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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". 

 

Off Kilter

Susan Boyd

I pride myself on my organization, but recent events have placed me in a whirlpool of chaos. Suddenly all my careful planning, filing, labeling, and storing have dissolved into 150 boxes with vague notations such as "master bedroom coats". Since I have never in my life stored a coat in my master bedroom, I am totally confused. I may have another woman's box. She may be as organized as I but sitting in her torn up home staring at a box that says "Office Soccer Schedule"" and withering with bewilderment. Unless her own children play soccer, in which case she is probably tearing into the box hoping for sudden and complete order.

Now that soccer season has begun in earnest, I am undone. I don't have my two foot by three foot calendar on the wall where I can fill in every detail of our complicated lives. I don't know where half my soccer necessities chortle in hiding. Random gloves and hats appear from various open boxes without rhyme or reason. Even Robbie has begun to feel my panic. Where he once depended upon me to be able to find any lost or misplaced soccer item, he has had to accept that I no longer have the rock solid and uncanny ability to zero in on the truant article. I am as lost and misplaced as his soccer gear.   The well-oiled machine of our soccer lives now coughs and sputters without dependable results.

So you can imagine the absolute elation and relief when I discovered my soccer survival box intact in the garage. Untouched by the disaster and escaping packing by the movers, the box sat on the shelf like a beacon of hope and tranquility. Within its cardboard corral my rain jackets, umbrellas, paper towels, wet wipes, and other soccer accessories rested tranquilly awaiting their return to my van. Robbie might not have all his uniform pieces, but we have toilet paper for the port-a-johns. Last weekend we traveled to Indiana for Midwest Regional League competition and had occasion to tap into the box for rain gear and umbrellas. We were even able to provide umbrellas for others who had not yet set up their car for soccer season. I felt partially back in control.

This chaos has put lots of things into perspective. For instance, I recognize that my children aren't the only ones who forget to pack their cleats in their bag and realize it after two hours on the road. I'm not the only mother who runs through a check list with my kids before we depart. The phrase "If you keep everything in your bag, you won't lose it" echoes through many a home. Smelly, month old wet shorts sit buried in the bottom of thousands of soccer bags. The mad rush to locate a ball pump repeats itself dozens of times at tournaments. So while organization can be a wonderful way to avoid crises, it isn't completely reliable.

Once, when I was a manager, I somehow lost the player pass, medical release and birth certificate of a player. We were at a tournament that was run by someone even more compulsive than I am, so rules were meant to be followed to the letter. The tournament was in Florida and families had given up their spring breaks, spent hundreds of dollars to travel down, and naturally expected to watch their children play. So I had to figure out how to solve this crisis. I tore through all my paperwork, which had been completely in order prior to boarding our plane – believe me I had checked and double checked everything. So I hoped that somehow the paper fairy would fly down, point her wand in some dark recess of my brief case, and illuminate the missing paperwork. No such luck. Then I had a Eureka moment. I knew this player was in Wisconsin US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and I knew that we had to have a birth certificate on file plus a player profile with picture to participate. I called a friend in the State Association's office, she faxed down a new card, the birth certificate, a blank medical release, and the photo. In fifteen minutes I had reproduced the player pass (not laminated, but who cared), had the parents fill out a new medical release, and returned to the registrar with ALL my paperwork. Did I find the missing paperwork? Yes – apparently the paper fairy was having a bad day – the clear protective folder was stuck to another folder. 

The moral of the story is that no matter how organized any of us might be the fickle finger of fate has a way of demolishing the best system. So we need to be prepared not to panic, to be problem solvers, and to accept a lack of organization as part of being human. Ultimately even the worst case scenario can be resolved. We need to keep our eye on the real purpose of all this structure – letting our kids play this great game and have fun doing it. Until all my boxes are open, all my papers sorted, and everything put in their rightful place, I'll have to accept a certain amount of bedlam in my life. The games will go on without my structured input. And they'll be just as good.
 
 
 

Soccer is Life

Susan Boyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protective Custody

Susan Boyd

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

It's Funny Because It's True

Susan Boyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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