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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". 


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.

Favorite Things

Susan Boyd

Last week I bought a new soccer chair that I had seen advertised for the Memorial Day holiday. This is high entertainment for me, picking out a new chair, testing it in the store and then unveiling it on the soccer sidelines. I bought this chair in the middle of the U.S. Soccer Federation Developmental Academy spring college showcase, so I had my old chair one day and my new chair another day, which allowed me to enjoy the ooohs and aaahs of the other parents. This chair is royal blue and has a canopy which shelters me from sun and rain. It doesn't require a bag, so ends up being high end in the transportation area as well. I am a very happy soccer mom right now.
Buying the chair got me thinking about my other favorite soccer things. Naturally my boys and grandkids rank at the top of my list of favorite soccer things, but they have an edge being flesh and blood and cute. So I just wanted to focus on the top ten things that aren't related to me.
10. Updated soccer rule book. I pick up a copy every few years as rules change, especially for the younger ages. The book is available at my soccer supply store for less than $10 and gives me good guidance in what constitutes fouls, off-side, and other soccer regulations. I keep it with me in the car. Every once in awhile I do need to haul it out and give it a look. The referees at one game even used the book to resolve a complicated overtime issue.  
9.   Finding a parking spot right near the gate into the world's largest soccer complex. I know I already have a two mile walk to the field, so I love not having to walk another mile from my parking spot just to get into the park.
8. Getting Crocs on sale. I live in Crocs, winter, spring, summer, and fall. I have fleece-lined Crocs for the winter and Mary Jane's for those formal soccer events. They are perfect for those two or three mile hikes to and from fields at tournaments.
7. My ten year old, slightly broken Dry-Guy about which I have waxed poetic in other blogs. This machine is the size of a small toaster, packs in a gear bag easily, and saves blisters, muddy floor mats and smelly rides home.  With a car adaptor, you can use it right at the fields to dry out shoes and socks. With a goalkeeper son it provided dry gloves for important games and helps the gloves last longer. 
6. I absolutely dote on audio books. Even the boys got into some of the books on our long trips. You can find audio books on any topic, by any author, and of any length. My brother gave me Pepys' Diary as a gift, and it got us through a trip to Florida. I think we listened to a John Grisham novel and Harry Potter on the way home. Cracker Barrel Restaurants have a loan policy on audio books that provides us with unlimited books for a small use fee on each one. The only drawback is that the restaurant tends towards romance and crime novels. Your local library will usually have a collection of books to check out as well.  Parallel to the audio books would be my satellite radio which offers English Premier League games, talk radio, and a 60's music station to fill the hours of driving.
5. Sudoku puzzles while away those empty minutes between when I have to drop the boys off at the fields and when the game begins. I can sit in the car, or now, in my canopied chair, and give my brain some exercise.
4. Express lanes! With all the driving I do, I love when I see the sign "Express Lanes Open." Sometimes they reduce my trip only a few minutes, but there are days when I breeze past totally stopped traffic in the other lanes.
3. In the same vein I love my I-Pass which is now linked with some other states. Once they make these electronic tollway fee payment gadgets valid nationwide I'll be in soccer heaven. I can breeze through toll booths rather than dig for change and wait in long lines. Of course I have to watch out for the few I-Pass lanes that have gates, which do still exist.
2. Warm blankets that roll up in tiny packages. Since soccer games can be played scores of miles from home, weather won't always be as warm or cooperative as where you came from, so being prepared without having a lot of bulk to do so adds convenience to comfort. I have one blanket that is waterproof on one side and fleece on the other and fits in its own easy to carry bag. I love that blanket.
1. All soccer gear on sale or even better, free!   There are often tents at large tournaments with soccer gear and jerseys. I've found that vendors don't want to repack everything at the end of the tournament, so you can make some really good deals. I've become expert in digging through bins to find shorts and jerseys which usually come in only one size. I got a brand new Barcelona jersey for $20 because it was the last one and a size small. I have found socks four pairs for $10 that usually sell for $7.50 a pair. I love the bargains and make shopping for them part of my soccer week.
Since my chair and I have a significant relationship, I didn't include it here. I think everyone should have a chair they love and use. I donate my older chairs to other soccer families and keep two or three on hand for those times when guests come along to a game. While I really love my new chair, I was told by another mom that she had spotted the same chair with a foot rest. So my favorite chair may no longer be my true love. Call me fickle, but come on – it has a canopy AND footrest. I think anyone would trade up!