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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". 

 

She Plays Like a Girl

Susan Boyd

The other day at Robbie's high school game, his team mate's little sister was a ball girl. She wore her soccer uniform with socks carefully rolled up to her knees and shorts nearly down to her knees. She took her job seriously and jogged up and down the sidelines following the action keenly and tossing the players a ball when needed. I don't know her age, but I'm guessing it wasn't more than nine. Yet in the heat and over the course of 80 minutes she fulfilled her responsibilities completely. She never wavered in her focus. I was impressed by her intensity and knowledge of the game. Naturally it doesn't hurt to have older siblings who play soccer. There's a certain amount of learning through the osmosis of observation. But lots of kids at her age would have eventually lost interest in the game and spent the time kicking the ball at the fence.

Girls' soccer continues to grow despite the paucity of opportunities after college. While my sons and their friends have hundreds of possibilities to play soccer outside of club, high school, and college, girls have limited access to professional and amateur soccer. The one bright spot is that there are more college scholarships available for girls than for boys. So at least girls have the chance to see more of their college costs offset. But the number is still small enough that no one should count on a significant dent made on overall college expenses. 

Despite the demise of the Women's United Soccer Association, other leagues have moved in to fill the void. Besides amateur leagues that exist in various states such as California and Georgia, there's the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) www.wpsl.info which transition's into the Women's Professional League (WPS) www.womensprosoccer.com and the USL's W League http://wleague.uslsoccer.com.   It's a kick to go on these websites and see players profiled with multiple honors and extensive experience in the sport. Because women soccer players need to train from a young age year-round and push themselves competitively if they want to advance in the sport, their resumes rival the top male players for depth and expertise. Girls need to be able to play internationally, to have top training, and to have access to facilities and teams.

I saw an ad for the WNBA this season that really tickled me. The narrator played off the misconceptions of many people that women's sports can't generate the same excitement, power, and professionalism that men's sports do. So the narrator says (and I'm paraphrasing), "Women are too delicate to take a hit" while clips of players going hard for the ball and shoving competition out from under the basket are played. The narrator continues "The game is all about simple two point plays" while clips of amazing shots far outside the 3 point line or strong drives into the paint and up to the basket roll over the speech. "Girls don't understand the strategy" while film of great, smart moves flash on the screen. "You'd be bored to tears to attend a WNBA game" as a player drives towards the camera, leaps into the air, stuffs one into the basket and lands facing the camera with a fierce look of accomplishment.

I think they need to market women's soccer in the same way. This past week I saw a game between the women of Santa Clara and UCLA. The match was contentious and close. In one play a UCLA forward pushed the ball ahead of her and barreled towards the SC keeper, Meagan McCray, who just saved the ball by stretching, but left herself open and vulnerable. In an instant she was kicked full force in the face. Play stopped and the trainers worked on the keeper who was obviously shaken up and bloodied. But McCray returned to play and held No. 2 ranked UCLA to a 0:0 tie in two overtimes. That's a woman who is not only physically but also mentally tough. That type of perseverance and stamina makes women's soccer not only exciting, but engaging.

While the U.S. Soccer program powers continue to seek a way to make US men's teams competitive in world competition, US women have steadfastly continued to improve their game, win top events including the World Cup and the Olympics, and provide strong role models for young female athletes. They don't get the huge paychecks for professional play, they use the same development system that they used when Mia Hamm started, and they don't get the press that the men's teams do. Yet women soccer players continue to deliver big on the pitch. When I saw that girl focused on being the best ball girl she could be for a high school game I knew that grit and devotion got women where they are in the sport. They don't need much except our support and increased opportunities after college where they can strut their stuff. Check out the schedules of your local college women's teams or any of the pro and semi-pro teams on the websites I've listed, and take your daughter and your son to a game!
 

It's Never Too Late

Susan Boyd

I hate to be late. I go crazy when I'm late, which makes my family crazy. I admit I probably have an unhealthy addiction to time, but at least I let my window panes stay dirty and the dust bunnies peacefully multiply under the furniture. So I have a few good qualities.

But here we are with just two days left in National Youth Soccer Month, and I haven't even mentioned it. The website has had some good articles, games, profiles, and promotions for the month, but not one blog from me. I'm going to say that I planned this; that I wanted to create a bridge from National Youth Soccer Month into the rest of soccer playing months ahead. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Soccer can be found in nearly every country of the world, even tiny Caribbean islands and South Pacific atolls. Celebrating September as National Youth Soccer Month barely scratches the surface of the widespread appeal of and attention to soccer. For most countries in the world, national pride is closely aligned with success or failure on the soccer pitch. While we should observe a month that focuses on all the benefits and enjoyment soccer provides, we should also use the month as a springboard to discovering and participating in the many ways soccer infuses our lives. After all, we spend most weekends watching our kids play, so we have already committed to a nearly year-round soccer attention.

There's a great book, "How Soccer Explains the World," by Franklin Foer, that offers an enticing theory that most of the world's social, economic, and political events can be connected to soccer. While some of the arguments require a suspension of basic geopolitical tenets, the book nevertheless tantalizes the reader with thought-provoking examples of the parallels between soccer and the development of the planet's history. However, since my life has been overtaken by soccer, I'd like to think I've astutely selected the main moving force of the world's advancement rather than just an obsession. That way, every time I attend a game I can claim lofty social and historical motives. Somewhere in the great circle of life, your child's Under-8 game is affecting social change: the proverbial fluttering wings of a butterfly affecting the climate.

Even without these elevated standards, soccer can positively affect lives. Soccer teaches parents and children alike to accept defeat with graciousness and to win with humility. Soccer provides an avenue to interact with our children lovingly and candidly. Soccer offers physical and mental benefits. Soccer crosses all cultural, social, and economic strata without regard to any of them as limiting factors. Soccer can be played by both genders, old and young, and players with physical challenges. Soccer doesn't require any equipment; players can manage with an open area and a cantaloupe if necessary. Soccer brings people together and it can separate them. As the t-shirt says: "Soccer is Life."

So despite National Youth Soccer Month approaching its final days, I'm hoping that the spirit which infused the celebration will continue throughout the year. Make it your goal (don't groan) every month to do something special as it relates to soccer. Try to catch a national team game, any age both men and women, either live or on TV. Go to your local college to see a game. Spend a few hours in the backyard practicing juggling with your player. Hold a soccer birthday party. Make it a point to congratulate every player on your child's team with a positive comment about his or her play. Donate time to TOPSoccer to help kids with physical challenges play the game. Collect your neighborhood's old soccer gear and give to a local charity or to the U.S. Soccer Federation Passback Program. Pick something each month to make soccer special. In that way you guarantee that soccer will influence the world, and more importantly will influence your life.  
 

Lost and Found

Susan Boyd

The home team scored two own goals, three players had to be carried off the field, one player lost his jersey, there were no referees, fans crowded the sidelines, and the coaches spent the entire game micro-managing the action. Sounds like a soccer nightmare! But welcome to the world of U6 soccer where mayhem ensues, pig piles rule, sidelines are meaningless, and fun is had by all. Where else would a player circle the field getting high-fives from all for scoring a goal against his team? Where else would a player stop in front of the goal box mid-dribble to adjust his shin guards before shooting the goal? Where else would a player frustrated by not being able to kick the ball out of a scrum of participants pick up the ball and place it in a more advantageous spot then kick it? Where else would a player run off the field in the middle of a play because he had to go to the bathroom?

I had the pleasure of watching my four year old grandson, Archer, and his team of four, five, and six year olds. Archer's team was the Orange Magic – a name Archer suggested undoubtedly based on the color of the jerseys and his uncle Robbie's club team. Teams played on a field so small it couldn't accommodate the spectators along its short sideline. But parents politely accommodated one another. Rather than team benches, each team spread a blanket out where the kids lounged. Because of the range of ages, there were definitely varying levels of ability. Yet every kid played an equal amount without regard to skill or outcome. The Orange Magic's top scorer had four goals: two for the Magic and two for the opposing team. After the first own goal, the coach asked the team which net they should score in, and in unison the team stretched out their arms, pointed their fingers and indicated the goal ahead of them. Ten seconds later they received the ball, turned around, and fired into the opponent's goal. Then dutifully pointed the right direction when the coach again inquired which net was theirs.

Sometimes when they dribbled out of bounds, the coaches stopped the play and had them throw the ball in. But usually the spectators crowding on the sides kept the play from going too wide, so play just continued regardless of lines. Each team had two coaches on the field trying to maintain some sense of order, but for the most part they were reduced to shouting, "No hands" and "Turn around."  Despite all the chaos, everyone was having fun, except for the occasional tears for losing the ball, or falling down, or being kick accidentally. No one understood when the coaches asked, "Do you want to come in or stay out," since "in" and "out" were cloudy concepts based on understanding what sidelines meant. So it took some time to figure out whether or not a player would sub. In the meantime action would continue with a varying number of players on the field.

The parents and coaches spent most of the game laughing and cheering. I only observed one parent intent on making his little player rise to a higher level by discussing his play with him and coaching from the sidelines. But after the kid left the field to turn somersaults, the parent backed off. The game ended when the coaches said, "One more goal." We got to watch five or six runs up and down the field before a goal was finally scored. I have never laughed so hard with joy at a soccer game. Everyone declared his team the winner which was perfect because we were having too much fun to keep track. The one thing the players did manage to do with perfection was form the line to shake hands after the game and then head to the right spot to get their after game treat.

Last night I attended Robbie's high school game. All the players ran the right direction, didn't accidentally or on-purpose pick up the ball, dribbled inbounds, substituted without reminder or question, and no one ran off the field to the Port-A-John. All that perfection made for an exciting game, but we lost the joy of seeing kids having pure fun without any pressure to win. After the game I didn't have the same ache on my face from smiling so broadly at Archer and his buddies. Of course I cheered with pride when Robbie went "coast to coast" for a goal, out-maneuvering three defenders. Naturally I was delighted when the team was up 2-0 in the first two minutes. Without question I celebrated when his team won. But I realized something was lost in achieving the victory. Not everyone got to play, the coaches were dead-serious barking out instruction, and winning mattered – a lot.  No one had the luxury of just enjoying the moment without considering the consequences of the play.

That's the price paid for evolving from "youth" youth soccer into "competitive" youth soccer. Many players want to evolve and many parents want their players to evolve. But we have to accept that we lose our innocence. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to experience and remember what soccer used to be like on a Saturday morning. I didn't need to have any more investment in the outcome of the game than cheering on all the players and enjoying the moment. Everyone should go experience again where all soccer players came from so we can recapture the unabashed freedom of enjoying the game without any agenda. It's a feel-good warmth that lasts a long time.  
 

They Just Say No

Susan Boyd

A crisp fall day with clear blue skies, a mild wind, leaves just beginning to flutter to the ground, and the awesome screams of a four year old who absolutely, positively doesn't want to play soccer today. Out on the emerald green field scores of other four year olds are having the times of their lives kicking, giggling, running, and generally making mayhem.   But one kid stands on the fringe beyond reasoning. "AHHHH."   And it's your kid!

As parents we want to offer our kids every opportunity possible. We know the importance of the socialization and to some extent the networking sports offer, not to mention the obvious health benefits. But kids will resist our best intentions sometimes for reasons we can't comprehend. We cajole, "See? There's your friend Billy. Why don't you go play with him?" And we're met with a sobbing, "NO!" We bargain, "If you just go play for 10 minutes we can go home." With a look of confusion our child responds with "I want to go home now." We may even threaten, "If you don't go out and play now, we won't come back to soccer again." And our child looks up with total relief in her eyes and says, "Okay." Sometimes you can get your child to sit and watch, but usually once she enters the panic mode, there's no calming her except by leaving.

Besides the obvious embarrassment of having it be your son or daughter creating the scene on the sidelines, there's the additional concerns about shyness, missing out, and being labeled as a quitter.  Experts tell us that children have natural separation anxiety clear up to age seven. Many kids overcome it around age four, but others need additional time to feel secure in leaving their comfort zone. Kindergarten teachers will tell you that certain children have anxiety for weeks before settling into the routine of school. So although it can be disconcerting to pull up to the fields for the first soccer experience, so proud to begin "big kid" activities, and have your child have a total meltdown, some kids just are ready yet.

Nevertheless there are some ways that might help ease the transition for any child. First, make preparing for soccer an adventure. Go pick out some cleats, socks and a ball. Balls come in a dozen colorful and inexpensive options, so let your child make his own choice of ball. Then have him help you label these items so he can take full possession and responsibility for them. If possible designate a special place to keep the gear, so your child knows how important this experience will be.

To help minimize the sudden introduction of a new location and dozens of new kids, you can introduce your player to the field ahead of time. Take her there and play some soccer with her. If you know a child or two who will also be doing soccer invite them along so your own child will feel part of the group even before coming to the first session. While playing let her know that soccer will be just like this but there will be even more kids to play with. Sometimes this little bit of familiarity can overcome initial hesitation.

If you know your child has ambivalence when faced with large groups, new situations, and/or separation, a good idea is to arrive early. Take your son or daughter out to the field and begin some play. As time goes on more and more kids will arrive. Having your child be the center of activity rather than having to break through a barrier of kids to get to the activity can help ease them into group play. As friends arrive bring them into your circle and slowly ease yourself to the sidelines. Taking the time to introduce them to the coaches/teachers when they arrive can also help. Usually the coaches are incredibly enthusiastic and understand young children, so they can help you get your child included in the group.

If all else fails, see if you can get your child to sit and watch. Sometimes seeing his friends having fun will help a kid get over trepidation.   At the very least your child will have the satisfaction of participating in his own quiet way. The next week he may dip his toe in deeper. All you can do is continue to encourage his participation and make the experience as positive as possible.

Most importantly don't consider your child a quitter if he or she absolutely insists on leaving. Try to reintroduce the experience the next week. But if your child can't be persuaded, most reputable organizations will allow you to apply the fees from one session to another later one. That way you can give your child the time to grow more secure. Most kids hear about soccer from their friends and get their enthusiasm tweaked through those discussions. So over time most kids become secure enough to participate.

So if it is your child having the meltdown, don't despair and don't force him or her to participate. Just chalk it up to childhood development that each child travels at his or her own speed. Believe me when I say from experience that I have had both kids and grandkids who initially balked at playing soccer and now play regularly – even in college. I also know kids who never warm to it, which means they may not want to play sports or may want to play a singular sport. When they say no, we need to listen and not let ourselves be swayed by our expectations or by our concern for what the neighbors might think. Let no be no for a time and then try again. Kids are notoriously fickle, so yes will probably be the answer soon.