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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". 

 

One Size Fits All

Susan Boyd

Bryce returned to college on Tuesday to begin captain's practices and discover how much out of shape he really is. Just prior to departure he decided he needed new cleats, so Monday we went to the local soccer store, Stefan's, to see if he could get a pair. Stefan's earns about 25% of its gross income off of our family. If we don't come into the store for two or three weeks, the manager sends police to our home to check if we haven't all perished in a freak soccer accident. We know all the salespeople so well that we are in their family Christmas card photos. Naturally I exaggerate, but not by much.

So we popped into Stefan's for what I assumed would be about a fifteen minute visit. I had forgotten who I was with. Bryce brings indecision to an entirely new plane that surpasses even Brett Favre's inability to decide if he is retired or not. So I had plenty of time in the store to observe while Bryce pondered his cleat options. I enjoyed watching families come and go purchasing soccer gear for kids from five to fifteen. In all cases certain factors remained constant, bringing me full circle in my soccer experiences.

First factor is style. No matter the level of skill or dedication, players opt for style first when picking any article of soccer gear that the public can see. In addition I have discovered that shin guards have a coolness factor that has to be addressed. So even though shin guards are hidden beneath cool socks, they nonetheless need to be the necessary style since they will be seen by teammates before being inserted in the socks. An eight year old player whined at this mother that the cleats she wanted to buy were ""totally gross"" even though they were kangaroo leather and a great fit. Cleat manufacturers have picked up on this and have added gimmicks to boots in the hopes of snaring players who are looking for that style factor. Most of these gimmicks boost the price of cleats by a hefty percentage that parents pay as part of the kid surcharge assessed to us upon our offspring's birth.

Second factor is conformity. Style is okay so long as it is the right kind of style. Kids will be the first to buy the bright orange cleats, but only if their favorite soccer player wears them as well. Once one pair of orange cleats debuts at a game, the next game will host a half dozen pairs. That is until the dark green pair makes its appearance. And so it goes. Cutting edge works only as long as there are several making the cut.

Third factor is perceived advantage.   Kids will purchase a certain ball or shorts or cleats based on some advantage that the gear offers them. The perceived advantages are also part of the gimmicks manufacturers use (see first factor). Right now one cleat has a compartment in the sole filled with sand. Supposedly the sand shifts when a player kicks the ball, giving the kick extra power. I think it looks like a Salvador Dali hour glass – aesthetically pleasing, but not really practical. One young lady nearly gagged when the salesperson suggested a good, solid, inexpensive soccer ball. "That one doesn't have the extended sweet spot," she huffed, pointing to a $150 ball with an actual bull's eye printed on it. Her mother said the same thing I did when the boys wanted official UEFA or World Cup balls topping $180, "You can lose a cheap ball just as easily as an expensive ball." This is why Stefan's only keeps one of every style of expensive ball in stock. Too many moms with common sense make for poor sales.

Fourth and final factor is need.   When a player is faced with the immovable common sense of a parent, they will play the "need" card. "But I need a green shirt for practice." It just happens to be a $75 official Mexican National team jersey. "I need flat shoes for indoor practice." They just happen to be cool enough to also wear to school.   Need is the trump card of player shopping. What parent can argue against need? While awaiting Bryce's decision on his cleats I heard the word need over a dozen times, and in every case the kids got what she or he "needed." Come to think of it, my trip to Stefan's began with Bryce telling me he "needed" new game cleats.

Did he finally decide between the Vapors or the Total 90s? He did. And I am proud to say that although style nearly won out, he ultimately decided based on the fit and the advantage the particular cleats offered him in his punting. But college or mini-soccer, players aren't really too different in how they select their gear…it's just that some take longer at it than others.
 

Classic Soccer

Susan Boyd

Last night I watched "Music of the Heart," a Meryl Streep movie about a woman who teaches children at a school in Harlem to play the violin, and in the big finish the kids get to play in Carnegie Hall. For the most part it's a slight and clichéd movie with the expected scenes of kids with problems and resistant parents and the uncaring music director, ya da, ya da, ya da. But that isn't what caught my attention. I use headphones so I don't disturb anyone and from these poured the most glorious classical music. Then it struck me: when this music was created, very few had the privilege of hearing it.

Unlike me, in my pajamas, under my covers, watching a movie, the contemporaries of Mozart and Bach and Beethoven had to get dressed up, arrange to go out, enter a concert hall, and then wait in the expectant air for the first notes to float out to them. They had to make an effort in order to hear this music. The experience couldn't be trivial in any way. The composers demanded the best of themselves in order to present something of substance to their patrons. These masterpieces required translation from the score by the musicians and the conductor; an orchestra of individuals all committed to creating the artist's vision and with the talent to do so. The audience had but this one opportunity to hear the composite creation. There was no "hitting the charts with a bullet" for Hayden. Subsequent performances would each have a different energy and outcome based on audience reaction, conductor interpretation, and musicians' subtleties. Everyone involved understood the interplay necessary to bring each musical moment to fullness.

While it may seem a stretch to move from film to concert to soccer, it really isn't. Classical concert music was a collaboration just as soccer can be. Around the world fans understand that soccer requires their participation as part of that game's creation. Fans can manipulate a game's outcome at the very best and at the very least enrich the game with their energy. There are fans who watch games on television, but out of necessity, not out of laziness or comfort. Games are regularly sold out and rivalries fuel the attendance even further. So, watching on TV means watching from the cheap seats. You can tape a game and replay it, but it will always be exactly the same game with the same outcome, just as a taped live musical performance will be. You may notice a particular play better, but not a single nuance fluctuates or disappears. Each game, each concert stands as its own special moment. 

Here in the U.S., we are slowly warming to the game as more and more youth take up the sport and increase the fan base with their parents, siblings, and grandparents. Watching a game live adds that dimension of audience to the "composition" the coaches, players, and referees create on the field. We have to get dressed up, arrange to go out, enter a stadium, and then wait for the first expectant play to explode on the pitch. Youth games offer some of that partnership between fans and actors, but they are so intimate that ironically the fans take on too big a role. The real energy and balance come as the size of the fan contingent grows.

Sunday I watched the LA Galaxy play Red Bull in front of 45,000 fans. The game was thrilling on so many levels, and in the stands a form of theatre was taking place that complemented the theatre on the field. At home I could cheer or moan or gasp, but I couldn't avail myself completely of the energy that the fans exuded. I couldn't be a full participant. The last five official minutes of the game and the four minutes of stoppage time proved to be as thrilling as any nine minutes of soccer have been. LA tied the game in the first two minutes of stoppage and then had three near goals in the next two minutes. Each wave of movement towards the goal gave off that dangerous electricity of anticipation which gets multiplied if you are so lucky as to be in the stands. I wanted to be transported to the stadium and fling myself into a seat with the same ferocity that those fans enjoyed. I'm neither an LA Galaxy nor Red Bull supporter, but I am a supporter of great, exciting, full-blooded soccer!

My rally now is to get anyone reading this blog out of his or her living room and into a stadium. With the phenomenal growth of soccer come the varied opportunities to become part of the composition. Most states have multitudes of opportunities to watch soccer as a part of a crowd. Go watch a college game, see amateur games which now include several national leagues for both men and women, see professional games, and should any overseas teams come within 200 miles of your home for a friendly, take the time to see them. While the chance to see increasingly exciting levels of soccer should be enough to get you out, I still say experiencing a game with tens of thousands of fans roaring and gesticulating around you makes the event both powerful and memorable. You have the ability to become part of the immediate and singular creation. There's nothing like it. Just remember that if you do attend a classical music concert, please don't use your air horn to show your appreciation for a great prelude. The comparison stops there.
 

Speed Bumps

Susan Boyd

Do you ever have one of those weeks?  I'm having one.  First the transmission went on my car.  I know – shocker – just shy of 200,000 miles.  The nerve of Toyota to build such a flimsy system!  Then my dryer motor went.  Since you all have soccer players and its summer and they sweat, you know how terrible it is to lose your dryer.  And I don't even own a clothes line or clothes pins, but I will have to go get those things because my dryer is so old that it will be a week before they can locate a new motor.  Then the TV refused to turn on.  I have a service plan, so I thought, "Lucky me, at least this won't cost."  But costs come in other forms than money.  I didn't realize that a service plan wasn't a guarantee of service.  The TV broke July 16th and the first service appointment was July 30th.  I think the dispatcher on the phone sensed that he was dealing with a fragile spirit when I said, "You’re kidding me!" with that crazed, hysterical voice my kids know means trouble.  He quickly searched for a better appointment, and so as I write this I am waiting for the service rep to show up.  As straws and camels' backs go, I got a doozy.  Bryce called last night.  Nothing good comes after this conversation opener:  "Mom, you're not going to like this . . . !"  Bryce's car was stranded 20 miles west of our house on a freeway off-ramp.  By the way, Bryce's second sentence was, "I didn't do anything!" because I am sure he heard that crazed, hysterical voice beginning to rise.  He got the car towed to a garage and spent the night at his girlfriend's parents' home since I didn't have transportation to go get him, and called this morning to say it is probably the clutch cable and still under warranty.  I expect the toilets to back up at any moment.

Before the TV broke I got to watch Abby Wambach have one of those weeks too.  The U.S. Women’s National Team was playing the Brazilian Women's National Team in a pre-Olympic "friendly."  I use the term loosely since both teams approached the game with the same intense competitive spirit as if it were the Olympic finals.  In one aggressive play Wambach ran for the ball and met a Brazilian player going full speed with the same purpose.  Wambach ended up on the ground, raised her head and signaled for help.  She had snapped both her leg bones below the knee.  She was remarkably calm as they applied an inflatable splint and then lifted her unto a gurney and drove her off the field.  She even managed a thumb’s up.  But the Olympics were no longer her future.  At that moment I am quite sure she would have gladly traded her broken leg for my broken appliances and vehicles.   She will be repaired, and according to my husband, the expert on TV viewed injuries, she should be as good as new in about two months.  So while she has plenty of soccer in front of her, she may never again have the Olympics, something she trained for and dreamed about most of her life. 

Her injury shows how tenuous a sport’s career can be.  Robbie is getting ready to go to a soccer camp, and I have been bemoaning the lack of communication from the camp about things like what to bring and medical release forms.  I made the joke that if they didn't want a signed medical release then we could just sue them for anything.  Immediately Robbie "I Want To Get Rich Quick" Boyd asked, "What do you think I'm worth – I mean ballpark."  I told him that right now he was merely potential as a soccer player, so if he had a career ending injury, he unfortunately would also not yet have a career that could be valued.  But then I thought a bit more about it and realized that his potential college scholarships would be affected resulting in a financial effect on his future.  This also got me thinking again about the frenzy to train kids in order to get a sport’s scholarship to college and how a Roth IRA or a college fund are much better bets for paying for college than banking on athletic skills.  You only have to realize that when Abby began her chase for the ball she was going to the Olympics; three seconds later she was not. 

While most soccer injuries heal within six months, they can have other lasting effects.  One of Bryce's teammates broke his wrist during the chaos in the box after a corner kick.  He’d been a good player with potential and returned to playing soccer a few months later.  But he wasn’t the same.  He had become timid, avoided contact, and hung back during aggressive plays.  Within six months he had quit soccer.  Another of Bryce's teammates, a goalkeeper, had been on the regional team for three years, colleges were showing great interest, and he had affectively bumped Bryce off his starting sport.  But in his senior year he quit high school soccer and ultimately all soccer.  He just didn’t like the pressure.  Robbie went to camp this summer with a player who had gotten a full ride from a college, hesitated in committing, and ended up without a scholarship and without a place to play college soccer.  He decided to do a fifth year of high school so he could start the process all over again in the hopes of still securing a scholarship. 

So long as we have our health and our family, life is good.  All the bumps along the way prove Nietzsche's axiom, "That which does not kill me makes me stronger."  But some bumps end up being seismic in their impact.  Abby Wambach will go on to play in the Women's World Cup and perhaps in the 2012 Olympics.  She will definitely play in the new professional women’s soccer league.  But I’m sure that she is also distraught over missing these Olympics.   We each need to measure the relative impact of the calamities in our lives and deal with them appropriately.    If your child is set on playing college soccer, the opportunities definitely exist for most competent and driven players.  But if you are set on your child getting a scholarship to play college soccer, you may need to adjust those expectations.  And if you are banking on a sport's scholarship and for any reason your child ends up not playing that sport, you will need to accept it is one of those bumps in life.   I think Abby's thumb's up was her way of showing she accepted her fate and was looking beyond the disappointment.  Now if my neighbors can just look beyond the string of boxer shorts drying in the sun this weekend, we’ll all be ahead of the game.

 

A View from the Sidelines

Susan Boyd

Today I sat and "supervised" my son's high school team during captain's practices. Team captains gather the HS players together two or three times a week to practice in the month leading up to the beginning of the season. Robbie's team is practicing at another local high school which required an adult to be present at all times with the permit for use of the fields. Tag I'm it.

The upside of sitting on the sidelines during these practices is that I get to observe my son as a leader. This is the same son who can't remember to bring his laundry down every morning or take it back up stairs every night. This is the same son who spends four hours a day playing Halo. This is the same son who calls me from school and asks me to bring the backpack he forgot. So watching him take charge of twenty-three players overwhelmed me with both pride and wonder. 

Making that passage from child to adult is never easy or guaranteed. But I do think that involvement in sports helped my children learn the lessons of cooperation, sacrifice, humility, time management, setting and achieving goals, and adapting – the very behaviors that translate to adulthood. The journey goes in fits and starts, but I got a glimpse of the finished product today on the soccer field. I have also seen my older son grow. The journey has been anything but smooth, but it is nearing its completion with every important accomplishment. He wants to start this year on his college team and that means beating out the senior goalkeeper. Bryce's fitness has been an issue, so he has begun a rough and steady program for making himself fitter and muscular. I get to watch the progress since he does his weight lifting in the family room. I am sharing all the ooofs and ughs that accompany the exercises. As he literally grows in front of me physically, I see him growing responsibly as well.

On the flip side, I had to decide how much to be involved as the kids moved through their sports lives. It's hard not to meddle when we all want so much for our kids and we feel we can see the big picture better than they can, but I've discovered ultimately it is better to let them decide for themselves with whatever input I can give. This year, for example, I would much rather that my son plays with a local club. He should be committed to a college before high school season is over so it doesn't seem necessary to me for him to travel to Chicago where none of his games are ""home"" games. But he has his reasons for staying with his club team, and so that is what he is going to do. When Bryce's team dissolved at Under-14, he made the decision to play with a local ethnic club. I thought it could be a step down for him, but he knew several of the boys on the team, so that's where he felt comfortable.  In the end the year he spent on that team turned out to be terrific both for him and for our family. While he ultimately moved on to a more challenging team, the opportunity for him to be one of the strongest players on his club team gave him great self-confidence and taught him valuable leadership skills. While both boys mature, I still nag about cleaning their rooms and getting homework done – I can't be completely hands off!

I've had plenty of opportunities to observe parents overly invested in their kids' success. This is not to say we shouldn't want the best for our kids and do whatever we can to assist them, but meddling isn't assistance. Part of growing up involves our kids investing in their own future and developing the skills to make their goals reality. While we can offer advice and teach some of the skills, we shouldn't be doing the work. Being a mentor is probably one of the most difficult jobs since it requires some very skillful tightrope walking. We all want to leap off and rescue our kids by running interference, but we shouldn't do that. And we all think if we just push hard enough we can maneuver our kids onto the path we think they should follow. 

My kids accuse me of being a nag (and I am) so I constantly have to decide which moments to push and which moments to just back off and let them figure it out. This means allowing our kids to fail, which is definitely the toughest approach we take to child rearing. But every stumble teaches our kids to learn how to pay attention and leap when necessary. We won't always be there to pick them up. Sports provide the perfect opportunity to let kids succeed on their own terms. All too often we define success as being the absolute best. But success can also be making every practice or getting to start in a few games. We need to applaud those successes without reminding our kids that they didn't get to the very top. There's only one David Beckham in the world, but there's also only one of each of our kids. As deserving as Beckham is of our adulation for his skills and effort, our kids are even more so deserving of our support for all their successes no matter how small. The chances of our children being the next Beckham or Oliver Kahn are minute, but the chances of our children growing into happy, productive adults are nearly 100% so long as we don't have unrealistic expectations or try to achieve their success for them.

While it has been a struggle to stay on the sidelines, rather than insert myself metaphorically on the playing field, I have to admit that the evolving view is fabulous. I wasn't always successful in letting my kids work through their sports' experiences without my maneuvering. But I learned early to stay out of playing time issues and to let the kids chart their own course through their sports experiences. My lip probably has permanent teeth marks from biting, but it was necessary. My job is to watch from the sidelines and to cheer – not coach.  Well, some gentle coaching is allowed, but not interference. Nevertheless I still feel anxiety as my children step into total independence and adulthood. I sit on the sidelines and wait for that adult to emerge. I trust that it will, and watching Robbie today blessedly reinforced that trust.