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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". 

 

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.

 

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.