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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". 

 

A Brief History

Susan Boyd

Soccer in America is ever evolving, especially at the select level. Because relative to other nations, soccer exists in a nascent form in the US, coaches, organizations, and fans clamor for a better system to develop elite players and make the US men competitive in the world arena. On the women's side America has been quite successful, probably because women's soccer on the whole is new and since the US had already established equality in availability of sports for men and women was well-prepared to field women's soccer teams. Other countries were slower to emerge, so our visionary political philosophy served women's soccer well. But for the men, we have been playing catch-up to developmental systems which have existed for decades and work for the size and history of other world nations. So what has the US done to try and make our players, especially men, more competitive?

The granddaddy of modern elite soccer programs in America is the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP). It was formed in 1977 to identify and train elite players in order to create a national team to compete at the international level. In 1982 a girls program was added. The model for the program remains that each US Youth Soccer State Association has tryouts to identify players for a state team. These players are trained by local coaches. Under the model the US is divided into four regions, and once a year the state teams from each region met at a summer camp where regional and national coaches evaluate the players to select regional teams. These play domestically as well as have one or two international experiences. The national team pool is then drawn from the four regional teams and a number of players are selected to train year round at the National Team facilities in Bradenton, Fla. This model is established for five age groups beginning at approximately age 13. Every soccer player in the United States has access to an US Youth Soccer ODP soccer program through his or her US Youth Soccer State Association. College coaches use US Youth Soccer ODP as a measuring stick for a player's investment and success in soccer, so as a program it is recognized as a respected evaluator and developer of players.

However, the U.S. Men's National Team has had disappointing results at the top competitive levels of soccer and is presently 22nd in the FIFA rankings. Meanwhile, the women, who played their first international game in 1985, have won two World Cups and three Olympic Gold medals and presently are number one in the FIFA rankings. Coaches have been seeking a better way to identify and develop top male soccer players in the U.S. in hopes of becoming more competitive in the international arena. To that end, several organizations have sponsored additional elite soccer opportunities for players. The basis for these changes has been that elite soccer players play too many games against far weaker competition, don't band together enough in elite teams, and don't have the proper training to achieve top level abilities. In order to address these weaknesses, several soccer organizations have offered their own identification and developmental programs. These include United Soccer Leagues (USL), US Club Soccer, US Soccer Federation (USSF), and even US Youth Soccer who oversees the US Youth Soccer ODP.

United Soccer Leagues which operates several competitive adult leagues for both men and women formed Super Y League (SYL) in 2003. Clubs could join this league and are registered through US Club Soccer rather than US Youth Soccer; thereby, allowing the clubs to create teams with players from several different clubs in the area. The idea was to form elite ""super"" teams at several age levels that would be the best players competing against other teams of the best players. The league operates in the summer, so that players can still fulfill their clubs' playing obligations, but offers them a different venue for competition, training, and US Youth Soccer ODP identification. USL got US Youth Soccer ODP approval to use SYL as an US Youth Soccer ODP identification tool. SYL holds a camp in the summer where invited, identified players attend and are assessed by US Youth Soccer ODP coaches. SYL also forms a national team of its own to compete internationally and give more players that experience. Additionally, they hold a national championship for U13 through U17 boys and girls teams.

US Club Soccer was founded in 2001 gaining sanctioning by the USSF as an official soccer organization. In 2004 it began an identification program for U13 boys called id2 by holding a national camp in the summer to which players are invited. Throughout the year, players are scouted by id2 scouts as they play with their clubs. In the spring identified players receive invitations to attend the camp. In 2006 a girls' component of the id2 camp was added. Players are evaluated for possible inclusion into the national team program. In addition US Club Soccer sponsors a National Cup competition for U12 – U17 boys and girls teams. This begins with regional play in the spring and mid-summer and culminates in the championship tournament in July.

Addressing the need for better competition for the top teams and players in the country, US Youth Soccer www.USYouthSoccer.org began a Regional League for each of its four US Youth Soccer Regions. Teams that rank first at the end of the league competition receive an invitation to the US Youth Soccer Regional Championships, a part of the prestigious US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, just as the winners of the US Youth Soccer State Championships do. Identification of top players is a portion of the reasoning behind the Regional League, but more importantly the league was established to address the issue of top teams not being able to play top competition unless they went to tournaments. Now, teams can compete across state lines with teams in their region and thereby insure better competition. Some club teams opt to forego state league competition and only do regional league, although they risk not qualifying for US Youth Soccer State Championship. In addition US Youth Soccer formed the US Youth Soccer National League for Under-15 through Under-17 Boys and Girls to again foster stronger competition with eight teams at each gender age. Teams are expected to compete in their respective Regional Leagues as well.

In each of these elite soccer programs, the opportunity to selection for the U.S. National Team pool remains relatively unchanged. Players can still participate in US Youth Soccer ODP, state league, regional league, SYL, US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, and as many of the programs as players have time and money to do. 

However, the new USSF Development Academy took a radical departure from this model when it was formed in 2007. Clubs joining the Academy were prevented from participating in state league, regional league, US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, SYL, and US Club Soccer id2, and players were prohibited from participating in US Youth Soccer ODP. The philosophy was that players had been spread too thin with all the elite options. Players needed to have one central program whose purpose was to develop players under a single model using top coaches, top competition and top players to motivate and shape each player. National Team coaches attend showcases sponsored by the Academy a few times a year. The league is limited to a U-15/U-16 tier and a U-17/U-18 tier. There are 75 clubs involved in the Academy divided into four conferences with two divisions each (Central Conference has three divisions). Teams compete throughout the year, except during high school season. There is a prescribed amount of training sessions each club must provide weekly in addition to fitness training and testing. The hope is that with concentrated training, top competition and scouting in a game environment rather than in tryouts the National Team coaches will be able to locate better players more efficiently.

Players looking to move up to a more elite level of youth soccer now have several avenues. They aren't just bound by their clubs, which provides players in isolated areas the chance to have the same opportunity for identification as players in metropolitan areas. Limiting all of these options remains the three key factors of distance, time and money. Next week I want to address the strengths and weaknesses of these various options and why the US still has a ways to go to be competitive in the men's arena.
 

Matchmaking

Susan Boyd

National Signing Day is fast approaching. This is the day when High School senior athletes sign their letters of intent for the colleges and universities where they verbally committed earlier. The process leading to this momentous event is often wrapped in mystery and extends for years prior to the day. How does a player get recruited? There are some important constants, although each player has his or her own story of serendipity or frustration in getting to the point of commitment. Every player needs to be noticed for the process to start, so following are some suggestions for how to approach the recruiting process. Every coach has a board in his or her office listing the top players to be recruited. Eventually a player needs to land on a board in order to get an offer, but most players don't start on a board. There are several things players can do to bring themselves to the attention of coaches, which is where the process starts.

You should be realistic about your options. You have to be admitted to the school in order to play there. Don't believe the myth about coaches being able to perform miracles. Maybe that works for basketball and football players who generate revenue for a college, but not for soccer players. You have to meet the admission guidelines of the school you attend. Be sure the colleges you select have your major. When Bryce was being recruited by University of Wisconsin, the coach told him about a kid who wanted to play for UW and also wanted to major in marine biology, a major not found at most Midwest campuses!   Another important step is to identify soccer programs that are looking for players like you. Go to the athletic website and check out the roster. If the team just recruited three freshman goalkeepers, chances are that they won't be recruiting keepers for the next year. If they have a freshman national player at forward, you may get recruited, but chances are you'll be riding the bench playing behind someone of that caliber. So do your research.

Next, know your assets. You don't have to play on a nationally recognized club team or be an US Youth Soccer Olympic Development (US Youth SoccerODP) star to be recruited. But you do need to bring something to the table. Be sure to keep track of your accomplishments both on and off the field. Don't be shy about tooting your own horn. If you don't do it, nobody will! If possible join US Youth Soccer ODP in your state since coaches recognize the program as developing the best players in the state. Play as a guest if possible for stronger teams in your state or sign up to guest play at the major tournaments if your team isn't going. You need to work to make yourself visible. Most coaches will want to see you play live, so you have to go to the major tournaments for that to happen. DVDs are okay, but most coaches only use those to determine if you can play. They'll want to see you in ""unedited"" situations.

Start communicating with the coaches of those teams/schools you feel are good options. Remember that coaches can hit the "delete" button if they don't want to be bothered, so send them emails and don't worry if you are being a pest. Both Robbie and Bryce found coaches to be very accommodating. They heard back from nearly every coach they wrote to. After one or two exchanges, the coaches would either pursue the communication or drop it. If coaches don't answer, don't give up. They are out recruiting, or coaching fall or spring soccer, so they may not get back to you for up to a month!   If you do give up, believe me, they will too. Coaches don't have time to pursue players they believe are no longer interested. So send an email a week. Once a coach responds, answer back immediately. Show them by your actions that you really are interested.

Your first email should introduce yourself. Start the email by letting the coach know why you selected his or her team/school. In other words, personalize your email. Don't use services that will send out hundreds of interest emails on your behalf. These are impersonal form letters that coaches will be receiving from dozens of players. Start your email with why you chose their team: Dear Coach, I visited What's Amatta U last summer and loved the campus. WMU is well-known for being a leader in moose tracking which is what I hope to major in, etc. Then go on to let the coach know why you think you would be an asset to the team. I can't say this enough – DON'T BE SHY! You have to be your best advocate. Finally let the coach know where you will be playing and invite him or her to come watch you. 

NCAA rules limited the contact a coach can have with you. However, if you initiate the contact it's okay. Starting in your sophomore year you can call or email a coach, but coaches can initiate either until very specific dates in your junior and senior year. For a brief explanation of the rules use the NCAA:   http://www.ncaa.org/wps/ncaa?ContentID=9.   Coaches know the rules well, so if they act cold to you, it may be that they are concerned about breaking a rule. 

Finally get yourself registered with the NCAA. You will need to register and then have SAT, ACT, AP, etc. scores sent to the NCAA just as you would to a university. The NCAA Clearinghouse handles all eligibility issues. So if you are registered there, you can't be declared eligible to play. Most coaches will ask you if you are registered. It shows how serious you are about the process if you can answer YES. You can begin in your sophomore year to make contact, and definitely do so by the summer before your junior year. Most decisions about making an offer will occur in the summer and fall of your senior year, so don't delay. On the other hand, it's never too late. As the pre-season wears down coaches see their boards depleted. The players they wanted for first, second, even fifth choice have selected other schools, so coaches are still looking for that diamond in the rough. Bryce got his offer in May of his senior year after thinking he would never play college soccer. He had turned down three offers because the schools weren't right, but he began to despair. Don't ever despair. Opportunities exist out there. You just need to locate them. Good luck!!
 
 

Out-Waiting Winter

Susan Boyd

Given the view out my window, it's difficult to believe that anyone will ever be loping across the courtyard dribbling a soccer ball. The temperature is -10° with a wind chill triple that. The snow banks tower over my head as I walk the dogs who scale the banks and disappear behind them only to emerge again at the crest looking like they invaded a powdered sugar factory. Somewhere beneath this winter liability lies green pastures, furrowed keeper zones, and shadows of field lines. Nothing but time will crack this mantle. And so I wait.

In the meantime my family is undergoing horrible withdrawal from televised soccer. While on vacation in Florida (where soccer was being played) our home got extensive damage from ruptured pipes (another winter atrocity). So we have been displaced to a rental home that lacks, for the moment, cable television. We won't have cable until Wednesday so we have had to forego nearly three weeks of Fox Soccer Channel. Since Bryce is home from college, it means nearly his entire visit will have been soccer depleted.

The one bright spot has been Robbie's choice to leave his Chicago soccer team and join a local team. Some prayers are answered! Given the state of our home and my need to oversee electricians, carpenters, welders, plumbers, and city inspectors, driving five hours three or four days a week nearly brought me to me knees. However Robbie began to realize what another year of driving to Chicago meant – long hours in the car, homework done on the fly, and a social life that becomes non-existent   Nevertheless, the move to Chicago soccer had been an excellent choice, the club was amazing, and the benefits for Robbie immeasurable. But now that he has committed to a college, he felt he didn't need to sacrifice quite so much. As proud as I was of him for sticking with the sacrifices and making the most of his opportunities I was even prouder that he recognized when he needed less pressure.

To quote Garrison Keillor, we all live in our own Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average. We need to see our children in the best possible light. Battles for the front-row seats at the kindergarten winter music concert equal battles over Springsteen tickets. The paparazzi can't equal the flash power of the legions of digital cameras recording every 1/60th of a second of the 2nd grade class play. We celebrate graduation from kindergarten. We gather with all the relatives for every U6 soccer game dutifully recorded on high def memory cards. So it's natural we want to encourage, support, and facilitate our children's ascension to the highest levels of their interests. Only hindsight can insure 100% perfection, so we have to muddle through the best we can.   There are a few guidelines to help us, but for the most part we move through the process blindly.

Lots of parents go looking for a better training and exposure experience for their children. For the extremely committed and gifted player, I recommend it. Those players will play soccer for life, so nurturing their talent is no different than nurturing the talent of musician, mathematician, or writer. However, parents need to have the proper perspective to make the decision for sacrifice.   Parents need to immerse themselves in the ""culture"" of soccer. They need to watch soccer every chance they get to see what talent exists and what level of ability their own child needs to aspire to. Everyone should attend college and professional games. Parents should watch foreign soccer on the TV. It's not enough that Suzy scores four goals a game, or that Billy has a string of twenty-four shut-outs. Instead parents need to figure out if the competition is strong enough to make such statistics meaningful. Arrange for your child to guest play with some of the stronger club teams in the state. Then honestly watch your child play. If after all the testing you're convinced they have that extra something to move up to the next level, be sure that's what your child wants to do too! Forcing him to give up social contacts and possibly even grades means that he has to be totally on board. Even then, I can tell you from experience you'll face the days when you want it more than they do. After all, these are kids with all the whims and short-term attention spans that implies. You only need to look at the graveyard of handheld computer games in your drawers to verify this truth.

For those of you in the land where green never gives way to white, then mushy brown, then finally back to green, enjoy your year-round soccer and your light jackets. For the rest of us, winter is a time to be creative and find ways to enjoy soccer even in the snow. If the Packers can play in an ice bowl, why can't the MLS? In the meantime, I'll enjoy my relatively travel-free winter and look forward to my relatively travel-free spring. Oh, and I'll wait in the house on Wednesday for the cable savior to show up and connect us to TV soccer once again.
 

Expectantly

Susan Boyd

With a new year come expectations. Some expectations stay constant: safety, health, happiness. Some are new to the season: lose weight, stop smoking, get a better job.   Soccer parents have expectations too. They expect their child's team to last, they expect some wins and some losses, they expect their child to be free of injury, and they expect to pay a lot for travel.   Occasionally destiny has a way of stepping in, grabbing our expectations, and giving them a good shake before disappearing. Amazingly what we rarely expect is the unexpected.

For those of us in the Midwest, northeast, northwest, and Atlantic coast winter means very little soccer. For some of us we have indoor leagues which provide a fast paced game enveloped in an old sweat sock stink. But for the most part soccer goes on hiatus until the rain, snow, ice, mud, and winds diminish. Here in Milwaukee, once we can see one blade of grass peeking through the black crusted snow soccer season is back on again. With unusual optimism, we expect to hold outdoor games in February. Therefore local teams prepare their schedules with February dates in mind and then reschedule at least twice before finally being able to play. We base our expectations on the one winter in 1966 when temperatures in February rose to 50° F. Never mind that in the ensuing forty years we have never had a February day above 32° F. We stick to our expectations.

For example, we expect that our children's team will stick together. At the younger ages it seems doable. Teams are usually formed by already created groups: neighborhood friends, schoolmates, carpool buddies, etc. So friendships already exist and parental connections have been solidified. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to insure that skill and interest levels will remain constant and similar over the course of those developmental ages. Suddenly one or two players have a break-out talent or some kids just lose interest and want to pursue other sports. Now the cohesiveness of the team gets challenged. Coaches, parents, and players may feel abandoned or even betrayed by someone leaving. The microcosmic society that the team has become begins to play out like a bad soap opera. We had a particularly nasty event when Robbie was U9. The coach decided that the team had unusual talent and wanted to skip over U10 and enter them directly into U11 for the next season. What we parents didn't realize until too late was that the coach felt almost everyone on the team was good enough for the move. I got a tearful phone call one evening from a mom who had been told that her son was no longer welcome on the team. These kids were nine years old and they were already pawns in a ploy to advance the status of the club. All the kids knew were the friendships and bonds they had made on the playing field. No one expected such a nasty shake-up for such a young group of players.

One the other hand, Robbie's first team, a group of neighborhood five year olds, proved to have an unexpected result.   One mom took the applications from all the kids in the neighborhood that were the same age, stapled them together, and presented them to the city recreation program as a complete team. We even had a soccer field in our subdivision, so the kids could walk or ride their bikes to practice. Bruce was their coach along with the father of Robbie's best friend, Andrew. Eventually the team broke up as the kids moved to other sports or other teams, but there wasn't any rancor. The amazing thing was that in the state high school semi-finals, four kids from that team of ten were in the game and all will most-likely be playing D-1 college soccer. No one would expect geographically that that many kids would come not just from the same city, but from the same 174 home subdivision!

We truly don't expect our children to get injured, and we absolutely hope and pray that they don't. This is the one expectation that we can actually control to some extent. Winter is a great time to take your child to the doctor for a ""tune-up."" She has had a fall season to play and put stress on various muscles and bones. In addition, any aggravating condition will certainly have been affected over the course of the season. Let your player talk to the doctor about any aches and pains and let your doctor ask questions which may reveal concerns. I always suggest you take their cleats in, so the doctor can see any pronation of the foot and any stress points that could cause bunions, blisters, or other foot problems. The doctor can help discover possible concerns and suggest ways to resolve or prevent them.

While we can't have every expectation come true, we need to establish expectations just to chart a course for our lives and to give us security. With the New Year I wish everyone's expectations will be surpassed with minimal disappointments.