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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". 

 

I Swear

Susan Boyd

The other day my grandsons were whispering in the kitchen, which all parents know is an immediate red flag. "I didn't know you knew that word!" followed by an eruption of giggles. There they were, holding my iPhone and staring at the screen. This couldn't be good. In place of their names, someone had typed a profanity in the "high score" section of six different Disney games on my iPhone. Needless to say, it was four letters long, began with the sixth letter of the alphabet, and had absolutely no relation to anyone's name. I spent about twenty hours playing "Tigger Bounce," "Cars Pinball" and four other games in order to earn 10 high scores in each and eliminate the offensive entry. I could feel Walt turning over in his grave.
           
How does it happen that those two boys, ages five and nine at the time, not only know such a word, but feel comfortable enough using it? They have grown up in a protected environment. Their parents don't swear and carefully monitor their TV, movie, and internet interactions. They send them to Catholic schools. But this insidious blight still managed to stain my phone. Naturally many of their school mates have older siblings who love showing off their language bravado which trickles down and gets translated as "cool".  It's also hard to avoid that table of college kids next to you at the restaurant who despite the expense of their education apparently don't have any idea that English is a language rich in adjectives other than the one they use endlessly. 

I'm sure that explains a great deal of it, but I've also seen a troubling acceptance of swearing in youth sports.  Fans, coaches, referees, and players forget that the language they use doesn't just exist in a bubble surrounding their field. It travels to ears that shouldn't be assaulted. A few years ago I was at a planning commission meeting to support our soccer club's request to extend its operating hours, and I listened to neighbors complaining about coaches' language drifting across the fields to assail their ears as they sat outside with their families for a barbeque. I've parked at a practice only to exit my car to a barrage of expletives directed at players barely twelve years old standing just a few steps away from players ten and under. Everyone has a story about the explosion of language during a coach and referee confrontation. And we can't forget the fans who often forget themselves and use inappropriate language.

We had an incident at State Cup where our goal keeper, mad at himself for some bad play, shouted in frustration a profanity. The referee ran up and showed him the yellow at which point he exploded. The referee gave him a few seconds to vent during which time players, coaches and parents were shouting to the keeper to "Shut the ____ up!" and other pithy admonishments. If the swear words had been paper plates thrown on the field we would have required a bull dozer to clean up. Finally everyone calmed down, the referee warned him that another outburst would lead to a second yellow, and the teams returned to play. The next punt by our keeper went out of bounds, he screamed at the top of his lungs the very word that would insure he would be kicked out, and the crowd again went wild with their vulgarities. The players were thirteen.   As the keeper trudged off the field to the sidelines the coach shouted, "If you ever ____ do that again, I'll ____ kick you off the team," showing once again why the adage "do as I say" was invented.

As an English professor, I really hate hearing this descent into crudity. I know it has always been around, and I also know that at the right moment, in the right context, it can be used to great effect. But generally swearing only proves how limited we are in our imaginations when it comes to voicing an opinion. Dipping into the well of profanity at the first spike of anger means that we've already gone to the extreme and now have no further verbal punctuation to underscore our point. So we tend to use the same word over and over just getting louder and louder in hopes it will intensify the worth of our stance with vociferous repetition. We really should demand more of ourselves and also demand more of those to whom we entrust our children. We'd never tolerate a teacher talking to students the way a number of coaches talk to our players. Nor would we tolerate parents or pupils using rough language. Why do we accept it on the pitch?

Experienced professional coaches have played in adult leagues and coached adult players meaning they are used to adult language. We all tend to turn a deaf ear to their saltier expletives because we feel grateful to have such strong coaching for our children. But we shouldn't. There's a level of decorum and civility that must exist in youth sports for as long as possible. If coaches get away with swearing during practice then it's no wonder their players get yellow cards for swearing at the referees during a game. If referees sprinkle their remarks to a coach with a few bombs, then how can they turn around and issue those yellow cards to the players for language? Swearing has become the knee-jerk reaction to nearly any situation, even positive ones. We express ourselves without any restriction because we don't think about what we're saying or the company in which we're saying it. We've become immune to how sharp, insulting, and ugly swearing can be.

Hopefully we can all agree to police our own language and refuse to tolerate bad language from those to whom we entrust our children. We should be capable enough to control our verbal outbursts. While some people may not see a problem with swearing, dismissing it as "that's the way it is," most parents don't want their kids introduced to that language so young and then viewing it as normal and acceptable discourse. And as parents, coaches, and referees we have a responsibility to respect that expectation. It's really a pretty simple thing to stop swearing if we're willing to be accountable for what comes out of our mouths. We just need to swear to do it!
 

Money for nothing

Susan Boyd

Imagine receiving an e-mail that announces you can "Run your own soccer business!" Suddenly all those years of buying new cleats on a Monday and having them be too small by a Friday or learning that the World Cup ball you had imported from Germany has been kicked into the Menomonee River canal and is now drifting to Lake Michigan or being told that all soccer fees would be covered by the club meant a few soccer fees would be covered by the club now would no longer stress you out because you could be running a soccer business generating an income rather than sucking out a life's savings. Like all get-rich-quick schemes, this one has a few hiccups, but it was certainly enticing enough for me to not only read the e-mail clear through, but to actually click on a few links to learn more.

Here's the deal. A national soccer organization sponsors a toddler soccer training program, and my job, if I decided to seize the opportunity, would be to sell the program to existing establishments in my district to incorporate into their curricula. It could be schools, churches, day care centers, or soccer clubs. The various groups provide the facilities, while I provide the coaches, and the kids register and pay through the national sponsor. All of this sounds wonderful except for the money part. The kids pay $10 per hour of training and there's a coach to player ratio of 1:10. This means, if my math is right, that per hour I am collecting a maximum of $100. Out of that a coach has to be paid, marketing costs must be deducted, I'm certain that there are insurance fees, and the national organization will collect a percentage. If your profit is even $50, you'll need a minimum of 10 full classes every week of the year to scrape by at $24,000 a year.  You'll also need to be aggressive since you are competing with soccer clubs each having their own Mighty Mites, Micro Soccer, Kiddie Kixx, and Goal Gang toddler programs, so finding an open market might be difficult. A long time ago clubs figured out that attracting kids in the two to five-year-old range meant keeping them for their recreational soccer programs and possibly for their select programs, so they'll guard those recruits tenaciously.

The truth is that youth soccer isn't a money-making venture in the United States. Despite what you may believe after writing that check for spring soccer fees, no one in youth soccer is getting rich. I worked as a club administrator for four years and was paid for three of those years with enough to qualify me for food stamps if that was my only income. Then I moved up to the state association where I made the same salary only now I had to pay for a commute.   In effect what I earned being an administrator I paid back to a club as a soccer mom. I'm all for soccer being promoted at all ages, so I like the idea of a national organization trying to market a program for toddlers. They make no bones that their opportunity is more about being a salesperson than being a soccer person. A real go-getter in a virgin market might actually be able to sell the program to enough groups to nail down a living for awhile. But eventually you'll have to find something else.

I wish I could figure out a way to make money off of soccer. I certainly have invested enough time, attention, emotion, and money to hope for some kind of payoff. But I'm no different than any other soccer parent out there struggling to pay for uniforms, equipment, travel, fees, more travel, and all the "just because" monetary requests that come our way. I wrote a blog a few years back where I tallied all I had spent on soccer. I figured out that if I had put that money in treasury bonds I would have been able to easily pay for an Ivy League education for my sons. So we have to accept that the money we spend on soccer we spend because of the intangibles such as family togetherness, good health, fun, pride, and staying out of trouble (although that one doesn't always pan out). I am most definitely not a salesperson, so this income producer would never work out for me, but hopefully there are some bright, aggressive young people out there who can recognize an emerging market and make hay for a few years.   As for me, I'll just have to keep looking for that pot at the end of the rainbow which won't be filled with gold soccer balls.
 

Playing Up

Sam Snow

Fairly often we are asked about players moving up in age group or level of competition. So here first is a check list of questions to be asked by the coaches, parents, administrators and the player to make a decision on whether to move up or stay put. The check list is followed by several of the Position Statements pertinent to this topic from the state association Technical Directors.

If a club is considering moving a player up then several questions need to be answered.
  1. Is the player physically capable of playing with and against older kids?
  2. Is the player socially capable of playing with and against older kids?
  3. Is the player emotionally capable of playing with and against older kids?
  4. Is the player tactically aware enough to play at a higher level of competition?
  5. Does the player have the ball skills to play at a faster and more physically challenging level of play?
  6. Does the player want to make this a permanent move, leaving behind teammates and friends?
  7. Is this what the player's parents want for the child?
  8. Are the two coaches of the two teams in agreement on this move?
  9. Is the move allowed by club and/or state by-laws?
  10. What will happen to the player in the older age group who will be displaced by the younger player moving up?
STATE ASSOCIATION TECHNICAL DIRECTROS POSITION STATEMENTS

Age of competitive play        # 4
While it is acknowledged and recognized that preteen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of twelve are forced to meet the same "competitive" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:
  1. 50% playing time
  2. no league or match results
  3. 8 v 8 at U12
Minimum age for play     # 5
We believe that a child must be five years old by August 1 to register with a soccer club for the soccer year September 1 to August 31. Children younger than five years old should not be allowed to register with a soccer club.

Festivals for players U-10      # 9
We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of ten. Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner. We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.

State, regional and national competition for U-12's # 10
We believe that youth soccer is too competitive at the early ages, resulting in an environment that is detrimental to both players and adults; much of the negative behavior reported about parents is associated with preteen play. The direct and indirect pressure exerted on coaches and preteen players to win is reinforced by state "championships" and tournament "winners." We therefore advocate that, in the absence of regional competition for under 12's, state festivals replace state cups. We also strongly recommend that with regard to regional and national competition the entry age group should be U14.

Playing up       # 17
The majority of clubs, leagues and district, state or regional Olympic Development Programs in the United States allow talented, younger players to compete on teams with and against older players. This occurs as a natural part of the development process and is consistent throughout the world. Currently, however, there are isolated instances where the adult leadership has imposed rules or policies restricting the exceptional, young player from "playing up." These rules vary. Some absolutely will not allow it. Others establish team or age group quotas while the most lenient review the issue on a case-by-case basis. Associations that create rules restricting an individual player's option to play at the appropriate competitive level are in effect impeding that player's opportunity for growth. For development to occur, all players must be exposed to levels of competition commensurate with their skills and must be challenged constantly in training and matches in order to aspire to higher levels of play and maintain their interest in and passion for the game.
               
When it is appropriate for soccer development, the opportunity for the exceptional player to play with older players must be available. We believe that "club passes" should be adopted as an alternative to team rosters to allow for a more realistic and fluid movement of players between teams and levels of play. If there is a concern regarding the individual situation, the decision must be carefully evaluated by coaches and administrators familiar with the particular player. When faced with making the decision whether the player ought to play up, the adult leadership must be prepared with sound rationale to support their decision. Under no circumstances should coaches exploit or hold players back in the misplaced quest for team building and winning championships, nor should parents push their child in an attempt to accelerate to the top of the soccer pyramid. In addition, playing up under the appropriate circumstances should not preclude a player playing back in his or her own age group. When the situation dictates that it is in the best interests of the player to do so, it should not be interpreted as a demotion, but as an opportunity to gain or regain confidence.
Some rationale for the above includes:

Pele played for Brazil in his first World Cup as a seventeen year old; Mia Hamm earned her first call to the U.S. Women's National Team when she was fifteen. An exceptionally talented young player playing with older players has been an integral part of the game since its inception. Certainly, a player that possesses soccer maturity beyond that of his or her peers should be encouraged to "play up" in order that his or her development as a player is stimulated.

The playing environment must provide the right balance between challenge and success. The best players must have the opportunity to compete with and against players of similar abilities. Players with less ability must be allowed to compete at their own level in order to enjoy the game and to improve performance.

In conclusion the development of players and advancement of the overall quality in the United States is the responsibility of every youth coach, administrator and policymaker in this country. It is our obligation to provide an environment where every player is given the opportunity to improve and to gain the maximum enjoyment from their soccer experience and ultimately, what is best for the player.
 

It's just not fair

Susan Boyd

Yesterday I picked up my 2006 VW Jetta GLI from my mechanic for the third time in six weeks. That's just the latest in a series of mechanic visits for this car which we've owned two years and for around 36,000 miles. Problems include(d) a burned out clutch (after 6000 miles), the evaporation system, the cam shaft, the fuel pump, the ignition coils, constant and unresolved electrical issues, a key that no longer locks or opens the doors remotely, dashboard illumination working only fleetingly, the right front parking light that has to be replaced every three months, and no AM radio in the car (meaning no Brewer's games). Naturally according to VW none of this is under warranty except the latest mechanical failure on the manual fuel pump – which reared its ugly head 206 miles after the warranty expired. Long discussions with VW customer care yielded nothing more than apologies and the offer of a $750 credit for me to buy or lease a new VW! That's like saying "I know the last batch of pizza sent you all to the hospital, but we'd like to offer you a $5 coupon to get more." After over $5000 spent in repairs in two years, we're ready to sell – anyone interested? I can offer no assurances and obviously no warranty, but I will knock off $750 from the sale price. That's got to be as good as buying it directly from VW.

While I can stomp my foot, hold my breath, and mutter "It's just not fair" the fact is I've run into The Rules. Rules exist for many reasons – to insure safety, to protect one party's interest, to provide a framework for conducting business and social responsibilities, to mitigate lawsuits, and to give referees something to do and fans something to shout about – but rules can't create fairness. This fact doesn't stop people from expecting fairness especially when it comes to youth sports. As one with lots of experience with rules, I can vouch for their inherent unfairness in many cases. For example, at the Under-14 US Youth Soccer State Championship Bryce's team was in the finals. Bryce had played a great game, stopping every potential goal. Unfortunately the opposing GK was equally adept. Near the end of the game, a blasting shot from the opponents deflected off the crossbar, sailed straight up into the air, and while everyone was doing pirouettes in the box trying to locate the ball, it descended onto the forearm of Bryce's teammate. The ref declared a hand ball in the box and awarded the team a PK. Despite Bryce going the right direction and actually getting his fingers on the ball, it crossed the line and proved to be the winning goal. Was that fair? No way. Did it follow the rules? Absolutely since calling a hand ball is at the discretion of the referee.

That kind of agony can be found at tryouts where dozens of rules won't help when your son or daughter is cut from the team of friends he or she has been on for three years. How often have we asked either ourselves or out loud "What does that kid have that my kid doesn't have?" Or "Why should that kid from outside of our town get to be on the team and my kid who has been loyal gets uninvited?" Anyone who actually reads a club's rules about tryouts will read a rule patterned along these lines: The coaches have the final say about who makes the team and who doesn't. That decision is made at the coaches' discretion and is based on which of the players coaches feel will make the best fit and provide the best chance at team success. That rule overrides loyalty, friendship, and potential hurt feelings. The ephemeral quality known as talent absolutely trumps every bit of quantifiable fairness. 

The "what ifs" of life guarantee that no rule is fair. When I'm not writing blogs I'm a college writing teacher. Every semester I design a syllabus which sets forth the guidelines for issues such as grades, absences, assignment deadlines, and extra credit. I can guarantee that my first hour of class is spent listening to the "what ifs" of the students because they have located a loophole in my "rules" which doesn't account for whatever event they feel challenges the fairness of the class. I think I could put down as my guidelines "everyone will get an A, you can miss all the class you want, assignments are due whenever, and extra credit points will be awarded for breathing" and I would still have hands raised, "what if I do all the work – can't I get a higher grade?" or "what if I die?" or "what if I have someone else do my work?"  We've all stood at a team meeting and either witnessed or been a part of the "what i" discussion. "What if my son has an ACT test during a scheduled game?" "What if I can't find white socks with red stripes? Can I just get white socks?" "What if my daughter can't come to Tuesday practices?"   "What if we can't afford to go to a tournament in Florida?" "What if piano lessons don't end in time to get to practice right at 5:30 p.m.?" Even Hammurabi couldn't write a set of rules to fairly cover all those circumstances.

My favorite story about fairness occurred with my husband and our youngest son when Bruce was the coach of Robbie's 10 year old baseball team. There were no umpires, so the coaches served as such, and on this particular occasion Bruce was the home plate ump. Robbie hit a long ball which was bobbled several times in the outfield. Robbie, who can lay claim to great speed, rounded the bases quickly, salivating over the possibility of an inside the park home run. As he neared home plate, the opposing team finally scooped up the ball and threw it into home. Robbie crossed the plate, the catcher caught the ball, tagged Robbie, and Bruce shouted, "Out!" Robbie was clearly safe. Both teams knew he was safe. The parents knew he was safe. There are satellite photos showing he was safe. But Bruce, not wanting to show favoritism, saw him out, so out he was. The rules in baseball state that the umpire is always right even if he is your dad. There is nothing like the stone cold silence of a 10 year old on a car ride home continuing through dinner into breakfast the next morning to make you question the very nature of fairness.

When we run into the immoveable force of The Rules, we quickly lose our innocence. We learn that rules can't insure fairness because they favor one point of view, and in many cases that's not ours. All we can do is take a deep breath and hope that the next time the scales will tip in our favor. It's also a lesson we need to teach our children. Things won't always go their way and no amount of rules can prevent disappointments. In the end, each unfair circumstance eventually fades in the face of successes which will probably elicit "It's just not fair" from someone else.