Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer

Clubhouse

Play for a Change

Play for a Change

US Youth Soccer Twitter

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority

Marketplace

Wilson Trophy Company

Happy Family

Nesquik

Capri Sun

Play Positive Banner

Print Page Share

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". 

 

Who can you really look to for advice?

Susan Boyd

My husband told me yesterday that Sally Fields is going to address the Scientific Assembly of the American Academy of Family Physicians this coming September. Her topic will be osteoporosis. My husband was second author on a three year cognitive psychology study of infant and toddler development. He and the primary author submitted their paper on their findings which weren't monumental but definitely questioned some of the leading authorities on how children develop their cognitive skills such as speech. The idea was to create a kit that pediatricians and family doctors could use to administer tests to better assess a child's developmental growth. Their paper was rejected – twice. But now Sally Fields of "you like me . . . you really, really like me!" fame and star of those Boniva bone strengthening pill commercials apparently has gained enough expertise on osteoporosis and its prevention to be able to address a Scientific Assembly on the topic.
           
Who do we trust to guide us through our tangled lives? Rather than go through months, even years of detailed psychological counseling we look to Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura to give us a sound-bite band-aids.   CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is a neurosurgeon and NBC's medical correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, is an otolaryngologist, yet they give advice on the entire spectrum of medical issues. This would be like going to an OB-GYN to have your prostate checked! The influx of media supported "experts" receives instant validation just because they are on the TV or the radio. Even Lynn Spears, the mother of Britney and Jamie, wrote a parenting book which blessedly has been put in hibernation by the publisher.   But I really felt we achieved a new low with an actor giving a medical speech. ""I'm not a doctor, but I play one at medical conventions.""
           
The same concerns come with sports and who we can trust to give us good advice about our kids. What about the parents who are told by coaches that their nine year old child has the ability to make the national team, so they should hand him or her over to a particular club for training? Who can give them an honest assessment? If a player is good, every coach will attest that his or her club offers the best chance for development. How can parents tell if the assessment is sincere or is made because the team is missing a defender for next year and as soon as a stronger defender shows up, their child will be unceremoniously dumped? It happens every year to thousands of players across the country. Not exactly the type of self-esteem boost families seek for their children.  
           
How do parents know which position their child should play? A coach needing a goal keeper will seek out and convince the most likely candidate on the team even if the player has great potential as a field player. On Robbie's club team half the players are former midfielders and still play midfield on their high school teams. But with a surplus of excellent players who also happen to be midfielders, they got shuttled around to other positions. Robbie never played forward until he got to his present club team where he got told he was a great forward. Now college coaches are talking about him as a midfielder. Who knows? I certainly don't have the expertise to figure it out, and if you ask Robbie, he says he'd rather play midfield.
           
Clubs have turned to a fairly rigorous training schedule. Who can really offer the best expertise on a training regimen and how it affects various age levels? Fitness, team tactics, skills, nutrition, and quantity, regularity and intensity of sessions share importance. What's the best mix? Add to this the on-going argument about specialization vs. playing a wide range of sports. The former is blamed for repetition injuries and body stresses while the latter is blamed for players becoming jacks of all trades and masters of none. When is the right time to shift to a concentration on one or two sports? Experts disagree and lay people manage to weigh in with even more opinions. Ask a coach and an orthopedist what the best training regimen is and you'll get some differing opinions. Then ask a sports trainer who'll confuse the issue even further. Finally ask a child psychologist and hear another approach. Each one has important authority on the topic, but each one also has a differing point of view based on what each sees as the benefits and the detriments of particular choices.

I'm facing a quandary right now without an expert in sight. Robbie is receiving emails, letters, and brochures about dozens of college camps across the country. Every letter touts how players are selected from the camps to be on D1 college teams and coaches exert anywhere from moderate to strong pressure to attend their camps. These cost $450 to $650 not including transportation to and from the events. There is also the veiled message that should you forgo a camp you are risking not being recruited for that school. What's a parent to do? First off the letters are sent to a significant group of players because the schools need to fill the camps to make them financially viable. Therefore you can't assume because you got a letter that you are one of the top picks for that school. You can definitely assume that the coaches either saw you play somewhere or heard of you from someone credible or you were on a list such as Olympic Development Program state team or on a competitive team or your name was on a mailing list they purchased. Elite camps for most schools are listed right on their athletic websites, so even if you didn't get an invite, you can still sign up. That takes some of the bloom off the rose. But I have to admit to feeling the same pressure to figure out which camps if any Robbie should attend. And the only experts are the same college coaches who are soliciting his attendance.
           
What I have finally decided in all this mess is to depend upon my own children to let me know what's best. Kids usually have a better finger on the pulse of their coach's intentions or their team's dynamics, so I trust them to figure out where they want to be and why. If they want to play three or four sports, so long as they aren't sacrificing one team's schedule and cohesiveness to serve another team's needs – in other words he or she is meeting all team commitments – then let the kids decide when they want to or if they want to specialize. The rule in our house was only one sport per season, but that was a mom rule because of scheduling and car-pooling. If a child is grunting when sitting down, he or she is either seventy years old or is training too hard or incorrectly. No child should need an ice bag every night and be popping ibuprofen regularly. Robbie picked his camps on the basis of location, school, and how much they would eat into his summer fun time. If he misses a camp that costs him recruitment, then so be it. There was no perfect answer anyway. 
           
However, if you really need some answers, I suggest writing to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. He played the coach in "Bend it Like Beckham." If Sally Fields can lecture on osteoporosis on the basis of acting in Boniva commercials, then it logically follows that Jonathan seems the right resource for questions on soccer development. After all he was actually in the movie – Beckham was played by a stand-in so what would Beckham know?
 

The Good, The Bad and The Foul

Susan Boyd

A recent movie release, "Mr. Woodcock" starring Billy Bob Thornton told the story of a boy's elementary school coach returning years later to woo and marry the now grown student's mother. Woodcock was a coach from you know where and the beleaguered student experienced every stereotypical horror from the dreaded rope climb to dodge ball. Now he gets to relive the misery. While the movie wasn't a masterpiece it did illustrate the affect a coach can have on the development and psyche of a player. 

Coaches can be volunteers, part-time professionals, or full-time professionals. Most players are taught first by volunteer coaches who can range in knowledge from learning that soccer balls are round to former professional players helping out with their kids. It used to be that volunteer coaches were a largely unsupervised cadre of men and women which resulted in the early years of soccer being hit or miss on the development level. Now coaches are asked to get a coaching license, which certainly helps increase both the quality and the consistency of youth soccer.

Parents should make sure their child's coach is licensed. The main purpose of licensing for volunteer beginner coaches and an important purpose for veteran coaches is to insure that they go through a background check. No coach can be licensed without the check and more and more soccer organizations are requiring that all coaches be licensed.

The second purpose of licensing for all coaches is to insure some consistency in how kids are coached. Every year changes in the structure of the game at the youth level crop up, so licensing helps coaches stay current with rules and requirements. Under-8 soccer for most states has moved to 4 v 4, with Under-10, Under-11, and Under-12 soccer seeing similar changes in the number of players on the field. In addition, field, goal and ball size are dictated by the new organization of the age groups. Coaches need to be sure that they are coaching both for and to the right level. A seven-year-old player is lucky if she can manage a dribble cross field. Learning complicated step-overs wouldn't be appropriate.

Coaches need to understand their role as teachers. Therefore, coaches should be free with the praise and minimal with the criticism especially at the younger ages. They also need to understand age appropriateness. Walking across a field once I heard a coach screaming four letter expletives at his team. I looked over to see a group of six or seven year old boys, wide-eyed and near tears. In many clubs, coaches will be called upon to cover teams from Under-8 up to Under-17, so they need to be sure to adjust their coaching methods to the age.

Parents should ask to see a coach's pass to reassure themselves that a background check has been done. The pass should indicate the expiration date of the pass and the license level the coach has achieved. Coaches can be licensed as G, E, D, C, B, or A with a national level possible for D – A. Most volunteer coaches will have a G or an E license. E licensed coaches usually selected that level because they wanted to coach older as well as younger players and want to move up the licensing ladder. G coaching clinics are held regularly in most states and can be located on the state's Youth Soccer Association website.  Parents should expect their child's coach to be licensed and for their child's soccer organization or club to require licensing.

Parents should definitely attend practices, also. Clubs need to remember that they are providing a service for which they are paid. Parents have the right to be sure that they are getting their money's worth. On the same page, parents shouldn't interfere with practices. That includes forcing their child to practice when he or she doesn't want to.   Sometimes it's just too much and kids need to slide into the experience slowly—my youngest son was that way. All he really wanted to do was talk to his friends and watch the ball get kicked around. It took him about three weeks to finally decide to fully participate. Now I can't get him off the field! No coach should have to deal with any player who doesn't want to be there. So have some mercy on both the child and the coach. Watch the practices to see if the coaching style fits your child, if the coach works well with all levels of players on the field (does she ignore the weaker players in favor of coaching the stronger ones?), and if the team respects the coach.

If a coach seems to be out of hand – yelling, swearing, driving the kids, belittling them – parents absolutely have the right and even the responsibility to approach someone from the administrative staff about that coach. A difficulty arises at the older ages when kids have to try out for a team. Parents are uneasy about "rattling the cage" when it comes to a coach. And I have seen vindictiveness played out for parents who dared to question a coach's demeanor. I think it is important to separate out coaching knowledge from coaching behavior.

I don't think most parents are in a position to question a coach's decision about playing time, position, formation, practice drills, and the like. However, I do think that parents have the right to question how a coach behaves on the field and in practice, just as parents have that right with teachers or health professionals. If behavior becomes abusive or coarse, then administrators need to refrain from a defensive posture and listen. Standards of behavior should be required and maintained by soccer organizations. Nevertheless it is a difficult subject since many clubs basically pull the wagons in a circle around the coach and don't address his or her behavior. Instead they attack the parent or player for questioning the coach's demeanor.

Finding the right coach and the right team for a child takes some effort. The right team may not be the one that all of his or her friends are on. It's hard to resist the popularity or the car-pool convenience factor of a team, but if a child isn't happy, it won't matter how popular or convenient a team turns out to be. Don't be afraid to visit some soccer teams in your area to observe prior to placing your child on a team. Parents do the same for school, so it makes sense to do it for after-school as well. Don't be afraid to talk to the coaches and to other parents to see what philosophies, demands and expectations exist. Do they all mesh with yours?

In end, if you make a selection and it isn't working, there's nothing wrong with fulfilling the season commitment and then moving on. It's a rare soccer team that retains more than 30 percent of the players throughout the lifetime of the team. Few players will move on to high school and college playing. Therefore, the years in youth soccer should be above all, fun and filled with happy memories.  Parents shouldn't let the seduction of higher level soccer convince them to leave their child on a team where the coach is abusive and the atmosphere is miserable. If you can't change it, then move on to a place where people smile and say "good job."
 

Neither Rain nor Snow

Susan Boyd

With spring soccer season sloshing its way into our lives, I got to thinking how I survive the mud, the rain, the snow, the cold and the puddles. Since, every soccer season offers its own obstacle course of weather and locations, I thought it might be a good time to recap some of the survival techniques I have gleaned from other wiser and more experienced soccer parents. I can lay claim to a few of these suggestions, but in truth I owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who have journeyed before me and made my own trek much easier.

I throw my soccer kit into my trunk as soon as my momnesiac mind (see previous blog) can remember to do so. In the kit (actually a box) I store the following: towels, folding umbrellas, gallon size zip-lock bags, four or more 33 gallon garbage bags, NASA blankets, gloves, stocking caps, extra socks, extra underwear, old pair of shin guards, old pair of cleats, Dry-Guy, paper towel roll, toilet paper roll, safety pins, bottled water, small broom, Wet-Ones and first aid kit. The NASA blankets you can get at most sporting goods stores. These are the tin foil looking thin sheets that are actually very warm and great protection for the team shivering on the bench. They fold up into a tiny package, so are easily transportable. Whenever I see those stretchy one size fits all knit gloves and hats on sale I buy a dozen, usually at Walgreen's or CVS. They disappear fast and are godsends on those days when the wind is really whipping around. The Dry-Guy I mentioned in an earlier blog. It's a machine that looks like an upside down table with a protrusion for the motor. The four "legs" are actually tubes through which warm air blows. It can dry out a pair of cleats or socks or goalie gloves in a matter of hours, so it's really useful for tournaments when you don't have much time between games. The toilet paper has come in so useful over the years for those port-a-johns that are missing a roll and for those au naturelle visits you sometimes have to make on isolated fields. I put the garbage bags down on the floor of the car and they really work to collect the mud, water and yuck that soccer cleats bring into your vehicle. You can then carefully remove them and shake them out and reuse them. The broom is for those games in the snow – you can use the broom to brush off the lines on the field and later the snow off the shoes.

In the summer I just add sunscreen and more water to the kit. While we can hope that mud and rain are well behind us, the occasional thunderstorm can create the same soupy conditions that long-term spring showers produce. On really hot days you might want to bring along a cooler filled with ice water in which you put several dozen hand towels. Placing these soaked towels on the back of a neck can really help reduce temperature and are great for players to use during a game. Most big box department stores will have packs of towels you can buy for under $10 a dozen, especially in August when kids are college bound. It's an easy quick fix for a really muggy day. Kids usually don't want to put on sunscreen but if you can catch them and rub some on the high risk areas it will help minimize pain later in the day: tops of ears, necks, faces, back of legs and if they have those buzz cuts, top of the head or even the part for a pair of braids.

I learned a really great tip when I travel to tournaments. Because I invariably have a fistful of papers confirming hotels, rental cars, airline itineraries, and soccer schedules it's difficult to keep them all sorted out. I read about this trick in a travel magazine and I thought "genius!" Print each one on a different color of paper. That way when you look in your bag or purse or notebook you can identify the one you want to see right away. Sometimes I have to get a bit creative on colors if I have maps to several different fields and the hotel in addition to everything else, but it certainly is so much easier to just pull out the sheet I want instantly. I also am a huge fan of www.maps.google.com because you can click and drag the map to position it exactly how you want to print it out. They have a service called "My Maps" that you register for, but it's free. You can design the map anyway you want with great logos including a soccer player to mark your destinations. They have different fonts, lines for routes in different colors which you can label, and as you place the lines it tells you distance and time of travel. You also can print it with both roads and satellite photo or a new feature called "terrain." This may sound silly, but I can't tell you how often seeing a landmark has helped us locate the turn we want to make. I know many people are Buck Rogers in the 24th century with their navigation systems, but for those of us mired in the 21st century, the Google maps work really well.

If kids are traveling overseas be sure to make a copy of the main page of their passports and keep in a safe place at home. That way if the passport is lost or stolen, you can fax the copy to the American Embassy or Consulate and it really speeds up the replacement of the document. If you are lucky enough to tag along, then leave the copies with a friend or relative. We also learned the hard way that for our kids under 18 it helps to have a copy of their birth certificate when traveling within the U.S. by plane. Robbie's name has been placed on the no-fly list which we didn't find out until returning to Milwaukee from Tampa one hurried evening. Luckily I had a copy of his birth certificate with me left over from getting him his driver's permit and that helped get him on the plane.   It didn't matter that the Robert Boyd they were looking for was in his mid-forties and Caucasian, while our Robbie is 17 and African-American. Seeing was not believing. They wanted proof of where he was born and when! We have heard of other parents traveling with their minor children who still had to show some proof that their kids weren't eighteen hence the value of a birth certificate. Finally bring your insurance card and be sure your kids have a copy with them if they are traveling without you. If you have your SSN on the card, black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Wisely, most insurance companies are now going to group and participant numbers that have nothing to do with SSN. Besides proof of insurance, hospitals need the telephone number of the insurance company so they can get charges authorized before treatment, so check that the number is on the card and copy.

I also have learned to keep the following in my car: jumper cables, kitty litter, a folding shovel, an up-to-date atlas, puzzle book or magazine with pencil, a deodorant spray like Febreeze, Lysol or Oust and folding chairs. The boys will add things like PS2, DVD, PSP, MP3 and whatever other alphabet products are necessary for a road trip. To that end I have added a six outlet power cord and an outlet transformer plugs into the lighter. It was nearly a panic to rival Wall Street's Black Thursday when the power cord went missing one trip! Those of you who live in the south may not think you need the kitty litter, but if you get some freezing rain or black ice, it sure comes in handy.  The puzzle book has saved my sanity during several long bouts of rain delays. The spray I believe is self-explanatory!

Lastly, when we are traveling to another city for a tournament I do a bit of internet browsing to discover "time busters" near the hotel or the fields. I check out shopping malls, movie theaters, bowling alleys, parks and attractions. I put them on a sheet with phone numbers and operating hours. Sometimes nobody wants to go out at all, so I make sure to jot down the numbers of food places that deliver. Sure they have a phone book in the hotel, but if you don't know the area, it doesn't always help identify places close enough to be reasonable. Actually this is where Google maps come in again. When I locate an address, I can also locate specific restaurants by either name or type, and attractions in the vicinity. Google provides the address, phone numbers, and occasionally the operating hours as well as links to a business website when available. So it makes it quick and easy to do.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you have an enjoyable and organized soccer season. I'm sure lots of you have other tips to add, so put them in the comments section. That way, I'll continue to look even more organized and wise than I really am.
 

Reel Time

Susan Boyd

Outside of my family and soccer, my greatest passion is film. I love movies, especially old movies. I find myself drawn to certain films time and time again. Although so familiar that I can recite lines of dialogue, I still enjoy letting these movies wash over me once more. People may wonder why I would "waste" time on an experience I have already had. I'm not completely sure why, but I think I understand it in some ways.

Strong visual medium, such as art, books, and film, strives to offer the viewer enough complexity that no one can take it all in with one viewing. Studying the "Last Supper" multiple times means art historians continue to make stunning observations about what Da Vinci intended and what mysteries exist in the fresco. Readers can still glean new insights and interpretations from Moby Dick or King Lear. In addition visual medium depends upon the experience the viewer brings to the event. I am certain that seeing "An Unmarried Woman" while happily married and then again in the throes of a divorce will alter perceptions of the film. Great art is vibrant and alive allowing not only for the possibility of a new outlook but a new outcome as well.

I know that on that wet and foggy tarmac in Casablanca Rick will convince Ilsa to leave with Victor using the unforgettable dialogue ". . . maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life . . ." but I am nonetheless caught up in the moment because the promise still exists that she may not leave. Rhett tells Scarlett, ""Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. . ." yet before the door closes I can hope Scarlett will explain and all the ridiculous mix-ups preceding it will sort themselves out. In the "Godfather" there is that moment of tension before Michael Corleone shoots the police chief in cold blood that I'm not sure he can do it or that he can survive doing it, despite the fact that the scene has played out on my TV screen a dozen times previously.

When the character Tom Baxter walks out of "The Purple Rose of Cairo" into the movie house to meet Cecilia, Woody Allen showed how the promise of something different draws people into movies. Cecilia watches the film repeatedly until finally at one viewing Tom Baxter turns away from the prescribed action and says to her from the screen, "You really must like this movie." It would never happen, but it is exactly the reason I watch films again. It's comforting to see the same moments played out again and again, but it is also delectable to think this time it might be different.

So what does my movie viewing have to do with soccer? I think I bring the same optimism and openness for whatever may happen when I come watch soccer games. I try not to set myself up for any expectations or disappointments and instead just let the game play out. I wasn't always that way. I did try to "write a script" for every game, and like a director whose actors have refused to follow her scenario, I would go crazy. I'm not sure why I thought I could control the outcome of a game by my tantrums and taunts any more than shouting at the screen "You idiot. . .don't leave with Victor" would change Ilsa's mind. It took me a long time to realize that the destiny of the game was to a certain extent already written at least in the sense that no one person could change the outcome. I know that in Europe and South America the crowd believes they can turn the tide – and perhaps screaming in the 10s of thousands they can – but I have never attended a youth game with more than 100 fans on the sidelines, so we are a weak tribe against the fates!  

I do make a huge investment when I watch my movies. I make sure the house is quiet, the shades are drawn, the dogs are walked, there is a full glass of water or ice tea beside me and a good blanket to curl up in. I hang on every word, cry at even the puniest of emotional moments, and feel myself gripping the arms of my chair as tensions rise. I know the tiny high school team will win in "Hoosiers" but I still hang on every shot, every foul and every disappointment because they might lose this time.

It's that way when I go to a soccer game. I make sure I have my chair set just right, a bottled water next to me, an umbrella or blanket nearby if needed and my "hope springs eternal" tube of sunscreen. I have seen this game many times, yet I have no idea what the outcome will be, and that creates delicious opportunities for amazement or frustration or tension or joy. All the things I feel when I see a good movie. The big distinction is that the game will be different each time. I can count on it. All I have to do is sit back and enjoy. That's worth the price of admission.