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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". 

 

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.
 

Classic History

Susan Boyd

While parked at Robbie's soccer practice last week, I overheard a group of girls discussing various radio stations while they pulled on their socks and cleats. "I swear you have to listen to 95.4. It is the coolest." "What kind of music?" "Well it's mostly classic rock with some modern music too." "What kind of classic?" "You know, like Justin Timberlake." 

I felt so old. If Justin Timberlake is classic rock, what would you call Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young? The Rolling Stones would have to be Baroque. I wonder what Justin would think about being labeled as classic rock?   I feel like I should enroll him in meals on wheels and get him a life alert pendant just in case he falls. Justin is younger than my oldest daughters. I can feel my bones disintegrating like the dust in a sarcophagus discovered by Indiana Jones.

And speaking of Indiana Jones, he's back – nearly 70 years old and still flying on ropes to land on trucks and rushing through tombs to avoid booby traps. The franchise is a classic, but even Colonel Sanders didn't pretend to be (I'll be gracious here) forty-five. The movie will make millions – that's a given – but hopefully it won't encourage a generation of centenarians to believe they can save the world with a whip and a wry smile. I'd hate to see 70 year old men playing out scenes from the film without benefit of wires, foam pads, make-up, and good lighting. Like all the teens who tried the stunts from "Jackass the Movie," I trust we won't have emergency rooms filling up with AARP Indy wannabes.

Nevertheless we are playing longer and harder than ever. It's not unusual to have 60 even 90 year olds running marathons, participating in iron man competitions, and pursuing an active lifestyle long after reaching the "classic" stage. I have to attribute a portion of that longevity of performance to the strong emphasis on sports over the past thirty years, especially for women who got access to more and more college level sports with the passage of Title IX in 1972 and then Jimmy Carter's push for adherence to the law in 1979.

When I was in high school girls were restricted to tennis (which most played through a tennis club), gymnastics and volleyball. Gym or P.E. was limited to rhythmic gymnastics, calisthenics and laps around the gym. We were excused once a month from activity with a discrete note from our mothers. A few schools had track and field programs for girls, but the major sports role for a girl in high school was cheerleading or being on the dance team. I grew up in Seattle, so I had the benefit of ski slopes just 45 minutes from home. I latched on to skiing with a vengeance. It was my only athletic release. Twenty years after my graduation from high school, my own daughters were participating in high school sports with nearly unlimited possibilities. My sister-in-law went to Harvard on a rowing scholarship in the 1980s. While living in Minneapolis, my younger daughter bought season tickets for the WNBA Lynx in their rookie year 1999, exactly thirty years after I graduated from high school. The athletes who paved the way are probably all "classics" now at least by character if not by age. Many of them didn't get the college scholarships or professional contracts female athletes can achieve now, but it didn't stop them from their passion.

So those girls giggling on the grass and nonchalantly readying themselves for soccer practice come from a brief, but momentous history of sports growth both for women and men in America. It's significant to remember that despite limited opportunities, great female athletes managed to break onto the scene – Babe Didrikson, Althea Gibson and Gertrude Ederle. But until the 70s, they had to limit their college sports to intramurals and outside clubs. In soccer, in particular, opportunities abound for both female and male players who can choose recreational, high school, club, semi-pro, college and professional soccer teams. The demise of the women's professional soccer league left a void for women, but I have no doubt it will be filled again as the sport expands and those girls discussing music last week seek more chances to perform. Soccer helps players begin a journey down the road of improved health, extended activity and good habits. Sometimes you need some classics to appreciate the modern. 
 

Transitions

Susan Boyd

I've been displaced by a cadre of painters who invaded my home for a much needed sprucing up. I'm happy to have them working to update the twenty year grunge from the hallway and dining room, but it means I have to give up my office during the day. I have moved my laptop to the family room, across from the 52"" shrine known as the plasma TV. The temptation to sneak a peak at daytime television proves too much, especially since we are on day four of what was suppose to be a two day project. I have now become intimately acquainted with Price is Right" shouting out prices and saying things like, "He's an idiot" when someone doesn't know the cost of a golfing lamp. I can tell anyone what Gold Bond Foot Powder sells for and that a bumper pool table costs more than a drum set. These are valuable life skills.

This proves that we can develop a rabid interest in anything, so long as we end up in the middle of it.  

Case in point: soccer. Many soccer parents barely knew the rules when they signed their sons and daughters up for the sport. Now every Saturday and Sunday finds them on far-flung fields, cheering the team on and dedicating their bank accounts to paying for the privilege. Suddenly they can explain "off-side," know the teams remaining in the UEFA Cup, and can quote David Beckham's contract salary with the LA Galaxy (well probably even non-soccer fans can do that!). Even those who had a passing interest in soccer before their children started playing can find that interest both heightened and broadened. The other night we sat transfixed by a high school soccer game between two schools not even in our state. But, it was soccer and it was on the TV.

Being in the position of having so selective and intense an interest, I end up in danger of not being able to do even rudimentary socialization. The other day I met a mom whose son plays lacrosse. I told her my boys played soccer. We stared in panic at one another on the verge of avoiding eye contact and running away from one another. It was a bit like running into my gynecologist just an hour after an exam. What do you say in a situation like that? "Thanks for warming up the instruments?" Luckily we were at a school auction, so with some deft adjustments, we were able to shift gears from sports to fundraising. We talked about what we would bid on and whether or not the Goldendoodle puppy would really sell. We carefully avoided talking about sports since there would be too many awkward pauses.

Next week, hopefully, I will have my office back and I'll return to my schedule of writing every morning. I will probably go through some withdrawal from "The Price is Right" and find myself shouting out prices in the grocery store for a day or two. But eventually it will pass. The very fact that I have to move on got me thinking about what I am going to do when soccer doesn't occupy most of my waking hours. I am literally months away from not having to commute to Chicago three or four days a week. Robbie is a year away from going to college. He'll play soccer in college like his brother, but I don't have to be the attendant any longer. They will have coaches and captains who see to it that they get up at 6 a.m. and go to practices. They'll have handlers to arrange travel plans and get them to the fields for the games. They will have freshmen players to do their uniform laundry. All I will need to do is mesh each soccer schedule so I can get to a few games each season.

So what will I do with all those hours not dedicated to thinking about, planning for, participating in, and talking about soccer? I don't know. But it seems to me a bit like compounding the "empty nest" syndrome, which is a cruel punishment for all those years of dedication. As parents we'll all face this quandary later, if not sooner. Certainly parents have kids who come to them at some point and say, "I don't like soccer anymore." The structure of the months and years will need to be replaced by another structure. Yet, I don't really see it as tragic, though I'm sure it could be a very sad moment. The truth is everything in our lives is in its own way fleeting. My baby girls now have children. My three foot tall son is now 6'3"" and my catatonic son is the life of the party. Even my hallway is no longer crimson and green flowered wallpaper. I wish my car was more fleeting, but with nearly 190,000 miles I think I will be buried in it. 

We spend our lives adjusting, going with the flow, discovering new interests, and giving up old dreams to pursue new ones. When I was at my grandson's game, I loved the sense of déjà vu in setting up my chairs on an abbreviated sideline and watching the "flies to honey" play of the kids. But I don't think soccer is my grandson's real sports calling. When I watched him at baseball practice right after his soccer game, I had to begrudgingly admit that the kid had an arm, which isn't the same advantage in soccer. He also seemed brighter, happier and more confident. So perhaps baseball will become my next sport's obsession. Then again, I have four other grandchildren who will find their own paths and love for me to cheer them on.   I just hope they don't choose long distance swimming. That's one déjà vu I can do without.
 
 

Stormy Weather

Susan Boyd

I know it's a bad storm when I am joined in bed by two whining dogs and I know it's a terrible storm when we are further joined by two teenage boys. Living in the Midwest means living with thunder and lightning most of the spring and summer.    This morning was a doozy, and we awoke to the news of an apartment house being struck and a church spire in flames from lightning. If I want to be reminded of lightning's destructive power I need only look out my living room window to the scorched skeleton of a once proud ash tree in the forest across the street.

According to National Geographic and the National Lightning Safety Institute, lightning kills more people each year than snowstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes. Only floods cause greater fatalities. Most of us don't take lightning seriously because these deaths occur singularly or occasionally two or three at once. But lightning seems benign compared to say a tornado which looks menacing and sounds like death rolling in. We avoid most deaths in natural disasters because we have early warning systems which help us get to safety quickly.    That's why when the tornado sirens go off in our town, we rush to the basement and wait for the all-clear. Yet when we hear thunder, which is nature's early warning system for lightning, we all remain transfixed on the wide open soccer fields as if somehow Mother Nature shouldn't be taken seriously. We live in this imagined cocoon of safety when we are out at a game or a practice. Lightning just can't be that serious a problem. But it is.

Soccer organizations need to develop, maintain, and most importantly, enforce a lightning policy. Just last year Robbie was playing in a game where lightning was ripping between clouds and to the ground all around us, yet the referees kept the game going. I spoke to the AR about halting the game and having everyone seek shelter and his reply was, ""It's not raining, so the lightning isn't that close."" It took a resounding blast into the trees at the end of the field to finally send everyone scattering. It never did rain. These types of misconceptions about lightning and its danger can lead to serious injury or death.

Organizations can purchase lightning detectors which is probably a good idea for the top lightning death states (Florida, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, and Illinois). These detectors can warn of lightning before it is even seen, and in the states mentioned there were more "first strike" deaths than anywhere else. But, for the most, part nature provides the detector for us in the form of thunder. The National Weather Service motto is: "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!" In other words, seek shelter immediately and stay there for at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder is heard. Shelter needs to be an enclosed space. Covered picnic areas or roof overhangs will protect from rain but not from lightning. Buildings and cars with metal roofs are the best shelter. If you find yourself in the middle of a field, make yourself as small as possible. Don't put up an umbrella or stand under a tree unless you are trying to attract lightning. Culverts and ditches can provide some protection from strikes.

Detecting lightning is only half the battle. Organizations need to be willing to put their activities on hold during a lightning storm. All too often practices and games continue despite the very real presence of danger. I know that if a tornado siren went off during a soccer game, it would not be ignored. So we need to be as diligent about lightning as we are about other natural threats.

The problem is that lightning threats occur several times during a year in the same areas, while tornadoes and hurricanes politely restrict themselves to only once or twice in the same area in a year. So lightning becomes an inconvenience for organizations. With a limited amount of time for practices and games, it's a huge nuisance to have to stop everything, delay a game or practice, and then restart. But the threat is real. 

Recently several advisories have been posted about anchoring soccer goals because of injuries and deaths occurring when they accidentally fall on a player. But those injuries and deaths are but a sliver of lightning's effects. We need a nationwide, enforced policy for soccer organizations. Referees, coaches and parents need to be on board. When my sons played in their high school state championship two years ago, the game lasted nearly five hours because of lightning delays. Frustrations ran high, but I applauded the referees and the oversight committee for insisting on lightning safety.

We need to do the same everywhere. Whatever policies do exist need to be dusted off and resubmitted to all clubs and organizations. Referees need to be reeducated and charged with enforcing the policies. Coaches need to require that the policies be enforced during games and do so themselves during practices. A lightning safety plan should be prepared for every soccer site so that families know where to go to be safe. In general, players and parents should be encouraged to go sit in their cars so long as they have metal roofs. Parents should pack some playing cards, coloring books, reading books, etc. to while away the time waiting out the storms.

Finally, don't be afraid to speak up if you think lightning safety isn't being followed. I gave the refereeing crew at that game last year a few websites to visit and encouraged them not to let a game get to the point where a tree fifty feet from a player has to be struck before anyone takes lightning seriously. I suspect they will lead the clarion call next storm. Check with your coach to see if he or she is aware of lightning safety and ask that safety measures be enforced. Go to your club board and ask them to check out the following websites to see how serious a problem lightning can be and to ask them to also draft and enforce a lightning safety policy. 

1. www.lightningsafety.com 
2.  www.weathermetrics.com/news/weatherFun.htm
3. www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/overview.htm.

We would run to safety if we saw a tornado approaching, or flood waters oozing over a field, or a forest fire blazing a few miles away, so we should do nothing less when we hear thunder and know that lightning lurks nearby. It strikes too fast to jump out of the way – prevention is the only protection.