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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 

 

A View from the Sidelines

Susan Boyd

Today I sat and "supervised" my son's high school team during captain's practices. Team captains gather the HS players together two or three times a week to practice in the month leading up to the beginning of the season. Robbie's team is practicing at another local high school which required an adult to be present at all times with the permit for use of the fields. Tag I'm it.

The upside of sitting on the sidelines during these practices is that I get to observe my son as a leader. This is the same son who can't remember to bring his laundry down every morning or take it back up stairs every night. This is the same son who spends four hours a day playing Halo. This is the same son who calls me from school and asks me to bring the backpack he forgot. So watching him take charge of twenty-three players overwhelmed me with both pride and wonder. 

Making that passage from child to adult is never easy or guaranteed. But I do think that involvement in sports helped my children learn the lessons of cooperation, sacrifice, humility, time management, setting and achieving goals, and adapting – the very behaviors that translate to adulthood. The journey goes in fits and starts, but I got a glimpse of the finished product today on the soccer field. I have also seen my older son grow. The journey has been anything but smooth, but it is nearing its completion with every important accomplishment. He wants to start this year on his college team and that means beating out the senior goalkeeper. Bryce's fitness has been an issue, so he has begun a rough and steady program for making himself fitter and muscular. I get to watch the progress since he does his weight lifting in the family room. I am sharing all the ooofs and ughs that accompany the exercises. As he literally grows in front of me physically, I see him growing responsibly as well.

On the flip side, I had to decide how much to be involved as the kids moved through their sports lives. It's hard not to meddle when we all want so much for our kids and we feel we can see the big picture better than they can, but I've discovered ultimately it is better to let them decide for themselves with whatever input I can give. This year, for example, I would much rather that my son plays with a local club. He should be committed to a college before high school season is over so it doesn't seem necessary to me for him to travel to Chicago where none of his games are ""home"" games. But he has his reasons for staying with his club team, and so that is what he is going to do. When Bryce's team dissolved at Under-14, he made the decision to play with a local ethnic club. I thought it could be a step down for him, but he knew several of the boys on the team, so that's where he felt comfortable.  In the end the year he spent on that team turned out to be terrific both for him and for our family. While he ultimately moved on to a more challenging team, the opportunity for him to be one of the strongest players on his club team gave him great self-confidence and taught him valuable leadership skills. While both boys mature, I still nag about cleaning their rooms and getting homework done – I can't be completely hands off!

I've had plenty of opportunities to observe parents overly invested in their kids' success. This is not to say we shouldn't want the best for our kids and do whatever we can to assist them, but meddling isn't assistance. Part of growing up involves our kids investing in their own future and developing the skills to make their goals reality. While we can offer advice and teach some of the skills, we shouldn't be doing the work. Being a mentor is probably one of the most difficult jobs since it requires some very skillful tightrope walking. We all want to leap off and rescue our kids by running interference, but we shouldn't do that. And we all think if we just push hard enough we can maneuver our kids onto the path we think they should follow. 

My kids accuse me of being a nag (and I am) so I constantly have to decide which moments to push and which moments to just back off and let them figure it out. This means allowing our kids to fail, which is definitely the toughest approach we take to child rearing. But every stumble teaches our kids to learn how to pay attention and leap when necessary. We won't always be there to pick them up. Sports provide the perfect opportunity to let kids succeed on their own terms. All too often we define success as being the absolute best. But success can also be making every practice or getting to start in a few games. We need to applaud those successes without reminding our kids that they didn't get to the very top. There's only one David Beckham in the world, but there's also only one of each of our kids. As deserving as Beckham is of our adulation for his skills and effort, our kids are even more so deserving of our support for all their successes no matter how small. The chances of our children being the next Beckham or Oliver Kahn are minute, but the chances of our children growing into happy, productive adults are nearly 100% so long as we don't have unrealistic expectations or try to achieve their success for them.

While it has been a struggle to stay on the sidelines, rather than insert myself metaphorically on the playing field, I have to admit that the evolving view is fabulous. I wasn't always successful in letting my kids work through their sports' experiences without my maneuvering. But I learned early to stay out of playing time issues and to let the kids chart their own course through their sports experiences. My lip probably has permanent teeth marks from biting, but it was necessary. My job is to watch from the sidelines and to cheer – not coach.  Well, some gentle coaching is allowed, but not interference. Nevertheless I still feel anxiety as my children step into total independence and adulthood. I sit on the sidelines and wait for that adult to emerge. I trust that it will, and watching Robbie today blessedly reinforced that trust.
 

Hopelessly Devoted

Susan Boyd

My oldest grandson, Keaton, was born on July 4, 2000, and I just returned from his 8th birthday party. His birth date came perfectly not only for easy memory but also because that was the year we were picking up a chocolate cocker spaniel puppy in Iowa. Keaton needed to arrive before July 7th or after July 11th. He accommodated us kindly and we retrieved our new puppy. We named the puppy Cobi Jones who was Robbie's soccer hero. Cobi, the puppy ended up with a scatter of hair on his scalp that looked exactly like Cobi's, the soccer player, dreadlocks. Robbie, himself, had dreads. We have a memorable picture on our refrigerator of Cobi and Robbie together when the Galaxy came to Milwaukee for an exhibition game. The two share both the same distinctive hair and the same captivating Cheshire Cat grin. Keaton's birthday reminds us that Cobi, the dog, is also eight, although given the dog year equation he is exponentially older than Keaton. Nevertheless they act like they are both eight, that is to say they are carefree, rambunctious, silly and occasionally naughty.

My second granddaughter's birth came while Bryce and Robbie were due to play in the Wisconsin high school state finals. So I was in Las Vegas to help out our daughter, Shane, who had been scheduled for an induction four days before the state final. I had my ticket home, but Megan decided to enjoy the hospitality of her mother's uterus for an extra three days. The boys' team won with Bryce making important saves and Robbie scoring the insurance goal. Luckily the entire game was available on our local cable access channel for several weeks after, so I did get to see their victory within the isolation of our family room. Megan's birth provides the requisite benchmark for remembering the anniversary of the championship, so every year she celebrates her birthday, we can fondly recall that highpoint of the boys' soccer experience.

Objects of devotion can be as varied as objects in the universe, but some are also simply universal. Devotion to family can encompass other objects of devotion, which in our family includes pets and soccer. Unfortunately as a family grows, so grow the conflicts. Trying to find balance and equity isn't always a successful venture. On the rank of events you don't want to miss, a granddaughter's birth and your sons' state championship come pretty close to equal. But with the assistance of digital recorders, cell phones, and email, I nearly managed to be in two places at once.   Still I've missed all of Keaton's football games, all but Andrew's first two birthdays, all but one of Bryce's college games live (although I did catch them through streaming video), several of Robbie's travel games, and the list will only grow. Fall of 2009 both boys will be in college and will have games perhaps thousands of miles apart.

I'm grateful every chance I get to be involved in my kids' and grandkids' experiences and lives. Select soccer is a cruel task master, requiring lots of money and, even worse, lots of time. I have friends with three and four kids in select soccer and they have an elaborate calendar to insure that they get to at least a couple of each kid's games. I feel lucky to have to juggle only two kids, but once I add the grandkids into the mix, the juggling qualifies for Cirque d'Soleil. Nevertheless I revel in those moments when I can share an experience with any one of my family. While soccer takes the lion share of time now, I feel my life separating from soccer and cleaving to other sports and activities as the family expands. It's actually invigorating to have such a rich plate from which to feast. 

This winter the entire extended family is headed to Orlando for a reunion. While the Disney Showcase will be in full swing then, it won't be a part of our week there. Instead we'll be devoting our time to getting reacquainted, giving the youngest kids a basket of good memories, and giving the older kids a well-deserved break from the rigors of school and soccer. I don't even think anyone will go into soccer withdrawal. In fact the first night there, the Packers are playing on Monday Night Football, and we all plan to be visions in our green and gold. I can't wait to get everyone together! I'm hopelessly devoted to them all.
 

An Ounce of Prevention

Susan Boyd

Twisted ankles, turf burns, torn ACLs, muscle fatigue, and hundreds of other bumps, bruises, and breaks afflict soccer players every year. Most soccer players mercifully avoid major injury, but everyone has run into harm's way while on the pitch.  Recently Robbie lost his boot while holding the ball in the corner. Someone stepped hard on his exposed big toe and seriously injured his toenail.  He couldn't play for two weeks because the swollen toe prevented him from fitting his foot back into his cleats. During the recuperation, we got treated to daily reports about his toenail – how loose it was and how much it was oozing - and then a demand that we look at it. That's akin to saying ""I think this meat is rotten. Here taste it!""  For most players such nicks and bumps will be the extent of their injury history, for which we can all be grateful. Nevertheless, since injury goes hand in hand with intense physical activity, we parents need to familiarize ourselves with techniques to minimize injury and to treat injury when it occurs.
 
The most significant way to reduce injury is stretching both before and after activity. Think of joints and muscles like a fine sports car. Despite the tactics of James Bond, most drivers of elite autos know they need to warm the engine up before laying rubber. Likewise the body has its own need to rev up for a spin on the pitch. Joints need gentle activity to loosen up movement and slowly bring them up to a strenuous level rather than suddenly jarring them into a full run. Muscles benefit from the slow increase of temperature and blood flow that a warm-up provides. The warmer the muscles, the more effective they can be in processing the chemicals necessary to produce energy. The heart can't be ignored in this process. It benefits from the slow warming and can more effectively provide blood flow with its rich oxygen supply to the muscles and joints. Following activity joints and muscles need to cool down to resting status. Exercise produces certain toxins in the muscles that can build up and cause pain if not allowed to release. Incrementally ratcheting down the activity allows these toxins to be released slowly without building up again; otherwise they just sit in the muscles. In addition moving from strenuous activity to normal activity without a gradual slow down can have as jarring an effect on the body and heart as can a sudden increase in activity.
 
Having a physical every one to two years can help detect any problems which might lead to injury. Be honest with the doctor about any problems you have encountered during the intervening time between physicals. This includes joint pains, breathing problems, chest pains, dizziness, neck pain, headaches, and general energy levels. Keep your doctor informed about the level and intensity of activity you participate in for soccer and other sports. Sometimes even medications can interfere with activity and contribute to some weakness of muscles and joints, so your doctor needs to know a complete history to find the most compatible remedy for your lifestyle.
 
Listening to your body is extremely important in avoiding injury. Pain is the body's way of letting us know to stop doing something. If you touch a hot iron, the body actually retracts your hand instinctively. Chronic joint and muscles pains are the body's same instinctive reaction to inappropriate activity. Only the body can't jerk you away from a soccer match. So you need to recognize the signals and respect them. I'm not suggesting hypochondria as a guard against injury. Rather, I encourage players and parents to simply pay good attention to the signals a body is sending out. Swollen joints or muscles requiring ice after every training and game are probably in need of a doctor's diagnosis. If a player is popping ibuprofen or acetaminophen day after day, that's no good for his or her stomach and signals that the pain isn't transitory.  Most problems simply require rest. It's difficult to agree to rest when the big game is coming up or a fun tournament looms just days away. But many injuries occur because players put more stress on their good joints in order to avoid the pain they have in their strained joints. And ignoring the pain can turn an injury requiring only rest into an injury requiring more invasive treatment. 
 
Something as simple as keeping fully hydrated helps muscles and joints maintain both their elasticity and their ability to create energy. The body is technically an electrical machine that requires electro-chemical reactions to produce the runs, kicks and jumps of sports. Cramps are the body's way of saying "I'm out of gas." The muscles don't have enough electrolytes to produce the energy they need to function.  When they are weak and poorly functioning they are far more susceptible to injury when as full power.
 
The best way to keep from getting injured is to be fit in the first place. Those players with the strongest muscles and well-conditioned joints end up with the best protection against the injury inducing stress of strenuous activity. Soccer has the reputation of having one of the lowest incidents of serious injury. While players certainly get their share of bumps, bruises, bloody noses and strains, they get fewer fractures and muscle and ligament damage than other contact sports. A great part of that protection comes from the fitness soccer players aspire to. Another part comes from good training that strengthens players' joints and muscles. Since soccer is a year-round sport, players enjoy the benefit of consistent training. While there is a debate about repetitious stress injuries, the overall effect of regular supervised activity ends up with positive results for players.
 
If your son or daughter should have the misfortune of an injury requiring medical treatment, be sure to follow the treatment plan completely. Returning to play too soon leaves an injured body part to fend for itself in a weakened condition. That means it can't fully heal, may be susceptible to re-injury, and may never get its full strength back. While it's difficult to sit and observe when you feel fit and fine, the regimen your doctor gives you is not only well-considered but has the authority of experience. Most players who remain plagued with injuries throughout their lives never gave their original injury the opportunity to heal totally. Once a player is strong enough to return to practice and playing, he or she may still need to continue some physical therapy to maintain and build on the strength already achieved. 
 
Occasionally the admonition to play through the pain serves a good purpose: it encourages a player to judge for him- or herself whether or not he or she can continue. And we all know that soccer is a dramatic sport with lots of tumbles to the ground in agony only to have a player spring up Phoenix-like and score the winning goal. So sometimes it's not easy to judge when an injury is serious enough to stop play and seek medical attention. No one expects an injury to occur, so players aren't always capable of judging when enough is enough. Parents, coaches, and referees need to err to the side of caution especially with the youngest players to insure that no one moves from an easily treatable injury to one requiring surgery and long recuperation. The old adage of "an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure" definitely applies when dealing with soccer injury.
 

Susan Goes to Regionals

Susan Boyd

This week Susan will be back at the US Youth Soccer Region II Championship cheering on her Under-19 son Bryce and his teammates.

If you want some inside scoop and some "don't forget to do this" and "oh by the way, you'll need to remember this"...you've come to the right place. 

Susan's Regional Blog will be posted daily here.  You can check out all of the championship bloggers, yep, we've got players giving their take, here.