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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". 

 

Lost and Found

Susan Boyd

The home team scored two own goals, three players had to be carried off the field, one player lost his jersey, there were no referees, fans crowded the sidelines, and the coaches spent the entire game micro-managing the action. Sounds like a soccer nightmare! But welcome to the world of U6 soccer where mayhem ensues, pig piles rule, sidelines are meaningless, and fun is had by all. Where else would a player circle the field getting high-fives from all for scoring a goal against his team? Where else would a player stop in front of the goal box mid-dribble to adjust his shin guards before shooting the goal? Where else would a player frustrated by not being able to kick the ball out of a scrum of participants pick up the ball and place it in a more advantageous spot then kick it? Where else would a player run off the field in the middle of a play because he had to go to the bathroom?

I had the pleasure of watching my four year old grandson, Archer, and his team of four, five, and six year olds. Archer's team was the Orange Magic – a name Archer suggested undoubtedly based on the color of the jerseys and his uncle Robbie's club team. Teams played on a field so small it couldn't accommodate the spectators along its short sideline. But parents politely accommodated one another. Rather than team benches, each team spread a blanket out where the kids lounged. Because of the range of ages, there were definitely varying levels of ability. Yet every kid played an equal amount without regard to skill or outcome. The Orange Magic's top scorer had four goals: two for the Magic and two for the opposing team. After the first own goal, the coach asked the team which net they should score in, and in unison the team stretched out their arms, pointed their fingers and indicated the goal ahead of them. Ten seconds later they received the ball, turned around, and fired into the opponent's goal. Then dutifully pointed the right direction when the coach again inquired which net was theirs.

Sometimes when they dribbled out of bounds, the coaches stopped the play and had them throw the ball in. But usually the spectators crowding on the sides kept the play from going too wide, so play just continued regardless of lines. Each team had two coaches on the field trying to maintain some sense of order, but for the most part they were reduced to shouting, "No hands" and "Turn around."  Despite all the chaos, everyone was having fun, except for the occasional tears for losing the ball, or falling down, or being kick accidentally. No one understood when the coaches asked, "Do you want to come in or stay out," since "in" and "out" were cloudy concepts based on understanding what sidelines meant. So it took some time to figure out whether or not a player would sub. In the meantime action would continue with a varying number of players on the field.

The parents and coaches spent most of the game laughing and cheering. I only observed one parent intent on making his little player rise to a higher level by discussing his play with him and coaching from the sidelines. But after the kid left the field to turn somersaults, the parent backed off. The game ended when the coaches said, "One more goal." We got to watch five or six runs up and down the field before a goal was finally scored. I have never laughed so hard with joy at a soccer game. Everyone declared his team the winner which was perfect because we were having too much fun to keep track. The one thing the players did manage to do with perfection was form the line to shake hands after the game and then head to the right spot to get their after game treat.

Last night I attended Robbie's high school game. All the players ran the right direction, didn't accidentally or on-purpose pick up the ball, dribbled inbounds, substituted without reminder or question, and no one ran off the field to the Port-A-John. All that perfection made for an exciting game, but we lost the joy of seeing kids having pure fun without any pressure to win. After the game I didn't have the same ache on my face from smiling so broadly at Archer and his buddies. Of course I cheered with pride when Robbie went "coast to coast" for a goal, out-maneuvering three defenders. Naturally I was delighted when the team was up 2-0 in the first two minutes. Without question I celebrated when his team won. But I realized something was lost in achieving the victory. Not everyone got to play, the coaches were dead-serious barking out instruction, and winning mattered – a lot.  No one had the luxury of just enjoying the moment without considering the consequences of the play.

That's the price paid for evolving from "youth" youth soccer into "competitive" youth soccer. Many players want to evolve and many parents want their players to evolve. But we have to accept that we lose our innocence. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to experience and remember what soccer used to be like on a Saturday morning. I didn't need to have any more investment in the outcome of the game than cheering on all the players and enjoying the moment. Everyone should go experience again where all soccer players came from so we can recapture the unabashed freedom of enjoying the game without any agenda. It's a feel-good warmth that lasts a long time.  
 

They Just Say No

Susan Boyd

A crisp fall day with clear blue skies, a mild wind, leaves just beginning to flutter to the ground, and the awesome screams of a four year old who absolutely, positively doesn't want to play soccer today. Out on the emerald green field scores of other four year olds are having the times of their lives kicking, giggling, running, and generally making mayhem.   But one kid stands on the fringe beyond reasoning. "AHHHH."   And it's your kid!

As parents we want to offer our kids every opportunity possible. We know the importance of the socialization and to some extent the networking sports offer, not to mention the obvious health benefits. But kids will resist our best intentions sometimes for reasons we can't comprehend. We cajole, "See? There's your friend Billy. Why don't you go play with him?" And we're met with a sobbing, "NO!" We bargain, "If you just go play for 10 minutes we can go home." With a look of confusion our child responds with "I want to go home now." We may even threaten, "If you don't go out and play now, we won't come back to soccer again." And our child looks up with total relief in her eyes and says, "Okay." Sometimes you can get your child to sit and watch, but usually once she enters the panic mode, there's no calming her except by leaving.

Besides the obvious embarrassment of having it be your son or daughter creating the scene on the sidelines, there's the additional concerns about shyness, missing out, and being labeled as a quitter.  Experts tell us that children have natural separation anxiety clear up to age seven. Many kids overcome it around age four, but others need additional time to feel secure in leaving their comfort zone. Kindergarten teachers will tell you that certain children have anxiety for weeks before settling into the routine of school. So although it can be disconcerting to pull up to the fields for the first soccer experience, so proud to begin "big kid" activities, and have your child have a total meltdown, some kids just are ready yet.

Nevertheless there are some ways that might help ease the transition for any child. First, make preparing for soccer an adventure. Go pick out some cleats, socks and a ball. Balls come in a dozen colorful and inexpensive options, so let your child make his own choice of ball. Then have him help you label these items so he can take full possession and responsibility for them. If possible designate a special place to keep the gear, so your child knows how important this experience will be.

To help minimize the sudden introduction of a new location and dozens of new kids, you can introduce your player to the field ahead of time. Take her there and play some soccer with her. If you know a child or two who will also be doing soccer invite them along so your own child will feel part of the group even before coming to the first session. While playing let her know that soccer will be just like this but there will be even more kids to play with. Sometimes this little bit of familiarity can overcome initial hesitation.

If you know your child has ambivalence when faced with large groups, new situations, and/or separation, a good idea is to arrive early. Take your son or daughter out to the field and begin some play. As time goes on more and more kids will arrive. Having your child be the center of activity rather than having to break through a barrier of kids to get to the activity can help ease them into group play. As friends arrive bring them into your circle and slowly ease yourself to the sidelines. Taking the time to introduce them to the coaches/teachers when they arrive can also help. Usually the coaches are incredibly enthusiastic and understand young children, so they can help you get your child included in the group.

If all else fails, see if you can get your child to sit and watch. Sometimes seeing his friends having fun will help a kid get over trepidation.   At the very least your child will have the satisfaction of participating in his own quiet way. The next week he may dip his toe in deeper. All you can do is continue to encourage his participation and make the experience as positive as possible.

Most importantly don't consider your child a quitter if he or she absolutely insists on leaving. Try to reintroduce the experience the next week. But if your child can't be persuaded, most reputable organizations will allow you to apply the fees from one session to another later one. That way you can give your child the time to grow more secure. Most kids hear about soccer from their friends and get their enthusiasm tweaked through those discussions. So over time most kids become secure enough to participate.

So if it is your child having the meltdown, don't despair and don't force him or her to participate. Just chalk it up to childhood development that each child travels at his or her own speed. Believe me when I say from experience that I have had both kids and grandkids who initially balked at playing soccer and now play regularly – even in college. I also know kids who never warm to it, which means they may not want to play sports or may want to play a singular sport. When they say no, we need to listen and not let ourselves be swayed by our expectations or by our concern for what the neighbors might think. Let no be no for a time and then try again. Kids are notoriously fickle, so yes will probably be the answer soon.
 
 

Tone Deaf?

Susan Boyd

We've all experienced it: the boorish fan who knows nothing about the game, but insists on educating referees, players, coaches, and spectators on the finer points of the competition as he or she sees it.   I am constantly amazed at how these lessons come wrapped in expletives and personal attacks. They assault my ears with their off-key utterances. I wonder if these "professors" conduct themselves the same way when running a meeting or grocery shopping – "Hey you idiot stock boy. Vegetables should be displayed alphabetically by scientific classification."   You might expect, however, that parents of college soccer players who have played the sport for upwards of 15 years would have both better knowledge and restraint.

Not so I discovered last weekend when I went to watch Bryce's college team play. A cadre of fathers from the opposing team kept up a barrage of expletive laden "advice" for anyone in earshot. Unfortunately their advice was ill-informed or in many cases ridiculous. And worse, the intimate seating meant their advice was heard by all. To add insult to insult, the opposing team won the game. I believe in karma, but I will have to wait for its realization at a later date.

I'm not immune to my own outbursts. It's difficult not to get caught up in the frenzy of the game, especially if I feel my own child is being unfairly targeted. But I've learned to let him take the bumps and bruises on the pitch and handle it himself. Sometimes he'll get a call in his favor when he shouldn't, just as he'll get a call against him when he shouldn't. Referees' skills vary just as much as players' and coaches' skills do. I know a referee must be terrible if both teams are complaining, but that doesn't help mitigate the frustration that a bad call brings. Undisciplined and outmatched teams may resort to hacking in order to regain some control of the action, which can make many a parent see red as their child is mauled on the field. Coaches may unwittingly or purposely feed chaos on the field by their own sideline admonishments. I had to sit and listen to a coach encourage his players to "take out number three by the ankles," meaning Robbie. Natural protective instincts urged me to leap across the field and ring the coach's neck. But the very skills Robbie possessed that prompted such an order would always exist, so Robbie had to learn to handle the pressure on his own.

This past weekend was a study in contrasts. Robbie played in a high school tournament. His team played three teams, two of which are significant rivals of his high school. The crowds were huge since students came out to support their players along with parents. Yet the overall tone was civil and encouraging. There were occasional jeers at a call or groans when a play didn't succeed. But there wasn't swearing or non-stop criticism. At Bryce's college game the foul language was constant and the condemnation never-ending.   The parents verbally assaulted their own players for perceived lapses, blasted Bryce's teammates for their play, and name-called the referees with every possible put-down.   The entire experience was not only uncomfortable but unsettling. I wasn't sure where this outpouring of vitriol would lead. Luckily in the waning minutes the team scored and some of the tension deflated.

The difference could have been the standards put in place prior to the games. In Robbie's case, the high school rules and state amateur athletic association promise swift and binding consequences for bad behavior. Parents and students are well-aware of the expectations and for the most part adhere to them. There's also plenty of peer pressure to keep the behaviors under control. When a parent shouted out, there were ten parents "shushing" the outburst. For the college game no warning about good sportsmanship was given prior to the game and by logical extension no consequences applied. Parents had no standard they were told to adhere to, so they didn't.

It would be comforting to think that we could all be self-editing, understanding that cursing and criticizing don't add to the game's enjoyment by others in the stands or on the field. Yet all too often I attend games that rival the FA Cup finals in fierceness of fan vocals. While I am excited about growing a more enthusiastic fan base for soccer in America, I would like to see it happen with more courteousness and self-control than are found in our fellow fans in Europe and South America. We have the opportunity to show that a devoted fan doesn't need to be rabid. While "fan" starts fanatical, we do have the opportunity to chart a different course in team support. Enthusiasm doesn't need to go to the dark side and become ugly and attacking. Perhaps there should be swift and certain retribution for being a loud-mouthed oaf no matter the level of the game.

Next weekend I'll be watching my four year old grandson play soccer. I trust the game will be free of cussing and name-calling. If we can do it with our pre-school players, we should be able to do it with our college, amateur, and pro players. It just requires a little self-restraint and a positive outlook. I know, I know … Little Orphan Annie should break into "Tomorrow" at this point. But I'm just naïve enough to hope we can find the right tone for all soccer games.
 

Enjoy the Ride

Susan Boyd

When the transmission went out on my car, the mechanic was reluctant to install a new one since the value of my car was a mere $6500. I assured him that I was okay with my car being worth more dead than alive. With just 3000 miles to go before hitting the big 200,000 mark, I feel a certain obligation to keep the car running so it can achieve its milestone. That, and I can't afford car payments on a new car.

I would estimate that 70% of those miles are soccer-related, which means 140,000 miles in five years. That's the equivalent of five and half trips around the world. I've always thought that soccer was a way to see the world; I just didn't realize that it would be the same few 1000 miles of the world over and over and over and over again. Nevertheless each trip offers its own adventure and memories. If my car could talk . . . then I would have a T.V. series and be able to afford a new car.

With fall soccer season revving up, it's probably time to reiterate a few travel tips that can help make the trips less stressful and a bit more fun. First and foremost I encourage every family to keep a soccer survival box in the trunk. That way you have most of the necessary items at hand all the time. In my box I have paper towels, toilet paper, stocking caps, stretchy gloves, extra socks, extra shin guards, an old pair of cleats, garbage bags, gallon size storage bags, first aid kit, sunscreen, travel umbrellas, and "astronaut" blankets (large Mylar sheets you can get at camping stores).   The garbage bags I can lay on the floor of my car to keep mud and grime from hitting the carpets.  I personally can't live without my soccer chair, but I don't suppose it's a true necessity.

For really long trips I swear by audio books. You can rent these from the library or at Cracker Barrel restaurants. You can also download books from several different websites directly onto your MP3 player or burn a CD. Some require a membership and some are actually free, although be careful of shareware sites that can hide viruses. DVDs and video games can obviously while away the hours as well, although the driver is left out of that bit of fun.

If you want to avoid electronics, any number of "car trip" games can offer entertainment. Our favorite is the alphabet game whereby contestants look for and shout out the letters of the alphabet in order from the various roadside signs. Our rule is that letters have to be the first letter of words except for X, but to make it harder X can't come from the word "Exit." For younger kids you can do partners since their reading skills might not be up to quick letter identification. We also play "barrel of monkeys" where someone locates something on the roadside, say a cow, and then the next person has to find something starting with the last letter of that object, so maybe a wagon, and so on. Another variety has each person repeating the objects in order before adding their own. Another game is movie or book trivia.   To narrow it down we select categories such as plot, setting, and characters. Then somebody has to provide clues one at a time towards an answer in that category. So if the category was characters, someone might give clues like "glasses," then "scarred," then "orphan" for Harry Potter, trying to stump us. We usually limit the clues to ten. We also do movie titles by providing just the initials of the title, i.e. OHAOD for One Hundred and One Dalmatians. To simplify the game we can give genres such as cartoon, action film, comedy, etc.   We tried song titles, but it quickly became apparent that our circles of knowledge didn't intersect at all.

I recommend plenty of fluids and power snacks. The boys love chips, but they end up being messy and not very healthy, so I try to supplement with fresh fruit, trail mix, and protein. Hard boiled eggs travel very well as long as they are kept cool. I also have found packets of cheddar cheese cubes, string cheese, and I love "Gogurts."    We often have to leave early in the morning when no one is awake enough for breakfast, so I try to find snacks that satisfy the breakfast palette.   I haven't tried them, but I saw advertised a new treat called "Bagelfuls" which are individual packets of bagel wrapped around cream cheese. 

Don't forget pillows.   Naps help make the miles float by.   We also try to mix things up in the car by changing places whenever we stop. Highway rest stops provide quick access to clean toilets, maps, and vending machines without the enticement and time waster of fast food. On toll roads, service oases replace rest stops. This means you get one stop convenience for refueling, bathrooms, and food. We also always stop for a sit down meal on the road to give everyone 30 to 45 minutes to unwind and hopefully eat from all four food groups. But you can also achieve the same results with a packed picnic shared at a rest stop. Occasionally we are in a real rush, so we grab food on the way and eat in the car, though I don't like those trips as much.

With the popularity of navigation systems travelers can rely on instant directions. I haven't bought a system for my car, so I still rely on maps. On the other hand, having an electronic Sacagawea in my dashboard telling me where the nearest Starbucks or Pizza Hut is located would be nice. I love Google maps because I can get a satellite map with a street map overlay. The satellite map offers visual cues which have proven very helpful in locating fields off the beaten track. Although don't rely too much on the house photos from an address. When incorrect those photos can prove embarrassing picking up a kid at 5 AM – trust me!

Robbie had his first soccer game Tuesday of his last high school season. So as autumn leaves change so do our lives. Sorry, but if I can't have a talking car maybe I can make a living coming up with hackneyed images. Enjoy the ride, wherever you are going this season.