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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Out-Waiting Winter

Susan Boyd

Given the view out my window, it's difficult to believe that anyone will ever be loping across the courtyard dribbling a soccer ball. The temperature is -10° with a wind chill triple that. The snow banks tower over my head as I walk the dogs who scale the banks and disappear behind them only to emerge again at the crest looking like they invaded a powdered sugar factory. Somewhere beneath this winter liability lies green pastures, furrowed keeper zones, and shadows of field lines. Nothing but time will crack this mantle. And so I wait.

In the meantime my family is undergoing horrible withdrawal from televised soccer. While on vacation in Florida (where soccer was being played) our home got extensive damage from ruptured pipes (another winter atrocity). So we have been displaced to a rental home that lacks, for the moment, cable television. We won't have cable until Wednesday so we have had to forego nearly three weeks of Fox Soccer Channel. Since Bryce is home from college, it means nearly his entire visit will have been soccer depleted.

The one bright spot has been Robbie's choice to leave his Chicago soccer team and join a local team. Some prayers are answered! Given the state of our home and my need to oversee electricians, carpenters, welders, plumbers, and city inspectors, driving five hours three or four days a week nearly brought me to me knees. However Robbie began to realize what another year of driving to Chicago meant – long hours in the car, homework done on the fly, and a social life that becomes non-existent   Nevertheless, the move to Chicago soccer had been an excellent choice, the club was amazing, and the benefits for Robbie immeasurable. But now that he has committed to a college, he felt he didn't need to sacrifice quite so much. As proud as I was of him for sticking with the sacrifices and making the most of his opportunities I was even prouder that he recognized when he needed less pressure.

To quote Garrison Keillor, we all live in our own Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average. We need to see our children in the best possible light. Battles for the front-row seats at the kindergarten winter music concert equal battles over Springsteen tickets. The paparazzi can't equal the flash power of the legions of digital cameras recording every 1/60th of a second of the 2nd grade class play. We celebrate graduation from kindergarten. We gather with all the relatives for every U6 soccer game dutifully recorded on high def memory cards. So it's natural we want to encourage, support, and facilitate our children's ascension to the highest levels of their interests. Only hindsight can insure 100% perfection, so we have to muddle through the best we can.   There are a few guidelines to help us, but for the most part we move through the process blindly.

Lots of parents go looking for a better training and exposure experience for their children. For the extremely committed and gifted player, I recommend it. Those players will play soccer for life, so nurturing their talent is no different than nurturing the talent of musician, mathematician, or writer. However, parents need to have the proper perspective to make the decision for sacrifice.   Parents need to immerse themselves in the ""culture"" of soccer. They need to watch soccer every chance they get to see what talent exists and what level of ability their own child needs to aspire to. Everyone should attend college and professional games. Parents should watch foreign soccer on the TV. It's not enough that Suzy scores four goals a game, or that Billy has a string of twenty-four shut-outs. Instead parents need to figure out if the competition is strong enough to make such statistics meaningful. Arrange for your child to guest play with some of the stronger club teams in the state. Then honestly watch your child play. If after all the testing you're convinced they have that extra something to move up to the next level, be sure that's what your child wants to do too! Forcing him to give up social contacts and possibly even grades means that he has to be totally on board. Even then, I can tell you from experience you'll face the days when you want it more than they do. After all, these are kids with all the whims and short-term attention spans that implies. You only need to look at the graveyard of handheld computer games in your drawers to verify this truth.

For those of you in the land where green never gives way to white, then mushy brown, then finally back to green, enjoy your year-round soccer and your light jackets. For the rest of us, winter is a time to be creative and find ways to enjoy soccer even in the snow. If the Packers can play in an ice bowl, why can't the MLS? In the meantime, I'll enjoy my relatively travel-free winter and look forward to my relatively travel-free spring. Oh, and I'll wait in the house on Wednesday for the cable savior to show up and connect us to TV soccer once again.


Susan Boyd

With a new year come expectations. Some expectations stay constant: safety, health, happiness. Some are new to the season: lose weight, stop smoking, get a better job.   Soccer parents have expectations too. They expect their child's team to last, they expect some wins and some losses, they expect their child to be free of injury, and they expect to pay a lot for travel.   Occasionally destiny has a way of stepping in, grabbing our expectations, and giving them a good shake before disappearing. Amazingly what we rarely expect is the unexpected.

For those of us in the Midwest, northeast, northwest, and Atlantic coast winter means very little soccer. For some of us we have indoor leagues which provide a fast paced game enveloped in an old sweat sock stink. But for the most part soccer goes on hiatus until the rain, snow, ice, mud, and winds diminish. Here in Milwaukee, once we can see one blade of grass peeking through the black crusted snow soccer season is back on again. With unusual optimism, we expect to hold outdoor games in February. Therefore local teams prepare their schedules with February dates in mind and then reschedule at least twice before finally being able to play. We base our expectations on the one winter in 1966 when temperatures in February rose to 50° F. Never mind that in the ensuing forty years we have never had a February day above 32° F. We stick to our expectations.

For example, we expect that our children's team will stick together. At the younger ages it seems doable. Teams are usually formed by already created groups: neighborhood friends, schoolmates, carpool buddies, etc. So friendships already exist and parental connections have been solidified. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to insure that skill and interest levels will remain constant and similar over the course of those developmental ages. Suddenly one or two players have a break-out talent or some kids just lose interest and want to pursue other sports. Now the cohesiveness of the team gets challenged. Coaches, parents, and players may feel abandoned or even betrayed by someone leaving. The microcosmic society that the team has become begins to play out like a bad soap opera. We had a particularly nasty event when Robbie was U9. The coach decided that the team had unusual talent and wanted to skip over U10 and enter them directly into U11 for the next season. What we parents didn't realize until too late was that the coach felt almost everyone on the team was good enough for the move. I got a tearful phone call one evening from a mom who had been told that her son was no longer welcome on the team. These kids were nine years old and they were already pawns in a ploy to advance the status of the club. All the kids knew were the friendships and bonds they had made on the playing field. No one expected such a nasty shake-up for such a young group of players.

One the other hand, Robbie's first team, a group of neighborhood five year olds, proved to have an unexpected result.   One mom took the applications from all the kids in the neighborhood that were the same age, stapled them together, and presented them to the city recreation program as a complete team. We even had a soccer field in our subdivision, so the kids could walk or ride their bikes to practice. Bruce was their coach along with the father of Robbie's best friend, Andrew. Eventually the team broke up as the kids moved to other sports or other teams, but there wasn't any rancor. The amazing thing was that in the state high school semi-finals, four kids from that team of ten were in the game and all will most-likely be playing D-1 college soccer. No one would expect geographically that that many kids would come not just from the same city, but from the same 174 home subdivision!

We truly don't expect our children to get injured, and we absolutely hope and pray that they don't. This is the one expectation that we can actually control to some extent. Winter is a great time to take your child to the doctor for a ""tune-up."" She has had a fall season to play and put stress on various muscles and bones. In addition, any aggravating condition will certainly have been affected over the course of the season. Let your player talk to the doctor about any aches and pains and let your doctor ask questions which may reveal concerns. I always suggest you take their cleats in, so the doctor can see any pronation of the foot and any stress points that could cause bunions, blisters, or other foot problems. The doctor can help discover possible concerns and suggest ways to resolve or prevent them.

While we can't have every expectation come true, we need to establish expectations just to chart a course for our lives and to give us security. With the New Year I wish everyone's expectations will be surpassed with minimal disappointments.

Number of Matches Per Day

Sam Snow

A parent of a youth soccer player recently had this inquiry: ""What are US Youth Soccer's guidelines or rules for member associations to follow when considering limits of games per day for players?  Is there any sanction for coaches that try to ask their players to play four games in one day?""
Here's my reply,
Both US Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer concur in our recommendations for no more than one match per day.  Here is the Position Statement from the state Technical Directors on the matter:

We believe that the optimal playing and learning environment includes participating in no more than two matches per week.  We also believe that players should not compete in more than one full match per day and no more than two full matches per weekend.  There must be a day of rest between full-length matches.  We strongly oppose the practice of scheduling regular season and/or make-up matches in a manner that results in four full matches in the same week.  Modified FIFA rules apply: no reentry per half for the U-14 and younger age groups and no reentry after substitution for the U-15 and older age groups.  In addition, we believe that players should not compete in more than 40 playing dates in a calendar year.  Players must have one full month off from all soccer activity.
Related to this topic is this Position Statement:
We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development, and can serve to reduce long-term motivation.  Do not multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player?  Further far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an ""off season"".  We believe that players under the age of 12 should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than 13 should not play more than 120 minutes per day. 

We also recommend to tournament managers and schedulers:
- The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
- That all tournament matches be of the same length and that no full-length match be introduced during play-off rounds.
- Kick-off times allow players a reasonable opportunity to prepare for competition.  This encompasses rest and recovery, nutrition and adequate time to warm-up and stretch after traveling a long distance in addition to taking into consideration extreme environmental conditions.
I also recommend that you and your coach read the Best Practices document from U.S. Soccer.



Typical Challenge in Player Development

Sam Snow

I recently had this inquiry from a youth coach with a typical challenge in player development. Perhaps it is one you have faced too.
"Hopefully you can help with a question I have that no one has been able to answer.  My U-13 boy's team has just moved to Premier in our state.  I can see that many of the players could benefit immensely with some sort of a development program that they can do on their own time each day as we don't have the capacity to hold daily practices.  Do you know of any programs I could send home with them to help with the technical aspects of the game? Thanks for your help."
The best development program for players that age will involve getting them to tell you a skill they think they need to improve.  By having them reflect on the skill they want to improve upon for each individual means they are much more likely to really work at it.  Only if they are self-motivated will they put in the time and effort on their own to work on that skill.  The intrinsic motivation to improve will give them a better chance to raise their game to play in the premier level of competition.

When the players each tell you the skill they want to improve then give them 10-15 minutes at the beginning of your next training session to work on that skill on their own.  You can go from player to player and help them on that skill if they ask for assistance.  When you allocate that time at the beginning of one training session per week you also have a chance to evaluate if they are improving on the skill; if an individual is not improving then you can give more direct coaching to that player.  It may also show you who is working on their own at home and who needs more guidance and motivation to do so.

To help motivate the players explain to them why you are asking them to work on their skills at home and how it fits into the game for them.  Tell them that the objective is to improve technical speed, consistency, touch and timing, eye-foot coordination as well as being able to recognize the way the ball spins and how various body parts react to it.  Training activities should be demonstrated to the kids at the training sessions by the coaches.

Regularly encourage the players to practice on their own or with a friend or two and try out new skills.  This is the time to experiment and become comfortable with the ball.  Practice can also be a good time to improve their personal fitness.  Please note that there's a difference between practice and a training session.

Training players do with the team and coach and practice they do on their own or with one or two friends.  If players want to become really good at soccer then they need to practice.  Training with the team, even a few times a week, may not be enough.  So practice at home or in the neighborhood with other kids or maybe even at school if there's a chance to do so.

The things players practice are what they can do on their own.  That could be juggling, playing the ball against a wall (someplace without windows), dribbling (make a slalom course) and maybe some physical fitness too.  Here are some examples for the kids:

Wall Ball: knocking the ball against a wall gives the chance to practice several skills.
  • Passing (put an X on the wall and try to hit it with your pass.  Vary your distance from the wall and your angle to the X).
  • Receiving (as the ball comes off the wall control it with different parts of your body: inside of the foot, thigh, top of the foot and so on).
  • Heading (see how many times you can head the ball against the wall without it touching the ground.  How about trying the same things as you did in passing, but now with headers)?
  • Shooting (hit the X.  Try some shots off the ground and some when the ball is in the air).
  • Throw-in (hit the X).
  • Goalkeeping (try different types of throws and hit the X).
  • Goalkeeping (try out different catches as the ball rebounds from the wall.  Vary the height of the ball).
Tips on Passing
  • Point the toes of the foot you are standing on towards your target
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Keep the ankle of your kicking leg locked so that your kicking foot is steady
  • Lean slightly forward to keep the path of the ball level
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Receiving
  • Get your body in line with the path of the ball
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Relax the body part receiving the ball upon contact with the ball
  • Exhale
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Heading
  • Get yourself in line with the flight of the ball
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Strike the ball with the forehead at the hairline
  • Keep your mouth shut with your tongue and checks out from between your teeth
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Shooting
  • Approach the ball at a slight diagonal angle
  • Point the toes of the foot you are standing on towards your target
  • Lean over the ball
  • Point the toes of your kicking foot down and curl them back inside of your shoe to make a firmer striking surface of your foot (kind of like making a fist)
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on the Throw In
  • Stand with your hips facing where you want the ball to go
  • Firm grip on the ball with the tips of your thumbs just touching behind the ball
  • Hold the ball with your fingertips
  • Follow through on your throw for improved accuracy and distance
Tips on Keeper Throws
  • Hold the ball comfortably in your hand and release it off the fingertips
  • Stand with your hips facing where you want the ball to go
  • Keep knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Keep your head steady and facing your target
  • Follow through on your throw for improved accuracy and distance
Tips on Keeper Catches
  • Get your body in line with the path of the ball
  • Watch the ball all the way to your hands
  • Keep your knees and elbows slightly bent
  • Spread your fingers as wide as you can as you catch the ball for a safer grip
  • Relax and exhale as you catch the ball and absorb it