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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". 

 

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.
 

Finder's Fee

Susan Boyd

Cam Newton is arguably the best college quarterback, even the best football player, this year. But he's been embroiled in ongoing questions into his eligibility stemming from accusations of pay for play negotiations with Mississippi State by his father. As Auburn climbed into the BCS No. 1 spot last Sunday, the school faced the possibility of having Newton declared ineligible and having their wins vacated. However on Tuesday the NCAA gave Newton provisional eligibility stating that it didn't appear that Newton knew anything about his father's attempt to get a six-figure bounty for delivering Newton to Mississippi State. 

For purposes of full disclosure I received my graduate degree from University of Oregon who was number one until Auburn took over last Sunday edging out my beloved Ducks by .002 points in the rankings. Nevertheless this discussion of Newton is not sour grapes on my part. Rather, I'm concerned about parents who feel entitled to a cash reward for doing their job. That's the real point. No matter how much we spend on our kids, it's our job to support their dreams both emotionally and financially. I'm not saying that our children are entitled to unlimited contributions from our family income. But when we can afford it, we should be underwriting our children's dreams to the best of our abilities. 

If Cam Newton's father Cecil felt he was owed something for his years of sacrifice, he's wrong. If I had to place a value on what I've spent on my four children it would exceed this week's Powerball jackpot. Seriously! There isn't a college around that could pay me enough to cover what I've spent. Even if one of my children was a superstar, I couldn't imagine risking their eligibility and everything he or she had worked for by seeking some remuneration for doing my job. As things stand now, I'd merely give some coaching staff a really good laugh if I asked for money to convince my child to play for their school. All we can hope for is our kids' thanks. Robbie once told me that when he makes it big he'll get me a Lincoln Navigator. I don't really want a Lincoln Navigator, but that was his way of saying thank you, so I said thank you back. I'll never see a Lincoln Navigator or even Lincoln Logs, but I have had the pleasure of watching my children play in their respective sports and the knowledge they each had an activity that kept them involved, healthy, and happy. I'm not owed anything more than that.

Many non-sport kids have parents supporting their aspirations. There's rarely any major payoff down the road for anyone, athletes or not. But the amount of attention and money sports generate for colleges, could give the parents of athletes some wrong-headed idea that they deserve to share in the pot. Good parents support their kids whether it be sports, music, forensics, or model building. Non-athletic pursuits can require as much or more financial support than those who play sports. And I suppose there are parents of super smart kids who push for bigger scholarships by playing one college against another. But that's not money directly in their pockets. That's not a reward for being the bearer of the fruit.

Whatever our kids achieve stems from their passion and their investment in themselves. We can facilitate, but we're not out there running the field or practicing the scales. We may get up at 3 a.m. to take our son or daughter to 5 a.m. hockey practice, but that doesn't merit a paycheck. When we're so involved it's difficult not to have our ego invested in our children's accomplishments because we feel those accomplishments somehow reflect on our parental abilities. To some extent it does reflect on our parenting because if we weren't supportive, if we didn't pay for lessons or team fees, if we didn't drive to practices our kids most likely couldn't achieve in their interests. But ultimately their success falls solely to their own investment in their talents. If they don't work hard, if they don't learn from their mistakes, if they don't give 100 percent, then it won't matter how much money we throw at the situation. 

Cecil Newton deserves to be in the parent hall of shame. No matter how talented and extraordinary Cam turned out, there's no development bonus for the parent. Cecil risked his son's ability to earn the highest accolades in football including the Heisman Trophy and a national championship because he saw an opportunity to cash in. He risked not only his son's future, but the future of every player on his son's team – kids who have talent, but may have just eked by to win a coveted spot on the football team. Those kids had parents who probably made as big, or bigger, a financial investment. But they chose to respect that their obligation comes without compensation. Since the NCAA investigation is still open, there remains a chance that this will be a house of cards that collapses on Cam, his Tiger teammates, and Auburn. I don't really care what happens to Cecil, but I do care about what happens to young dedicated athletes whose only sin was guilt by association. I can't imagine my boys working hard enough to have their team reach the number one rank in the United States only to lose it all because the parent of a teammate wanted to line his pockets.   But my kids would have to wait in line to box that parent's ears. I have first dibs.

Side note: As I was writing this blog I was watching the awarding of the FIFA World Cup hosts for 2018 and 2022. Russia won for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. The United States was thwarted in their bid for 2022, so it will be back to the drawing board for 2026, although the early favorite for that year is China.
 

NYL & Leaders

Sam Snow

The last three weeks I have been very busy with National Youth License courses and club sessions in North Carolina, Texas, Washington and Virginia. US Youth Soccer has conducted, in conjunction with the State Associations and U.S. Soccer, 19 courses including the one I am concluding now in Virginia. To date, over 600 coaches and administrators have attended those courses. One of the goals of U.S. Soccer for the next few years is to impact Zone 1 of the Player Development Pyramid. Zone 1 encompasses the age groups of U-6 to U-12. That of course, fits precisely in the focus of the NYL, the "Y" License. So, US Youth Soccer along with Claudio Reyna, Youth Technical Director for U.S. Soccer, hopes to spread the impact of the "Y" License even further along the youth soccer landscape. Why the emphasis on Zone 1?

If we hope to improve the quantity of players and quality of play in Zones 2 and 3 then we need to look at what we are doing in the beginning of a person's soccer life. Most Americans come into playing the game of soccer at some point by the age of 12. Our approach is that if we take care of the beginning, the end will take care of itself. This is not to stay that we ignore good coaching and a good soccer experience for teenage players. It is saying that we must do a better job with the soccer environment, coaching, officiating and soccer parenting with the preteen players. As the culture of soccer in Zone 1 improves, then in time it will trickle up to older age groups. So, how does the "Y" License play into all of this?

The "Y" gives us a forum from which correct information for running training sessions and setting up matches for children can be delivered. Fair enough you may say, but 600 coaches out of the 300,000 who are part of US Youth Soccer is not much of a dent. That's true – unless we can reach decision makers. To that end one of the courses held at the end of October was an invitation only course conducted at the US Youth Soccer national office at Pizza Hut Park at the club house and fields of FC Dallas. At that course we had in attendance a member of the national board of directors, the manager of the Passback program for the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the youth directors from four professional franchises, the director of a large Soccer Across America program in New York City, the executive director of a state association and numerous state association staff coaches. That course impacted leaders at several levels of the game. It may thereby impact policy making decisions.

We do indeed want coaches and administrators from grassroots programs attending the course. They naturally have the most direct contact time with players and their development. But we also need the movers and shakers attending the course. We need coaches and administrators from the national level, the state level and the club level in the course. Then we begin to change the youth soccer culture. Then we reshape the American soccer landscape. This is not an easy task nor will it evolve quickly or without consternation. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, we leaders should choose to take on this challenge not because it is easy but because it is hard.

The updated list of 2011 National Youth Licenses can be found here. Additional courses will be added throughout the year.

Sign up for a National Youth License course today!