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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". 

 

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.
 

The Circle of Life

Susan Boyd

"The Circle of Life" resounds as the opening number of "The Lion King," but could equally serve as the chant for most soccer families: "It's the Circle of Life and it moves us all through despair and hope . . ." Whether the circle forms over a year of soccer or during generations of soccer, we all experience the déjà vu of muddy uniforms, goals, wins, losses, and after game traditions. I'm moving through my second generation of soccer, and I find it reassuringly similar to what I already went through with a few surprising twists.

This past weekend I attended my oldest grandson's first soccer game. The weather was overcast, the temperature hovering just above freezing, and the wind howling: perfect Midwest spring soccer conditions!  Keaton's particular soccer program has its U8 boys playing 9 v 9 on a U10 field. The game was played in 12 minute quarters and the kids rotated at the goalkeeper position and through the field positions. His team has ten boys, so each quarter somebody rotated out. All the players have the same uniform: black shorts, black socks, and a reversal jersey with gold on one side and maroon on the other. So, all the fields stretched out in gold and maroon waves.
 
Confusion is the name of the game at this age. First, because of the cold, several boys were wearing jackets over their jerseys. So it was difficult to differentiate between sides. Further confusion ensues since the boys all know each other from school and the neighborhood.  At this age there isn't the killer instinct that allows them to steal the ball from or block a best friend.   Add to this mix the fact that for most of these players this game was the culmination of only a few weeks of practices. While the coaches knew their stuff, the kids were often clueless. They definitely weren't jargon savvy. When Keaton took to his midfield position in the second quarter, the coach tried to indicate his role with the following instruction: "You have a split personality." Keaton looked at him dumbfounded. Staying goal-side also seemed to be beyond their comprehension. Every kid told to stay goal-side ran dutifully to the side of one goal or the other without regard to which one they were defending, while the coach tried in vain to get them back to their original positions at least. The other stumper appeared to be ""marking"" which drew plenty of stunned expressions and no movement. Without a Sharpie, marking seemed impossible. Nevertheless they managed to play a rousing game of soccer filled with all the elements of the game: headers, crosses, overlaps, corner kicks, goal kicks, but mercifully not penalty kicks. In fact there were only two fouls called.           

When Keaton got his chance in goal in the 4th quarter, my daughter muttered, "Oh no." She felt the pressure of his position – the last stance against a score. Her brother is a goalkeeper, and she's amazed that I don't get more worked up. I tell her it gets easier . . . eventually I realized that goals will go in. Otherwise it would be a boring game. But I think I was the same way when Bryce was seven and had his chance in goal. I didn't want him to have to be responsible for a loss. Keaton had a very interesting goalkeeper technique. Whenever he got the ball, he heaved it over his head onto the field like a throw in, which meant it traveled about three yards, or he saw plenty of action in that quarter, but had some good saves.

On the whole the parents were supportive, rather than critical. My daughter told me that the parents had to be part of a "circle of affirmation," not to be confused with the circle of life. They seemed to have learned the lesson well as the only criticism of any sort I heard was from my own husband who when a foul was called turned to my son-in-law and said, "They call that?" Then he quickly corrected himself for not being affirming. This came from a man who rarely says anything critical at a game – he is famous for being positive. I think being cradled in such an upbeat group of parents left him with no alternative but to turn evil!

Despite their positive attitudes, the parents couldn't stop being coaches. Keaton wasn't the only one experiencing a split personality.  These poor kids didn't know which way to turn. They would hear "push up" from their coach and "look out behind you" from their parent; "pass the ball" from the coach and "dribble it" from their dads; "get wide" from the coach and "go to the ball" from their moms.   While the coach is focused on the team, the parents are focused on their child. It's tough to be the recipient of so much conflicting instruction. In frustration, one kid just stopped and put his head in his hands.

At the end of the game, two dozen kids with chapped faces rushed the sidelines to get their treat. I saw absolutely no swagger in the kids who won and no dejection in the kids who lost. Everyone focused on getting their treat and getting into their warm cars. It's too bad it won't stay that way. Eventually winning will matter, losing will feel bad, and body language will play a part in how kids leave the field. But Saturday it was just fun to be outside, fun to play, fun to get a treat, fun to get warmed up, and for about half of them fun to move on to baseball practice. As a side note, I only lasted 40 minutes at baseball practice . . . at that point my idea of fun was a mug of cocoa in a house with central heating.   But I loved experiencing the unspoiled joy emanating from each boy on that field and coming full cycle back to the first moments of the circle of soccer.
 

Dereliction of Duty

Susan Boyd

This spring thaw reveals all my sins of omission from the previous autumn. Now that the deck has shrugged off its winter mantle, the leaves and sticks I never quite got swept up before the first snow fall lie in matted heaps grey and rotting. This pretty much describes my entire environment –grey deck, grey piles of debris, grey skies, grey lawn, grey windows, grey streets, grey attitude. My deck taunts me with its reminder of all the projects I have left undone using winter as an excuse. Or perhaps I should say seven or eight winters as an excuse. My home is so bad that even aluminum siding sales people don't bother with me. 

So this week I began to do something about it. It took me over five years to remove all the pea-green wallpaper off the hallway and stairwell walls (not to mention the ten years it took me to get motivated to begin peeling it off) and another two years before I finally picked the colors and border I wanted as replacements. Next week a painter will come in and bring my vision to life after only fifteen years of gestation. A landscaper will bring order to the flower beds I have tried, in vain, to turn into an English cottage garden, managing up to this point merely cottage cheese.

Winter is a good excuse, especially in Wisconsin, but my real excuse for this procrastination is soccer. Over the past thirteen years I can count on one hand the number of full weekends I have had totally free of soccer, and I can count on my hands and feet the number of weekends where I had just one of the days free of soccer. Whenever I drive into a new town and travel down the boulevards and lanes of that borough, I can quickly spot the homes where families with kids in sports dwell. The good intentions are evident, but the follow through doesn't exist.

These houses have a rake lying mid-stroke on the lawn, half of their shutters painted, and plants in their plastic containers lined up alongside a garden bed. I don't think I have actually planted geraniums in over a decade. I just throw them into my window boxes in their plastic containers – otherwise there wouldn't be a spot of color in my entire yard. These otherwise handsome homes exhibit a barrenness of orderliness and polish. The fallen tree branches of last autumn join the fallen tree branches of spring to create a thatched barrier stretching from one end of the lawn to the other. I gather mine as needed to start fires in the outdoor fire pit – once I get that cleaned up and dried out. The derelict look of these homes belies the joy that exists inside.

While I look forward to my soccer "retirement" so I can actually spend my weekends doing what home dwellers should do, I also know it spells the end of a wonderful era. All those days sitting in rain, snow, sleet, and sun cheering on my kids, all those road trips, all those loads of laundry, all those abandoned cleats littering my garage, all those water bottles rolling around the back seat, all those smelly socks pushed up against the heating vents in the car, all those soccer balls escaping out of the back hatch and rolling half a mile away, all of those things will just be memories.   While I often wish my home looked like something out of Architectural Digest and less like a "before" photo, I realize that every neglected flower bed, every untrimmed edge, every unwashed window means some soccer memory completed. I go to bed at night with visions of Home and Garden TV dancing in my head and the fervent prayer that home improvement elves will visit me, which seems the only hope I'll ever get my projects completed. 

So add painters, landscapers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians to the hidden costs of having kids who play soccer. I got the estimate for my spring projects yesterday and realized that I need a second and third job. Maybe I'll paint other people's houses. In the meantime I am headed to Columbus, Ohio this weekend for my grandson Keaton's first soccer game and baseball practice. "Retirement" won't be happening soon.
 

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?