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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". 

 

They Just Say No

Susan Boyd

A crisp fall day with clear blue skies, a mild wind, leaves just beginning to flutter to the ground, and the awesome screams of a four year old who absolutely, positively doesn't want to play soccer today. Out on the emerald green field scores of other four year olds are having the times of their lives kicking, giggling, running, and generally making mayhem.   But one kid stands on the fringe beyond reasoning. "AHHHH."   And it's your kid!

As parents we want to offer our kids every opportunity possible. We know the importance of the socialization and to some extent the networking sports offer, not to mention the obvious health benefits. But kids will resist our best intentions sometimes for reasons we can't comprehend. We cajole, "See? There's your friend Billy. Why don't you go play with him?" And we're met with a sobbing, "NO!" We bargain, "If you just go play for 10 minutes we can go home." With a look of confusion our child responds with "I want to go home now." We may even threaten, "If you don't go out and play now, we won't come back to soccer again." And our child looks up with total relief in her eyes and says, "Okay." Sometimes you can get your child to sit and watch, but usually once she enters the panic mode, there's no calming her except by leaving.

Besides the obvious embarrassment of having it be your son or daughter creating the scene on the sidelines, there's the additional concerns about shyness, missing out, and being labeled as a quitter.  Experts tell us that children have natural separation anxiety clear up to age seven. Many kids overcome it around age four, but others need additional time to feel secure in leaving their comfort zone. Kindergarten teachers will tell you that certain children have anxiety for weeks before settling into the routine of school. So although it can be disconcerting to pull up to the fields for the first soccer experience, so proud to begin "big kid" activities, and have your child have a total meltdown, some kids just are ready yet.

Nevertheless there are some ways that might help ease the transition for any child. First, make preparing for soccer an adventure. Go pick out some cleats, socks and a ball. Balls come in a dozen colorful and inexpensive options, so let your child make his own choice of ball. Then have him help you label these items so he can take full possession and responsibility for them. If possible designate a special place to keep the gear, so your child knows how important this experience will be.

To help minimize the sudden introduction of a new location and dozens of new kids, you can introduce your player to the field ahead of time. Take her there and play some soccer with her. If you know a child or two who will also be doing soccer invite them along so your own child will feel part of the group even before coming to the first session. While playing let her know that soccer will be just like this but there will be even more kids to play with. Sometimes this little bit of familiarity can overcome initial hesitation.

If you know your child has ambivalence when faced with large groups, new situations, and/or separation, a good idea is to arrive early. Take your son or daughter out to the field and begin some play. As time goes on more and more kids will arrive. Having your child be the center of activity rather than having to break through a barrier of kids to get to the activity can help ease them into group play. As friends arrive bring them into your circle and slowly ease yourself to the sidelines. Taking the time to introduce them to the coaches/teachers when they arrive can also help. Usually the coaches are incredibly enthusiastic and understand young children, so they can help you get your child included in the group.

If all else fails, see if you can get your child to sit and watch. Sometimes seeing his friends having fun will help a kid get over trepidation.   At the very least your child will have the satisfaction of participating in his own quiet way. The next week he may dip his toe in deeper. All you can do is continue to encourage his participation and make the experience as positive as possible.

Most importantly don't consider your child a quitter if he or she absolutely insists on leaving. Try to reintroduce the experience the next week. But if your child can't be persuaded, most reputable organizations will allow you to apply the fees from one session to another later one. That way you can give your child the time to grow more secure. Most kids hear about soccer from their friends and get their enthusiasm tweaked through those discussions. So over time most kids become secure enough to participate.

So if it is your child having the meltdown, don't despair and don't force him or her to participate. Just chalk it up to childhood development that each child travels at his or her own speed. Believe me when I say from experience that I have had both kids and grandkids who initially balked at playing soccer and now play regularly – even in college. I also know kids who never warm to it, which means they may not want to play sports or may want to play a singular sport. When they say no, we need to listen and not let ourselves be swayed by our expectations or by our concern for what the neighbors might think. Let no be no for a time and then try again. Kids are notoriously fickle, so yes will probably be the answer soon.
 
 

Ages of Play

Sam Snow

Continuing with the Position Statements of the 55 state Technical Directors here are numbers four and five which are closely related to one another.

Age of Competitive Play        No. 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     No. 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.
 

Player Potential

Sam Snow

In the continuing effort to share the Position Statements of the 55 state Technical Directors with the membership here then is Statement No. 3.

Realizing Player Potential No. 3

To maximize player potential, we believe that State Associations and progressive clubs should work to expose their better coaches, who should hold the "Y" License, to their youngest players.  It is also seen as important that mentoring programs be established for community soccer coaches to improve the quality of youth soccer training.

The developmental approach emphasizes the growth of individual skills and group tactical awareness.  We feel too much emphasis is placed on "team" play and competition in the preteen years.  We believe in an inclusion model for preteen players.  From this perspective, the goal of youth soccer programs at all levels is to include players in matches at an age when experience is more important than outcome.

Further options for players in their teen years that are not interested in competing at the highest level, but still have a love for the game should be created.  Perhaps older teen coed teams or high school based teams on a recreational basis.
 

Tone Deaf?

Susan Boyd

We've all experienced it: the boorish fan who knows nothing about the game, but insists on educating referees, players, coaches, and spectators on the finer points of the competition as he or she sees it.   I am constantly amazed at how these lessons come wrapped in expletives and personal attacks. They assault my ears with their off-key utterances. I wonder if these "professors" conduct themselves the same way when running a meeting or grocery shopping – "Hey you idiot stock boy. Vegetables should be displayed alphabetically by scientific classification."   You might expect, however, that parents of college soccer players who have played the sport for upwards of 15 years would have both better knowledge and restraint.

Not so I discovered last weekend when I went to watch Bryce's college team play. A cadre of fathers from the opposing team kept up a barrage of expletive laden "advice" for anyone in earshot. Unfortunately their advice was ill-informed or in many cases ridiculous. And worse, the intimate seating meant their advice was heard by all. To add insult to insult, the opposing team won the game. I believe in karma, but I will have to wait for its realization at a later date.

I'm not immune to my own outbursts. It's difficult not to get caught up in the frenzy of the game, especially if I feel my own child is being unfairly targeted. But I've learned to let him take the bumps and bruises on the pitch and handle it himself. Sometimes he'll get a call in his favor when he shouldn't, just as he'll get a call against him when he shouldn't. Referees' skills vary just as much as players' and coaches' skills do. I know a referee must be terrible if both teams are complaining, but that doesn't help mitigate the frustration that a bad call brings. Undisciplined and outmatched teams may resort to hacking in order to regain some control of the action, which can make many a parent see red as their child is mauled on the field. Coaches may unwittingly or purposely feed chaos on the field by their own sideline admonishments. I had to sit and listen to a coach encourage his players to "take out number three by the ankles," meaning Robbie. Natural protective instincts urged me to leap across the field and ring the coach's neck. But the very skills Robbie possessed that prompted such an order would always exist, so Robbie had to learn to handle the pressure on his own.

This past weekend was a study in contrasts. Robbie played in a high school tournament. His team played three teams, two of which are significant rivals of his high school. The crowds were huge since students came out to support their players along with parents. Yet the overall tone was civil and encouraging. There were occasional jeers at a call or groans when a play didn't succeed. But there wasn't swearing or non-stop criticism. At Bryce's college game the foul language was constant and the condemnation never-ending.   The parents verbally assaulted their own players for perceived lapses, blasted Bryce's teammates for their play, and name-called the referees with every possible put-down.   The entire experience was not only uncomfortable but unsettling. I wasn't sure where this outpouring of vitriol would lead. Luckily in the waning minutes the team scored and some of the tension deflated.

The difference could have been the standards put in place prior to the games. In Robbie's case, the high school rules and state amateur athletic association promise swift and binding consequences for bad behavior. Parents and students are well-aware of the expectations and for the most part adhere to them. There's also plenty of peer pressure to keep the behaviors under control. When a parent shouted out, there were ten parents "shushing" the outburst. For the college game no warning about good sportsmanship was given prior to the game and by logical extension no consequences applied. Parents had no standard they were told to adhere to, so they didn't.

It would be comforting to think that we could all be self-editing, understanding that cursing and criticizing don't add to the game's enjoyment by others in the stands or on the field. Yet all too often I attend games that rival the FA Cup finals in fierceness of fan vocals. While I am excited about growing a more enthusiastic fan base for soccer in America, I would like to see it happen with more courteousness and self-control than are found in our fellow fans in Europe and South America. We have the opportunity to show that a devoted fan doesn't need to be rabid. While "fan" starts fanatical, we do have the opportunity to chart a different course in team support. Enthusiasm doesn't need to go to the dark side and become ugly and attacking. Perhaps there should be swift and certain retribution for being a loud-mouthed oaf no matter the level of the game.

Next weekend I'll be watching my four year old grandson play soccer. I trust the game will be free of cussing and name-calling. If we can do it with our pre-school players, we should be able to do it with our college, amateur, and pro players. It just requires a little self-restraint and a positive outlook. I know, I know … Little Orphan Annie should break into "Tomorrow" at this point. But I'm just naïve enough to hope we can find the right tone for all soccer games.