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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". 

 

One strike and you're out

Susan Boyd

Despite a century long history of limited professional soccer in America, the game remains a fledgling in the world of U.S. sports.   The latest incarnation, Major League Soccer, was founded in 1993 with the first competitions in 1996. Over the past five years the league has begun a rigorous expansion program growing from ten teams to eighteen by 2011. Following in the European tradition 10 of the teams have "shirt front" sponsorship with a floor of $500,000. In addition the league has gotten larger TV contracts, a sure sign that TV executives recognize the growing interest in the sport. Like any struggling franchise, the teams are still trying to boost their bottom line. This past year only two clubs saw their financial statements in the black: Toronto (a team from a supportive soccer community) and Seattle (who benefits from a partnership with the Seahawks and shameless promotion from minority owner Drew Carey). Overall, even for the successful clubs, revenues lag far behind those of other professional sports. This translates to very unglamorous salaries. The average MLS player's annual earnings sit at $80,000 to $90,000, but when I looked at the salary chart for all players in 2009, I saw a majority of players sitting below the $40,000 mark. David Beckham's $5 million salary definitely skewed the numbers along with a few other foreign players and some American stars who also earn seven figures. The league and soccer in general dodged a bullet last week when the players and owners came to an agreement and a players' strike was averted.

So what does a backroom deal have to do with youth soccer? Quite a bit actually. The U.S. has struggled to get a profitable, sustainable professional league going. The National American Soccer League (NASL) existed from 1968 to 1984 with its indoor soccer branch lasting another decade. US Youth Soccer was founded in 1974 in a World Cup year and the NASL expanded bringing soccer further into the media spotlight. The high point for the NASL came with the addition of Pele to the New York Cosmos' roster in 1976. One of his bicycle kick goals featured prominently in the opening credits of ABC's Wide World of Sports giving every American sports fan an exquisite albeit brief taste of soccer. It also brought young fans into the sport giving them a recognizable role model. Unfortunately over the course of the next 10 years, American professional soccer took a nosedive and so too did interest in the sport. Rescue came in the form of the 1994 World Cup being awarded to the United States. Everyone had a reason to be proud of America and proud of American soccer players whose names were now known by a greater percentage of the population. When the MLS began its first competitive season in 1996 it rode the coattails of that World Cup recognition. In 1996 the number of registered US Youth Soccer players had risen from 100,000 to over a million.

The popularity of a sport depends greatly upon the name recognition of the players and the accessibility of competition for the general public. Kids want to emulate their sports' heroes and to dream about one day following in their footsteps. Their interest in playing a sport grows from their interest in who plays the sport. Had the MLS players struck, it would have been a terrible blow for the growing U.S. interest in our own home teams. Coming in a World Cup year, it would have further ramifications by curtailing some of the crescendo wave rolling into June and carrying fans into World Cup fever. Obviously the diehard fans wouldn't be affected, but those novice fans upon which the growth of professional soccer in America depends would have had their interest disrupted. We finally have a generation of soccer players who have grown up not only knowing American professional soccer, but having the international experience through television channels like Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV. Interrupting their burgeoning interest in American teams and American players could result in years of having to re-establish that interest. All but one of the teams, Real Salt Lake, exist within an hour of other major sports teams, especially baseball whose season parallels that of the MLS. A family looking for a summer sports experience may turn their discretionary income to baseball if soccer didn't exist due to a strike. 

Another serious factor affecting youth soccer is the close relationship between the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and MLS teams. While the Academy doesn't include but a handful of the more than 3 million youth players in America, it is presently one of two conduits to the highest levels of soccer in America. The possibility of playing at the top level keeps youth players motivated and hungry. The Academy attempts to follow the European model of having youth teams for each of the MLS teams where the players are supported by the professional team with facilities, access to coaches, financial support, and name recognition. With the MLS players on strike, the affect on the Academy could be serious. While the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program functions outside of the professional system, it could also suffer residual effects from fan defection and a depletion of interest.

I have great sympathy for the MLS players. The league can't attract the best players because they can go to Europe where salaries in even the fourth tier of competition can exceed what they earn in the MLS. A semi-professional player in the Conference National, the fifth tier and primarily amateur league, makes around $800 a week which just about equals what the meat and potato MLS players make. For many American players the choice to sit on the bench in Europe or play in the United States comes down to what they can make over the course of a contract. So, American players have a legitimate beef with the league about pay and about their ability to move to other more lucrative contracts without league approval. But now is not the time for a strike. The league has at least another five years to go before it can claim the fan loyalty and revenues strong enough to weather a season disruption.   This interdependent circle of fans and games needs to be nurtured a while longer, particularly as it relates to youth fans. If the league hopes to be as successful in the longterm as the NFL, the NBA, or the MLB, it has to bring more and more youth fans into the circle. Those who play the game now, follow the MLS, and hold American soccer players as their heroes are those who will become the season ticket holders of the future and the parents who sign their kids up for soccer perpetuating a larger fan base.

The MLS and youth soccer need one another for the sport to grow in America. While I loved attending Columbus Crew games for under $80 for my family when my daughter lived there and driving the two hours to Chicago to see the Fire, my interest would wane should there have been a strike. Who wants to put that much effort into going to games when you can't count on the games occurring? That means my kids and my grandkids wouldn't be going to games as well. With so many sports competing for their interest and soccer still considered not as "cool" as the other sports, it's hard to convince kids to play if there isn't a professional component that lends the game some validity in their eyes. Someday I foresee a time I'll complain about the ridiculously inflated MLS player salaries and the high cost of tickets, but that's the price we'll pay for soccer earning its legitimate permanent place in the professional sport ranks. I just hope one or both my sons will be playing for the MLS so I can get in for free! 
 

People Development

Sam Snow

US Youth Soccer is undergoing a strategic planning initiative.  One of the groups is focused on people development in our Association.  I have now begun to work with that group.  One aspect they hope to impact is the leadership training of administrators, coaches and referees.  So, I shared with them a document I put together several years ago.  It touches on some of the main characteristics of leaders. 

Can a club train a coach to become a leader?  Can a person develop leadership abilities?  The answer is a resounding YES.  Leadership is a combination of specific personal qualities.  It begins inside a person and relies as much on philosophical approach as it does on learned skills.  These are the major character traits of leaders:

·        
Courage
·         Big Thinker
·         Change Master
·         Persistent and Realistic
·         Sense of Humor
·         Risk Taker
·         Positive and Hope-filled
·         Decision Maker
·         Accepts and Uses Power Wisely
·         Committed

For all of the details and more information, click here for the full document which is now posted on the US Youth Soccer web site.
 

Who's the child?

Susan Boyd

We all have moments we wish we could do over. I once spilled grape juice all over myself during a Joe Biden fundraiser. I was four seats away from the senator and was there with my grandmother who nearly disowned me. This happened in 1979, and I still relive the embarrassment. Those types of moments are not only easy to recall, but easy to recognize as blunders. Unfortunately we also have moments that we should know fall outside the boundaries of acceptable social behavior, yet we seem to be totally blind to the fact. Just attend any youth soccer game and you'll understand what I mean.

At one youth tournament, I was on the sidelines of a U6 game. At that age winners and losers don't factor into the experience. Every team plays three games and every player gets a participation trophy. The fields are so small that they can't even accommodate all the spectators along the sidelines. We had to sit two rows deep. The idea is for kids to get the experience of a tournament without the expectations and pressures of a tournament. In other words, this is for fun. Most of the kids are still clueless about the rules and strategies of the game. They understand they need to kick the ball into a net. Which net is usually unimportant. However, the outcome of this particular game became very important to some parents. It began with arguments about referee calls – which were usually about balls going out of bounds – and escalated to screaming at the kids whenever they scored in the wrong goal. Finally one parent had had enough of her child's coach not correcting the kids and she strode across the field in the middle of the game to give her expert advice to the parent volunteer. When the referee met her on the field to turn her back, the mother began poking the ref in the chest with her finger. The poor referee, who was about twelve, didn't want to be disrespectful to a mother, so he kept asking her to stop, at which point she began to curse at him and poke him harder. Mercifully another parent, perhaps her husband, came onto the field and attempted to persuade her to return to the spectator's side of the field. She responded by slapping him. In the end, it became a police matter, the kids witnessed an extremely unpleasant encounter, and one child in particular had to take home the memory of his mother's behavior as his participation trophy.

That's one of the most ridiculous and extreme situations I have witnessed, but it does highlight the problem of overzealous parents. We watch sports at home where we can freely yell at referees, coaches, and players without fear of someone climbing over the bleachers to punch our lights out. Then we go to a live professional sporting event and get caught up in the frenzy of screaming and criticizing. So it is little wonder that parents can forget where they are when they go to their child's game. These aren't professionals used to the slings and arrows of fan criticism. These are impressionable youngsters who really don't understand what all the fuss is about.

When Robbie played on a coed team we had a game in early spring that even challenged the concept of Refrigerator Soccer. The day was freezing, damp, and windy. Naturally we bundled our kids up in warm-up suits, gloves, hats, parkas, and if they had been invented yet we would have added Snuggies. The referee showed up, a nervous and earnest girl who was refereeing her first game. She had obviously read and memorized the rule book. She made the kids take off their pants and jackets because their uniforms weren't visible. When we asked if we could put their uniforms on outside of the outerwear, she answered no. So we parents were already not predisposed to liking this referee. She further aggravated our good natures by constantly calling back throw-ins for being illegally performed. Her whistle blew so many times I began to think she was a frustrated musician. We all tried to be patient and understanding, but with the cold and the constant calls we parents lost our collective calm and began to say things like "Oh come on" and "You've got to be kidding" To which the young referee responded by threatening to kick some of us parents out. That was the final straw and several parents began to have even choicer and bawdier comments for the young lady. As the exchanges began, one young player streaked by the parents, put her finger to her lips and said, "Settle down!" If she could handle the cold, the calls, the frustrations, then it really wasn't our place to fight her non-existent battle. It was a humbling and significant lesson for us not so grown-ups.

Over the course of years of youth soccer I have seen fights between parents of opposing teams, coaches and parents mix it up, parents and coaches attack referees verbally and physically, coaches attack players verbally and, regrettably, physically. I have passed by parents standing over their children and berating them for a poorly played game, even threatening them with the loss of soccer if they didn't start playing better. I have heard cursing and name-calling which if our kids used even 1 percent of that filth they would be grounded for a week. In many cases these outbursts occurred at games for kids under age 12. Even worse I know I'm not alone in these observations. I'd like to think that we parents could be better role models and gentler spirits, particularly when our kids aren't yet old enough to drive. Being supportive of our children doesn't mean embarrassing them in the process. We don't have to channel Bobby Knight because ultimately at these ages no game outcome is more important than having fun and building positive self-images. I understand giving up criticism is harder than giving up chocolate for me. But we can work towards the goal of focusing on what's going well rather than on what's going wrong. I'm not sure what our kids really think of us when we act out, but I know what I think of my kids when they act out. It's got to be pretty disheartening for them to see us incapable of the adult behavior implied in our admonishments to "grow up."
 

Parent Programming

Sam Snow

Recently, I was in Tennessee to teach a National Youth License coaching course along with Tom Condone, Tennessee State Soccer director of coaching, and Mike Strickler, Florida Youth Soccer director of coaching. Last Tuesday, I was able to visit with parents of Under-11 players with the Collierville Soccer Association, which is just outside of Memphis. Tom Condone and Dale Burke, Tennessee State Soccer executive director, made the trip too. The three of us, at the request of the club executive director Paul Furlong, were able to speak with the parents, the club director of coaching and a couple of the club administrators. The club has recently initiated an academy approach with the Under-11 and younger age groups. The parents had some concerns on this approach providing for sufficient competition for the kids to further develop their soccer talents. We spoke with them on the stair step approach to proper player development and age appropriate competition. The folks asked good questions during the meeting and we had a positive dialog. Here are some of the comments from the club members which they shared after our meeting.

Tom,

I would personally like to thank you and Sam Snow for coming to Collierville and presenting the youth module to our Under-9 through Under-11 parents.  I believe it was very educational and that it hit home with many of them that were in attendance.  Also, I would like to have you come here once a year and present this information to our new, up and coming parents.
Once again, thank you for your time and efforts with parent education.  I have added a few emails below from some of our managers who attended and are in the process of passing on the information they learned.

Regards, Shawn Loth
Junior Lobos Director/Director of Club Training
 


Shawn,

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the seminar Tuesday night.  I appreciate the efforts made by all involved at CSA to coordinate a visit from the directors of US Youth Soccer and Tenn. State Soccer.

I was able to understand the importance of learning proper technique, striving to play well, and most of all to have fun playing the game for 9, 10, and 11-year-olds.   We have to be responsible, as parents and coaches, to teach these kids that winning is not the only thing that matters.  We tend to ask the question "Did you win?" or ""Did you score?" instead of asking "Did you have fun?"" or "Did you play your best?" and "Did you have a positive impact on the game and your team?" 

They suggested that players not be cut at this age as they are still in the "developmental" stage.  This can result in more than one team, i.e. A, B, and C teams.  With this said, every child should get equal playing time.  Each team should be equally matched.   

One thing that struck me was tournament play.  They recommend playing "in state" such as friendlies.  Set something up that will allow you to get there and back in one day.  Little Rock would be okay as they are only a couple of hours away.  It's not necessary to travel long distances for tournaments at this age.

I used to think that if a coach sat on the bench and didn't interact with the players on the field that he/she didn't care.  The coach is a teacher.  He/She has given them the tools through practices, training, etc. to make decisions on the field for themselves and for their team.  Games are learning experiences.  Everything the players have been taught, experiences they have had from an early age, it all comes together and clicks at the age of 26, 27 or 28!!!!  I wouldn't have guessed that this would be the age they will peak. 

Encourage your child to play!!!!  Not just soccer.  Grab a basketball and shoot some hoops, ride a bike, climb a tree (although that one scares me to death).

They have documents, guides, etc. from both websites that can be very helpful to the parents and players.  "Best Practices", and "The Vision" document were a couple that were mentioned in the meeting.

US Youth Soccer -
www.usyouthsoccer.org
Tennessee State Soccer - www.tnsoccer.org
Proud Parent, Theresa


 
Shawn,

I wanted to thank you for setting up the parent education seminar on March 9th for our Lobos parents.  My husband and I attended the meeting and found it informative and insightful.  I gathered a lot of helpful information during the meeting and have researched several of the websites that were mentioned.  I will be passing on the information to our team parents that were unable to attend the meeting.  I feel that it is very important that all parents hear the proper perspective regarding youth player development.  One key point that I gathered from the meeting was the Under-6 through Under-12 player should focus on the process of playing instead of the outcome.  Another point is that building technical skills at a young age is key to having a successful player at an older age. 

I will pass on what I've learned to other parents in the program and I hope that we are able to have additional seminars of this nature.

Thanks, Sonja
Lady Lobos Manager
 
So the director of coaching and executive director of a State Association, along with the national director of coaching, made a six hour round trip for a one hour meeting to make a difference for a club and the players therein. Join in with us on this team effort to improve the youth soccer experience!