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Parents Blog

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


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"'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.


Pet Peeves

Susan Boyd

As the Euro Cup plays out in the upcoming weeks, I have once again had to live through those agonizing moments that crop up during every sportscast and put an absolute damper on my viewing pleasure.  I can guarantee whether it is the NBA Playoffs, Euro Cup, Track and Field Trials, Kentucky Derby, or Little League World Series each of these pet peeves will erupt with painful regularity.

While I consider myself a moderately intelligent woman, apparently NBC and ABC have higher expectations for me and other viewers.  Both networks have instituted what I call the ""Abstract Flag"" designation.  When athletes are ready to compete they are recognized on the screen with a flag next to their name.  Obviously I recognize the United States, Canada, and Japan.  I saw ""Cool Runnings"" and love Bob Marley, so I also recognize the Jamaican flag.  After that it gets a bit fuzzy.  The problem is that the flags aren't full flags, merely representations.  So England, New Zealand, and Australia appear interchangeable.  Central American countries are a blur of yellow, green, and red with tiny, indistinguishable emblems.  I have a 52"" TV so I can't imagine how these mini-flags come across on a 17"" TV.  Although I can probably survive without knowing if the runner on lane four is from Kenya or Ethiopia, I am nonetheless peeved that the networks taunt me with my lack of diplomatic knowledge.  At the bare minimum I wish they would provide the three letter country code like Fox Soccer Channel wisely does.  After watching the Prefontaine Classic last weekend, I awoke in a panic that night with the realization that I had less than eight weeks to study up on and learn the world's national flags before the Summer Olympics.  Then I have to further prepare in order to recognize them in miniature, abstract forms.  I've already got an appointment with my ophthalmologist.

Without exception, every network wallows in my next pet peeve.  I'm convinced that announcers either believe every viewer is a novice to the sport or commentators just don't have the expository speech skills that actually justify a six figure income.   Why educated, experienced, professional announcers, coaches, and players can't avoid these flat out obvious statements continues to amaze and frustrate me.  ""If this team expects to win, they'll have to put some points up on the scoreboard.""  ""Big Brown has to outrun his competition in order to win this race.""  ""The young Kenyan has the talent to succeed.  All he has to do is be first across the finish line.""  ""Down three games to nothing, the Boston Red Sox have to win or the series is over.""  ""It's not enough to have talent; you also need to score some goals.""  I would think even ET arriving on earth and just learning the language and customs of America would wince at these banal profundities.  ""Both teams are hoping for the best.""  Yeah, well so am I – but it never happens.

I'm a mom, so I have seen my share of bloody noses, broken bones, and split tongues.  However, I don't need to immortalize these moments.  Sports program directors disagree.  They command their cameras to linger on every disgusting player activity.  I don't need to watch players spit, blow their noses onto the grass, adjust their cups, or cough up something left over from The Exorcism.  My full sports experience will not be diminished if I miss the bazillion close-up of a leg breaking or a head wound flailed open to the bone.   I especially do not need a slow-motion replay every time some player receives a blow to the ""sweets"".  Suffice it to say, even as a woman I can imagine the pain, so watching it over and over doesn't help enhance my understanding of the agony.  I will admit that my husband, a physician, seems to derive some perverse pleasure from the injury replays, since he uses them to confirm his original diagnosis of the injury as it occurred.  But I have to believe that's a rather select segment of the population.  It's even more fun when these visuals are coupled with inane commentary.  ""That's gotta hurt"" seems redundant given the slow motion close-up image of a fibula cracking backwards across my television screen as my husband shouts, ""See, I told you!""

Luckily, when I go to watch my kids play I can avoid all of this.  I know where the teams come from, I make my own commentary, and I can limit the visuals to a single viewing.  I'll get the opportunity to continue my unsullied soccer experience this June at the Region II competition in Rockford, IL as Bryce's U-19 team competes.  It's his first visit to Regionals, so he's extremely excited to be participating.  I'm just happy to have the opportunity to immerse myself again in this great youth soccer event.  Next week I'll begin blogging about the preparations, what Regionals mean to a player, a team, and a family, and the little moments that enrich the week.  I promise not to refer to teams by cryptic, abstract designations, avoid clichés, and refrain from lingering on anything gross.  Now if I can just get that six-figure income.


Tanked Out

Susan Boyd

When gas reached the $3 per gallon mark, a local ad for our county bus system showed a father at a gas station doubling as a pawn shop. He was looking to buy a few gallons of gas through the trade of his wife's wedding ring, a Waterford vase, even his youngest child, to which the owner says, "Now that's just sad." Then on the Today show this week they had a segment on people pawning their possessions to get enough money to buy gas. So fiction has become fact, which in this case is just sad!
The reality now exists that youth soccer as we know it may have to adjust if even middle class families are going to survive the year-round training and the travel involved. Recently I was at the State Championship in Appleton, Wisconsin and listened as people on the sidelines moaned about the cost of coming up to Appleton from Milwaukee and Madison for the weekend. The distance was only a concern as to how it affected the cost of travel. We had just gone to $4.19 a gallon in Milwaukee, so I can see everyone's point. The state association kindly adjusted my son's U19 bracket so that the teams had to come up just one day in order to save on gas.
My other son is in the US Soccer Federation Developmental Academy and travel should be their middle name. He traveled one day down to Bradenton, Florida to play the National Team and next week he will travel to Champaign, Illinois for one game. The days of $150 airfares to Florida are long gone, so the Bradenton trip cost around $450. Champaign is 250 miles away, so it will be nearly two tanks of gas at $65 a tank for that one game. I'm not sure when I reached the point of measuring my soccer expenses by the tank, but it had to be about the time I crossed the $50 threshold for a tank of gas. I'm now past the $60 threshold and I'm told to prepare for the $70 threshold.

I've always leaned more to the "green" side of life. I'm product of Haight-Ashbury, flower power and Boones Ferry wine, so count me on the liberal side of the fence. But I never really put much thought into what it cost to drive to a tournament or a game until the last six months, and now it seems to obsess me. Today Robbie suggested going to a western suburb to meet his friend for lunch, come home and then drive back out there to pick her up from school and go to her tennis match. Six months ago, I would have just nodded and said, "Okay." This morning I gasped and said, "No way!" So he's sitting in the school library reading magazines for two hours until it's time to pick her up.

I've talked about my van and its innumerable problems, but now it is losing gas mileage, down from 27 on the freeway to 21 on the freeway. That fact alone may force me into debt I can't afford just to get a car with 30 MPG on the freeway. I figure if gas prices keep rising, the car will pay for itself with the savings. 

I'm nearing the end of my soccer travels on a regular basis. I'll certainly be driving to see my grandkids play soccer, baseball, football or gymnastics. But it will have the extra pleasure of being combined with a visit and time to just enjoy the kids. I really do think about those of you who are just embarking on the journey. Suddenly travel team seriously equates big bucks. I have limited disposable income, but I'm lucky to have any. Many soccer families don't have that luxury, so traveling to games means sacrifice and even going into debt. That's not what sports should be about. 

I encourage clubs, state organizations and national organizations to begin to take into account the cost of traveling just to games, not to mention regional league, tournaments, and showcases. While each event may not seem to be a budget buster, organizers need to remember that players and families aren't just going to one event. Even at the youngest ages games can be a great distance away if the league is geographically large. Add one tournament each season and you have the makings of a chunk of change. Hopefully organizers and schedulers will look for ways to minimize travel by clustering league teams, adjusting tournament schedules to make the best use of time and distance for participants, and being sensitive to the issues of travel costs. Organizers will counter that the difficulty is in finding the right mix of competitiveness and an already overburdened and complex scheduling system. Hopefully some middle ground can be found that addresses and helps mitigate expenses for families, especially those just starting to play. We don't want to scare people off or have them make a decision about soccer based solely on economics.

While I won't even go into global warming, because that has a whole horse cart of political baggage, I will point out that gas isn't going to suddenly multiply and have prices plummet. We are probably stuck in this ever upwardly spiraling price corkscrew into our lives. So we have to get creative in solving the money problem. Wherever possible, carpool to soccer practice, games and tournaments.   Clubs might seek out alternate practice sites in different parts of town and rotate among these so that certain families aren't always stuck with the long journey to the fields. With a bit of creative effort, we can probably help most families lop off 20 percent from their soccer travel expenses.   And that's money in the bank rather than the tank.
Starting next week, I will be bloggin from Rockford, Illinois at the US Youth Soccer Region II Championships.