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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 Parent's Agony

Susan Boyd

A few weekends ago our youngest son participated in a workshop where he was put in the weakest group. The experience brought back to me all those waves of anxiety I have felt over the years with my kids in sports as they attended workshops, Olympic Development training, tryouts for teams, and team practices. As hard as I tried to keep my emotions in check, I couldn't help reading something into every placement. I also know from watching the body language of those around me that I wasn't the only one either uncomfortable or delighted with what I saw. Our natural impulse as parents is to make life as pain-free and as positive as possible for our kids. Yet sports has a nasty habit of thwarting that impulse because of its competitive and selective nature. Success at sports demands its pound of flesh no matter how good a player may be. If a player is marginal in any way, then success requires extra and even creative effort. As parents there is little if anything we can do to mitigate this path other than to be supportive during the journey, sympathetic during setbacks, and offering restrained praise during success. 

As a former program administrator with the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program I have experienced my share of player and parent disappointment. Whenever I sent out the letters to those who didn't make the state pool, I knew the emails and phone calls I would get in return. Having been there, done that, I, like Bill Clinton would say, definitely felt their pain. Unlike a bad grade in a subject, not making a team is out and out rejection and that's a bitter pill to swallow. We parents don't see our children as rejects, and our aim is to see them succeed. But trying out has only two outcomes: making the team or not making the team. Putting ourselves in that vulnerable position can result in deep heartache. Even worse, most players experience this at a relatively young age. While we can hope that it toughens them up for inevitable rejections later in life, it's no fun to see them in pain.

Our youngest daughter had the dream of earning a varsity letter in a high school sport. While proud of her dream, her father and I also knew it had little chance of succeeding since she never trained in any sport and up until her junior year hadn't participated in any high school sport. But she was adamant. She was going to be a swimmer. As the varsity tryouts approached, I did my best to prepare her for the inevitable rejection while still appearing to be supportive of her dream. I doubt I did a very good job since the two were nearly mutually exclusive. We talked about which events she would tryout for and what times she would have to achieve to be among the top four or five. She decided on the butterfly and the breast stroke. As far as I knew, she could do both, but I had never seen her do them. The two days of tryouts were torture for me. I didn't want her to feel foolish or a failure, but I knew that she couldn't be among the top swimmers since she never had trained. I decided to bake chocolate chip cookies for her and placed a box of tissues on the kitchen table.

She arrived home with her hair still wet and her suit still on under her clothes. So I assumed she had dressed quickly to escape from the experience. "So. . .how did it go?" I prepared for the floodgates to open. "Great! I made the team." "You did" – I tried not to put a question mark at the end by having my voice rise up in incredulity and instead put an exclamation point there as if I knew she would succeed. But I think I actually said, ""You did?" without being able to help myself. "Yeah. . .I did." "What event?" "Well. . ." and here's where I learned a big lesson about wanting something bad enough to make it happen. It seems she was definitely not butterfly or breaststroke material, but in the end the coach had no one to swim the 1,000, so if Shane was willing to do that event she could be on the team. She got her wish, the coach and team got the necessary points at each meet from someone swimming the 1,000, and I got to sit in a chlorine spa every week cheering on my daughter for 20 laps.

Not every tryout has such a unique and happy ending, but the main reason this one did was because the force behind it was Shane herself. I try to remember that whenever I see our boys struggling. Ultimately my role is simply that of support. The decision to try or not to try belongs to the boys. The ability to succeed lies in their talents and drive. Whenever I sit on the sidelines and watch them ride the bench I complain to anyone in range, but I don't say a word to the coach. That's the boys' job. When they get placed in the weaker group, then they have to figure out how to resolve that dilemma or live with it. When they don't get on a team, they have to decide will they try again. As parents we can serve as sounding boards for our kids as they try to figure it all out and we can offer advice, but we have to let the battles be theirs alone. To succeed in such a highly competitive arena as sports players have to have the inner drive. Mom and dad can't smooth everything over and they can even make things worse. 

When our oldest son got an offer to play soccer at the University of San Francisco, he wavered on accepting. As a parent I wanted to tear my hair out because naturally all those years of sitting out in the rain and snow, traveling to exotic locales like Ft. Wayne, Indiana and Collinsville, Illinois, and paying thousands of dollars for the privilege made me want to sign the papers myself and force him to go. But I had to also take a step back and realize that my 17 year old was making a decision about living 1,500 miles from home, leaving his girlfriend, going where he knew no one, and facing the rigors of competing for his spot on a Division I soccer team. While at face value, he should have been leaping at the opportunity, I respected that this was a huge decision. In the end, he took the opportunity with the caveat that he could fly home whenever he had a free weekend. I knew that was a pretty good deal because he probably wouldn't have any free weekends, but he didn't need to know that! It had been his dream to play Division I soccer, so he made the decision to make the dream come true. He made the decision. And his success or failure at that decision will lay 100% with him.    

Of course that didn't stop me from agonizing this past season when he didn't play a single minute – but that's my job!
 

The end

Susan Boyd

Sadly this will be my last blog…Maybe not sad for you, but sad for me.  The Magic U16 Boys lost this morning in the final game to the Michigan Wolves 0-2.  The weather was perfect, the field was great, the fans were ready, the teams fired up, and in the end the Wolves prevailed.  It is going to be a long 5-hour ride home.  But the sting will wear off slowly with each mile, and eventually we'll be back to business as usual.  As much as I wanted my son and his teammates to win Midwest Regionals, I can't say I am sad about missing Dallas in late July!

There is something very bittersweet about going so far only to lose, but this wasn't the first time, and it won't be the last.  So it is a good life lesson learned. 

In the end we have to accept that these are only games.  Games may teach us things about ourselves and help us along life's path.  Games may give us pleasure and may mete out disappointment.  Games may be remembered for years.  But in the end a game doesn't solve world hunger, end armed conflict, provide us with a family, give us enlightenment, or answer our prayers. 

A game is a way to test our mettle, to provide us with entertainment, to offer us an opportunity to feel victorious for a moment or dejected for a different moment, and to grant us a group of like-minded individuals to share an afternoon or a tournament with.  After that, we need to knuckle down with being parents, students, caregivers, employees, bosses, friends, and lovers. 

Thanks to Iowa and Des Moines for being such great hosts.  It was a wild ride and great fun.  Good luck to all the US Youth Soccer Region II Champions as they head to Dallas in July.  Let's make our Region proud!!

 

Let's think about something else right now

Susan Boyd

The Chicago Magic U16 Boys won their semi-final game today against Everest, a team out of Cleveland, Ohio.  I was born in Cleveland, but my loyalties weren't in question.  The boys played very well in awful heat and humidity.  They are now enjoying a movie in a dark, air conditioned theatre on the west side of Des Moines.  Tonight we will enjoy a team dinner and an early lights out as we will be meeting the Michigan Wolves at 8 AM.  Normally I would complain about getting up at 6 AM to arrive at the fields at 6:45 AM, but considering how brutal it was at 10 AM, a few hours earlier to avoid a scorcher would be just fine.  The only blip on the radar is the threat of thunderstorms both tonight and early tomorrow.

I am not really a superstitious person, but at this point I feel the less I think and talk about tomorrow the better.  It's a lot of pressure for these younger players to take on and I don't want to add to it by my obsessing about the event.  So I stayed quiet in the hotel room and watched ""Babel.""

""Babel"" was a bit of a puzzlement to me.   My brother is a screenwriter and his genre, for want of a better term, is dark social comedy (with the exception of Jurassic Park III which provided a lifelong income).  So he usually pokes fun at films that take themselves too seriously.  I haven't talked to him about ""Babel,"" and for all I know he didn't even see it, but I suspect he would have lots fun at the film's expense.

The movie isolates a rather dramatic incident, the accidental shooting of an American tourist in Morocco, and layers the incident with two other side stories of the American's Mexican nanny and the Japanese family from whom the gun came.  While I am usually willing to suspend some level of reality for the sake of dramatic license, this movie really challenged my ability to accept this microcosmic look at the world.  The Mexican nanny through a bizarre set of circumstances ends up wandering in the California desert with the American's two children.   She abandons the children under some bramble to go seek help, stumbles upon a border guard, and despite trying to recover the children, has no idea where she left them.  I thought immediately of Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas in ""The English Patient.""  Except in this film we find out from a rather brusque border guard that the children were recovered, are just fine, and the nanny is to be immediately deported. 

Meanwhile in Tokyo, the daughter of a Japanese business man is facing a psychological breakdown.  And no wonder.  First she is deaf - mute, second she was the first to discover her mother's body after she shot herself, and third, she spends a great deal of the film either nude or flashing someone.  The reason she is in the movie is because her father on a hunting trip to Morocco gave his Moroccan guide a rifle, which was then used by some children to shoot the tourist.  See what I mean by suspension of belief?

In the end the tourist is fine, the nanny is left on a curb in Mexico, and the Japanese businessman comes home to find his daughter naked on the balcony.  I know that there should be some deep meaning to Babel being the land from which all language was dispersed and there is a deaf – mute girl (irony), and even in the most remote of remote villages in Morocco there is a TV with CNN.  I am sure there is some commentary we could make on how small the world is with such coincidences occurring in three separate continents all interrelated.  But I really do chalk it up to imagination. 

In the real world…the one I live, work, and watch movies in…people are pretty normal with normal problems and normal connections.  While I could accept that an American tourist might be shot in Morocco by a gun left by a Japanese man and her nanny was from Mexico, I can't accept that they all have some complex, intense lives, with such complex, intense events.

The only real thing I saw in the film, which I think has to be true over most of the world, is that the Moroccan boys who shoot the rifle have soccer posters on the walls of their hut and the TV in the remote village of Morocco was showing a soccer game.  It makes perfect sense because we all know that soccer is life!

 

Population unknown

Susan Boyd

I've discovered something in my thus far four-day stay in Des Moines.  While I admit my study won't qualify as scientific, I think I have enough random samplings to satisfy most statistical analyses.  After my experience on my first day in Des Moines unable to discover if I was in a tornado warning county or not, I thought I might try to see if the citizens of Des Moines knew the answer to another common question.  I have asked waitresses, people on the street, cab drivers, police officers, players, and hotel desk clerks and no one in Des Moines knows the population of Des Moines.  No one can even hazard a guess. 

This is even more ironic given the fact that yesterday while watching the College World Series (Oregon State was playing and my husband is an Oregon native) there was an ad from the city of Omaha about 2 hours or so away from Des Moines.  The ad touts the advantages of living and working in Omaha.  I am sure they are advertising in the Des Moines market because they believe that no one in Des Moines will miss a few thousand citizens migrating to Omaha, since they have no idea what the population was to begin with.  In the ad, Omaha brags, ""We are a city of 890,000 residents"" and 890,000 is posted in bold lettering across the entire screen.  Therefore any observant Des Moineser (Des Moinesee – I have no idea) would be able to tell me the population of Omaha without hesitation.

Since I have not conducted my experiment in any other city, I need to be fair to those in Des Moines.  It may be that if I traveled to Nebraska and asked the citizens of Omaha what their population was, they would stare at me and mutter, ""I don't really know.""  And then I could pounce and shout…well the people in Des Moines know!!

Despite not knowing their population and the counties in their immediate area, the people of Des Moines are pretty sharp and definitely nice.  The restaurants in downtown Des Moines are fantastic, very continental and upscale.  I had the best tortellini soup ever at Centro on Locust and an amazing salmon sandwich at Raccoon River Brewing Co.  There's a Japanese restaurant I want to try tonight called Taki Japanese Steakhouse that looks incredibly tasty.  Every person I have bothered about the population was so polite and friendly.  Even the people at Jordan Creek Mall seemed to be right out of Pleasantville. 

Therefore, I am not trying to malign Des Moines at all.  In fact I highly recommend it.  There is a zoo, a very cool Japanese Pagoda on the river that I want to visit before I leave, lots of great little cafes and bars, parks galore, and some stunning architecture including a building that seems to be covered entirely in copper.  Although isolated, the city seems to have been able to attract some cosmopolitan businesses.  So there is a level of sophistication here that one might not expect in a ""corn belt"" city.  I do definitely sing the praises of Des Moines.

Oh, yeah…the Magic won today, so we are on to the semi-finals against Everest.  It was a must win situation and the team came through again.  I am proud and relieved.  I don't even want to dwell on it too much because we did come close to not advancing.  So I would rather be happy for the win, go to a nice restaurant, and see if I can find out the population of Des Moines before I leave.