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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.


An Ounce of Prevention

Susan Boyd

Twisted ankles, turf burns, torn ACLs, muscle fatigue, and hundreds of other bumps, bruises, and breaks afflict soccer players every year. Most soccer players mercifully avoid major injury, but everyone has run into harm's way while on the pitch.  Recently Robbie lost his boot while holding the ball in the corner. Someone stepped hard on his exposed big toe and seriously injured his toenail.  He couldn't play for two weeks because the swollen toe prevented him from fitting his foot back into his cleats. During the recuperation, we got treated to daily reports about his toenail – how loose it was and how much it was oozing - and then a demand that we look at it. That's akin to saying ""I think this meat is rotten. Here taste it!""  For most players such nicks and bumps will be the extent of their injury history, for which we can all be grateful. Nevertheless, since injury goes hand in hand with intense physical activity, we parents need to familiarize ourselves with techniques to minimize injury and to treat injury when it occurs.
The most significant way to reduce injury is stretching both before and after activity. Think of joints and muscles like a fine sports car. Despite the tactics of James Bond, most drivers of elite autos know they need to warm the engine up before laying rubber. Likewise the body has its own need to rev up for a spin on the pitch. Joints need gentle activity to loosen up movement and slowly bring them up to a strenuous level rather than suddenly jarring them into a full run. Muscles benefit from the slow increase of temperature and blood flow that a warm-up provides. The warmer the muscles, the more effective they can be in processing the chemicals necessary to produce energy. The heart can't be ignored in this process. It benefits from the slow warming and can more effectively provide blood flow with its rich oxygen supply to the muscles and joints. Following activity joints and muscles need to cool down to resting status. Exercise produces certain toxins in the muscles that can build up and cause pain if not allowed to release. Incrementally ratcheting down the activity allows these toxins to be released slowly without building up again; otherwise they just sit in the muscles. In addition moving from strenuous activity to normal activity without a gradual slow down can have as jarring an effect on the body and heart as can a sudden increase in activity.
Having a physical every one to two years can help detect any problems which might lead to injury. Be honest with the doctor about any problems you have encountered during the intervening time between physicals. This includes joint pains, breathing problems, chest pains, dizziness, neck pain, headaches, and general energy levels. Keep your doctor informed about the level and intensity of activity you participate in for soccer and other sports. Sometimes even medications can interfere with activity and contribute to some weakness of muscles and joints, so your doctor needs to know a complete history to find the most compatible remedy for your lifestyle.
Listening to your body is extremely important in avoiding injury. Pain is the body's way of letting us know to stop doing something. If you touch a hot iron, the body actually retracts your hand instinctively. Chronic joint and muscles pains are the body's same instinctive reaction to inappropriate activity. Only the body can't jerk you away from a soccer match. So you need to recognize the signals and respect them. I'm not suggesting hypochondria as a guard against injury. Rather, I encourage players and parents to simply pay good attention to the signals a body is sending out. Swollen joints or muscles requiring ice after every training and game are probably in need of a doctor's diagnosis. If a player is popping ibuprofen or acetaminophen day after day, that's no good for his or her stomach and signals that the pain isn't transitory.  Most problems simply require rest. It's difficult to agree to rest when the big game is coming up or a fun tournament looms just days away. But many injuries occur because players put more stress on their good joints in order to avoid the pain they have in their strained joints. And ignoring the pain can turn an injury requiring only rest into an injury requiring more invasive treatment. 
Something as simple as keeping fully hydrated helps muscles and joints maintain both their elasticity and their ability to create energy. The body is technically an electrical machine that requires electro-chemical reactions to produce the runs, kicks and jumps of sports. Cramps are the body's way of saying "I'm out of gas." The muscles don't have enough electrolytes to produce the energy they need to function.  When they are weak and poorly functioning they are far more susceptible to injury when as full power.
The best way to keep from getting injured is to be fit in the first place. Those players with the strongest muscles and well-conditioned joints end up with the best protection against the injury inducing stress of strenuous activity. Soccer has the reputation of having one of the lowest incidents of serious injury. While players certainly get their share of bumps, bruises, bloody noses and strains, they get fewer fractures and muscle and ligament damage than other contact sports. A great part of that protection comes from the fitness soccer players aspire to. Another part comes from good training that strengthens players' joints and muscles. Since soccer is a year-round sport, players enjoy the benefit of consistent training. While there is a debate about repetitious stress injuries, the overall effect of regular supervised activity ends up with positive results for players.
If your son or daughter should have the misfortune of an injury requiring medical treatment, be sure to follow the treatment plan completely. Returning to play too soon leaves an injured body part to fend for itself in a weakened condition. That means it can't fully heal, may be susceptible to re-injury, and may never get its full strength back. While it's difficult to sit and observe when you feel fit and fine, the regimen your doctor gives you is not only well-considered but has the authority of experience. Most players who remain plagued with injuries throughout their lives never gave their original injury the opportunity to heal totally. Once a player is strong enough to return to practice and playing, he or she may still need to continue some physical therapy to maintain and build on the strength already achieved. 
Occasionally the admonition to play through the pain serves a good purpose: it encourages a player to judge for him- or herself whether or not he or she can continue. And we all know that soccer is a dramatic sport with lots of tumbles to the ground in agony only to have a player spring up Phoenix-like and score the winning goal. So sometimes it's not easy to judge when an injury is serious enough to stop play and seek medical attention. No one expects an injury to occur, so players aren't always capable of judging when enough is enough. Parents, coaches, and referees need to err to the side of caution especially with the youngest players to insure that no one moves from an easily treatable injury to one requiring surgery and long recuperation. The old adage of "an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure" definitely applies when dealing with soccer injury.

The Goal Kick

Sam Snow

I am at the US Youth Soccer Region III National Championship Series in Raleigh, NC. I am working on a technical analysis of the trends in play of the boys and girls in the U14 to U19 age groups competing here. Quite a few more events need to be observed for consistent trends in play to be valid. But there is a notion as I watch these matches that seems to be emerging as a real style consistency in the American youth soccer match performance. It is the goal kick.
It appears that many of our elite youth teams have no real tactical play when taking a goal kick. True a goal kick is not as potentially impact of a free kick as one that is in range of the opponents' goal, but it is still a moment in the match when the team on the attack should have some plan of play. Too often in these matches the team taking the goal kick has its players massed in the central channel of the field and the goalkeeper taking the kick just launches a long ball into the mixer. Often the kick is up the central part of the field. There the field players are faced with 50/50 battles. Sometimes the opposition wins the ball and the team that just took the goal kick is under immediate pressure and scrambling to defend the goal. The attacking team just gained possession of the ball with a goal kick so why are they hitting 50 percent passes?
While a goal kick is a restart situation in the match after the ball has gone out of play just like a throw-in or a corner kick it should be considered an attacking opportunity for the team in possession.  So to make the most of the opportunity of having possession of the ball the attacking team should have their goalkeeper take the kick as this gives them a numbers even situation on the field with the field players. Goalkeepers need to not only practice the technique of striking the ball for a goal kick but also should learn the tactics of the situation. Generally goal kicks should go towards the flanks of the field where there is more space. Also if possession is lost on the flank it is less of an immediate direct threat to the keeper's goal than a ball lost in the middle of the field with a better angle for a shot on goal. The goalkeeper must read the game and decide if a short kick or a long kick is in order. If the opposition has dropped back to the area of the halfway line then a short kick to the side of the penalty area to an outside back is in order for build up play. If the opposition is pressing forward near the keeper's penalty are then a long kick up field is in order and most likely aimed towards the outside midfielders.
Now the field players have a role to play too. As I have watched the matches here in Raleigh, I am dismayed at the lack of movement by the attacking team at the goal kick. The field players of the attacking team must move to shake off markers and perhaps to create space for a teammate to receive the ball. Too many attacking players just stand, with a defender next to them, waiting for the ball from a goal kick. Remember that the goal kick is just another pass from a teammate and you need to move to get open to receive passes.
So there are a few thoughts on the goal kick. Coaches please let's teach our teams to make the most of `this opportunity to create our attack at this dead ball situation in the game.

Susan Goes to Regionals

Susan Boyd

This week Susan will be back at the US Youth Soccer Region II Championship cheering on her Under-19 son Bryce and his teammates.

If you want some inside scoop and some "don't forget to do this" and "oh by the way, you'll need to remember this"'ve come to the right place. 

Susan's Regional Blog will be posted daily here.  You can check out all of the championship bloggers, yep, we've got players giving their take, here.


Double Edge Sword

Sam Snow

Our organization in youth soccer is a double edged sword for us. On one side our organizational abilities have helped us grow the game of soccer in the USA dramatically over the last 35 years. Because of the efforts of innumerable people, most of them volunteers, we have soccer in communities where the sport never existed 40 years ago. We have millions of youngsters playing the game and we have millions of alumni from the youth soccer ranks who have now reached adulthood. Hundreds of thousands of adults participate in youth soccer as referees, coaches and administrators. Businesses support soccer like never before. Soccer on television is at an all-time high viewership. Because of our organizational abilities both private and public soccer complexes have sprouted up across the nation. The quality of many of those facilities is truly outstanding. Jobs in soccer have grown from a cottage industry to a true business and on a large scale. In many ways due to American organizational skills we have in only one generation become a soccer nation.
Look at the number of colleges now with intercollegiate teams – the number of professional teams is healthy – American players are being exported to other nations to play in the pro ranks. Our national teams regularly qualify for international events and we are always competitive. In every measure of the game our skill at organizing the game has nurtured the growth of the game.
Yet on the other side of the sword our organizational skills get in the way of player development. In the desire to be organized many adults cannot step aside now that the game is moving on its own. Too many adults interfere too much in the player's game. At the youngest ages we adults need to be less involved in telling the children how to play the game. Our role now is simply to be the taxi drivers, game-time setters, grass mowers and otherwise let them play without our adult expectations weighing upon their small shoulders. So can we adults instill a school physical education approach and mentality into our youth soccer world? We now have a professional team franchise mentality permeating all that our kids experience in the sport. Those adult results orientated perspective in fact hinders the development of our players. We could and should have even more players than we do qualified to play college soccer and beyond.
Now don't tell me that we cannot change this attitude because it is ingrained in our American culture. People say the same thing 30 years ago that soccer would never make it here since it was not part of our mainstream sports culture and clearly that has changed. We can and must change the mentality of the adults involved with youth soccer. Yes it may take 30 years, but so be it!