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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". 

 

Relax

Susan Boyd

We’re a nation of winners. We create competition everywhere just so we can declare ourselves the winner. We beat the guy at the light so we can be ahead of him for the next six blocks, no matter that 2,000 cars covered those same six blocks ahead of us. We won the battle of the light! We push our shopping cart just a bit faster and ignore the lady coming from the right so we can go through the check out first. We brag about the deal we got buying our car, do a victory dance as our bracket succeeds, and challenge co-workers to their opinion on the best restaurant. We can’t stand to be vanquished in anything. Unfortunately we can carry this obsession over to our kids’ games to the point of ridiculousness. We take any loss personally, as if the victory gods purposefully slighted us. The results of this intensity can be at best embarrassing and at worst violent.
 
This past month, two disturbing events occurred in youth sports. Following a sixth grade basketball game, the father of a boy on the losing team barreled through parents and children to attack the coach of the winning team. With barely any warning and without a word he jumped on the coach, punched him and bit off a portion of his ear. Spectators were stunned. In fact the teams were meeting in the center of the court to shake hands following the game. The father literally knocked several children to the ground in his rush to attack the coach. To add irony to the incident, this occurred following the finals for the Catholic Youth Organization. This was a game for 12-year-olds which would have ended up a simple asterisk in the memory bank of the participants. Now it will forever be the incident where children felt bullied, witnessed an act of horrific violence and left dazed and confused by the outcome of a simple game.
 
A few weeks previous to this incident, a father was arrested at his daughter’s hockey game for directing a laser pointer into the eyes of opposing players, in particular into the eyes of the opposing goal keeper. He gives new meaning to the phrase "sixth man." Following the game, players complained of headaches and spots in their eyes. While he was removed when the score was 1-1, his daughter’s team went on to win the high school state game 3-1. Officials decided that his behavior didn’t affect the overall outcome of the game, but many parents and players disagreed arguing that the laser affected the eyesight and perspective of players for most of the game and that his actions demoralized players. No matter the upshot of his behaviors, they were completely unacceptable. Right now his daughter’s team’s victory is hollow and tainted by his actions. They can’t completely celebrate, nor can they carry with them the positive memory of a significant accomplishment. Hopefully the daughter wasn’t complicit in her father’s plan, but she will always be under suspicion. The joy she should have felt participating in and winning the state finals will never be hers.
 
Most of us won’t be driven to these extremes. But we can recognize the impulse. We’ve all been at a game where our emotions have stirred to the point of anger. We’ve witnessed parents from opposing teams getting into it during a game or parents taking on referees. When a war of words between a parent and the opposing coach erupted across the field of an Under-10 game, the coach heaved his keys at the parent hitting him square in the face. A mother at a U-8 tournament game was so incensed at the referee that she ran onto the field and began poking him in the chest. The referee was 12 and the mother was arrested for assault! A father recognized another father from a previous meeting of two teams and the two continued the battle they had begun at that game resulting in both of them throwing blows. If we perceive unfairness in the officiating, dirty play, or find our team being slaughtered, we naturally feel the frustration and anger associated with those events. We’re already in a heightened emotional state because of the competition unfolding before us. And, of course there’s that pesky drive to always be winning.
 
In my case I’ve learned I have to be seated when I go to my sons’ soccer games. If I am up and wandering I release my inner Bobby Knight. Each of us has to find the way we can curb our emotions at games. Open enthusiasm is appreciated; open aggression is not. When you consider that frequently these parental outbursts occur at youth games, it seems even more ridiculous that these tantrums are happening. Most pre-teen players are off to some other interest and conversation minutes after losing a game. Their disappointment is quickly replaced by more immediate concerns such as where they’re going for lunch or who they can have over to play. It seems we adults are the ones hanging on to what happened during the game. We may need to internalize the mantra "It’s only a game" in order to shake off our frustration and discontent. Recently, I had the boys clean out their bedrooms and asked them to pack up their memories since they had both moved out. I was shocked to find they had gathered up their trophies, medals, and ribbons from competitions previous to high school and thrown them out. As they said, "We can’t even remember what tournaments these things go to!" If those wins mean so little now, the losses have to be completely insignificant. What we all took so seriously has faded into oblivion. For those few truly significant contests, I hope win or lose they would be remembered fondly and without drama. In the end most of our players will eventually end up playing soccer for fun on the weekends with a bunch of friends rather than for intense competition and certainly not as a profession. Rather than focusing on the outcome of the games, we should be focusing on the play of the games – what did our child do well, what was amusing, what was exciting? If we do that, we’ll probably live longer and without a criminal record.
 
 

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Ready for Spring

Sam Snow

 Across the USA youth teams are getting into their spring season.  So this is a good time for coaches to refresh themselves on the major points of the prevention and care of injuries.  A coach first and foremost must do what he or she can to reduce the likelihood of injury.  The factors over which a coach has some control include:
 
  • Condition of the field
    • Uneven surface
    • Holes in the ground
    • Rocks, glass, sticks or anything else other than grass and dirt
    • Hazards next to the field
      • Team benches
      • Sidewalks
      • Fences
      • Parking lot
      • Street
      • Lake, stream, etc.
  • Anchor the goals
  • Be aware of weather conditions
    • Shelter nearby in case of dangerous weather
    • Adjust or cancel the training session in extreme heat or cold
  • Access to water
    • Pre and post training and match hydration
  • Player equipment
    • Shoes fit properly
    • Shin guards are in good condition
    • Clothing appropriate for the climate
  • Player fitness
    • Proper physical fitness for the age group and the time in the season
  • Design of training activities
    • Length of training session appropriate to the age group
    • Not too many vigorous activities in a row
      • Proper water/rest breaks
  • Time of day of training sessions and matches commensurate with the age group
  • Proper teaching of techniques
 
Keep in mind please that soccer is a contact sport, so some injures will occur.  Fortunately, most soccer injuries are relatively minor; sprains, scrapes, contusions and strains.  However, some sever injuries do occur such as lacerations, tears to soft issue (ligaments, muscles or tendons), bone fractures and concussions.  Coaches need to have an action plan for the occurrence of a severe injury.  Who will apply immediate first aid?  Who will call and guide emergency services?  Who will supervise the other players?  Who will manage the reactions of the spectators?
 
Coaches and team mangers need to discuss and rehearse their action plan now at the beginning of the season.  I also suggest that one or more of the adults who are regularly with the team take a sports first aid safety course.  All of the staff should take the free on-line concussion course: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/news/story.asp?story_id=5962.
 
The soccer season is a fun time for all involved.  Let’s also keep everyone safe and sound!

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Inspirational

Susan Boyd

When Bryce played his first year with United States Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP), there was a young girl, Sarah Hagen from Appleton, who was also playing. That summer at Region II US Youth Soccer ODP camp, Bryce had a good session but didn’t get selected for regional pool. He came home a bit frustrated, but confident with hard work he could improve. Sarah had an even better session and was selected for regional pool.  But she came home nervous and unsure because while at camp she had felt a lump in her abdomen. The lump turned out to be a tumor on her ovary the size of a soccer ball, diagnosed as dysgerminoma, a form of ovarian cancer. Sarah was 13 and getting ready to enter high school. Suddenly her promising soccer career came to a halt, high school was put on hold and she began the grueling process of battling cancer.
 
While Bryce played his freshman year with only one goal scored against him and an undefeated season, Sarah had two operations and a long series of chemotherapy. While Bryce shaved his hair off when called up to the varsity team, Sarah watched her hair fall out. While Bryce joined his high school team at the state finals, Sarah spent her days recuperating and getting tested to check her progress. By her sophomore year, Sarah was cancer-free and strong enough to play high school soccer, but for only a few minutes at a time. Nevertheless she played well enough to receive honorable mention. By her senior year she was tearing up the field.
 
She agreed to play for UW-Milwaukee. There she followed the legacy of Laura Moynihan. Laura had been instrumental in establishing girls ODP in Wisconsin. Laura also fostered women’s soccer through the state and the nation. She had also taken over as coach of the women’s team at UW-Milwaukee in 1991. Just before taking the job, Laura was diagnosed with cancer which unfortunately was the one obstacle which defeated her in 1992. Her dedication to women’s soccer endeared her to thousands across the U.S. Her name is attached to the trophy the Under-17 girls win at the United States Youth Soccer National Championships and to the field at UW-Milwaukee where the women’s team plays. While Laura never lived to see Sarah play, her efforts paved the way for Sarah to have the amazing opportunities that opened up for her once she recovered from her illness.
 
At UW-Milwaukee, Sarah blossomed earning school records in goals (93) and total points (217). She was named Horizon League Player of the Week 15 times, which is nine times more than any other player in league history. Her goals are ninth in NCAA Division I history. What further sets her apart is that she has great humility and a natural leadership quality. Perhaps having cancer at a young age gave her the wisdom to not take anything for granted or maybe surviving cancer provided her with the joy to seize each day with a positive attitude. Since both my sons transferred to UW-Milwaukee, they have reconnected with Sarah who they knew through ODP. She has plenty to teach them about how life isn’t always fair, but you have to make what you can out of what you are given. Sarah has also been called up to train with the U-23 Women’s National Team, was drafted by the Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer and signed a contract with Bayern Munich of the Frauen Bundesliga. In her first game with the latter she scored two goals.
 
I tell Sarah’s story because she should serve as an inspiration to both female and male soccer players. She didn’t give up on her dreams despite the tough year she spent battling her cancer. She took another year to get back up to full playing speed. She eventually returned to ODP, where she made a strong impression on the coaches. Her story teaches us all that soccer can be put on hold, whether forced or voluntary, to give time to other matters in life. Her story also teaches us that soccer as a dream has the strength to see us through the hard times. Most importantly, her story tells us that we need to take each day as a blessing and use it to the best we can. Through perseverance and good fortune Sarah has beat back cancer and soared at soccer. She didn’t ask to be a role model, but circumstances have made her one. Someday she may also have a National Championship cup named after her.
 
 

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Pointers from Klinsmann

Sam Snow

As you are likely aware, Jürgen Klinsmann, the U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach, spoke at the US Youth Soccer Workshop in Boston last week.  It was a wonderful opportunity for those of us there listening to Coach Klinsmann.  He was open and communicative with the standing room only audience.  You will soon be able to see video of the presentation on the US Youth Soccer website and YouTube channel.  Coach Klinsmann spoke of his comparisons of the full national team and youth soccer.  I have taken one small except from his presentation to share and discuss with you here.
 
Klinsmann on Style of Play:
  • Youth Soccer
    • Think long-term player development
      • Be comfortable on, off, and with the ball
      • Speed of play
      • When and how to support on offense and defense
    • Winning is not the same as developing a style of play
    • Example of training to style of play: U.S. Soccer Coaching Cirriculum
 
Reading the key points he wants to get across to the adults involved in youth soccer, the idea of long term player development is not new but one that we must all rally around to embrace and enforce.  That work begins at the team level, then onto the club level, then the state association and finally the national board of directors.  The effort to work diligently on long-term player development must be a two-way effort – from the bottom up and the top down. 
 
Being comfortable on the ball and learning where to go when you don’t have the ball is part of that long term player development.  Players will never be comfortable on the ball as long as parents and coaches keep yelling "Kick it!" every time a child has the ball.  At the U-6 and the U-8 age groups, the comment from the touchlines needs to be "DRIBBLE!"  Let them make mistakes as they learn to play on and off the ball.  That’s an important part of learning the game – trial and error.
 
Speed of play is first and foremost mental, then physical and then technical.  Playing fast with the ball without a good thought in mind as to what and why you are playing fast is just kick ball dressed up in a soccer inform.  Coaches and parents, to help our American players improve their speed of play, understand that it is really about decision making.  So coaches, teach your players how to think for themselves.  In this way our speed of play will increase tactically as well as technically.
 
How to support on either side of the ball begins at the U-8 age group in partner play.  Then at the U-10 age group, let’s work more in groups of three and start intentionally playing in triangles.  The number of players and the group shape around the ball gradually become more complex as they age.
 
Winning is a good thing.  Striving to win is a better thing and winning with a good style of play is the best.  We do want to try to win the matches we play, but not at the expense of how we play.  That means Fair Play, it means letting players explore with new skills and tactics and it means keeping winning and losing in perspective.  On this notion, here’s a thought; a poorly played win is worse than a well-played loss.
 
You have good guidance now from both US Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer on plans to train and develop intelligent and skillful players in every club in America.  Read and execute the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model and the U.S. Soccer Curriculum.

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