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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". 

 

Soccer Creed

Susan Boyd

While the U.S. Postal Service promises "neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever," we all know it applies only to mail already sitting in local post offices. The recent blizzard along the East Coast illustrates that any mail delivery involving planes, trains or buses from destinations outside of the blizzard won't be possible. Once mail delivery became dependent on more than horses and walking, it could only be as reliable as Mother Nature and the Federal Aviation Administration allows.

Simple slogans can't address the domino effect that weather has on our lives. We experience it all the time with our kids – will there be school closures, will we get to our vacation, will they cancel soccer practice? In 2006 Bryce and I were due to drive down to St. Louis for the Final Four tournament. Mother Nature once again didn't cooperate, pounding the middle section of America with a blizzard that shut down everything from Milwaukee to Denver. I was fully prepared to make the seven hour drive knowing it would probably be twice that with the snow, but as the blizzard became more and more intrusive, fewer and fewer teams could find their way to St. Louis so that eventually the tournament was canceled and only the NCAA College Cup was held. While I was disappointed Bryce couldn't be scouted that weekend, I was relieved to miss out on "slip-sliding away."

When the Final Four tournament was canceled in 2006, the organizers scrambled to find indoor space where any teams that had made it to the tournament could play in "pick up" games where any college coaches who did manage to get to St. Louis could still see players for recruiting purposes. Which goes to show if they come it will run. I was just in Orlando during the Disney Soccer Showcase Tournament. The tournament for the boys was due to begin the day after the snows in the northeast began. Luckily the stories I heard were of teams that got out of New York City or Boston or Philadelphia on the last flights before the airports shut down, so Disney only had two teams not make it. Had the snow fallen 12 hours sooner, the organizers would have faced a huge rescheduling mess. But there would have been a tournament.

That tenacity to play no matter what gives soccer a bulldog image. I've attended games where the fans had to sweep the lines free of snow, where sand bags held back flood waters just feet away from where I was sitting, where the artificial turf was so hot that the ARs' soles melted, and where we had so many lightning delays that the game took four hours to play. Now I know a few other sports carry the same postal service "can do" attitude and play in any weather, but American football players have the advantage of more clothing and rugby players are generally even crazier than soccer players. 

Like the postal service, soccer will play in snow, rain, heat, gloom of night, and winds. We can't always guarantee that the weather will let us get to the game, but once there, the show will go on. During one lightning delayed game we parents had to surround the field as best we could with our cars and illuminate the field for the last 15 minutes in order to get the game completed. A quick trip to a local store yielded enough hats, gloves, and blankets to keep the team warm during a sudden snow storm in Fort Wayne. Mother Nature can prove to also be the Mother of Invention when it comes to getting a soccer game in. Parents new to soccer quickly learn that they shouldn't ask if there will be practice no matter what they see outside their windows. If the fields are too muddy, the play will move to the parking lot or a different field, but it will go on.  Seasoned parents know to keep a broom, shovel, tarp, gloves, hats, and blankets in the car. Hand and foot warmers only complement the preparations. 

While the weather doesn't always cooperate, the soccer creed says that practices and games will go on.  It's a grand tradition that dates back to the original postal motto written by Herodotus in the 5th century B.C. In describing the ancient Persian courier service he writes that nothing will stop them from accomplishing their "appointed course with all speed." Watch any excited 6- year-old soccer player leap onto the pitch under blustery grey skies, and you'll realize that the weather is merely an afterthought. What matters is playing and playing means having fun. So bundle up, grab an umbrella, and enjoy the ride, if you can out of the driveway.
 

Parents ask: Is it too much?

Sam Snow

I often receive inquiries from coaches, administrators and parents involved with the youth soccer scene. Some of the issues provide the opportunity to share information that is of interest to a large number of people. Here's one such exchange.

"As parents of a soccer player, we hear different opinions regarding the kind and number of tournaments our team should attend during any given year, as well as the age when boys are seriously looked at for college soccer recruitment purposes. We would like input from experts like you in this matter.

Our team is U-14 and this year we have gone or plan to go to tournaments in Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Edmond and Tulsa. There is a strong suggestion to attend a tournament either in Las Vegas or Phoenix in the spring. We would like to know your opinion about attending all these different tournaments. How many do you think are necessary for the development of the team, considering the current ranking of our team? Some parents think that there are college soccer recruiters at big tournaments such as the ones in Vegas or Phoenix and this is a good enough reason for our U-14 team to attend. They say recruiters are already looking at 8th graders and they will remember them five years from now. Do you know when serious recruitment begins?"

The good news is that the overwhelming majority of college coaches of men's teams are not recruiting 8th graders. Some of these college coaches will look at high school sophomores but the real recruiting is with juniors and the deal is sealed with seniors. So those college recruiters may indeed be at big tournaments, but they are not watching the U-14 matches.

Now as to the number of tournaments a U-14 team should attend it is approximately two in the fall and two to three, including the state cup, in the spring. Here is the Position Statement from the 55 state association Technical Directors on tournaments in youth soccer.

TOURNAMENT PLAY # 11
       
We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development, and can serve to reduce long-term motivation. Do not multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player? Further far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an "off season." We believe that players under the age of twelve should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than thirteen should not play more than 120 minutes per day.
       
We also recommend to tournament managers and schedulers:
  • The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
  • That all tournament matches be of the same length and that no full-length match be introduced during play-off rounds.
  • Kick-off times allow players a reasonable opportunity to prepare for competition. This encompasses rest and recovery, nutrition and adequate time to warm-up and stretch after traveling a long distance in addition to taking into consideration extreme environmental conditions.
"Thank you so much for your valuable answers; I have forwarded them to all team parents. That won't make me very popular because many are convinced that recruiters will be looking at our team at this young age. Regarding the number of tournaments, it seems like we are going to more tournaments than it is recommended. My question is this: Is there anything parents can do to make a team follow the recommendations from the US Youth Soccer? We have a good coach and we believe his intentions are good, but what can be done when the coach is exceeding the number of tournaments and most parents go along with that, some because they feel we have to support the coach no matter what and others because they don't want to go against the crowd? We want our son to continue to play, but we find ourselves having to go along with decisions that are not based on facts or recommendations from experts and that may even be detrimental in the long run, as you state in your article. Our son does not really have any other choice where we live, he is already on the best team of his age cohort in this town and the team placed second in the state in the spring. My husband and I have suggested we travel less and train more, but this has not had an echo."

Parents should be involved in their child's soccer education just as they are with the academic education. So attend parent meetings, set up meetings with the coaching staff (similar to a parent-teacher conference) and speak to the club administration about the policies and philosophy of the club. Ask for information on the policy for the number of matches and tournaments by age group, for example.

The problem with too many tournaments and/or matches is that it isn't really what parents should pay the soccer club for as the end objective for their child. The focus should be on the training sessions. Just as the focus at a good school is more on the lessons than the examinations. You don't want your child at a school where they take test after test after test and get very few lessons. That's the issue with many soccer clubs. The matches are the tests and the training sessions are the lessons. I am sure that the staff at your state association would be glad to assist your club with any of the aspects of a well-designed club.
 

Now sit right back

Susan Boyd

We are the stories we tell. No matter the real truth of an event or accomplishment, most people will only know what we choose to tell them. So it's not surprising that we may embellish, restructure or omit certain facts in what we say. I got to thinking about this because of two interesting occurrences. First, my brothers and I are in the process of parceling out my father's belongings. He passed away three years ago this December, and now my stepmother is ready to sell my father's studio. So it's time to decide who gets what. The second occurrence was a recent discussion I had with my sons about their early soccer lives. They had a different memory than I did of the same event.
 
Among my father's possessions are two large antique pine chests and an antique pine dresser. My brothers knew they were very old but knew nothing about their history. Apparently I was the only one to whom my parents had told about their background. When I had first gotten married, my mom had given me the twin to the pine dresser to furnish our first apartment. At that time my dad had told me that the two dressers and the two chests had been built to fit into a wagon his great-great grandfather had used to move from Ohio to Fort Howard, WI then later to Waupun, WI. The dressers and chests were lined up on either side of the wagon with mattresses laid down the middle. The dressers held clothing, tools, dishes, and books while the chests held all the supplies such as flour, salt, cured meats, and potatoes. They hung the cooking pots, traps, and larger tools off the back of the wagon. At night they would stop and make a fire, cook, and then go to sleep on the floor of the wagon all bunched together. It was the precursor of the RV. 
 
Now I have no idea how much of this history is truth and how much is extrapolation from years of studying the migration of pioneers to the west. I do know that my ancestors moved from Ohio to Fort Howard and then to Waupun because my dad did a fair amount of detailed genealogy including having me drive him up to Waupun on a visit so he could check out documents at the local library and Congregational church when my great-great-great grandfather was a pastor. My dad also has the diary this pioneer wrote during his travels, but it doesn't really prove that this furniture was his. So I have to take my dad's word for it and also consider that I may have unwittingly embellished the story with my own preconceived notions of how one would move in a wagon in the 1840s. On the other hand, I do remember my great grandfather telling me how when he was five years old he and his family went down to the railway station to watch Lincoln's funeral train go by. I love that story because it connects me and my children to a piece of history that seems so distant but is actually just three or four generations removed. I can't verify that the story is true, but my great-grandfather was a pastor and the son of a pastor, so I'm assuming he wouldn't lie. No matter, I'm happy to repeat it because of how wonderful the story is.
 
A few years ago the boys played in at a tournament up in Green Bay. Robbie was guest playing for Bryce's team which was already playing up two years, so Robbie was playing up four years. A 13-year-old playing with 17-year-olds would already be at a height disadvantage that was only exaggerated with Robbie, who for most of his life languished in the lower 5% on the growth chart,. These U-18 players took one look at Robbie and surmised that he'd never be a threat. After his second goal, they were less sure. Finally in frustration, as Robbie was dribbling to the net, one of the opposing defenders wrapped his arms around Robbie and threw him, wrestling style, to the ground. The referee indicated play on.  Robbie, none too happy, let the referee know of his displeasure at the call and received a yellow card for his dissention. When we were talking about this recently, the boys disagreed that the referee didn't call a foul. I am sure he didn't because the foul was in the box and should have resulted in a PK. The boys are sure it happened outside the box and did result in a free kick. And my husband coyly doesn't remember either way. I like my story because it shows Robbie's feistiness and how occasionally referees erred against him because he was good enough to hold his own and didn't need their help. Told the boys' way, it's just another story of a foul.
 
In our lives we collect lots of stories and each one serves a purpose, either to illustrate a point, make us feel good, provide context to other stories or serve as a rebuttal. When our kids play lots of games, we collect lots of stories which end up as anecdotes during parties, holiday letter news or a way to connect with our past. It's not surprising that over time those stories get refined, expanded and polished into a new truth that's usually not too far off the mark, but also isn't really the way it happened. We can be forgiven for those stories because they do no harm. They aren't lies to get us out of trouble, or fabrications to bolster our resume, or stepping stones to deeper deceit. They arise out of pride and form the fabric of our past. If some of the stitches are missing or doubled up it just gives the fabric texture and originality. I'll continue to tell the story of the foul that wasn't a foul because first of all I think I'm remembering it right and second of all it doesn't matter if I'm right or not because the story is just a way to reveal something about the character of my son which is the important truth.
 
I can't ask anyone if what I remember about the chests and dresser is exactly what I heard. And even if it was, there's no telling if my dad or his father or an ancestor down the line misremembered or misrepresented the real story. It actually doesn't matter. We won't be going on Antiques Road Show and discovering that we have a chest now worth $100,000 because of that story. One brother plans to take one of the chests up to his cabin in the mountains to store blankets and pillows and another brother will use the remaining chest for his tools. Someday they'll pass those chests on and tell my story but will probably add a few highlights of their own. I plan to tell Robbie's story to his future wife and children so that they can learn the nature of this man. The story doesn't matter, but the intention does.
 

Organic or Mechanic?

Sam Snow

On the soccer market today, one can find a number of services and products that purport to have an influence on player development. Some go so far as to state they can cause a "breakthrough" in training the young stars of the future! A few claim to be unique and use software or other devices to help coaches rapidly drive player development. Many of them offer data collection and progress reports that make player development a bit of an assembly line mindset. The approach is almost a computer world matrix – people as cogs in the machine. The wording used in their promotions makes the program offered seem like the best thing since sliced bread. If you haven't gathered it yet from my tone I am skeptical of such programs and claims being made.

"We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it's an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development; all you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish." – Sir Ken Robinson

These companies are even misusing the concept of matrix – something within which something else originates or develops is the closest definition to what they have in mind. The most common use of the word is a rectangular array of mathematical elements that is subject to special algebraic laws. The idea is one of basically crunching numbers. So it is a mechanical process of developing players. Many people like the idea because it quantifies development into neat little book reports that they can share with others. We can look at years of data from soccer schools, including Lilleshall, and see that few players make it from even those ranks into the pros. Player development is a somewhat messy pathway that is largely unpredictable. That fact frustrates a lot of folks who want to 'package' player development and sell it to parents, administrators and coaches who may not be well informed enough about soccer to resist what on the surface looks like a good idea. They would need a deeper knowledge of the game, children and teenagers to understand that no one system works for all. The assembly line approach to player improvement falls in line with those who want to measure ball skills. All of these approaches have a limited affect on improving player performance.

I was a 440 yard dash runner in high school (yes it was so long ago that the race was in yards not meters). I knew that I needed to shave off tenths of a second from my time, but I needed to learn better running mechanics and so forth in order to do that. The measurement of time for the run was not sufficient to aid my mechanics and strategy for a race. As Dr. Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts."

In paraphrasing Sir Robinson's comment I see how player development is an organic process. We cannot fully predict the outcome. You can only create the conditions under which players can flourish.

Look for these concepts and more in the soon-to-be released Player Development Model from US Youth Soccer.