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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". 

 

'Tis the Season for Giving

Susan Boyd

Last week I talked about some ways you could find appropriate gifts for the soccer player or fan in your family. But we also realize that many children don't have access to even the barest necessities of life including food, clothes, medicine, and housing. Many soccer associations and players have formed charitable organizations to address the needs of children through the game itself. While there are literally hundreds of these organizations throughout the world, I'd like to point out a few that could use your support this holiday season as well as the rest of the year. Consider donating to one of these foundations as part of your gift giving tradition.

America SCORES (www.americascores.org) is an innovative foundation that serves 14 metropolitan areas in the United States. It provides after school soccer for inner city kids while also engaging them in a writing and literacy program. Using soccer as a means to both recruit and excite the children, the foundation then shifts during inclement weather to a literacy program tied to the kids' experiences both on the soccer pitch and in their world.  Sponsors of the program are diverse ranging from ASCAP, which is a song composers' organization to adidas. Nearly 100% of donations to the organization are used directly for the program as it is largely volunteer-staffed. The poetry the kids have created in the program has been featured on Wall Street and the Sunday Boston Globe.

Many of you will use Hanukkah and Christmas as a time to replace cleats, jerseys, and other soccer equipment, most of which will still be useable. The U.S. Soccer Foundation (www.ussoccerfoundation.org/site/c.ipIQKXOvFoG/b.5438455/k.CCC2/Passback.htm) sponsors a program called Passback which collects, organizes, and sends out used soccer gear to kids in need both here in the U.S. and around the world. Usually they will advertise a collection two or three times a year through each US Youth Soccer State Association office. Clubs are asked to collect donations and bring them to the state office. Or you can organize your own collection and arrange with the foundation for pick-up. Naturally monetary donations are also welcomed.

In 1997 Garret Hamm, Mia's brother, passed away due to complications from aplastic anemia. The best hope for a cure for many patients is a bone marrow transplant. Therefore Mia formed her Mia Foundation (www.miafoundation.org) to raise research funds for and awareness about bone marrow transplants and to provide support for families going through the process. In addition she uses her foundation to promote the growth of women's sports. She wants to see the progress made in the last ten years continue so that all girls who wish to play sports have that opportunity.

With the first ever World Cup in Africa coming in 2010, eyes will be upon both South Africa and on the entire continent. Unfortunately HIV and AIDS continue to be a deadly epidemic throughout Africa. In 2002 Tommy Clark, who had played soccer professionally in Zimbabwe and then became a physician, joined with other soccer players, including Ethan Zohn who won Survivor, to form Grass Root Soccer (www.grassrootsoccer.org). They had the idea that kids learn best from people they respect as role models. So using soccer players and the sport, the organization entered Zimbabwe with the mission to stem the advance of HIV/AIDS in the country through a soccer centered education program. Using an innovative "Skillz" program, the foundation teaches kids how to prevent HIV. The program has now spread to other African nations and has the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

All over the world soccer can be found in the most impoverished areas of any country or city. In the United States soccer has gained a reputation as a more elitist sport for those who have the money for club fees, travel, and top gear. However, in the streets of Rio de Janeiro or the dusty back fields of Botswana, kids play soccer bare foot with a melon or a bucket for a ball. That passion for and universal attraction of the game became the starting point for Street Soccer USA (www.streetsoccerusa.org). Founders use soccer as a means to reach homeless men, women, and children, bring them into a community of players, and create leagues in order to provide them with a purpose beyond crime or self-destruction. The idea is to end homelessness through soccer. The organization has teams in sixteen metropolitan areas. Their model uses a mentoring program to help players get off drugs, deal with mental health issues, find employment, and eventually permanent housing. They have reached 20 percent of the homeless in the areas they serve and have a 75 percent success rate in affecting a life change among the population they reach.

We can affect a major change in someone's life with a simple donation of $5.00. Just think if every US Youth Soccer member contributed $5.00 to one of these or any other charitable organization, we would make a net $15 million contribution to those in need. We can be a powerful factor in helping the poor in America and around the world. So please consider clicking on one of the links above and giving them a small donation that when joined with others can be a significant gift.
 

It Takes Thought to Find a Gift that Counts

Susan Boyd

Winter holidays mean three things: the celebration of beliefs and traditions; less soccer; and gift buying. Families make their own decision about the first, and I can't really do much about the second, but I can help out with the third. Soccer fans, especially young soccer fans, have no end of soccer items they want (translate – need) to get them through any winter hiatus and give them a reason to last until spring. Unfortunately soccer gear usually comes with a very high price and professional teams have a way of redesigning their jerseys every year, so that last year's $75 jersey needs to be replaced by this year's $80 jersey. Additionally, star players move among the top international clubs and change numbers as well as affiliations. So kids don't want to be wearing Ronaldinho's Barcelona 10 jersey. They want his A.C. Milan 80 jersey instead. If we had Ronaldinho's $30 million contract, we could easily keep up. But most of us are just trying to get by with far fewer zeros on our pay checks.

So what can we get for a more modest sum that answers the wants and needs of our younger soccer fans? Plenty, it turns out if we think creatively.

Let's start with small items that can be stocking stuffers or help stretch out the gifts over Hanukkah. Zipper pulls run around $3 and come in the classic soccer ball design or in team logos. They can add some pizzazz to a warm up or a soccer bag. And speaking of soccer bags, consider purchasing a luggage tag that you can have custom made for your player. These usually run between $10 and $20 depending on how much customization you have done from name and address on already designed tags to having a cut-out of your club's logo. It certainly helps to quickly identify your child's bag from the long identical line of bags behind the bench. To keep that bag from getting too rancid buy several bag dog deodorizers at $10 each. Shoe bags are a great way to keep mud, indoor rubber confetti, and moisture from ruining everything in the soccer backpack. They usually cost between $10 and $15. Girls appreciate rubber hair bands and sleeve clips that get lost easily. Packages holding five or ten of each usually cost under $10.

Unique gifts for $20 to $50 exist for any soccer fan. Rugs, wastebaskets, sheet sets, wall stickers, and over door hanging racks all come with pro team designs or have soccer themes and can brighten up a bedroom. I found a magnetic soccer cork board that hangs on the refrigerator and can be used to tack up maps to games, game schedules, and photos and programs making them readily accessible and easy to change. These boards cost between $15 and $30 depending on size and design. Glitter soccer tote bags in hot pink, fluorescent green, and brilliant purple could add that extra flair to a girl's soccer bag and help hold jewelry, hair brushes, and toiletries in style for $17. Mom might appreciate soccer themed jewelry in necklaces, earrings, and hair clips for around $20 each. Dad could go for a soccer tie, soccer socks, or a soccer headband in the $20 range.

Getting a gift for the coach isn't always easy. Any coach who has seen a few years on the pitch already has a cupboard full of soccer mugs and a tree full of soccer ornaments. Finding a more personal and memorable gift can be solved with a few of these items. For around $17 you can get a soccer autograph pillow that every player can sign for the coach. Coach Guy Newman designed a Coach Deck which is a set of cards for $22 which show over 50 drills divided into passing, dribbling, shooting, and defense. They fit easily into a pocket or backpack. For $45 you could get your coach a PEET shoe dryer which he and she would definitely appreciate so that they didn't need to stand in wet shoes on the sidelines for several games over a tournament weekend. Buying a soccer frame and then making a collage with team photos, autographs, and team records would create a wonderful personal coach's gift for under $50.

Instead of jerseys which can run as much as $100, consider buying a club team or national team flag for around $40. The boys hung them as room dividers and on their doors. For a bit less you can buy a soccer scarf for $25 either for national or individual professional teams. Robbie and Bryce hung them around the top of their walls like a border and put pictures they cut out of soccer magazines under the scarves to show who was on what team. And that's another great gift to consider, soccer magazine subscriptions. These can run $20 to $50 for a year. Players who want to be serious about the game should be reading up on the sport on a regular basis. Some titles are soccer specific such as Soccer America, Four Four Two, Fair Game (women's soccer) and Soccer Times while others are general sports magazines such as ESPN which always has a great soccer section. 

With the World Cup next summer in South Africa, World Cup themed gear has erupted. Every kid wants the official World Cup ball which is $150 and is sure to be lost or stolen in the first practice. Or for $25 to $40 you can get a replica World Cup ball which will also probably disappear, but with a smaller blow to the wallet. Few of us can attend the World Cup, but we can all attend live soccer games. So consider getting tickets to MLS games, MISL games, college games, or even high school games. I can guarantee that there is live soccer within an hour of 80% of American families. Support your local college or junior college teams by attending a game or two or becoming a season ticket sponsor. Usually players on these teams are fairly accessible to spectators and the teams are always looking for volunteer ball boys and girls. Going to a local soccer game can be cheaper and more entertaining than going to a movie. So look around for an opportunity to buy some tickets as gifts.

I don't endorse any particular Web site for finding these gifts. Most can be located using a simple browser search engine and typing in "soccer gifts" or even specific items such as "World Cup ball." I do suggest that you also locate promotional codes for the website you land on by searching "promo codes" on the web since many venues offer free shipping or 10% off using one of the codes. With some creativity and some bargain hunting, you can pick up great soccer gifts for your players and fans without falling back on the expensive standbys such as official jerseys and warm-ups. However, if you want the ultimate gift for your player, consider having a large, even life-sized wall clinger poster for up to $200 made from a high-resolution photo of your son or daughter. Several online businesses and even your local photographer offer this option. If you can afford it, this would be a memorable and personal gift for the holidays.
 

TOPSoccer in Florida

Sam Snow

Well, it was a great day this past Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla., where a US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course was hosted by Florida Youth Soccer. The host club, Soccer Association of Boca Raton, did a wonderful job with the facilities and their hospitality was really first class. I always enjoy teaching this course and this one was no exception. The people involved were truly dedicated to the TOPSoccer mission and they gave up their time and money to continue their own education so that they can improve their efforts to the TOPSoccer players.

As you may know, the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course is a four hour long coaching course introducing coaches to working with TOPSoccer players. US Youth Soccer and its State Associations are working diligently to grow the game of soccer in America. Within the disabled athlete community alone we can increase our playing numbers by 500,000. Part of that effort is to have more soccer clubs offer TOPSoccer to the disabled athletes in their community. Florida Youth Soccer is taking on this effort and has now conducted their first US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course under the direction of Dean Frost, Chair of the Florida Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Committee, and Virgil Stringfield, Associate Director of Coaching-Educational Services for Florida Youth Soccer.

Forty-six coaches, administrators and TOPSoccer Buddies attended the course. Candidates came from across all parts of Florida and one coach attended the course from as far away as Philadelphia, Penn. That coach was Mike Barr, the Technical Director for Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer. This is another State Association poised to make new inroads by expanding TOPSoccer among their members. The classroom sessions were engaging with good discussion and sharing among the candidates and myself. We had to dodge the rain a bit when we got out to the field, but a great session on the field with TOPSoccer players and the course candidates took place.

One of the key points that came from the field session, and our discussion back in the classroom closing session, was to train these players to the mainstream of youth soccer as much as one can. We should only modify the training sessions and the game of soccer itself when truly needed. The candidates felt that too often coaches and administrators start off with the game and training at too low of a level with the focus being on what the players cannot do rather than what they CAN do. The players will show you what they can do on the soccer field. We coaches just need to be a bit more patient and let the game within the child come to the surface.

If your club does not yet offer the TOPSoccer program to its community please talk to your State Association about getting this rewarding program up and running in your club. There are many resources for administrators and coaches to help you run a successful TOPSoccer program, you just need to step up and take advantage of these services. I hope to see you at a US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course in the near future.

For more information on US Youth Soccer's TOPSoccer Program, click here.
 

A little look behind the scenes

Sam Snow

There are two recent events that I can tell you about today which you may find of interest. The first was my time at the US Youth Soccer ODP Girls Thanksgiving Interregional event in Coral Springs, Fla. Three age groups participated; players born in 1993, 1994 and 1995. The event was well done, as is always the case and the staff and players even did a good job with adjusting to a complete rain out one day. Now you can read about the matches on the US Youth Soccer Web site and you can see videos with game footage and interviews too. But here are a few things that went on behind the scenes. 
 
First, you have to really admire the dedication to the game by the players and staff who spend Thanksgiving day away from home and family to play soccer. Granted the soccer is very good, with nice fields and warm weather, but still having Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel ballroom with 240 other soccer junkies is quite the commitment. Add to the equation during the week the players had training as well as matches and team meetings. The staff also had additional meetings with the youth National Team coaches, regional coaches and me. Both of those coaches meetings proved to be productive as we unify our efforts to provide a quality US Youth Soccer ODP experience for all participants.
 
Secondly, I have to give a lot of credit to the hard work the age group coaches did with their players. They had a couple of training sessions with them, managed matches, held full team meetings with video analysis from the match played earlier in the day, but they also held individual meetings with every player. Both the team head coach and assistant coach met with each player on the team and gave her a detailed individual critique of her strengths and weaknesses as a player. They then planned goals with each player to make improvements in designated aspects of her game. Wow! Now that's commitment and attention to detail! I don't know of any other youth soccer program in our nation where the staff accomplishes so much and gives so much to the players in a week's time. So, a big pat on the back to all of the US Youth Soccer ODP Regional Staff Coaches.
 
The second event I can tell you about is the lunch meeting I had today along with Matt Moran, Gordon Jago and Randy Jones. Matt is the membership services specialist for US Youth Soccer. Gordon is the executive director and Randy is the tournament director for the Dallas Cup. The Dallas Cup has been running for 31 years now and is considered the premier youth soccer tournament in the world for boys.
 
The four of us met today and discussed the presentation that Gordon and Randy will make at the 2010 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop in Fort Worth, Texas next February. They will present Managing a Successful Tournament. The insights they will provide on getting and keeping volunteers, building a strong referee group who ask you if they can come back each year, sponsor involvement, community outreach and much more will be of interest to those involved with running a tournament of any size. For example, I was amazed to find out that they have 300 volunteers each year and the majority come back year after year after year. Their tournament is 350 days of work and then 12 days of matches. I know you will learn a lot from these gentlemen on ways you can make your tournament a better experience for all involved.
 
I look forward to seeing you in Fort Worth in February!