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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". 

 

Work it out

Susan Boyd

I can clearly measure my level of fitness by how willing I am to tolerate a parking spot on the fringes of the tournament lot.   When I see that I have to walk six soccer fields lengthwise to get to my kids' game there's that moment where I weigh motherly devotion against back cramps. The kids so far have always won, but it does beg the question: at which distance will they lose out?   That's the thing about youth sports. It promotes good fitness for our kids, while we parents end up driving long hours in the car, sitting on the sidelines, and joining our kids in fast food meals on the fly without the benefit of a practice or a game at the end. The most exercise I'll get is bending over backwards, running around in circles, and taking leaps of faith.  

I'd love to see soccer clubs engage parents more in the fitness side of the sport. Sure, I should be self-motivated and take the time before a game to walk the perimeter of the field for thirty minutes. But I'm so grateful for a few minutes of time to sit and work on a crossword puzzle that I don't make myself do what would be healthier. Additionally, there's any number of parents who are new to soccer and don't yet appreciate how difficult it is to kick a ball with accuracy to a teammate or into what does appear to be a huge goal mouth. So I'm thinking there's a way to promote both fitness and understanding by sponsoring parent soccer clinics, hopefully weekly.

While our kids are practicing, we parents could gather to do our own sessions. We'd start with warm up exercises, switch to some soccer drills, advance to some Small-Side scrimmages, and finish with a cool down. Coaches often complain because they hate parents watching during the practice. The coaches want the freedom to conduct practices without feeling that the parents are judging the activities. By conducting a parent session each week, clubs could insure two things: parents won't hang around every practice and parents would begin to appreciate the techniques, difficulties, and beauty of the game by experiencing it firsthand. 

Inevitably there would be that mom or dad who ran track in college and goes to spin class three days a week who could make the rest of us look silly, but at least we could look silly in a pack rather than by ourselves in the gym. Looking foolish might actually be motivation because any embarrassment I would cause my children would simply be payback for all the grey hairs they've given me. Plus we parents could cooperatively encourage one another while learning to be more tolerant of our kids' play. We'd discover how hard it is to dribble a ball with the outside of your foot when you're running and someone is trying to steal it from you. And once a parent strikes a ball with what she/he believes is elegance but is actually wild abandon, that parent will understand the chagrin of watching the ball fly yards over the goal. The next time Eddie or Maggie makes the same mistake on the field, mom and dad won't be so critical.

Youth sports should be an opportunity for kids to develop some new skills, make friends, and increase their fitness. For the money we spend giving our kids these opportunities there's no reason we should miss out on the same benefits. Now I don't look good in shorts – as Erma Bombeck stated "according to my girth I should be a 90 foot redwood" – but I can run, kick, and look clumsy doing it with the best of them. And I'd love the chance to share in the fitness, friends, and fun my kids are getting. There's a whole different dynamic in making friends while being knocked on your rear instead of politely sipping tea in a red velvet chair. Get out there and ask your club to run clinics once a week or even once a month which would get us moms and dads involved physically and mentally in the sport. You'll gain a whole new perspective while sprawled on the pitch.
           
 

All You Need Are Friends - John Lennon

Susan Boyd

Everyone who got into soccer because their child's friend was in soccer raise your hand. I see you out there. You're the parents who didn't know much about soccer, maybe even hated soccer, but found yourself pulled in by peer pressure. When a youth sport grows as quickly as soccer has, that's the usual story. I'm sure there are lacrosse, rugby, and cricket parents with similar stories. But I'm grateful to that mom who insisted that Robbie's group of friends make up his first soccer team. We were totally clueless to the soccer process in our town and we probably would have opted for baseball and basketball had her son not insisted that he play soccer with all his friends. So we stapled our eight applications together, collared Bruce into coaching, and made a team of friends.  

Parents need to recognize the role that friendships play in the decisions our kids make growing up. Sometimes the decisions frustrate us. Our oldest daughter was an accomplished dancer who was accepted into a resident performing arts program when she was fourteen. She traveled 1,500 miles from home to go to school and perfect her craft. She made a friend there, who ultimately wasn't going to become a prima ballerina, and with her friend leaving the school Deana was persuaded that she no longer wanted to be a dancer. It was difficult to see her give up something she had been training in for nine years, but at the same time she knew she'd be unhappy at the school without her friend there. Today Deana and her roommate are friends although they live on opposite ends of the country and see each other only once or twice a year. But that friendship has proven to be more significant to both women than their dreams of being a dancer. Deana is now an executive in the fashion industry and loves her job. Her happiness didn't come from continuing her journey with dance, but some of her happiness comes from continuing her friendship.

The best part of youth sports can be found in the friendships formed between players. In Robbie's senior yearbook the family of one friend put in a picture of four boys together winning the US Youth Soccer State Championship next to a picture of those same four boys winning the high school state championship five years later. The state championship was the last time all four of them played together on the same club team. But they rejoined in high school and remained friends. Both Robbie and Bryce have had soccer teammates who no longer play but have become great fans and loyal friends. 

This week we celebrate friendship which infuses youth soccer with the elements of fun and family. When we play with friends we have that much more fun because we share a deeper connection than just teammates. We share a connection off the field as well. The team becomes a family, enjoying picnics, parent-player games, sideline conversations, and the shared ups and downs of competition. Most kids will take away from youth sports not the memories of practices, games, and championships, but the memories of friendships – anecdotes, laughter, and support. Someday all of us will just be fans, even those who went on to play professionally, so it would be wonderful to rejoin our friends in the stands and continue the good camaraderie for years to come.
 

Soccer Savvy

Sam Snow

"Football is a sport made up of individual moments and you have to know how to play in each of them. That means playing short passes when it suits and playing long balls when necessary, the combination of which is beautiful, but always maintain a balance. The most difficult skill is knowing exactly what to do at each moment."

- Vicente del Bosque, Spanish Men's National Team Coach

Knowing what to do in each moment in a match is a long learning process for both players and coaches. Reading the game requires both players and coaches to have a common language. That language is encompassed in the Principles of Play and the Components of the Game. US Youth Soccer is producing a DVD on coaching the Principles of Play in Small-Sided Games for the U-6 to the U-12 age groups. That DVD should be available by the end of 2010.

It is important for players to eventually be able to perform within all moments of the game (keep in mind though that even adult professional players make mistakes in this regard). For all age groups and all levels of play, the most important moment in the game is transition. Transition is the moment in the match when individual players switch their player role in the game from defense to attack or attack to defense. Transition is understood first by an individual player, then a group of players and then the team as players learn to see the tactical cues in certain situations. That ability leads them to reading the game.

This moment of transition occurs first as mental recognition of the situation and then a decision that initiates physical action. The faster the recognition-decision-action connection is made, the more impactful a player's performance will be. Only once individual players are quickly making the transition from one phase of play to the next will it be possible for a team to execute quick and skillful transition from defense to attack or vice versa.

If transition does not happen fast enough for a player or team then they are always a step or two behind the action. The speed of a player's transition is based on their tactical awareness. Tactical awareness is being mindful of where you are on the field, as well as the location of the ball, teammates and opponents. It's the ability to read the game – to anticipate what will happen next and not merely react to what just happened. We refer to this level of mental focus and tactical awareness as being soccer savvy.

Your players have no chance of becoming soccer savvy players if they are simply cogs in the team wheel. Players who are over-coached in matches become robotic in their performance and cannot make tactical decisions fast enough. Slow decision making leads to reaction players instead of anticipation players. The over-coaching comes from not only coaches, but spectators too. They constantly yell out to the players what to do and when to do it. This further hinders a player's decision making as spectators are typically a step behind the action – the pace of the game is quicker than their words can be conveyed. This environment of coaches and parents making soccer decisions for the players during a match has lead to an American soccer weakness in transition. Our goal is to develop anticipation players, those who can read the game. That type of player can see what will happen next in a match. That player is one step ahead of the game. This sort of player evolves in a healthy soccer environment. That environment requires less coaching during matches and better coaching during training sessions. The training environment should lead to self-reliant players who think and communicate for themselves during a match.
 

Foreign Development

Sam Snow

Many soccer fans enjoyed watching Germany play in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. They played some exciting soccer and went quite far in the tournament. Often, when a nation has a good run in the World Cup or they win, as Spain did, then clubs at many levels try to copy the system of play or maybe even the entire developmental process. I believe that we should always look to how players are developed around the world. Let's look closely at what Spain, Germany or others have done, but I do not believe we should ever take someone else's program in whole. The circumstances and developmental stages of the game are different in each country. Few nations have the situation we have with soccer in America. Let's take the best from other nations for our particular needs. But let's not ever copy carte blanche the methods of another nation. Here is the Sports Illustrated article which spurred these thoughts when it was sent to me by a youth soccer coach.

Here's my initial response to the article:

I know there are good ideas in Germany (DFB) for us to copy. Some of the infrastructure they have created is beyond us presently. As the richest Football Association in the world, the DFB can underwrite a lot of the expenses for elite player development. Plus, they have the will to do so.

The question in my mind is, are we doing all we can with our resources? Personally I think we should pour in personnel and resources to Zone 1 (U-6 to U-12) of the U.S. Soccer Player Development Pyramid. When the base of pyramid becomes stronger and broader then the Zones above it benefit.

Furthermore, some interesting insights from Coach Löw are made in the article. I like the direction of playing the game with the emphasis on attack. I know that approach suits our American participants in the game.

Now, the point that he divided the pitch into 18 sections to be clear on each player's job on the field is wonderful for National Teams, pro teams and perhaps for college teams and U-19 select teams. The younger you go though, I think the reins need to be loosened. 

So for the U-6 age group, go ahead and run 'willy nilly' all over the field. Chase the ball to your heart's delight.

With the U-8 age group, instill a more clear idea on the attacking half and the defending half of the field and some general ideas on how to play there.

For the U-10 age group, teach the concept of the horizontal and vertical thirds of the field.

With the U-12 age groups, take the thirds (horizontal and vertical) of the field and really ingrain it into the players' minds. Let's get across ideas on how to play on the flanks and the central channel. Also teach the general tactical ideas for each horizontal third; i.e., less dribbling out of the defending third and more passing.

At U-14, let's work on the outsides of the defending and attacking thirds, the corners of the field if you will, and how to play in those zones.

With U-16 teams, train in detail about playing in the midfield third and how to get into the attacking third with tactics beyond always playing the through ball.

At U-19, by all means break down the pitch into those 18 quadrants.