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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". 

 

Momnesia

Susan Boyd

This morning I was made aware by the Today Show that I have a major clinical condition. There's even a scientific study being done of this phenomenon which they have academically termed Momnesia – no kidding – look it up! It seems that once our children are born our brains become a hodgepodge of chemicals which cloud our memory and our ability to organize and carry out many of our day to day tasks without error. 

The feminist in me would take exception to this characterization apart from the fact I fit the diagnosis to a "T". I have a sister-in-law who would be the exception, and I definitely admire her ability to remember the tiniest details and to organize fundraisers where they make more than the gross national product of several small nations. I know that every rule has an exception. And I know I am not it. Case in point: soccer road trips.

We have our first one of the season coming up next weekend to St. Louis. This is about a five hour drive and one that we make at least twice a year for at least eight years now. I'll still manage to screw it up. The last time we drove down, I took out the soccer chairs so I could lay the suitcase flat on the floor of the trunk. When we arrived in St. Louis those chairs were still standing in our garage inches from where our van departed. I forgot which hotel we had reservations at, as well as the reservation confirmation papers, which would have reminded me. I missed the turn off I-90 to I-39 at least twice, and I can assure you that is costly 30-minute error. Once, I loaned our I-Pass to friends for the previous weekend, and despite the fact that the I-Pass sits prominently on my windshield, I neglected to see that I had not retrieved it, and went merrily through the I-Pass lanes without it. Luckily there were only two the entire trip.

When we were going to Des Moines the first time two years ago, I forgot to bring along a map. We ended up taking the long route to Des Moines which is not necessarily the scenic route. I actually did a Lewis and Clark impersonation and used our compass to help get us to the west where I knew Iowa resided. When we got to the hotel I used the internet to locate the route to the fields except I put in the wrong address and we ended up 30 miles to the north and one hour late to practice. The next trip to Des Moines I had more maps than I knew what to do with, but I nearly forgot my computer so I could do the blogs from Nationals. We had to turn around and go back home when a billboard ad for an internet provider triggered something in my fogged-out brain. I usually can count on my sons to remember the computer since they like to keep in touch through Facebook and IMs, but they were all about the video games on this trip.

I spend most of my preparation time before trips making sure that the boys have cleats, uniforms, shin guards, goalie gloves, hydration and soccer bags. I remind the boys to bring underwear, extra clothes, khaki pants, training shirts, homework, iPods, cell phones, chargers for electronics and toiletries. I am always treated with disdain for any reminders I make to the boys, yet invariably once I make a reminder, one or both go bounding up the stairs (although they claim not for something I suggested). 

Once in the car I go through the list again, meet with the same snarls and again one or both leap out of the car and disappear for several minutes into the house. I manage to remember to pack the Dry-Guy (which I highly recommend for spring road trips) but I forget my camera.   I manage to insure that we don't repeat the emergency cleat buying episode of 2000, but I have had to run out and get deodorant for me. One memorable trip, I went to the front desk of the hotel four times in order to get items I forgot: comb, toothbrush, toothpaste (I swore I had that - at least that is what I told the smirking clerk), and pain reliever probably necessary due to my brain imploding. I have reminded the boys to bring swimsuits despite them never wanting to. Of course the one time I don't remind them everyone went swimming, and I was persona non grata for being so lapse in my oversight.

My rule about road trips is that everything has to be in the kitchen ready to go the night before we leave. This means that the boys only go back upstairs to collect missing items three or four times the morning of departure. Bryce packs all his clothes and then pulls them all out on the kitchen floor to find the perfect shirt to wear on the trip. This usually requires testing at least three choices before discovering the right one. I follow my own rule. I have my bags packed and my accessories on the kitchen table ready to put in the car. The problem is that I get distracted by all the other morning activity, the panic over a missing PSP (which should have been located the night before, naturally), the sudden request for a shirt still in the laundry basket, the discovery that a favorite pair of cleats has a tear at the toe and the hunt for a jacket that no one has seen for three weeks. Once, while trying to navigate through all the hubbub, I realized that the dogs were also running about. I had forgotten to get them to the kennel, which didn't open for an hour. What generally happens is that one or more of the items I lay out on the kitchen table are still lying there when we return home. I am so relieved to get everyone and their gear into the car, that once they exit the door, I am close behind to thwart any retreat back into the house with the casualty being my necessities.

The good news is that most road trips are just a weekend, so missing some things won't kill me. The tough trips are the week long ones – my low point was forgetting to pack underwear on one of those – where I have no choice but to find a Target or a Walgreen's and if possible replace what I didn't bring along. I didn't include those expenses in my estimate of what it costs to have a child in select soccer, but I probably should have. It seems that Momnesia is not only epidemic but without a cure. So I expect many of you suffer from it and many of you have made those trips to unfamiliar malls. I know I have it bad. Let's see if I can remember to attach this blog to my email to US Youth Soccer!!
                   
 

Creme de la Creme

Susan Boyd

When I was little, the one chore my brothers and I used to fight over getting to do was pouring the milk for meals.  Why?  Because this was the old days of glass bottles and whole milk with the cream risen to the top.  Whoever poured the milk could assure that he or she got all the cream, leaving everyone else with skimmed milk.  Eventually my mother got wise and she would shake up the milk before handing it to one of us to pour.  So we would get even wiser and stall pouring it until the cream or most of it rose again to the top.  It was all about the cream!
 
Last year the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer), the main soccer governing body in America, sanctioned a new youth program called the U.S.S.F. Development Academy (Academy) for boys.  The push for this program came from several national team and elite club coaches who felt that the present structure of youth soccer was not serving the identification and development of top youth players in this country.  The United States, despite some strong success in both the women's and men's program, has lagged behind European and South American programs.  These founding coaches felt that having just one residential developmental academy in Bradenton, Florida was too narrow a pool of players from which to draw for the national team.  Most of those residency players had been identified through the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and its 55 state associations divided into four regions.  The Academy signed up 64 clubs throughout the United States to participate at ages U16 and U18.  The clubs were divided geographically into eight conferences with eight teams each.  Rosters had to have a minimum of 22 players with no maximum, but all players had to start at least 30% of the games, therefore rosters much larger than 27 players wouldn't practically work. Competition began in fall 2007 with the bulk of the games scheduled in 2008.
 
The Academy emphasizes strong, consistent training and equally strong competition between its member clubs.  It mandates a minimum of three days a week but no more than six days a week for training.  Games cannot be more than one a day or two a week.  Competition is conducted among geographical conferences but they can extend as far as a thousand miles and competition between conferences can go equally afar, so travel is a large component of the program.  In addition the Academy mandates that members may not participate in any other programs including tournaments, Olympic Development Program, Super Y League, State Leagues, and State, Regional, and National Championships.  There are a few exceptions for tournaments over winter and spring school breaks.  In the place of college showcases, the Academy offers their exclusive fall, winter, spring, and summer showcases for member clubs.  Additionally, the Academy offers player profiles on every single member player that college coaches can access and DVDs of any showcase games coaches might want to see.
 
While the intent of the program seems admirable on face value, the construction is top down.  In other words, the real purpose of the Academy seems to be to locate additional prospects for the national team.  Otherwise, if the training system was so broken why didn't the Academy begin with U-13 and U-14 players where it could nip this inadequate development in the bud?  There are approximately 1800 players on rosters in the Academy at each age level.  Out of that number perhaps as many as 50 or as few as one will be identified as National Team material.  What will be the benefit for the remaining players?  If it is training, I have to wonder what have these top 64 clubs in America been doing up to this point?  I would imagine conducting top level training for their players, otherwise how could they win tournaments, state, regional or national championships, and leagues, and how could they contribute players to the national program?  Since the exact same coaches are conducting the training as before, then where is the major shift in developing players?  If the benefit to players is exposure, most of these clubs have on their rosters six or more state, regional, and national Olympic Development Program players and the teams already qualify to attend the most prestigious tournaments and showcases.  If it is locating that player who is isolated, these clubs would already attract that player if he was willing to travel far enough for the training.  The set up of the Academy actually makes this elite level less accessible since the Academy only covers 22 states.  In the meantime, US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program offers opportunities in all states for players to be discovered.   If it is providing college coaches with the material and opportunities to see and judge these players, that already existed through both the clubs themselves and the showcase tournaments they attended.
 
I want to examine each of these aspects more closely:

1. Membership
Membership in the Academy required application and acceptance by the Academy board.  Most of the member clubs are naturally in large urban areas as these are the clubs with the most top players, the highest licensed coaches, and the facilities and tradition to run the practices the Academy expects.  Therefore, despite the Academy's goal to increase the ability to find and train hidden soccer talent, the set-up of the program precludes discovering players far removed from urban centers.  In addition, only twenty-two states and the District of Columbia are represented in the 64 teams of the Academy.   California has ten teams, New York has five, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio have four each, New Jersey, Colorado, and Virginia have three each, with the remaining thirteen states and D.C. with two or one team each.  The eastern seaboard and the west coast are well represented and the states bordering the Great Lakes have a fair share, but in the middle of America there is nothing.  If a talented soccer player lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, his nearest opportunity to participate in the Academy would be Colorado or Missouri.
 
2.  Players
The Academy set-up restricts competition to U-16 and U-18 teams for this year at least.  Most U-18 players of talent will have already committed to colleges by the time games begin in earnest.  These players don't want to spend their money traveling to play games.  They want to save their money for college, train, maybe get a final opportunity to win a state, regional, or national championship, and look forward to graduation and college.  As a result many clubs didn't have enough U-18 players who would participate.  In order to fulfill their obligation, these clubs had to include their U-17 players on the U-18 roster.  While the Academy encourages players to play up at their ability level, the difficulty with this situation is that most U-17 players are anxious to participate in the top college showcases in order for college coaches to see them play.  They want to invest their travel dollars in the opportunities that showcases offer them.  So clubs ended up having to require that their U-17 players participate in the Academy in order to assure a roster.  Few U-17 players knew before they tried out for a team that they would be required to be a part of the Academy.  They thought they had a year to wait.  This has lead to some very hard feelings. 

3.  Training/Development
"The focus of the Academy is player development.  Academies provide players with the best possible opportunity to achieve their utmost potential as elite soccer players."  Since the argument for formation of the Academy was that training was haphazard, why have the Academy start with U-18, the one group most corrupted by the broken training system and the one group least likely to improve or even want to participate?  The answer could be that the national team coaches aren't interested in swelling the ranks of the national team pool with younger players.   This means that gifted younger players will continue their development under a broken system until they are old enough to begin the Academy training.  Of course that would only be if they are lucky enough to live within one of the 22 states with an Academy team and/or within a couple hours of an Academy team.  Additionally training continues to be with the same club coaches all these players had prior to the formation of the Academy.  The Academy will offer courses to the coaches at the national team training camp, so coaches can be learning new techniques for training their players but with little follow-up in the implementation of the techniques once they return to their club teams.  Some of these club coaches do have their A licenses, but most have C or B licenses, so the level of their coaching education could be best improved by working towards a higher license, a process already in place prior to the Academy and run by coaches from the national team program.  In the meantime, training and development will move along the same pathways they have up to this point.  Teams not in warm climates are further restricted by the availability of indoor facilities during the winter and early spring.  That means that training and development will have the same barriers as before the formation of the Academy.  Nevertheless, the Academy states that elite players will have "increased connection to U.S. National Team program through enhanced scouting by National Team coaches."  Again, how many players does this practically impact?  While it benefits the National Team program, it realistically does little for the majority of players.
 
4.  College Showcases
The Academy did respond to restrictions on tournament play by creating four college showcase opportunities for Academy member clubs.  The second was this month in Frisco, Texas at Pizza Hut Park.  It did not work out well for two main reasons.  First, the rules of the Academy do not allow for free substitutions.  While this may work for conference games, it doesn't work for showcases where all players should have an equal opportunity to be seen.  Without the ability to sub freely, coaches ended up having to keep players in the game while other good, college material players sat on the bench not being seen by the college coaches.  Second, this sub rule was further complicated by having the showcase games count towards the conference championships.  Since the Academy offers the carrot of a championship tournament at the Home Depot Center, coaches were loathe to sub out players should they risk losing that opportunity for their club.  Therefore, college coaches were invited to attend games by players who either never got enough playing time to be judged or never got playing time at all while the coach was present.  I spoke to a dozen college coaches who had complaints about this process because they had spent a portion of their recruiting budget and hadn't gotten to see one third to one half the players they thought they would.  In addition the Academy restriction about only playing two games in a week means that clubs played only two games in a two day showcase.  Since most college showcases provide three games for every club, this gives coaches more opportunities to swing by a particular club team during a three day tournament and more opportunity for players to get the playing time to be seen.  During the Frisco showcase several games were held later in the afternoon on the second day, yet coaches had left for flights home by midday.  Therefore, players who were promised that they would play most of the game on the second day ended up missing out.  A three day/three game schedule would provide so many more opportunities to be scouted.
 
5.  Restrictions
The restrictions on Academy players to forgo all other soccer programs, leagues, and tournaments means that even players at this cream level of soccer will end up missing out on opportunities.  While coaches are watching players from teams outside of the Academy compete at the top showcases and having the chance to see them player two or three times at those showcases, players in the Academy are sitting on the bench at Academy showcases for entire games.  The benefit of being in one of the top programs and being amongst the top players quickly becomes a yoke preventing many players from achieving the future success they are capable of pursuing.  I can't help but feel that the restrictions were more for the benefit of the Academy than for the benefit of the players who they felt might be overtraining or overplaying.  By restricting clubs and players from participating in other programs, the Academy can carve out a very nice monopoly on the elite soccer scene.

6.  Growing Pains
While the Academy may prove to be the right direction for youth soccer once many of the problems are addressed, it seems that the vision is top down looking only at the crème de la crème and throwing out the rest of the cream with the milk.  The frustration becomes that this year's participants are guinea pigs in an unproven format.  While U.S. Soccer works to get it all right, a significant year for the U-17 players hobbles along.  The vast majority of the players in the Academy have no hope of making the National Team.  Therefore, under this top down model, their purpose seems to be to provide teams on which or against which the handful of prospective national players can play.  The Academy needs to figure out quickly what it is going to do for the majority of the players whose goal is to make a good college team.  Since the Academy prevents these players from participating in the primary college showcases in the country, it needs to step up and reformat the college showcases it does hold.  That one correction would go a long way towards resolving the frustration of players, parents, and coaches who are hamstrung by the Academy policies. 

7.  Advantages
I ask again:  What is the Academy providing for the soccer player that the player didn't already get with his club team?  These member clubs were already the top clubs in America and as such provided training, exposure, and opportunity to their players before the Academy.  What they didn't do was gather in places where national team coaches had the opportunity to see the players in a comparative environment.  That certainly serves the top level of national soccer, but again doesn't answer what the Academy does differently for the majority of the players.  I will admit that the conference competition under the Academy is stronger than Robbie's club faced in league and in Super Y, but his team sought out competition in other venues to provide that higher level such as Dallas Cup or other elite tournaments.  In addition, the Academy needs to figure out how elite it can afford to be.  With the Academy devoid of teams from 28 states, national coaches still have to rely on programs like Super Y League and US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program to identify players in these states.  If the United States wants to build a strong national program, it won't be able to do it on the back of just 22 states.  If the present membership of teams remains the same, then the program is ignoring a raft of excellent players.  If the membership expands, the Academy risks diluting the program with weaker clubs.   I think it is telling that the quotation page for support of the program from coaches only contains one coach from outside the U.S. Soccer Developmental program.   If the emphasis is on development, than the program should have begun with the younger players who can still be molded; not those who have already learned for years under what these coaches argue is a lousy system.

While I want to embrace this Academy, I can't.  I try to find justification for such a shake-up in new advantages for the players, but I don't see it.  The founders of the Academy state that with so many disparate and competing programs, players were being pulled in too many directions.  Their training was suffering by being too much or too little and the clubs' focus on playing games across the boards of these various soccer programs resulted in players being over-stressed mentally and physically.  The only serious conflict I ever saw for a player's time and skills was between club practices and Olympic Development practices which occurred on a parallel schedule.  Most clubs would release their ODP players to participate in those practices knowing that players were getting coaching from top level coaches.  Otherwise all other programs dovetailed into one another nicely.  Economics usually have provided the best restraint on overdoing.  There are only so many travel dates a family can afford.  Since the clubs I have observed and spoken to have the same coaches, the same training facilities, the same training schedule, I can't really figure out what the Academy adds to this.  Perhaps I am missing something in my research, my observations, and my interviews.  What I come across is no understanding of what has changed in terms of training and a lot of frustration for how this Academy has negatively impacted the college recruiting process for member players.  Perhaps some adjustments can be made in the coming months to improve that situation.  Since the impetus for beginning the Academy was to improve the development of players and the identification of players, it seems more reasonable to me that it would have begun with the younger ages, rather than older players who have already been seen dozens of times through ODP and are approaching the end of their club training time.  For now, I feel tremendous frustration with and restriction from the Academy without any evident payoff for the change.  If many players are to be guinea pigs to afford a few players the chance to go national, it's a dangerous option without a reward in the important scouting years of their soccer lives.

 

It's About Having Fun

Susan Boyd

Youth soccer can be a difficult maze to negotiate. Right now under the United States Soccer Federation there are five youth programs: American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) founded in 1964 which has volunteer coaches and leagues all over the U.S. with a core predominately in Southern California, United States Youth Soccer Association (US Youth Soccer) founded in 1974 which is a mix of volunteer and paid coaches with both recreational and select programs, Soccer Association for Youth which is strictly recreational soccer and whose motto is "kid's having fun," US Club Soccer founded in 2000 which provides another venue for registration and for development, and finally the USSF Development Academy founded in 2007 which seeks to create competition among the top clubs in America at the U16 and U18 level which would serve as development for those players and opportunities for National Team coaches to scout for talent. Outside of the USSF umbrella are three other organizations: Soccer in the Streets (SITS) whose goal is to provide soccer and life training for kids at risk, YMCA, and Super Y League, a branch of United Soccer Leagues, which is a league of elite clubs whose purpose is to provide strong competition. And of course there are programs at schools, churches, and other youth venues which aren't under any national oversight.

This maze of youth soccer options often leaves parents bewildered and pressured. I don't think any other sport besides soccer has such an organized emphasis on development of players beginning at age five with an eye towards national team and professional team play at the end of the road. It's tough to just play soccer for the fun of it when much of the play emerges from programs that encourage commitment to constantly increasing levels of play. Yet recreational soccer remains one of the best programs for players to stretch their soccer muscles and exercise their interest in the game without the pressure of immediate or future success. 

When my oldest grandson was four, I enrolled him in our local Micro Soccer program. Both his parents worked, so it was an opportunity for him to get away from after-school care and play with a new set of friends. The largely teenage staff made the experience so much fun. Still kids themselves they romped with these three, four, and five year olds and even wrestled with them which I don't think is a soccer skill set. Keaton had a blast and although a bit intimidated at first, he jumped in and fully participated. He loved the opportunity to compete when there were races and to giggle and cavort when there was just play. Nevertheless some parents took exception to the program as not being structured enough – i.e. not really teaching them soccer. These parents already had their sights set on a select club and wanted their children to have a leg up on the competition. Since most select clubs use their youth recreational program as a feeder pool for the select teams at U11, parents were savvy enough to understand that they had to get their kids on the "right" recreational team. Since several select clubs have their U10 and even U9 teams play up at U11, select soccer can begin technically at age 8!

While my own sons eventually ended up on the select route of youth soccer, I don't regret keeping them out of a select club until they were U10. Those neighborhood teams they played on created so many fantastic memories without the pressure of succeeding. Robbie in fact didn't take to soccer until he was seven. His early years on his recreational teams were spent in the back field checking out the grass and wandering over to the sidelines to talk to his teammates who were on the bench. When the ball deflected to him from an opponent, Robbie would politely return it. Bryce on the other hand had a killer instinct and had to be restrained from using American football moves on the soccer field. He got plenty of invitations to join a select club, but he benefited by sticking with his recreational team for the first four years of soccer because he could be with his neighborhood buddies, ride to practice together, and enjoy the play. In fact the only reason he finally moved to a select club was because two of his best friends did. Once there, he got on a train that had only one route. It's important for parents to understand that commitment level and how ruthlessly players are booted off the train along the route.   Players need to be ready for the kind of cold-bloodedness that select programs can operate under.

Don't get seduced by the lure of early training. If your son or daughter expresses a real interest in continuing with soccer when he or she is 10 or 11 there's plenty of time to find a competitive recreational or select team. If they express an interest in a multitude of sports, they probably shouldn't do select sports until, as the name implies, they select that sport nearly exclusively, usually some time in middle school years. Soccer dovetails nicely at the youth ages with basketball and baseball with soccer games in the fall and in the early spring. But if players elect to be on a select team then they end up having the winter given over to indoor soccer and the summer over to tournaments. The scheduling crush ends up shortchanging teams. 

Find a recreational youth program that is fun, affordable, accessible, and outside the select soccer borders.   It's so great to see these little tykes in their size 2 soccer cleats and printed jerseys running likes ants across the fields, pig piling in front of the goal, keeping their balance and losing their balance, discussing big plays with their friends, being outdoors, and having something to look forward to each week that doesn't require discipline or pressure.   Whether kids do soccer with their church, with YMCA, with an organized club or with a community team, kids should play youth soccer for the fun of it.   A child should be laughing 80% of the time and so should you. 

While riding the select train all the way to the final station can have its own rewards, remember the realities of the ride: few will make it to the end, the cost to get there is tremendous monetarily, physically, and mentally, and the prize needs to be worth the journey. No one suffered from running around outdoors laughing – and that's where most soccer players will find their haven. Presently there are over 3 million players registered with US Youth Soccer, another 200,000 in AYSO, and probably another 100,000 or more in the other various youth soccer programs. There are around 50 men and women who are in serious contention for the 36 spots on the Men's and Women's Nationalb Teams. That's .0016% or 16/1,000,000.  

I like the odds for fun in youth soccer much better!
 

A Loss of Innocence

Susan Boyd

As parents we try hard to protect our children. Every new foray into independence by our sons and daughters matches equally with parental reluctance to let those tiny hands go. Despite their rush for adulthood, we recognize that our children still have that naivety and innocence we actually long to protect. We are well-aware that all too soon the hard facts of life will bring cynicism, sadness and weariness; so, we seek to extend childhood as long as possible even as we push the fledglings from the nest.

Therefore the tragedy at Northern Illinois University underscores how quickly our children can be thrust into the cruelty of the world even before they are completely armored for such an assault. I was going to write a blog about mini-soccer (also known as micro-soccer, lil kicks, etc.) for those players whose socks reach their hips and whose feet barely know how to stabilize their walk. Then NIU's community faced a few moments of horror that will stain their memories, their lives, their growth and their security forever.Those students are only a decade removed from the players they were in those first soccer games where they ran the wrong way or begged to be the goalkeeper or giggled so hard when they and their teammates fell into a pig pile. A decade will never be enough time to develop the perspective capable of absorbing and understanding what happened in their village. It's far too soon to be introduced so abruptly to the brutality of the world. It's far too soon to have to comfort others when you are unsure of what it all means. It's far too soon to be asked to give up your innocence.

I have a strong connection to NIU, so this incident hit me particularly hard. When I worked for US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, I had the privilege of visiting the campus two or three times a year for various ODP events. Region II held its Girls Regional Camp at NIU. Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana ODP teams would scrimmage on the athletic fields, and Illinois held its summer pre-regional camp there. I have gotten to know NIU soccer coaches and players through these contacts. My son Robbie has been in communication with the coaching staff about their soccer program and sat in Cole Hall for an orientation. A friend of my boys attends NIU and sat huddled for an hour in the back of a classroom just steps from the tragedy not knowing what was going on outside. So I know the people involved in the community of 25,000. I know that this event touched everyone's life. The school is a beautiful campus nestled on the north edge of DeKalb in the middle of farming land. The pace is gentle, quiet and kind. The school is the hub of activity in DeKalb. Because I have a son in college right now, I feel a kinship with all the mothers who anxiously awaited word of their children on Valentine's Day.
               
My hulking 6'2" son still possesses an innocence which is belied by his confident swagger and his absolute conviction that he knows more than his parents. He still calls me Mommy and will phone in distress over his account being overdrawn or the bookstore being out of an important textbook. He still believes I can perform miracles in those circumstances where he finds himself in trouble or in need. He will suddenly come over to me while I write at the computer to give me a hug, which I know is as much for his needs as for mine. I also know that he is little different from any of his friends of the same age, away from home for the first time in college. So I can't imagine how convoluted and rocky the students at NIU now find their lives. They have friends dead or injured. They have faced danger and mortality. They have seen horror that children in a country like ours should never have to see. There is no miracle a mother can perform to take away that cruel trial by fire from any child who has experienced such tragedy. So I can understand the hopelessness and agony NIU parents are feeling right now.
               
When I was at the Final Four in December I had the opportunity to speak to the wife of an assistant coach at Virginia Tech. We were both waiting in the hotel lobby for our respective teams to show up. I asked her how the student body and faculty were coping after their own tragedy. She spoke with pride of their resiliency, not that they rebounded to the same normalcy that existed before a gunman killed and wounded their friends, but of their ability to rise above the horror, to understand how it had blanched every memory of their college life, and to forge the determination to not let the events dictate defeatism in their lives. "They grew up too fast," she said. And now a new group of students has had to navigate this indefensible passage from innocence to stark reality.
               
Friday morning, following the tragedy, The Today Show was interviewing two young men who were in the lecture hall and witnessed the gunmen's destruction. One of the boys spoke about seeing all the chaos, of not knowing if he should run into a building or stay outdoors and of wondering if there were snipers on the top of Cole Hall just waiting to take out students as they fled. He could not have possibly had those thoughts two hours earlier as he walked to class. He didn't look up to see if rifles were aimed in his direction, or wonder if someone around him might need medical assistance, or stand conflicted as to the relative safety of his position. For the rest of his life those questions and others will run through his mind and will taint how he regards the independence of his own children. 
 
While parents seek to protect within the parameters of encouraging their children to run ahead to the woods or leap over a fence or ride their wobbly bikes around the neighborhood, this student may oneday find himself clinging to his child because his knowledge of what the world can do is so much more horrific than mine. His final words to the reporter still haunt me, "I saw a girl on a stretcher with towels wrapped all over her head and tons of blood coming out. The EMT was saying, 'Stay with me,' and she was saying, 'I'm trying." These two children had their innocence and their trust stripped from them and as a parent I couldn't do anything to stop it.

So I will grieve for those who died, I will grieve for the students who were wounded, I will grieve for the families who will never be the same, I will grieve for the community whose eyes were seared by ugliness, I will grieve for the loss of innocence and I will grieve for us who frolicked in soccer matches, who cheered with pride, who pulled our children back from approaching traffic, who tested food to see if it was too hot for them to eat, who knew dangerous consequences but who assured our children it would all be OK, who set limits and then let our children test them, who breathed a sigh of relief every time they saw those bikes or cars round the corner for home, who didn't let their children see R-rated movies because they shouldn't be exposed to violence and sex, who loved well and safely and openly. I pray that all our children will be safe, even as I know that can't be possible. I pray for the people at NIU that they may find support, love, and healing.