apply the professional standard to their choices exposing loyal members to dismissal, while expecting members to accept the risk they may be cut, blindly stay true in the name of loyalty until then and not pursue better opportunities when they come up.

If clubs want to operate like professional teams bumping off players without consideration to their loyalty, then they have to accept the converse: that every day professional players defect from the club that nurtured them, gave them the biggest salary, and put up with their shenanigans. When another club dangles a more lucrative contract, loyalty flies out the window. Kids read and hear about this all the time, so they know how the real world works. It should be no surprise to youth clubs when a player leaves for his or her own reasons since these same clubs are willing to cut a kid when it serves their purposes. 

US Youth Soccer and local State Associations have attempted to put in rules that will temper this cut-throat atmosphere. But every rule has a thousand loopholes that clubs have expertly learned to maneuver. For example there's the rule that coaches can't recruit players in the weeks preceding tryouts. The reality is that recruiting happens all the time, just not directly by the coaches. Robbie got hand-written personal invitations from parents of players in other clubs asking him to consider trying out and touting the club's accomplishments. While the notes were clearly following a template created by someone in the club no one could fault the club for a recruiting violation. After all this was just a proud parent exercising his or her right to free speech! Even players will approach other players after a game in an attempt to get them to consider joining their team, a tactic that works much better if the recruiting team beats the player's team. And players on their own decide to make a switch without any recruiting happening at all. One family on Robbie's first select team was subjected to threats of a lawsuit because they "defected" and were made to endure dozens of phone calls asking them to admit that the player was recruited illegally when the kid actually left because he couldn't get along with one player. All this anger and politics seem unfitting for youth soccer.

In Wisconsin players have three days to consider an offer from a team, but most coaches will demand an answer the minute they call the player. Coaches will play the loyalty card stating that if the player "really wanted to play for this club" there would be no hesitation. Anxious players, faced with the possibility of not having a team, usually succumb to the pressure and agree immediately even if they are waiting on another team's offer. Coaches will attempt to limit where a player tries out by threatening that if a player doesn't show up for all days of try outs she forfeits the opportunity to play for the club. Players are supposed to be free to try out for any and all teams they want, but the reality is that they put their eggs in one basket because of intimidation. Naturally, most top players don't face intimidation because clubs recognize those players have the power to pick and choose.   So the equity that the rules attempt to create doesn't exist.

Loyalty to a club can be a noble concept, but turns out to be impractical as players make different decisions about their soccer future. Robbie's first club team still contains a few players from the original group, while Bryce's first club team completely dissolved at Under-15. Anything can happen with a team, so ultimately families need to decide what's best for them and for their children. There should be no rancor over making a change because change happens naturally in the course of life. In the case of soccer, players seek different opportunities such as less travel or tougher competition. Players may move because of the "grass is greener" belief or they may move because they want to be with friends. Clubs have no compunction about cutting a player, so families should have no guilt about leaving. Be true to your own ideals and family. Life is too short to sacrifice your own future to the questionable promises and demands of loyalty.
 

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.