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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.


Hopelessly Devoted

Susan Boyd

My oldest grandson, Keaton, was born on July 4, 2000, and I just returned from his 8th birthday party. His birth date came perfectly not only for easy memory but also because that was the year we were picking up a chocolate cocker spaniel puppy in Iowa. Keaton needed to arrive before July 7th or after July 11th. He accommodated us kindly and we retrieved our new puppy. We named the puppy Cobi Jones who was Robbie's soccer hero. Cobi, the puppy ended up with a scatter of hair on his scalp that looked exactly like Cobi's, the soccer player, dreadlocks. Robbie, himself, had dreads. We have a memorable picture on our refrigerator of Cobi and Robbie together when the Galaxy came to Milwaukee for an exhibition game. The two share both the same distinctive hair and the same captivating Cheshire Cat grin. Keaton's birthday reminds us that Cobi, the dog, is also eight, although given the dog year equation he is exponentially older than Keaton. Nevertheless they act like they are both eight, that is to say they are carefree, rambunctious, silly and occasionally naughty.

My second granddaughter's birth came while Bryce and Robbie were due to play in the Wisconsin high school state finals. So I was in Las Vegas to help out our daughter, Shane, who had been scheduled for an induction four days before the state final. I had my ticket home, but Megan decided to enjoy the hospitality of her mother's uterus for an extra three days. The boys' team won with Bryce making important saves and Robbie scoring the insurance goal. Luckily the entire game was available on our local cable access channel for several weeks after, so I did get to see their victory within the isolation of our family room. Megan's birth provides the requisite benchmark for remembering the anniversary of the championship, so every year she celebrates her birthday, we can fondly recall that highpoint of the boys' soccer experience.

Objects of devotion can be as varied as objects in the universe, but some are also simply universal. Devotion to family can encompass other objects of devotion, which in our family includes pets and soccer. Unfortunately as a family grows, so grow the conflicts. Trying to find balance and equity isn't always a successful venture. On the rank of events you don't want to miss, a granddaughter's birth and your sons' state championship come pretty close to equal. But with the assistance of digital recorders, cell phones, and email, I nearly managed to be in two places at once.   Still I've missed all of Keaton's football games, all but Andrew's first two birthdays, all but one of Bryce's college games live (although I did catch them through streaming video), several of Robbie's travel games, and the list will only grow. Fall of 2009 both boys will be in college and will have games perhaps thousands of miles apart.

I'm grateful every chance I get to be involved in my kids' and grandkids' experiences and lives. Select soccer is a cruel task master, requiring lots of money and, even worse, lots of time. I have friends with three and four kids in select soccer and they have an elaborate calendar to insure that they get to at least a couple of each kid's games. I feel lucky to have to juggle only two kids, but once I add the grandkids into the mix, the juggling qualifies for Cirque d'Soleil. Nevertheless I revel in those moments when I can share an experience with any one of my family. While soccer takes the lion share of time now, I feel my life separating from soccer and cleaving to other sports and activities as the family expands. It's actually invigorating to have such a rich plate from which to feast. 

This winter the entire extended family is headed to Orlando for a reunion. While the Disney Showcase will be in full swing then, it won't be a part of our week there. Instead we'll be devoting our time to getting reacquainted, giving the youngest kids a basket of good memories, and giving the older kids a well-deserved break from the rigors of school and soccer. I don't even think anyone will go into soccer withdrawal. In fact the first night there, the Packers are playing on Monday Night Football, and we all plan to be visions in our green and gold. I can't wait to get everyone together! I'm hopelessly devoted to them all.

Are you match fit?

Sam Snow

""Are you match fit?""  The definition being, you are fit enough to play at a high pace for a full match.  Now the problem is not that coaches and players do not try to get soccer fit, it's that the approach is a bit haphazard and inconsistent.  You may have noticed that I keep referring to ""match fit' and ""soccer fit"" as opposed to simply physically fit.  That's because players and coaches must follow the S.A.I.D. principle to achieve the type of physical fitness needed for soccer.  Coaches learn this principle when they attend the ""D"" License coaching course.
The S.A.I.D. principle is Specific Adaptation to Imposed DemandsThis means that the human body will adapt to the physical demands placed upon it.  Hence, the physical demands in a training session must be similar to the physical demands of a match.  Furthermore, the physical fitness training conducted must be specific to soccer.  This means coaches should do away with running laps around the field.  Soccer is not long distance running.  It is a series of short sprints, jumps, jogging and walking over a full match.  Predominately soccer is anaerobic in nature.  This means the muscles must work for short bursts without oxygen.  Long distance running (jogging around the field) is continuous movement with a steady supply of oxygen.  Go out in the yard and run straight for thirty yards at a jogging pace and then do three ten yards sprints and you'll notice the difference.
So how do coaches and players make their soccer fitness training specific to the demands of the game?  Simply play soccer!
Is there a place for fitness training without the ball?  Sure, but the majority of weight training, wind sprints, two-a-days, etc. should be confined to players sixteen-years-old and older.  Older teenage and young adult players are well into adolescence and their bodies will respond better to the demands of overload training.  Chances are also high that players those ages will be participating in highly competitive club, high school, ODP, college and/or professional soccer.  They will certainly need the extra fitness for the demands of the game at the highest levels of play.  But can players get fit enough for soccer by simply playing soccer?
Unequivocally yes!  IF, the coach and players put sufficient demands into a training session much can be accomplished.   Then both fitness and technique, and possibly tactics too, can be trained.  This is called economical training.  The problem is that most players' train in second or third gear and the coach allows them to get away with it.  Then come match time and they must play in fourth gear, and occasionally in overdrive, and they are not up to it.  The lack of fitness is even more noticeable in extreme weather conditions, especially high heat and humidity.
Certainly there are training sessions where the players should not be pushed to play at match pace.  When learning a new ball skill or tactical concept the pace will need to be slower.  This is so the players can have success and build their confidence.  Once the technique or tactic is well learned, then to improve players must train at match pace.  Can a team train at match pace for an entire training session?  No, and a good coach would not want them to do so.  A proper warm-up and cool-down are essential.  The first few activities during a training session must ease into a higher pace.  The last two or three activities of a training session are the ones done at match speed.  However, even in a training session intended to broach new topics the overall rhythm of the session should be quick.  Far too many training sessions drag along and thus become boring and insufficient demands are placed upon the players.  You cannot expect to train in a nonchalant way, in second gear and then perform well in a match.
So the key is that when the training session has reached the match condition stages the players must push themselves, and be pushed by the coach, to perform at match speed.  This one factor alone is missing in most training sessions.  With it the competitiveness, speed of thinking (tactical decision-making), technical speed and fitness improve.  The players have a responsibility here to push themselves.  Don't wait for the coach to have to yell at you to play at a pace that you yourself wish to perform at come game day.  You get out of training what you put into it!  Train in second gear and you'll play in second gear and when you try to play faster you'll fail.  Players need to push themselves first and foremost.  Only then do you have a right to expect that your teammates should do the same.  Then the coach is there to push you along when you need the help.  The coach has the responsibility to relay these expectations to the players and to set the tone at the appropriate training sessions and at the proper time of a session.
By training often during a season at match pace the team will be prepared for the specific demands of the match.  If the team trains this way then the need for calisthenics and running laps is eliminated.  Match pace training brings out the best in everyone.  Finally, while playing at match speed is indeed physically demanding, it's much more enjoyable because the ball is involved and you are actually playing the game.  That's always more fun than wind sprints.
Enjoy the game!

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.