Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer

Clubhouse

Like our Facebook!

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority

Marketplace

Wilson Trophy Company

Happy Family

Nesquik

Capri Sun

Active Family Project

Active Family Project

Olive Garden

Play Positive Banner

Print Page Share

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". 

 

Camp Fever

Susan Boyd

Spring has barely begun. We have snow promised for the weekend in the Midwest, Denver just had its biggest blizzard of the season, and ice dams are causing the Red River to rise above flood stage. So talking about summer may seem premature. But the time to think about summer soccer camps is now because the most popular camps will be full by mid-April. Soccer camps come in as many sizes, shapes, and skill levels as there are registered youth soccer players, so figuring out what camp best fits your child's needs can be as daunting as selecting a college and nearly as expensive.

Depending on your player's age and skill level, he or she might best be served by any of the local soccer camps offered by clubs and professional teams in your area. Check with your own club to see camps they offer throughout the summer. These are traditionally the best options for younger players and provide good training for a reasonable cost, often under $200 for a week. If your club has summer camps, it allows players to continue to train together over the summer and to have the same coaches. That type of consistency really appeals to younger players because it helps diffuse the awkward and scary "first-timer" experience. If you do have a professional team in the area that has camps, they usually use their players as coaches and advisors. Kids love the opportunity to engage with their soccer idols who can often inspire them to work harder and pay attention.

Another local option would be high school camps. These usually focus on older players who are middle school age and up. These camps can be a great introduction to the next level of soccer commitment and give players a chance to test themselves in a more competitive environment. Many high schools offer camps just before the high school season begins to help players get acquainted with their teammates and to improve their level of conditioning.

Colleges sponsor camps to fulfill three needs. First, college camps bring in substantial revenue for a college soccer program. Second, these camps give coaches a chance to see talent they might not see when on their recruiting trips. Third, college camps get the program's name out to the public. Players who have their hearts set on being recruited by a particular college might consider attending the college camp. The chances of being recruited at one of these camps are minimal, but they do happen. My own son benefited from attending a college camp where he eventually got recruited. But for recruitment purposes most college camps are a very expensive way to be seen. Your best bet is to find college camps where several colleges will provide coaches so that you widen your observation base. Going to a local college camp can be beneficial because it gives players insight to what a college level program requires of its players, and you can avoid the costs of an overnight camp.

Camps can be day camps or resident camps. Day camps would, by necessity be local, while resident camps allow players to stretch their boundaries. Most resident camps run about five days to a week and the cost will be about $100 to $150 a day. Selecting a resident camp requires a close study of the brochures for the camp. Are linens included? How many meals are included? How much additional spending money is needed? The cost of a camp can look good at first, but because of additional expenses end up costing more than an all-inclusive camp. Resident camps usually provide transportation to and from the camp and major transportation hubs such as airports and train stations. But you'll want to figure out if there is an additional cost and if that cost has to be paid in cash. Resident camps can be a great way for kids to experience some independence and to meet soccer players from all over who share their skill level.

The ultimate resident camp would be abroad. More and more opportunities exist for foreign travel where either an individual camper can take advantage of camps in South America, Europe, and Asia or entire teams can travel to compete with foreign youth teams. These programs vary in expense depending on the length of the trip, the distance traveled, and the additional amenities such as sightseeing, but most come in around $2300 to $2900. If you can afford them, they are an awesome experience for any teenage soccer player. Robbie and Bryce had the opportunity to train with the Queens Park Rangers and play local London youth clubs. A few years later Bryce trained with his club team at Newcastle and then traveled around playing three Great Britain youth teams. Robbie traveled with his club team to Spain and played against five different Spanish youth teams. These international summer experiences helped the boys understand that soccer has nuances based on the country and soccer has so many more levels of greatness above what they are playing today. They also got to see different cultures, different landscapes, and different history. 

To find out about camps, check your local soccer supply store. They will usually have brochures for most of the local camps and some of the international camps. Be sure to ask teammates and neighbors for recommendations as well. If you have a goalkeeper, you will probably want to find a camp exclusively for goalkeepers. You can also check on line for various camps. A good starting point is to contact your local US Youth Soccer State Association. However, once you locate the camps in which you have an interest, you can search them on the internet to see what has been said about them. Like anything in life, what suits one player may not suit another, so be sure to read between the lines to see if the camp experience would be appropriate for your child. The longevity of a camp also speaks volumes on how it is regarded by campers, parents, and coaches.   This is not to say a brand new camp won't be terrific too.   Ask your son's and daughter's coaches about the various camps as well. They may know the director or coaches on staff, so can speak to the professionalism or quality of the camp.

Most importantly, don't stretch your budget too thin to provide camp. While the glossy brochures of the more expensive and farther reaching camps can be enticing, perfectly good camps that don't break the bank can be found right in your backyard. A week of camp isn't going to turn your two left footed player into David Beckham or Mia Hamm, so concentrate on what a week can do – provide good outdoor activity and be fun!! That will give you the best value for your dollar.
 

Hard Choices

Susan Boyd

I like to watch the show "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" about a couple who had a set of twins. Then they decided to try for one more child and ended up with sextuplets. It's a reality show, where they follow the family a few days each week to see what they are up to. I like the show because it gives me hope that I can continue to handle the much smaller family I have and it inspires me with the relative calm the parents possess.   I also find myself wondering what they would do if all the kids wanted to do sports, and they all chose different sports. I'd like to see them stay calm in the face of that scheduling. Yes, I'm inherently nasty when I get jealous.

Motherhood is all about choices. Some choices are easier than others: do I scrub the toilets or take the kids to the park? Other choices are more difficult: do I let my 12 year old watch an R rated movie that all his friends have seen? Most of our choices have adamant naysayers ready to judge the decisions we make. "You aren't breastfeeding?" "She's not potty trained yet?" "You let him have soda?" We all know the instant we broke down and bought the Barbie doll for our daughter despite our misgivings. We remember the watershed moment we gave in to that "rated T for Teens" video game. Eventually our best intentions can't withstand the outside pressure from TV ads, our kids' playmates, even other parents.  We cave and feel guilty. But we also discover that our daughters and sons don't have bad body images and don't end up serial killers. We lament the loss of innocence and move on to the next round of choices that likely will involve body piercing and tattoos.

Some choices are inevitable and unavoidable. I hate the choice I have to make when Bryce has a game in one place and Robbie's at another. It requires some creativity to take some of the sting out of the experience. Cell phones have eased the separation dilemma appreciably. I can get and give regular updates on a game's progress. It's not the same as being there, but it does allow me to feel a part of the action in a small way. Video taping is out of the question. First of all, we barely have enough hours in the day to see games live and to get through all the EPL games we've TiVoed. Second, I'm terrible at filming. Every time I sense something good is going to happen, I have to see it with my own two eyes, so I lower the camera. We have an entire library of soccer tapes that I call anti-highlights. It's kind of like someone came in and cut out the best moments of the games leaving us the generic bits. We can watch Robbie darting towards the goal, and then it cuts to the ground while a cheering soundtrack plays over the jiggly shots of grass and feet. By the time I rotate the camera back, it's to see the team lined up for a kick-off. Or when the opponents get ready to fire, I drop the camera to watch Bryce's spectacular save, and then get the camera back in focus in time to see the team receiving his punt or throw. Any college coach who wants to see a highlight DVD of our boys will need to use his imagination.

Other choices have to be made in the quagmire of societal expectations. For example, the boys don't remember, but I used to make dinner every night. Once sports began to take a serious foothold in our lives, I had to decide what to do about supper. When practice ended, the boys wanted to eat immediately. I tried the Crock Pot route, but you can only eat so many meals cooked in a ceramic tub. Luckily we had a wonderful family restaurant on the way home from the fields. They had great, fresh food, which was reasonably priced. We ate there so often, that when we parked our car out front, the waitresses would see and have our drinks waiting for us at our favorite table! Despite the fact that we were eating out instead of at home, we were eating together, talking, and free of television. I admit to a bit of rationalizing the worthiness of that choice, but overall I still say it was a good one. Still, I had admitting to that choice because it involves me not living up to the mother code of behavior.

And I have paid for that choice which has led to what I call the "menu mentality." The boys think I should run a short order kitchen. If I make spaghetti I'm told "I don't want spaghetti. I want a burger." So I naturally tell the story of growing up with four brothers and sitting down for dinner every night. My dad would arrive home at 6:10 p.m., get a glass of milk and two cookies, sit on the couch and read the newspaper until 6:30 p.m. when we would all sit in the dining room (yes, the dining room) to cheerfully and gratefully eat whatever my mother cooked for us. We never ate out. The boys just look at me like I'm a dinosaur. Rather than battle "menu mentality" I've decided I'll cook regularly again when the boys are gone to college. My hope is that when they return they'll be so glad not to have dorm food that they will gobble up whatever I serve. I made the decision because I don't want to fight anymore. My decision is probably not your choice and you may judge me for it, but I'm doing what works, and I choose to save my battles for things like tattoos. What we ultimately choose in life is dictated by all the choices we have made before and less and less by what others will think of those choices. So I figure it's inevitable. Those perfect parents, Jon and Kate, will have eight kids running around with sleeve tattoos and nose rings. It will vindicate all my choices good or bad.
 

Sticks and Stones

Susan Boyd

For some inexplicable reason I have been watching "American Idol" this season. Other than some of the preliminary rounds with all the awkward, tone deaf William Hungs believing they can actually win a recording contract, I've pretty much ignored the program. This year the nephew of one of my husband's patients, Danny Gokey, is on the show, so I guess that's the curiosity. What I've discovered is that the real point of the series isn't for the contestants to win. No, it's for the public to judge them and not just with a weekly vote. Idol bashing has risen to the status of a new public sport. Each contestant is run through the ridicule mill facing criticism about wardrobe, dance, tattoos, voice, facial hair, hair, hair color, and personality. Simon Cowell doesn't even figure in these slam downs. Normally thoughtful and rational people suddenly become nasty, back-biting fiends when they discuss the show.

Reality shows in general bring out the armchair critic in us. We have an opinion about every aspect of someone's else life just because we can. Having "The Bachelor" in our living rooms one hour a week for twelve weeks gives us the right to decide who his wife should be. We can get as upset about someone getting voted out of the tribe as we would if it were our own mother being sent to the gulags. So perhaps it is no surprise that we find ourselves offering up our critiques on an eight year old's ability to pass under pressure or a coach's choices for the starting line-up. We have been validated as experts. After all, the fate of America's Idol rests in our hands!

We live in a media world where people's fates can be decided with the beep of a buzzer or a cell phone call to the number on the screen. We zap our enemies instantly on the video screen. We can order anything (and I mean that literally) on Ebay with a few clicks of our mouse. So it's no wonder we think we have the right to offer running commentary on our child's soccer game.

Stand on the side lines of any soccer game and you will hear a chorus of opinions freely and loudly expressed. We criticize the opponents. We criticize our fellow players. We criticize the coaches. We criticize the referees. We even criticize the parents. You've heard the comments and, admit it, you've made the comments. "He can't pass." "She's a ball hog." "I swear I could coach better than he can." And those are the just the observations I can repeat on a family web site.  The more passionate we become, the more X-rated the vocalizations grow. We forget we aren't in our living room shouting at the screen, "He's an idiot for picking her." When we're at the soccer field we're in a crowd of people who actually love "the idiot" and think he's doing a bang up job.

Most players are too young and too innocent to be the object of our judgment. How often have you spent the ride home in the car critiquing the entire game and judging the individual player performances?  Such evaluations can model for our impressionable children undesirable behaviors. They are learning to aim the magnifying glass at others, rather than on themselves. And if you think those comments don't spread beyond the car, then you live in a fool's paradise. Of course sometimes we make our comments public. Sideline chatter regularly turns to assessments of the players, frequently focusing on the opposition. The problem is that in the close confines those comments might be overheard by the parent of our target. Those stinging remarks can affect relationships not to mention stirring up immediate conflict. I've seen my share of sideline battles brought on by an overheard observation. I came close to erupting when someone accused my eleven year old son of "flopping." I was surprised at how much I was personally offended by the remark. It showed me the power of words.

We grow up hearing "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," which is a noble concept and totally unrealistic. Words hurt us all the time. We have all been the object of some form of ridicule which you think would give us pause when dishing it out. But our culture and the sense that in this huge world we are somehow anonymous embolden us. We may express our views in hushed tones under our breath to the person next to us and believe it won't go any further, but the grape vine curls everywhere. Our words have tremendous power to harm. While we'll never be able to totally stop the urge to criticize, we can all try to be more mindful of where and when we exercise our expertise. So keep delivering those reality show verdicts. After all, Simon Cowell's balance sheet depends on your continued disparagement of the contestants.
 

Sports Complex

Susan Boyd

My three year old granddaughter plays shy around everyone, but put on some Little Richard and the girl goes wild. She bobs, weaves, claps, hops, twists, and twirls. Every inhibition she showed moments before melts away in the pounding piano chords and wails of the music. The girl can't help herself. This need to move about and use our bodies begins prenatal. Every mother and father knows about the kicks and rustles of their child in the womb. Some swear babies react to music and activity before birth. Once released into the world, babies definitely love to flail their limbs about.

So sports are a natural outlet for children. Tumbling tops the charts for the really young, but several team sports are now available for children as young as three. Parents, fearing they might miss a window of opportunity for their budding athletes, rush to get them into as many sports as possible. Adding to the pressure to do it all are TV programs which highlight precocious youngsters who golf with pros at age five or play junior national tennis at eight. However, the majority of kids are playing sports for which they have no idea of the rules or even that games are governed by rules. Either they or their parents or both just like the activity.

Youth sports are a booming business increasing every year as more and more kids and parents clamor for a wide variety of options. Over 41 million kids are involved in youth sports with many of those playing multiple sports. Lacrosse has increased from 82,000 players in 2001 to 204,000 players in 2005.  USA Hockey has 350,000 members.  Little League has close to 2.2 million players. US Youth Soccer registers 3.2 million players a year and CNN reports that the total number of youth soccer players may be as high as 17 million! Add the kids participating in recreational sports such as skateboarding, skiing, and bicycling and the numbers explode.

There was a time when play meant "Go outside until dinner." This unstructured play allows kids room for imagination and for taking pride in their own undirected accomplishments. After building a deck onto our house we had a huge collection of odds and ends of wood, nails, chicken wire, brackets, and metal. We became the hardware store for the neighborhood.   Kids would come into our garage and pull out materials for building skateboard ramps, hideouts, and boxes to capture insects and frogs. Projects in various states of completion filled our courtyard and provided hours of intense involvement. Then there was the day we got a huge box with some delicate china pieces wrapped in literally miles of bubble wrap. The kids ended up laying the wrap out on the road and riding their bikes over it making the most amazing music out of snap, crackle, and pop. Those experiences have their place building memories and developing reasoning and discovery skills.

However more and more we are shifting to organized sports as parents feel the peer pressure to ride the youth sports wave. We fear our kids will miss out on popularity or being part of the group if they aren't in every conceivable sport available. We need to be careful not to transfer that pressure to our kids by over scheduling. Kids end up facing conflicting practices and games and the rush to do it all. The best lesson we can give our children is that of fully completing a commitment. Letting kids miss a practice for one sport so they can play in a game of another sport teaches them that they are above the team and their needs come first. That's the exact opposite of the principles kids should be learning from sports. And let's face it, most of our tiny athletes won't turn out to be sports celebrities, but we do want them to grow up to be honorable human beings. We need to be reinforcing the idea of teamwork, commitment, making choices, and respecting rules and leaders while giving kids the room to have down time.

Balancing multiple spots is possible if you use the seasons to subdivide and conquer. Kids can play soccer in the spring and football in the fall. Or do soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. It's our job to keep track of what conflicts exist and guide them to decide which sport they will choose for the season, but make it clear they can't do them all at once. Indulging them sends the wrong message and leads to huge headaches later when the conflicts can't be resolved. Sports for kids under 12 should be primarily for exercise, giving them a taste of possibilities, and for learning the life lessons that sports offer.

Most doctors and physical therapists will support keeping a variety of sports in a child's life for as long as possible. The argument is that specialization too early will result in repetition injuries and uneven body development during the growing years. While I agree with the physical reasons not to specialize, I really think the best argument is that kids need experiences to enrich their lives and lay a strong foundation for future decisions.  Every sport opens the door to new friends and new ideas. I'm a soccer junkie, and I wish all my grandkids would eventually select soccer as a sport they wish to continue into adolescence, but I'm also a realist.   Not every kid is an athlete and not every athlete has the same strengths and interests. Even multi-sport athletes, who are few and far between, have one sport in which they excel even if they have strong abilities in other sports. No child can discover what part of her body responds best athletically and how her body will grow until she's much older. Tennis has a different skill set and body type than football, so kids need to complete their development before being able to wisely select a personal sport. Until then, they should try out as many sports as scheduling and finances allow.

Parents need to also accept that sports may not be the arena where their child's talents shine. Not doing well at sports doesn't mean the child is a failure. Unfortunately we have a "jock" culture which places athletes on a more visible if not higher pedestal than those who achieve in the arts or the sciences. Not many kids want to wear an "Einstein" endorsed button-down shirt, while every third child sports a Bret Favre jersey. Yet we have to keep in mind that lack of public adulation doesn't diminish the accomplishments and contributions non-athletes make to our lives. There's an art culture out there and a math culture and any number of other cultures which our children can join. We would do well to challenge our players with those opportunities also.   Pick a season to do pottery classes or go to science camp. 

It all comes down to providing the widest possible range of experiences we can for our kids. Sports should be a portion of that range but not overtake it. In reality most kids will not pursue sports into high school and even fewer will continue beyond high school. But sports will provide the foundation for good health and strong bodies. Sports can offer an outlet for the rest of our lives. So we should give kids several options in their early years. We should temper it all with free time and other pursuits. We don't want to give any kid a complex from sports; instead we want to give them the intellectual and motivational skills to someday design and build a sports complex.