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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". 

 

Week 3--FRIENDS

Susan Boyd

When the boys were young our family was oblivious to the existence of youth soccer teams in our town. But we soon discovered that soccer played a key role in the social networking of both children and adults. I got a phone call asking me to put in an application for Bryce to play soccer. The parents were collecting these applications to submit together for a team of friends. And thus began our soccer journey.
 
I'm sure many of you have similar stories that include a group of childhood friends. Around our house are team pictures from those years with the sweet faces of young boys who are now young men. Because these teammates went to local schools, belonged to the same Cub Scout dens, swam at the same city parks, and attended local houses of worship, we managed to stay in contact over the years. While some teammates continued with soccer, others opted to switch to football in the summer before 5th grade. As the boys grew and developed, some showed more athletic skills than others and tried out for select soccer teams. Eventually over the years that core group of friends splintered choosing different activities. The boys kept some of the connections they had created in those early soccer years and lost others.
 
When I was administrator of the soccer club and it came time for tryouts, the real nervousness for the girls' parents wasn't if their daughters would make a team, but if they would make the team of their friends. Friendship, rather than athletic skills or team strength, became the overriding factor. Girls would be devastated if their friends moved on to a different team, and some girls would opt for a less competitive team just to stay together with a group of girls. I would get phone calls from parents hoping I could intercede and get their daughter on a particular team that all her friends had made. I would hear the real anguish in their voices because they saw this exclusion as extending to their daughter's entire social experience. These parents understood that friendships may bend or break when one friend has a different schedule than another friend.
 
But with every new experience come new people. As our lives expand and shift, we lose contact with some friends and come in contact with new friends. Playing soccer offers both kids and parents the opportunity to meet new people and form bonds. While the boys began playing soccer with friends they saw every day in all kinds of social settings, they grew to play soccer with kids who came from outside the community. Their connection became solely soccer. Nevertheless some friendships transcended that single bond. Bryce had a friend from his Under-14 soccer team, who due to illness had to quit the team. Bryce moved to several different teams over the next few years, and then went to San Francisco for college. But he and his friend kept in contact. When Bryce transferred to our local state university his friend was already there, and they reconnected. Robbie has many teammates playing in colleges all over the United States and remains in contact with all of them even though they haven't played soccer together for several years. While soccer drew them together, true friendship kept them involved.
 
And what happened with those players from that first packet of applications?  Bryce remains in contact with several of those boys, and one has been a good friend all these years despite having only played soccer with Bryce that first year and then at U-18. While soccer formed the friendship, the endurance of that friendship came from sharing other interests. Throughout my own soccer journey I have made the acquaintance of people that I consider friends even if we don't converse regularly. I have also had the privilege of watching dozens of boys grow up into young men who continue to play soccer both at the college level and professionally. Sharing in their careers makes soccer more personal and exciting.
 
Friendships can spring out of any organized activity or even the most mundane experience. But we all cherish those first friends our children have. My favorite picture is one of Robbie's third grade class sprawling across the new colorful playground equipment at the school. I know each child by name and many of them I still run into today. We can't always maintain the purity of those early friendships, but we can be sure to memorialize them. When you get the team pictures ask each player to sign his or her name under their face and write out full names on the back of the picture. Take pictures with small groups of players so you can have memories of specific friends. When Robbie graduated from high school a friend's mother put in the year book a picture of four twelve year old soccer players smiling with arms across one another's shoulders. Next to this photo was a picture of the same four boys celebrating their senior year state championship in soccer. Side by side these pictures showed four boys enjoying their sport together over the span of six years. What an amazing tribute to friendship!
 

Week 2 - FAMILY

Susan Boyd

A few years ago Robbie had a soccer game in April against a long-time rival team. So the entire family packed into the mini-van and headed to the field. April in Wisconsin can be spectacular or foreboding. This particular afternoon it was the latter. Dark clouds crowded the sky, which had a sick hue of green. The air hung heavy around us and carried an electricity that threatened to discharge unexpectedly. But was no rain, thunder or lightning, so the game got under way. Naturally, within minutes of the kick-off, the clouds released their rains and the air let loose with violent claps of thunder. We rushed to our cars. For nearly two hours we were trapped in our vehicles waiting out nature's fury. It turned out to be one of the best days we ever spent together as a family. We played word games, talked about school, told jokes and generally became better acquainted. When the coach finally rapped on our window to tell us the game would continue, we all let out a collective "ahhh" of disappointment.
 
Making everyone in the family feel a part of an activity can be tricky. After all, most kids don't want to just sit on the sidelines cheering on a brother or sister. Finding ways to include everyone ensures that soccer time is family fun time. Keep a calendar in a public area that clearly indicates the soccer game schedule. That way there aren't any surprises which can lead to hard feelings. Let family members act as the game statisticians keeping track of your player's touches, runs, and goals, as well as team accomplishments. Use sideline time to have conversations about everyone's activities, share some corny jokes and make plans for after the game. Let the children who aren't playing choose an activity for the family to share later in the day or the next day.
 
Travel time can be family time too.  During short trips, throw out a topic and let each person give one piece of information. For example ask "What would be your perfect meal?" or "What are your three favorite movies?" On longer trips you can play trivia on a topic of someone's choosing. The person who gets the right answer gets to ask the next question. We once did soccer uniform trivia, where we had to declare the manufacturer of a professional team's kit. The boys giggled with delight as Bruce and I failed again and again to get the right answers! We also had a game box for longer road trips that included road bingo cards, magnetic art boards, and fun facts flash cards. While popping in a DVD or video game can whittle away a couple hours, they are isolating activities. So insist on some group activities on the road to get the family interacting. You can play the license plate game or the alphabet game which can open the door for some additional conversation.
 
Youth soccer doesn't just need to happen with the team. Play as a family at a local park or put some Pugg goals up in the back yard for some regular family sport. Just like you can play basketball "HORSE" in the driveway, you can play it with soccer. Share the fun with everyone in the family. Set up some cones and do a dribbling race with the winner getting to choose where to go get a treat. Play soccer tennis with a rope strung between two trees. Before a big game, have everyone in the family write a note of encouragement on the player's soccer ball. During dinner do a soccer rule contest.     

Families can design and set up a "Wall of Fame" to contain the various triumphs of sport, school, and church. Give each child a poster board to decorate, then fasten them to a hallway or family room wall and let the children decide what they want to display. You can occasionally take a picture of the wall to send to grandparents and other relatives so they can share in the pride. Don't limit the wall to just the exemplary efforts, but also to those things that show the spunk or creativity of a child. That's why kids should have a say in what goes up on the wall. You can create a new board each year on the child's birthday so that the wall gets updated. Then you can fold and store them away as a wonderful memory to discover years later.
 
 At any moment a family bonding time can arise. Just as we discovered that stormy day to be a wonderful couple of hours to connect, other soccer families can find those moments too.  Be open to recognizing when you can share these times whether it be at a fast food restaurant laughing over a slip on the pitch when you can all share your most embarrassing moments, or after practice when your player wants to shoot just a few more balls in the net and you can all join in. Soccer brings everyone together, so cherish those moments and find ways to enhance them. Let go of deadlines in order to extend the togetherness. Listen to your kids and follow up on what they say. Soccer talk can lead to family talk.
 

Versatile Players

Sam Snow

Is there an article, blog post, or statement dealing with the positioning of U11-U12 players over the course of a season, or a year? I coach in a couple of different frameworks, but in one framework I just encountered a clash of sorts with a town administrator. This U12 girls' team plays in a results-oriented league with playoffs in the spring. I stated in an initial email to the team that my approach to playing U11-U12 players is to play them everywhere with equal time, and not just one position per game but one position over several successive games then moving to a new position for several successive games. For example, one player might play left forward for three games, then she will move to right back, for three games, and so on, such that the year ends with her having played in every position for a period of a few weeks. I've already lost this fall 2011 team because of this stated philosophy since the town administrator, overseeing the set of town U12 girl's teams, disagrees with this approach. He feels that, especially in a results-oriented league, with playoffs, and especially with respect to the keeper, that U11-U12 players should not be exposed to all the positions in this way. I feel strongly about playing U11-U12 players in all the positions in the way I stated previously, even in a results-oriented league. However, it occurred to me that I have not read this anywhere as a recommendation or directive from US Youth Soccer. I'm afraid now that I might be taking a stance on something that is without foundation so to speak. If there is any relevant reference material it would be helpful to know of it. I have looked but haven't found any.

I replied stating that I think that with the U12 age group you can have a player preform in all defensive positions before moving that player to the midfield line or the forward line.  So, rather than play right fullback for three matches and then move to center forward, the move could be to center or left fullback.  Once a player has played all positions (roles) in one line on the team (defender, midfielder and forward) move that player to the next line on the team.  For example, a player who has performed all positions in the defender line then moves to the midfield line and later to the forward line.

We believe that through the U14 age group players should be exposed to all of the positions in a team, including goalkeeper.  However, beginning with U12 and then on into the U13 and U14 age groups the players could begin to function 50% of the time in one particular line in the team; i.e., goalkeeper, defender, midfielder or forward.

The intent is to help the players learn about positioning over role specific positions.  By playing all of the positions in a team they better learn the principles of play and the particular tactics that go with each position on a team.  This well rounded approach to development will aid them greatly when they begin to specialize in a few positions beginning in the U15 age group.

Finally, it must be noted that this versatility will aid the players not only in making the cut on future teams (club, high school, college and pro), and it also helps them to be more adaptable to new team formations. Top notch soccer teams can play more than one team formation, requiring adaptability by the players. For example read this article on Barcelona which can change from 4-4-2 to 3-4-3.  http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/jonathan_wilson/09/05/barcelona.343/index.html
 
"One of the big issues we face in educating coaches--is allowing [their] players to [play] non-position specific [roles]. Here we have arguably the best team in the world--full of flexible midfielders," says Paul Shaw, Coaching Education Director for Virginia Youth Soccer. The article supports, albeit some thought has to be given to make the connection, our approach that  girls U13 - U15 playing for US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program should have a 3-4-3 and the same for the boys in the U13 - U14 age groups.
 
I have always said that in US Youth Soccer ODP I am looking for two types of players, goalkeepers and field players.  If you are a field player then I expect you to be versatile and be able to play two or more positions.  In my 32 years as an ODP coach there have constantly been center midfielders turned into outside midfielders, defenders and wingers.  Yet another reason for us to continue to teach that kids should be exposed to playing all positions through the U14 age group.
 

Week 1 - FUN

Susan Boyd

Last weekend I watched my youngest son's team lose a game 4-1 with two of the goals occurring within minutes of one another. The coach left the field first, looking grim, and the boys did their cool downs and then walked slowly across the field with their heads down. The goalkeeper's mother stopped to talk to me and then saw that her son was standing at the railing surround the field talking to his father. "Oh he's talking. I didn't think he would want to talk." We've all been there: the utter dejection of a horrible loss. And in those moments it's difficult to remember that this is all supposed to be fun.

But without the fun, there would be no way to get past the times when we feel let down, disappointed, frustrated, or defeated. It's the fun we experience either watching or playing soccer that keeps us coming back. When kids look forward to playing, to practice, to traveling, and to being with their team, then they are developing the attitudes that will get them over the humps. So how do we make it fun for our kids and, by association, for us?

First, be supportive. No matter what happens on the field, begin your conversation with your child with a positive statement. If kids feel that their efforts are being appreciated, they are far more likely to want to continue in an activity. After all, who wants to stop watching "SpongeBob" to hit the pitch if all you hear is what you're doing wrong. Being supportive also means showing that you're happy your kids are playing soccer. I know some parents just don't like soccer. We weren't raised on the sport, so it can seem confusing and occasionally boring. This is all the more reason to sit down together as a family and watch a game on TV together. Talk about which players have your child's position, watch how they play and cheer for a team. Watching a game together validates your child's choice for a sport and can be a great way to bond. Don't show your discomfort with soccer, if you have any, and develop an enthusiasm for the game. The most important thing is for your child to feel your pride, which will give them the joy they should feel.

Second, make going to soccer fun. Before a game, make it an event by blasting game song as you pull into the parking lot. Let your kids spray their hair with team colors or put on some face paint. Bring signs to the field cheering the kids on the team. Establish points for doing certain things well during practice, which can include listening and following instructions, not just soccer skills. After a certain number of points they can be redeemed for an ice cream or a fancy sports drink. If your child feels he or she is missing out on a favorite TV show to attend practice, maybe recording the show will help. If your child becomes reluctant to play or practice, make sure he or she goes to the scheduled event, but don't force them to participate. Let them warm up to joining in, but make sure they understand that they have a commitment to fulfill, so they have to at least show up.

Third, do fun things together as a team. Arrange a barbecue after a practice, have a parent-child soccer game, attend a local high school, college, or pro soccer game, arrange for the kids to be ball boys/girls or even to scrimmage on the field during half-time, hold a parents' practice where the kids watch the parents get coached, and do a team news email that let's everyone know what's going on and mentions each player with some tidbit. In youth soccer, teams can range from groups of close friends to a blend of far-reaching players. Finding ways to keep camaraderie alive will also keep fun alive. When kids feel included in the family which is their team, they find themselves enjoying the experience more. The same goes for the parents, so be sure to get all the parents involved as well.

Finally, don't pass up an opportunity to have fun. If it's raining, turn the umbrella upside down and see how full you can get it. If it's cold out, have a foot stomping, hand clapping fest. If it's a blow-out game, then cheer for things other than the goals your team isn't making. If the field is a mud bowl, then have a cleanest/dirtiest uniform contest after the game or the practice. Attitude is everything. The older your kids get, the more fun will elude you. So set the bar high and keep aiming for it. Fun will see you through the tough times, the low moments, and the set-backs. I love watching professional players during a hard fought contest and see the joy on their faces no matter the score. Sure they are working to pull a victory out of the moment. Sure they hate getting penalties or missing a goal. But they can't disguise it when they feel that rush of joy at a great pass, an amazing shot, a breath-taking save, or a well-placed tackle. That joy began when they first touched the soccer ball. We can help our kids find the same fun, and in so doing, we'll get to share in the joy.