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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". 

 

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.  
 

The Sun Never Sets on Soccer

Susan Boyd

Right now I have an undetermined number of boys in my basement who showed up to watch the U.S. Men's National team take on Brazil's National team in the Confederations Cup. I say undetermined because the game started at 8:30 a.m. and boys started arriving around 1 a.m. to "sleep" over and be up in time for the game. I don't know about any of the rest of you, but it is a rare day when my boys are up before noon when they have no responsibilities. So for an entire gaggle of young men to not only be up, but wide awake and yelling at the TV in the early morning fascinates me. They will emerge from the basement only for bathroom breaks and eventually hunger, although I suspect there are enough chips, pizza, sport drinks, and fruit downstairs to rival a survivalist's storehouse.

I should also mention that the game is being recorded both in the basement and in the family room, so although I am not watching it now, I'll have the pleasure of seeing it replayed at least a dozen times over the next few weeks. I finally "accidently" deleted a World Cup final that had been replayed weekly over the course of two years. I felt no need to sustain the repetition because despite soccer's relative infancy as an American TV sporting event, there are still enough games to fill each 24 hours period without having to rewatch old ones. But my sons don't just play the game; they are students of the game. They can tell anyone who will listen what the latest trades were and for how much coin, who scored and when, what coaches got fired or hired, what uniform contracts each team has, how effective various teams' set plays have been, who got injured, and who just accomplished a particular watermark in the sport.

When they watch soccer, they are like lost explorers who can't see the forest for the trees. They are so busy studying moves, kicks, positioning, and runs that they lose track of time and scores. The aforementioned World Cup final I erased had one ten second moment where Oliver Kahn missed stopping a goal. That particular snippet of the game was replayed at least several hundred if not a thousand times as Bryce studied the goalkeeper's position, reaction, and failure. I doubt the entire city of Chicago uses the frame by frame feature on their remotes as much as our family does.   Once the analysis begins on a particular game, strike, or foul, I know I need to find a book to read because I have lost control of the television for a good two hours.

After the U.S. /Brazil game ends I know that the boys in the basement will begin the freeze frame replay of stretches of the game, arguing over every nuanced moment. They will also be reenacting those moments both in the basement and later at the soccer field. They will spend hours trying to reproduce a particular foot move or style of kick. All of them blew off sleep, work, even food to watch the game and to participate in the post-game breakdown. I should also mention that at 1:30 p.m. Egypt takes on Italy, so I expect the basement to be a mix of hot air, sweat, and salsa by dinner time.  

I think if I could figure out how to channel this passion for soccer into other ventures I'd win the Nobel Prize for Making Parents' Lives Easier. I know that's not a real award, but they'd create it if I could harness kids' soccer interest into cleaning their bedrooms, finishing homework, doing dishes, and folding laundry. The best I've been able to accomplish is a begrudging agreement to bring up dirty dishes and trash from the basement.  I'm working on getting the pair of shorts on the stairs up to the bedroom sometime this month.

Despite messy rooms and laundry piles I am still happy the boys love the game so much. It's definitely an activity the entire family shares in one form or another, although the laundry "form" seems to be singularly mine. While the boys can needle one another into explosive confrontations, soccer has always been the common ground where they meet and communicate. Yesterday Robbie came home from work totally spent just as Bryce was leaving to play a Small-Side game with friends. He asked Robbie to join him, but Robbie pled exhaustion. Twenty minutes later, after a shower, Robbie came downstairs in his soccer gear and drove up to the field to join in having called a friend of his to go as well. Two weeks ago Bryce found a crushed ping pong ball under the couch and he's still kicking it around the floor. Soccer doesn't define the boys because they have so many other interests and dimensions, but soccer definitely provides the spine to their existence. Everything ultimately either emanates from or journeys towards their soccer interest.

The other day I was in the soccer store picking up yet another item of soccer clothing. The place was swarming with kids ordering their uniforms for the coming season. I witnessed every emotion from exasperation to joy within that store. Several of the girls hated the uniform they had to wear, while one little girl put on the uniform and then twirled around with total glee. Some boys were arguing with their moms about the uniform size; moms wanted it bigger to grow into and the boys wanted it tight and fitted. One dad firmly set the top limit he would spend for soccer cleats and then agreed to a slightly more expensive pair.    Nearly everyone left with more than the required items. I've been there and done that with the bank statements to prove it. So as I once again paid for a sweatshirt Robbie just had to have and the clerk typed in my phone number from memory, I thanked the stars that if my boys had to have an addiction that it was soccer. Eventually all the parents in that store will do the same. I just remember that I could be watching reruns of "Cops" rather than the U.S. vs. Brazil and grateful that my children aren't the centerpiece of an episode.
 
 

Bringing Down the House

Susan Boyd

Take one part political rally, another part Mardi Gras, another part pageant drama, and a good twist of sports fever, stir together and serve in an arena seating at least 55,000 people.  That's the rumble that rolled into Chicago last week.  The United States Men's National team faced off against the Honduran Men's National team in a World Cup qualifier at Soldier Field.  For over two hours the venue became the same powerhouse of soccer energy that plays out regularly in stadiums throughout the rest of the world, yet usually only shows its full force here during these infrequent U. S. major soccer events.  Nevertheless this opportunity to experience the electric passion that soccer generates gave American patrons a significant introduction to the reason soccer holds a commanding position in the sports world.   Soccer is more than just a game.

Two years ago, when Robbie spent two weeks in Spain playing soccer with the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, he experienced firsthand the intensity of passion soccer generates.  After a beautiful day spent exploring a mountain top chapel and grotto, he entered the stadium at Barcelona.  He was immediately struck with how the stadium reflected many of the same details he had already witnessed that day.  In the chapel sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows and the flickering candlelight danced off the walls and faces of the worshippers.  In the stadium the setting sun glimmered through the frame of the roof, spilling rosy shafts of light across the seats and the faces of the fans.   Thousands of camera flashes glimmered around the arena while overhead stadium lamps filled the pitch with brilliant light.  Robbie had seen an old woman praying at the chapel, her gnarled hands clasp in supplication.  As he walked to his stadium seats, he saw a man on his knees in a Barcelona jersey fervently praying.  While there weren't crowds in the chapel leaping up and down and bellowing out team chants, the parishioners were joined together by a common bond of worship.  Likewise the fans shared an immediate bond that transcended gender, income, race, and even religion.  For those two hours of the game, every fan shared the same wish and the same loyalty.  No one would suggest that soccer takes the place of faith in anyone's life, but Robbie saw how fans treated soccer with the same serious reverence.

Saturday night a taste of that intensity visited Chicago.  A good percentage of the fans were Honduran.  With a total population of 7.5 million in Honduras I would estimate that .05% were in Chicago at the game.  The U.S. was severely underrepresented, but those who came got a great immersion in "true" soccer.  A kettle drum boomed throughout the game, fans never sat down, flags, scarves, and t-shirts swirled non-stop, and flashes lit up the stands.  Every move of the Honduran team from pre-game to post-game was greeted with a deafening roar.  When the trainers trotted over to the bench, the fans went wild!  The various elements of the experience fed off each other, so that the frenzy of the fans rolled like a wave around and over the arena.  The entire city of Chicago could probably have been lit by the energy generated by the fans.  When Honduras scored in the sixth minute it set off a crescendo of exhilaration that lasted nearly the entire game, even after Landon Donovan successfully scored a PK to tie.  It only waned a bit when a Bocanegra goal sent the U.S. into the lead.  The fact that the home team couldn't generate a larger crowd shows how far soccer stills need to grow here.  Other more marketable sports steal away fans and dollars.  But right now soccer is a great value, so hopefully American fans will recognize what an amazing experience they can have for their admission price.

As the four US Youth Soccer Regional Championships begin, hopefully our youth players will get a taste of the soccer fever that visited the U.S. last week.  In these smaller locations, the international level of fan intensity will seem not only out of place but excessive.  But we can still offer our kids enthusiasm.  As one soccer season winds down and another begins, we can also provide opportunities for our kids to watch matches that don't involve just youth players.  Part of what makes for great fans is that they are educated fans.  That happens by watching games at all levels as often as possible.  Few of us get the chance to go overseas to watch games or attend the World Cup, not to mention World Cup qualifiers, Gold Cup, or professional league games.  But college games are abundant and inexpensive.  Some of the best future players can be seen at these soccer games.  If a major youth tournament comes to your town, take time to go watch a few games.  Many of these tournaments have international youth teams attending where you can possibly catch the new David Beckham or Mia Hamm.  We've had the privilege of seeing many of the present soccer stars when they were just U19 players visiting for a tournament.  No matter the venue, immerse yourself in the games that are readily available throughout America.  Then, at the next international game in the U.S. we won't have to listen to the opposition fans.  We'll bring down the house all on our own.

Follow the moments from the US Youth Soccer Regional and National Championships on http://championships.usyouthsoccer.org