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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". 

 

Letter Men (and Women)

Susan Boyd

I received a box from my aunt of letters my mother had sent her over the years. Each letter detailed events from her life and the lives of her five children. They gave me great insight into how my mother regarded our development into adults and our various achievements along that road. With five children our family hummed with activities. My two oldest brothers did a year or two of Little League, but for the most part we were the science fair, poetry contest, film competition kind of kids. I did ski competitively for a few years, which I loved and which took me to some interesting locations, but I also did forensics, writing contests, flute, piano, and guitar, singing, and acting, excelling at only a few of these, which you'd never have guessed by how my mother cooed over each of my recitals or minor stage roles. 

Recently my youngest brother and his wife had a baby. They announced it via email and with the click of the reply button I sent my congratulations and some auntly advice. Then I got to thinking about those letters my mother used to write. With the advent of email and now text messages and twitter, we certainly haven't given up on the written word, but we have made it more transitory. I doubt any of us regularly print off our text or tweet logs. Few of us save those emails from family and friends. We write them, read them, and then vaporize them to make room for more.

One might argue that such facilities promote more regular communication which is a good thing. But I would argue it doesn't promote the legacy of communication that letters provide. While I can mentally catalogue many of the amazing events in my children's lives, I can't bequeath my heartfelt reactions. We have some evidence of achievements in the form of certificates, news articles, pictures and trophies, but no real evidence of my pride in them not just for the wins but for the attempts. I realized this when I read my mom's letters. Every one of my attempts whether or not they resulted in ski victories or poetry wins earned a chronicled place in my mother's letters. The tiniest moment of my life, now forgotten, has come back to make me feel the pride my mother felt. Decades later, I am touched. The connection I have to my mom renews itself in the reading of those letters. I have not left a similar legacy to my children, and I regret it. They don't have any tangible reminder of how proud I was of all their efforts.

Likewise, I don't have any collected works of letters to and from my brothers I can pass on to my nieces and nephews. I read an email, I may even forward it to my husband or to another brother, and then it eventually fades into the queue of my "read" emails and at some point completely vanishes. So when my middle brother writes about my namesake niece's work in a DNA lab, the evident pride of his words are now gone. I should have printed the email off, but I never thought of it because the very nature of cyber communication is the ease with which it comes and goes. With a single keystroke we can make it appear and make it disappear. We don't need to hunt for stamps, envelopes, and writing paper. We don't need elegant leather bound address books that show the history of our relatives' and friends' life journeys with each move scribbled tightly into any available space. Now they could move a thousand times, but their email address lasts forever.

A corollary to our ephemeral communication is our fascination with our digital and video cameras. While the cliché "a picture is worth a thousand words" may have some validity, I disagree when it comes to passing on how you felt about the person in the photograph. We can take a picture of a goal, our child playing the piano, the blurred streak of riding a bike without training wheels, or the sweet smile and new backpack on the first day of school, but the picture doesn't convey a personal message from the photographer to the subject. The photos and videos are so easily created and just as easily discarded that they lose the impact of being special.

Perhaps letters have become communication dinosaurs, but I could have kept a diary for each of my sons so they would have a record of what I felt each time I experienced something in their lives such as school dramas or soccer tournaments. I have very inelegant handwriting. I'm embarrassed by how bad my penmanship actually is, but I realize that it's a part of my character that I can pass on as a thread tying together generations. While my mastery at typing allows me to win more easily at word games on line and avoid confusion as to whether I wrote "affect" or "effect," it does little to distinguish me at a quick glance from any other writer. But we all recognize one another's handwriting nearly instantly. 

I'd like to make a proposal for returning to a more permanent and personal form of communication. As your children grow and venture out into the world, record those adventures and your reaction to them in a way that will persist with the gravity and personality that writing permits. You can still share experiences via a quick text, "Mia scored the winning goal!" but also give yourself the luxury of expanding on that achievement with more details of how you felt and what your child showed at the moment. If you don't write letters to relatives, write letters to your children so that years later they can discover how significantly the smallest event played out in your life. They will be able to touch the paper you wrote upon and see the movement of your pen as you documented it nearly contemporaneously. They will be able to put the letters away and bring them back out because they exist with the same permanence as furniture or homes. 

I encourage each of us to set down the digital camera, the cellular phone, the wireless computer, and the Blackberry, and take a few minutes each week to write down with pen and paper what happened that week with the kids and how proud you were of them. It's a special legacy that parents have had available for centuries and can continue to provide for centuries into the future. When Bill Gates promotes our paperless society I can promise you that his children would rather be grasping a tome of letters he wrote than a flash drive found in the bottom of a safe deposit box. There is something vital and engaging about a letter written or even scrawled. It embodies the smells, the oils, the movements, the thoughts, the emotions and even the soul of the writer which brings comfort and connection to anyone who holds that paper.   Our written words can be a hand that reaches through the years to offer a gentle caress to the hearts of our children.
 

Move Up or Stay?

Sam Snow

As you may know, the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) also takes place in Europe. The participants are American kids whose families are in Europe. Some of them are there with a parent working for an international company, some have a parent working in a U.S. Embassy, but most are military families. So that these young players can stay connected to our elite player identification and development opportunities, a group of adults (mostly military) run US Youth Soccer ODP Europe. They form "state teams" for the boys and girls and participate in the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I trials each summer.

Because most U.S. military bases in Europe are in Germany that is where most of the kids and coaches reside. So, while the "state" try-outs and much of the training takes place in Germany, there are American players scattered across Europe and they participate in US Youth Soccer ODP.

Many of the challenges of appropriate player development occur in Europe just as they do in the U.S. One of the challenges is when to move a talented player up in age groups. That decision involves the parents as well as the player and coaches. So, the question came to me this weekend from the technical director for US Youth Soccer ODP Europe about one of his players. The question was posed to him by the young man's father. Here then is the exchange:

Hey Guys / Gals

Just a quick update that "S" has been ask to start training with FC Vestsjaelland (Slagelse B&I) U-17 Division 2 next week.  I am not sure if playing four years up is normal here in Denmark ... just have to see if he has the physical strength I guess to stay with the team.  So, time will tell.  Perhaps "M" has some insight on this and comparison to German players.

Sam,

Please share your opinion with me on this issue.  This player made the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I Team and the U-14 U.S. National Pool last summer.

Sven

Hi Sven,

Moving up four years, up from puberty or early adolescence to middle or late adolescence, is a really big jump. Not only will there likely be a big physical factor of height, weight, strength, speed and power, there will also be a cognitive gap (which will impact conceptualization of tactics). I think there will also be a social disconnect of the younger player with the older players. In no other aspect of their lives will they interact, and with teenagers this is a big deal affecting acceptance in the group (team).

There's no doubt that the level of play will be a good challenge for him and one that should have a positive impact on his game. However, in moving up four years in age groups will he start, be a regular first substitute or ride the pine? If he's not playing regularly then the move up to a more competitive environment will not have done him any good; to fully develop, he needs to play as well as train. He needs also to have opportunities to be a starter, to learn how to impact the game at its beginning and also come on as a sub into the flow of the match.

So, before a final decision is made I think the player, his parents and all of the pertinent coaches should consider his readiness for this jump up four years in his psychomotor, cognitive and psychosocial current stage and future development. Regarding his soccer talents assess his technique, tactics, fitness and psychology for this new level of play.

Is it possible for him to train with the older players (perhaps once a week) and remain with his appropriate age group the rest of the time? How will he learn to be a leader and impact player if he's always the youngest player?

Sam
 

Refrigerator Soccer

Susan Boyd

With the Winter Olympics just weeks away, I'd like to make my proposal to the Olympic committee that they approve Refrigerator Soccer as an official winter sport. Refrigerator Soccer is played in several nations including Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Antarctica, and the northern United States. The sport follows the same rules as regular soccer – I'll call that Temperate Soccer – but has a different playing surface and different ambient conditions. True Refrigerator Soccer requires tundra, snow obscured lines, below freezing temperatures, and brooms and shovels. Players and fans of Refrigerator Soccer take terms like hypothermia and frostbite seriously, though neither condition has ever prevented a Refrigerator Soccer match from occurring. Without benefit of sideline heaters, hand warmers, or those giant capes football players wear, Refrigerator Soccer players may even forgo sweatpants, gloves, and hats. There's a certain purity to the sport that most true Refrigerator Soccer players and fans insist be respected.

My children have participated in and continue to participate in Refrigerator Soccer. Just yesterday Bryce had practice in a structure called appropriately "The Icebox." This structure has a roof, but is still exposed to the elements. It has a concrete slab on which a 2 mm thick carpet of green has been applied. The outside temperature was 18 degrees and the inside temperature was 20 degrees. Today we have a winter storm warning with 8 to 12 inches of snow expected. It is a balmy 19 degrees and the wind is increasing to 30 mph insuring white out conditions. And yes, there will be practice. This is what makes it true Refrigerator Soccer - the colder and the snowier the better.

A typical Refrigerator Soccer game is played between November and May on frozen earth covered by snow and ice. Spectators participate by sweeping off the lines and team benches. All the regular rules of soccer are followed, but it is the atmosphere which ultimately dictates the game. It's tough to kick a ball that has effectively frozen into a block of pentagrams. It's even tougher to sprint down the sidelines dribbling that ball and not slip on an ice patch or see the ball skitter uncontrollably on the tundra. Goalkeepers recognize the near futility of stopping a strong shot since the ball will have all the velocity of a soccer ball with the additional weight and rigidity of a frozen projectile. When icy objects meet frosted appendages it often leads to an unpleasant shattering. Referees learn to become students of the Force. For example determining out of bounds becomes more a matter of an educated guess rather than a clearly delineated violation. Placing the ball in the legal corner kick crescent requires a leap of faith.

Some of you in warmer climates have never experienced Refrigerator Soccer so you can't completely understand the purpose and the addiction. One February the Wisconsin US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program team was practicing at the Marquette University fields. These are located in a wind tunnel valley just below Interstate 94. The artificial turf was covered in ice and snow, made even slicker by the hundreds of feet pounding the surface into a rink. While standing there under the lights and bracing against the gale force winds I was aware of a gentleman with a camera next to me. "I saw this from the freeway and I just had to come down and take some pictures. My kids won't believe this." He was from Tennessee which has traditionally been a Refrigerator Soccer-free zone. In 2006 the NCAA College Championship was played in St. Louis following one of the worst blizzards the city had ever experienced. The two teams in the final had definitely never played Refrigerator Soccer, but UCLA and UC Santa Barbara got a quick lesson in the sport as they battled snow banks impeding the corner kicks and piled tight against the sidelines, not to mention the freezing temperatures. I'm sure the players had never played soccer in temperatures under 40 degrees.

Why does anyone play Refrigerator Soccer? Because when you live in that territory, you have to or lose out on outdoor training and playing for nearly half the year. Some very good players have come out of the Refrigerator Soccer tradition such as DeMarcus Beasley, Jay DeMerit, Abby Wambach, and Leslie Osborne, so I think that serves as proof that Refrigerator Soccer serves a legitimate purpose in the sports world. I can't think of a better endorsement than the fact that Refrigerator Soccer players could choose hockey for the same ice cold experience with a similar set of rules, but they opt out of the heavy shirts, thick gloves, long pants, and most importantly hockey skates, and instead stay true to the pure soccer experience while gliding across the ice in cleats. I think the addition of the sport could only improve upon the appeal of the Winter Olympic Games and would certainly attract those Temperate Soccer fans that are looking for a winter soccer fix. So Refrigerator Soccer fans rise up and demand the respect due this sport. Your efforts could create the groundswell for an historic change.
 

Genders Practice Together

Sam Snow

Here's an interesting question from a youth coach and the follow up comments on the advantages and disadvantages to separating genders for skill sessions.

First some background: I am preparing for a presentation to an east Texas soccer association who have asked me to help them form an Academy program. I am trying to convince them that an "academy" model that does not form teams, that does not add games to the players' schedules, that does not exclude those who cannot afford it or those who cannot "compete," that is financially accessible to everyone, and that is focused on both players and coach development is the way forward. As such, I am proposing a plan that will offer once weekly skill and athletic development sessions to each of the Association's players in the U-6 through U-10 age groups (coaching education will accompany the sessions). I have been toying with the idea of offering these sessions as coed sessions, and have been trying to find some sources that would argue against this, but I have been unsuccessful so far. Thus far, I have determined the following from my reading:

•Because there are so few cognitive differences between the sexes, keeping both genders together would not necessarily pose any sort of comprehension issues for the players;

•Because the girls will probably be more mature than the boys at this age, but because the boys will probably be a bit more naturally athletic, it would pose each group with some nice physical challenges when they compete against each other (on equally mixed teams in games ranging from 3 v 3 for the youngest ones to 8 v 8 for the oldest group);

•Each gender, but specifically the boys, might be able to glean some ideas on gender issues from the sessions, particularly that the girls can do many, many things just as well or better than they can;

•Because the boys would probably be a bit more naturally athletic and a bit more technical, they might be able to provide the girls with a peer model from whom they can copy and learn technical and physical things;

•I think that mixing the groups would start to provide some unity and some community to the youth soccer scene, the absences of which I think can negatively impact the youth soccer experience;

•The information in the "Y," "Youth Modules," and "E" courses would suggest that mixing genders for U-6 and U-8 is fine, and would probably be beneficial for both groups, but that U-10 might be a stretch.

The consensus, then, would seem to be that there are many benefits and few negatives to coed groups in the U-6 and U-8 age groups, but that this might not hold true in the U-10 age group.
What would be your suggestions on this issue?                                                                                                                
1. Would you recommend offering coed soccer and athletic skills sessions for the U-6 and U-8 age groups?

2. Would you think that coed sessions would necessarily be better than single gender sessions in terms of what is right for the players and in terms of what is right for the Association?

3. Do you think that coed sessions are a practical solution?

Well you've done some good research on the matter and you have found, as we have, that having boys and girls train together on movement education and ball skills in the U-6 and U-8 age groups works just fine. Indeed, based on the mixed gender U-12 training session I witnessed recently in Indianapolis as done by Ian Mulliner, the Technical Director for Illinois, it is not a problem at that age either.

You are correct though that some separation of the genders for soccer training has psychosocial reasons to be gender specific beginning with the U-10 age group. Still, having the genders in joint training sessions in the U-10 and U-12 age groups from time to time is beneficial.

Several years ago I attended a seminar for National Youth License instructors and had to answer a question, among others, on this topic. Here's the question and my answer.
 
Are there gender differences in fundamental motor skills apparent in children under the age of 10?

There is little difference in the athletic abilities of children ten-years-old and younger other than the normal differences between children in maturation rates.  In fact it is often a good idea to have boys and girls on the same team, even perhaps through puberty.

"What are the differences between a boy and a girl before the onset of puberty?  Obviously there are some, but not as many as some people believe.  More dissimilarities, other than the basic sex characteristics, can be found within each sex rather than between the two.

At birth, girls tend to be slightly shorter and lighter than their male counterparts, but these differences soon disappear.  During their childhood years there are no significant differences in their heights and weights.  Girls mature faster; at age six their body cells are about a year nearer maturity than those of boys at that age, and at age 12 or 13 they are two biological years ahead.

Even though there are relatively few biological differences, boys generally score higher on many performance tests.  …it has been found that three through six-year-old boys are better at selected throwing, jumping and running skills than are girls of the same age.  It is not known whether these differences are based entirely on developmental characteristics, or whether social pressures and expectations for girls have limited their activity, resulting in lower scores. There is no reason, on the basis of being female, why girls cannot participate in sports and develop a high degree of skill.

Boys and girls can play with or against one another; the primary concern is that the group be performance-matched and size-matched.

Research has shown that girls who play mostly with boys or in coed groups are more likely to be sports participants when they become women.  When girls have the same expectations and experiences that boys do, the performance gap will narrow." 1

Socially, cognitively and emotionally, children all develop at different rates.  There can be as many differences here within a gender as between the genders.  Physiologically and anatomically there is little difference between children under the age of 10.

"As a general rule, children are able to participate in vigorous exercise training with little risk to health. Nonetheless, sports medicine specialists have advised that certain precautions be taken in conducting sports and exercise programs for children.  Most of the concern derives from the fact that the child's skeleton is immature and undergoing rapid growth.  During this period the skeleton is vulnerable to injuries that if not properly diagnosed and treated can cause permanent damage.

…Many sports medicine authorities believe that the physical well being of young athletes is most likely to be threatened in sports programs that involve a high level of psychological stress.  Of particular concern is parental pressure.  In the absence of excessive pressure, children are unlikely to harm themselves in an athletic training situation.  Consequently, efforts should be made to educate parents and other adults regarding the potential risks and benefits of sports participation for children. Youngsters may benefit from the discipline involved in athletic conditioning and from a modest level of competitive stress.  But there is little to gain and much to lose when overzealous adults pressure young children to train and compete in an excessively stressful environment.  Youth sports should always be conducted with the young athlete's long-term well-being as the first priority." 2

1 Billie Jones, et al., Guide To Effective Coaching, second edition, Dubuque, Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1989, pp. 72-73

2 Russell Pate, et al., Scientific Foundations of Coaching, New York, CBS College Publishing, 1984, pp. 326-327