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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". 

 

That's My Team

Susan Boyd

With the World Series under way I find myself watching two teams playing that I had little interest in except that the Brewers played against the Phillies in the playoffs. Yet as the teams dwindled to these two, baseball fans found themselves developing a team alliance usually along Division lines AL vs. NL. We can't help but attach a team identity to our viewing.

The interesting thing about teams is that they are easily identifiable. Jerseys, team colors, mascots, and stadium names help us figure out which team someone is supporting. We even attribute certain traits to team fans: Packer fans are working class and love beer and cheese; Yankee fans are all De Niro wannabes; Laker fans epitomize "cool," wear sun glasses indoors, and one is actually De Niro. Dressing in team gear gives us an instant connection. We can be half-way around the world and someone wearing a Seahawks jersey becomes our new best friend.  We assume we speak the same language both literally and figuratively. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals who share our goals, our values, our triumphs, and our disappointments makes us comfortable.

This is exactly why we extend our inclination for team membership to the rest of our lives. Unfortunately it gets messier to identify whose team people are on without the simple parameters that sports teams provide. In high school there were classifications like the jocks, the geeks, the brains, the homecoming queens, and the loners.  However such narrow classifications didn't allow for the jock with a 3.8 grade point or the science geek who was also a homecoming queen. Outside of the ivy covered walls life gets even more complicated. We want stereotypes to be true because they allow for a simpler way to approach people and to compartmentalize our lives, but unfortunately people are defined by far too many attributes to pigeon-hole anyone.

When I was in graduate school I was in a study group for my linguistics class. The course was really rough and so we would often get very silly during study group just to keep our sanity. After the semester was nearly over some occasion arose where I mentioned my husband, the doctor. The room became silent. "You're a doctor's wife? But you don't act like a doctor's wife! You're funny." I was curious as to what a doctor's wife was supposed to be like and I was told that first off I shouldn't be in graduate school, I should be wearing designer clothes, I should belong to Junior League, and I should be haughty. Since my mother-in-law is also a doctor's wife and doesn't fit any of those criteria either I was surprised that people still thought that way about my doctor's wife sisterhood. Of course I have also seen a car with the license plate MRS MD which only helps perpetuate the stereotype.

Expectations about team affiliation in life can get ugly. People make assumptions based on factors such as race, religion, gender, social class, and geography. When those assumptions are wrong it's either embarrassing or confrontational.  And we've all made them. When I was directing the talent show at my daughter's high school I walked into study hall and asked for some strong boys to help me move some set pieces. Three girls jumped up and said, "What's wrong with strong girls?" OOOOH that hurt! I even wrote a biography of Betty Friedan. But I couldn't avoid my own stereotype of who belonged on the team of strong people.

We all know the uglier examples of stereotyping and the effects. What really spurred me to ruminate on this topic were Democratic Congressman John Murtha's comments that his district in Western Pennsylvania wouldn't vote for Obama because he was black. Apparently the Democratic Party team's agenda isn't as significant as the race team's agenda in Murtha's eyes. If I were a voter in his district I'd be pretty offended whether or not I was voting for Obama. Murtha had assumed that white, older, working class voters wouldn't be able to get past racial issues. If someone didn't vote for Obama that non-support was chalked up to race when in fact it could have been, gasp, on the issues. Expecting white voters not to support Obama is like expecting black voters to all vote for Obama or women voters to vote for McCain because his running mate is a woman. The teams of blacks, whites, women, and men are far too complex to be reduced to a single issue. Unlike the American League wanting to beat the National League, teams in life have multiple goals and cross affiliations.

So even when you're at an intense soccer game, remember that all the people wearing your team colors have lots of other teams they belong to in life. Just because they join with you in wanting to trounce the opposition on the pitch, it doesn't mean they feel the same way about the environment, politics, education, or any other issue in life. And don't assume anyone on the other side of the stands is your enemy. You may find out they belong to your team on lots of things. They just have the wrong jersey on.
 

What We Love to Hate

Susan Boyd

I was watching the World Cup qualifying match between England and Kazakhstan at Wembley Stadium when something flashed along the advertising board on the sidelines: "7,000 referees quit every season."  I'm assuming that this was in Great Britain or perhaps even just in England proper. Either way, it is a disturbing statistic. Every referee that quits has to be replaced by a new referee who won't be as experienced as the referee he or she took the place of. Replacing 7,000 referees seems almost impossible. Each person has to be trained, tested, apprenticed, and certified before taking on games.   And even then, the instincts that time and experience can hone won't have developed yet. Bad refereeing frustrates coaches, players, and fans, but novice refs can't hope to be excellent referees immediately.

When families are just learning about soccer and have only watched their own children's games, they may not have the expertise and context in which to judge the competency of referees. But naturally that doesn't stop sideline second guessing. Add to the mix that referees of youth games are usually the youngest and least experienced refs, and you end up with a volatile mix for sideline conflict. At one of Bryce's Under-10 games, the referee made a player do her throw in three times, declaring that each time the player had lifted her back foot. On the fourth attempt the girl planted both her feet firmly on the ground, threw the ball, and another whistle blew. Several parents exclaimed, "Not again!" at which point the referee turned and threw out most of the parents within listening range. This was a young ref who was trying to operate completely within the rules. It was a bitter cold day, but she made the players take off their warm-up pants and put on their shorts because the rule book didn't allow for warm-ups. She didn't yet have the experience to be comfortable with some common sense adjustment of the rules and the parents only saw her as the enemy.

I've often wondered what happened to that referee. Her dedication to the rules and decorum of the game were commendable if not misplaced. But she needed to learn how to adapt to the situations that weather, parents, fields, and equipment create. With time and mentoring she would have probably made a good referee, but I'm not sure she could survive her various trials by fire. If she didn't, she quit, and then she had to be replaced by another younger, untrained referee. Inexperienced referees with inexperienced fans makes for an unpleasant situation, which taxes everyone. But it's the only way everyone learns.   

Two weekends ago Robbie played in a tournament outside St. Louis which featured some of the top high schools in the country. The competitive level rivaled some of the club teams Robbie has faced, which makes sense since many of the players came from top club teams in the nation. The sponsors understood their responsibility to provide good refs knowing that coaches, players, and fans had the experience to recognize the difference between good refereeing and mediocre. Nevertheless, some of the refereeing was excellent – fair, appropriate, and by the book and some was actually terrible – rookie mistakes, unbalanced application of fouls, and laziness. All of which I think speaks to the difficulty in locating sufficient referees having both experience and excellence. At the adult level, with expectations so high and the importance of winning even higher, coaches, fans, and players won't tolerate faulty refs. This results in even bolder attacks.

I have personally witnessed three physical attacks on referees and we hear of them on the news. Then there are the bottles, stones, spittle, and verbal harangues which referees have to endure during upper level games. So it is not surprising that after years of experience referees say to everyone, "Be careful what you wish for" and quit. If they aren't berated out of the sport, they may be unable to keep up. The most experienced referees are usually the oldest, and some of these aren't fit enough to keep up with the action. It's difficult to call offside when you are twenty yards behind the play.   Once the fitness goes, their ability to be excellent referees diminishes. So they may quit or they may be asked to quit. Once again the system suffers the loss of experience that has to be replaced by a new referee.

It's difficult to expect anyone to continue in a job where he or she receives constant abuse. Yet we have all been to games that were played with only one or two referees because there weren't enough available referees. We have also been to games where referees never showed up, which is also not surprising. Given the option of snowboarding with friends and earning less than $20 while being criticized, a teenager might well select the former over the latter. This situation has led to more and more games for the youngest ages being played without benefit of referees. That's sad on two counts. First it means that games don't have the proper neutral supervision leaving coaches and parents to work out conflicts. Second it means that the first step in becoming an experienced referee has been eliminated, moving new refs into higher level games with more at stake for everyone.

I agree that bad refereeing can ruin a game, although I am of the belief that no loss can be totally blamed on the officiating. I also know that if teams were left to compete without benefit of refereeing, even bad refereeing, there would be chaos. Based on the variety of interpretations on things as simple as out of bound balls, I can't imagine most infractions would be resolved quickly and amicably without a referee. In effect, referees are the people we love to hate, and no matter their qualifications we call their decisions into question whenever they go against our team. So I guess what I am asking is for each of us to try and limit our criticism of the referees during games to just one or two well justified cat-calls. We need to trust our coaches and the captains of our soccer teams to handle what they feel are the most egregious mistakes of referees and settle for grumbling amongst ourselves on the sidelines. Otherwise we'll be adding scores of zeros to that 7,000 number and running out of replacements. The rest of the banner at Wembley Stadium read: "No respect, no referee, no game." No one wants that to come true.
 

No Fair Weather Fans

Susan Boyd

When the Midwest was first settled by Scandinavian, Norwegian, Finnish, German, and Polish immigrants, they must have been attracted by the area's climate. Harsh winters, grey skies, rain, snow, and sleet had to have given them a sense of comfortable familiarity. As a West Coast transplant to the Midwest, I have less affinity for the winter, and after twenty-two winters I'm actually intolerant. But growing up in Seattle, I understand and welcome the rain. So it's no surprise that I have sat through my share of soccer games in a heavy downpour, as well as the remainder of the Midwest weather spectrum.

Tuesday night was no exception. The game was Robbie's last conference game of his high school life, so as a milestone it couldn't be missed. Naturally the weather report came in as: Monday sunny and 64, Tuesday heavy rains and 55, Wednesday sunny and 72, Thursday sunny and 70, Friday sunny and 70. . . You get the picture. The weather gods conspired against us.  As I strode up to purchase my ticket, the teacher who volunteered to collect the admission said, "This school has the most loyal parents. They will come out and sit through anything to support their kids." I agreed as I shifted the two umbrellas, three towels, blanket, heavy jacket, and plastic bag to the other arm so I could get my money out. But I also knew a secret . . . this wasn't the only group of parents willing to brave the elements to support their kids.

I have yet to experience the shirtless dad on the sidelines in minus 15 degrees with a soccer ball painted on his belly. But I have witnessed tremendous parental support despite the elements. I have joined parents in the midst of snowstorms, tornado warnings, monsoons, blazing Saharan summers, and wildfires. During the latter everyone was choking on the smoke as they urged their players who were also choking. I don't think there have been many games called on account of soot. I have learned to be ready for anything. Umbrellas work for snow, rain, and sun. I've put an umbrella on the ground covering my legs on days when the sun was at a low angle or the rain was driving parallel to the ground. I've huddled with people I barely knew in a survivalist attempt to stay warm. I've sat in my car with six soccer players waiting for lightning to pass and then watched them finish the match in a deluge that came so hard and so fast six inches of standing water accumulated on the field and sidelines. 

As parents we all think our kids are magnificent and special. We sacrifice our time, our money, and on certain days even our health to give them support. It's not surprising that we gather even in the face of Mother Nature's fury to provide for them the cheers to make it all worthwhile. The teacher who took my admission on Tuesday wasn't a mom yet, so she hadn't been brought into the club. Once she has her own soccer players or actors or go-carters she'll join the legions of parents who defy the elements because their kids are. When Shane, our youngest daughter, was a cheerleader her high school went to the state sectionals in football. It was early November, but it was an ice storm with winds approaching gale force and temperatures below zero Fahrenheit. The cheerleaders were all dressed in their sweaters, short skirts, and tights. I had on four layers plus heaters in my gloves and boots and two blankets. The girls lasted the first half, but they realized that there was no way they could continue for another half. They gladly accepted our blankets and sat with us to watch the football squad try to handle the pigskin that was iced up and hard as a rock. I don't even remember if her high school team won. I do remember that it took about a year to shake the chill out of my bones. But I'd do again, because that's what parents do.

And the best proof I have of that came at the game Tuesday night. Our opponent traditionally wasn't competitive. The team and their parents knew that the chance of beating Robbie's team was small. Yet the parents came and sat in the same cold, wet stands suffering through the same wind, rain, and chill. They encouraged their team even when the score reached 5-0 in the first half. They applauded the good plays, heartened the team after being scored upon, and went wild for any shot that neared the goal. After the game they roared as their team ran across the field and shouted ""Good game."" They had the same muddy uniforms to wash the next day and the same soggy coats to dry out. If you're a parent, you can't be a fair weather fan. You can't switch off your loyalty if the team isn't doing well and you can't decide that it's too wet or too cold to come watch. But I have to admit that I'm pretty happy that Robbie and Bryce both will be playing college soccer in California. I'm not made of hearty Midwest stock. Give me a wildfire, soot-filled game so long as I can wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt.
 

She Plays Like a Girl

Susan Boyd

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

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

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

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

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

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