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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". 

 

Tanked Out

Susan Boyd

When gas reached the $3 per gallon mark, a local ad for our county bus system showed a father at a gas station doubling as a pawn shop. He was looking to buy a few gallons of gas through the trade of his wife's wedding ring, a Waterford vase, even his youngest child, to which the owner says, "Now that's just sad." Then on the Today show this week they had a segment on people pawning their possessions to get enough money to buy gas. So fiction has become fact, which in this case is just sad!
 
The reality now exists that youth soccer as we know it may have to adjust if even middle class families are going to survive the year-round training and the travel involved. Recently I was at the State Championship in Appleton, Wisconsin and listened as people on the sidelines moaned about the cost of coming up to Appleton from Milwaukee and Madison for the weekend. The distance was only a concern as to how it affected the cost of travel. We had just gone to $4.19 a gallon in Milwaukee, so I can see everyone's point. The state association kindly adjusted my son's U19 bracket so that the teams had to come up just one day in order to save on gas.
 
My other son is in the US Soccer Federation Developmental Academy and travel should be their middle name. He traveled one day down to Bradenton, Florida to play the National Team and next week he will travel to Champaign, Illinois for one game. The days of $150 airfares to Florida are long gone, so the Bradenton trip cost around $450. Champaign is 250 miles away, so it will be nearly two tanks of gas at $65 a tank for that one game. I'm not sure when I reached the point of measuring my soccer expenses by the tank, but it had to be about the time I crossed the $50 threshold for a tank of gas. I'm now past the $60 threshold and I'm told to prepare for the $70 threshold.

I've always leaned more to the "green" side of life. I'm product of Haight-Ashbury, flower power and Boones Ferry wine, so count me on the liberal side of the fence. But I never really put much thought into what it cost to drive to a tournament or a game until the last six months, and now it seems to obsess me. Today Robbie suggested going to a western suburb to meet his friend for lunch, come home and then drive back out there to pick her up from school and go to her tennis match. Six months ago, I would have just nodded and said, "Okay." This morning I gasped and said, "No way!" So he's sitting in the school library reading magazines for two hours until it's time to pick her up.

I've talked about my van and its innumerable problems, but now it is losing gas mileage, down from 27 on the freeway to 21 on the freeway. That fact alone may force me into debt I can't afford just to get a car with 30 MPG on the freeway. I figure if gas prices keep rising, the car will pay for itself with the savings. 

I'm nearing the end of my soccer travels on a regular basis. I'll certainly be driving to see my grandkids play soccer, baseball, football or gymnastics. But it will have the extra pleasure of being combined with a visit and time to just enjoy the kids. I really do think about those of you who are just embarking on the journey. Suddenly travel team seriously equates big bucks. I have limited disposable income, but I'm lucky to have any. Many soccer families don't have that luxury, so traveling to games means sacrifice and even going into debt. That's not what sports should be about. 

I encourage clubs, state organizations and national organizations to begin to take into account the cost of traveling just to games, not to mention regional league, tournaments, and showcases. While each event may not seem to be a budget buster, organizers need to remember that players and families aren't just going to one event. Even at the youngest ages games can be a great distance away if the league is geographically large. Add one tournament each season and you have the makings of a chunk of change. Hopefully organizers and schedulers will look for ways to minimize travel by clustering league teams, adjusting tournament schedules to make the best use of time and distance for participants, and being sensitive to the issues of travel costs. Organizers will counter that the difficulty is in finding the right mix of competitiveness and an already overburdened and complex scheduling system. Hopefully some middle ground can be found that addresses and helps mitigate expenses for families, especially those just starting to play. We don't want to scare people off or have them make a decision about soccer based solely on economics.

While I won't even go into global warming, because that has a whole horse cart of political baggage, I will point out that gas isn't going to suddenly multiply and have prices plummet. We are probably stuck in this ever upwardly spiraling price corkscrew into our lives. So we have to get creative in solving the money problem. Wherever possible, carpool to soccer practice, games and tournaments.   Clubs might seek out alternate practice sites in different parts of town and rotate among these so that certain families aren't always stuck with the long journey to the fields. With a bit of creative effort, we can probably help most families lop off 20 percent from their soccer travel expenses.   And that's money in the bank rather than the tank.
Starting next week, I will be bloggin from Rockford, Illinois at the US Youth Soccer Region II Championships.
 

Favorite Things

Susan Boyd

Last week I bought a new soccer chair that I had seen advertised for the Memorial Day holiday. This is high entertainment for me, picking out a new chair, testing it in the store and then unveiling it on the soccer sidelines. I bought this chair in the middle of the U.S. Soccer Federation Developmental Academy spring college showcase, so I had my old chair one day and my new chair another day, which allowed me to enjoy the ooohs and aaahs of the other parents. This chair is royal blue and has a canopy which shelters me from sun and rain. It doesn't require a bag, so ends up being high end in the transportation area as well. I am a very happy soccer mom right now.
 
Buying the chair got me thinking about my other favorite soccer things. Naturally my boys and grandkids rank at the top of my list of favorite soccer things, but they have an edge being flesh and blood and cute. So I just wanted to focus on the top ten things that aren't related to me.
 
10. Updated soccer rule book. I pick up a copy every few years as rules change, especially for the younger ages. The book is available at my soccer supply store for less than $10 and gives me good guidance in what constitutes fouls, off-side, and other soccer regulations. I keep it with me in the car. Every once in awhile I do need to haul it out and give it a look. The referees at one game even used the book to resolve a complicated overtime issue.  
 
9.   Finding a parking spot right near the gate into the world's largest soccer complex. I know I already have a two mile walk to the field, so I love not having to walk another mile from my parking spot just to get into the park.
 
8. Getting Crocs on sale. I live in Crocs, winter, spring, summer, and fall. I have fleece-lined Crocs for the winter and Mary Jane's for those formal soccer events. They are perfect for those two or three mile hikes to and from fields at tournaments.
 
7. My ten year old, slightly broken Dry-Guy about which I have waxed poetic in other blogs. This machine is the size of a small toaster, packs in a gear bag easily, and saves blisters, muddy floor mats and smelly rides home.  With a car adaptor, you can use it right at the fields to dry out shoes and socks. With a goalkeeper son it provided dry gloves for important games and helps the gloves last longer. 
 
6. I absolutely dote on audio books. Even the boys got into some of the books on our long trips. You can find audio books on any topic, by any author, and of any length. My brother gave me Pepys' Diary as a gift, and it got us through a trip to Florida. I think we listened to a John Grisham novel and Harry Potter on the way home. Cracker Barrel Restaurants have a loan policy on audio books that provides us with unlimited books for a small use fee on each one. The only drawback is that the restaurant tends towards romance and crime novels. Your local library will usually have a collection of books to check out as well.  Parallel to the audio books would be my satellite radio which offers English Premier League games, talk radio, and a 60's music station to fill the hours of driving.
 
5. Sudoku puzzles while away those empty minutes between when I have to drop the boys off at the fields and when the game begins. I can sit in the car, or now, in my canopied chair, and give my brain some exercise.
 
4. Express lanes! With all the driving I do, I love when I see the sign "Express Lanes Open." Sometimes they reduce my trip only a few minutes, but there are days when I breeze past totally stopped traffic in the other lanes.
 
3. In the same vein I love my I-Pass which is now linked with some other states. Once they make these electronic tollway fee payment gadgets valid nationwide I'll be in soccer heaven. I can breeze through toll booths rather than dig for change and wait in long lines. Of course I have to watch out for the few I-Pass lanes that have gates, which do still exist.
 
2. Warm blankets that roll up in tiny packages. Since soccer games can be played scores of miles from home, weather won't always be as warm or cooperative as where you came from, so being prepared without having a lot of bulk to do so adds convenience to comfort. I have one blanket that is waterproof on one side and fleece on the other and fits in its own easy to carry bag. I love that blanket.
 
1. All soccer gear on sale or even better, free!   There are often tents at large tournaments with soccer gear and jerseys. I've found that vendors don't want to repack everything at the end of the tournament, so you can make some really good deals. I've become expert in digging through bins to find shorts and jerseys which usually come in only one size. I got a brand new Barcelona jersey for $20 because it was the last one and a size small. I have found socks four pairs for $10 that usually sell for $7.50 a pair. I love the bargains and make shopping for them part of my soccer week.
 
Since my chair and I have a significant relationship, I didn't include it here. I think everyone should have a chair they love and use. I donate my older chairs to other soccer families and keep two or three on hand for those times when guests come along to a game. While I really love my new chair, I was told by another mom that she had spotted the same chair with a foot rest. So my favorite chair may no longer be my true love. Call me fickle, but come on – it has a canopy AND footrest. I think anyone would trade up!
 

Pass it On

Susan Boyd

Outside in our courtyard the neighborhood kids have set up a soccer goal. It's one of those small pop-up goals that my own boys set up in the same courtyard ten years ago. Ours is now in Columbus, Ohio in the hope that it will encourage my grandsons there to be soccer players. The courtyard bears the marks the boys put on it over the years. There's still the hole in the middle of the courtyard with a soup can in it, where they attempted to create a putting green, and the rubber home plate that never got picked up and put away in the garage is now permanently frozen in the turf and well-used. The boys even went out in the courtyard this past weekend to throw around the baseball, then opted to head down to the soccer field to hit some fly balls. This weekend our subdivision pool opens for the season. And our lake serves as a fishing pond half the year and hockey rink for three winter months. It's a pretty idyllic neighborhood to tell the truth.
 
These types of opportunities aren't available to all kids. The boys have friends who grew up in Milwaukee in row houses with the nearest park too far away to be easily accessible.   My sons went to high school in the city where the neighborhood park doubled as the freshman soccer field. The boys learned early on to keep an eye on their soccer balls because they had a habit of disappearing only to reappear flying through a hoop or rolling across the field in the company of the young boys who gladly chased loose balls across the street. For two summers Robbie played in an inner-city soccer league, which was not only competitive but filled with good company. The field had more dust than grass, but was surrounded by families cheering on their children and sharing picnic items. A local shelter donated the uniforms and some of the kids played in running shoes, but everyone loved the game and participated with heart and joy.
 
Every year I collect a minimum of a locker full of used and unwanted soccer equipment both from my own boys and others. Some of the soccer boots are too far gone to pass on, but many have good life left in them. Shorts, jerseys, balls, shin guards, and keeper gloves also have plenty of life in them. All over America and the world children play soccer without the benefit of this gear. They run barefoot in vacant lots kicking a coffee can or a crate. They mark goals with trash. Yet the fun they have and the commitment they express are no less intense than players with more monetary resources. The scenario holds true for other sports as well. Kids play stick ball with cans, basketball with any ball they can find and hoops that have chain nets or are self-created with the ingenuity born of desire. And every year perfectly good sporting equipment gathers dust in garages, sheds and attics all over America.  
 
Several national organizations now collect this equipment to share with boys and girls both in the United States and around the world. Each spring I dig through the mountains of soccer gear that erupt in the garage and mudroom and assemble a box filled with well loved, but not much used equipment to donate. The task is easy, the results provide a non-lethal pathway to my car, and the rewards extend to dedicated players world-wide. It's fun too. We have pictures of a soccer team in Honduras wearing Bryce's team's old jerseys, kids in Iraq kicking around their old balls, Robbie's cleats on a boy in Mexico and an entire Guatemalan village outfitted in Wisconsin Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) t-shirts. Robbie and Bryce have both passed on cleats to the players in the inner-city league who promptly used them to beat Robbie's team! I don't really see it as charity because soccer creates a world-wide family, and families are notorious for hand-me-downs. We're just passing on to a soccer brother or sister the family belongings. 
 
There is no shortage of opportunities for families to share their equipment. Sports Gift (www.Sportsgift.org), National Alliance for Youth Sports (www.nays.org) and Peace Passers (http://peacepassers.org) all collect soccer equipment and distribute it nationally and internationally. You have to mail your equipment in, but several of the organizations will reimburse you for your shipping costs.   United States Soccer Federation sponsors the Passback program and has collection days that it coordinates through state soccer organizations. These dates are usually advertised on your state soccer association website or at www.passback.org. In addition, you can find local churches, National Guard stations, schools and colleges have their own collection sites for donations that will go to their particular charity. We have an Army friend who collects soccer balls to send to Iraq. There are organizations which allow you to sponsor an entire team so you can make it a club effort. Pick a day to collect used gear, pack it up and ship it to the organization. We kept up correspondence with the team we sponsored in Honduras, so we were able to provide gear to them for several years. They became our brother team and we shared accomplishments, stories and friendship. We fully expect to see one of those boys on the Honduran National Team come the Olympics. You can also check with your city's Parks and Recreation Department. Often they run leagues and depend on donations of equipment to keep the league members outfitted. Along with those resources, call up local shelters and city aid organizations. They may also sponsor teams and appreciate equipment donations. Like the team on the field, the larger world soccer team can pass the "ball" to other team members. It's not hard to do, and it can provide some very special extras for everyone involved.
 

Student of the Game

Susan Boyd

Bryce recently got a job in a sporting goods store which means he has his paycheck spent before he earns it. Surrounded as he is by shoes, jerseys, shorts and t-shirts he is a sports addict living in his dream world. The other more positive benefit of his job is the opportunity to talk sports both with his co-workers and the customers. He loves sports and knows the tiniest details of trades, statistics, scores and upcoming competitions. Our TiVo works overtime to keep up with all the events he has programmed so he can watch when not at work. As frustrated as I get when I can't watch Judge Judy because Barcelona is playing, I also understand that Bryce is fulfilling an important aspect of his soccer training – he's a student of the game.

Despite the apparent contradiction of sitting on the couch watching soccer vs playing soccer, watching the game can prove to be as instrumental in developing a good soccer player as actually kicking the ball.   Coaches recognize that studying how others play the game increases their own players' abilities, which explains why film remains an important part of any college or pro team's training schedule. Watching film of one's own play allows for a more detailed self-critique. Watching film of an opponent helps teams prepare for defenses and offenses that address the opponent's strategies and helps players key in on particular opponent players' weaknesses. More and more camps are using video to give campers better feedback.

Being a student of the game also means immersing oneself in the history and lore of the sport. Understanding the journey professional players took to arrive at their lofty positions gives a student a better idea of the sacrifice and talent needed to succeed. Looking closely at the history of a club can give a player perspective on the reason for rivalries and the richness that tradition provides to the sport. Once Bryce competed in a contest where he had to name the brand of uniform particular soccer clubs throughout the world wore. It seemed a silly, albeit fun, competition, but as I saw the intensity in which the boys competed I realized that this knowledge was an important aspect of immersing themselves in the game.

Parents should also be students of the game. So many parents narrow their study of the game to those youth games they watch that include their sons or daughters. While certainly exciting and definitely worthwhile, a true understanding of the game and what it requires for success can't come from that singular perspective. When I worked for US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program I would regularly receive emails or be approached on the sidelines by parents who couldn't understand why their son or daughter wasn't considered more highly by the US Youth Soccer ODP coaches. They would tout their child's scoring record or the achievement of their team. The difficulty was in trying to explain to them the more expansive skills needed to be a top player.   Some of the best in the world don't hold individual records, but have the special ability to enhance a team by their "soccer brains." Positioning, ability to provide pinpoint passes, ability to anticipate play, team compatibility, speed of play, communication, first touch, and unselfish play contribute to the whole picture. Many of the aforementioned skills aren't flashy or easy to spot, but those who watch the field choreography of top teams week after week have a much better understanding of these nuances. 

Players who have a strong desire to move ahead in the game need to include study in their regimen. They need to watch games, attend clinics, read, gather critique of their play, go to camps, play year-round, challenge themselves by playing on and against tough teams, study game film, especially of their own play, and find others who share their enthusiasm and talk about the sport. Being a student of the game is just one aspect of having a passion for the sport which is necessary to succeed. To that point, I'll remind everyone that the UEFA Champion's League Final is Wednesday, May 22, between Manchester United and Chelsea at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 from Moscow. Tune in, study and enjoy some top soccer competition.