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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". 

 

Something Lost

Susan Boyd

Winning isn't everything which is easy to say, but not easy to live by unless you're under the age of ten. Measuring one's accomplishments by a team's success doesn't really set in until kids are older.  As youngsters they are enough "me" focused with a touch of self-doubt to need personal praise and affirmation.   They can understand and appreciate a team win, but it isn't the most important part of playing. I was watching a soccer game of six year olds when one team scored on the other. As the kids lined up for the kickoff, a parent shouted encouragingly, "You'll get it bac" prompting a player to pipe up, "We already got it back. We're kicking." Duh mom and dad!   Someday hearing, "you'll get it back" will be very important and supportive. That day, it just stated the obvious.

My grandkids like to win as much as the next player especially if they are playing a board game against one another. But whenever I talk to them about their sports I never hear if they won or lost. Instead, I am treated to a blow by blow description of some snippet from their match where they felt they had achieved something extraordinary. Their personal victory over whatever roadblocks existed during play carry far more weight in their memories than wins or losses. Last week Archer announced on the phone that he had done "the biggest kick ever. It went past all the players. It almost went out of the field, but it didn't." I have no idea if the kick resulted in a goal. What mattered was the power of his kick. I expressed supreme praise for having such a strong leg. And when I asked if the team had won he replied, "I love you. Bye."

Don't get me wrong . . . I'm all for winning. Competition leads to life lessons as important as courtesy and safety. What I dread are the by-products of competition that spell the end of innocence. Kids who played together for three years suddenly find themselves split into separate teams based on skill. For those who don't make the "A" team there's the natural feelings of failure and the pain of seeing a group of your friends move on without you. Parents can put whatever spin on the results as they want, but kids still understand what's happening. Clubs need to be encouraged to help players through these transitions. I've witnessed and heard of horrible stories when children first enter the world of select soccer.   At age nine all of Robbie's team except two players were invited to play up a year. We were told we were moving as a team, so it was shock to learn that two kids were "disinvited." All of us felt betrayed. I still remember the anguish in the voice of one mother. It was totally unnecessary. Eventually those players would have self-selected to opt out of soccer and winning didn't really matter at that age. Parents and coaches need to be sensitive to the major upheaval this transition imposes on families. It's not just missing out on a particular team. It can change the social group for children and define them among their peers.

We should appreciate and extend the years when winning takes a back seat to personal achievement. The kids don't have that judgmental attitude towards one another. Every action earns high fives, whether a goal or an own goal. The players have that wonderful raw enthusiasm where nothing can go wrong, except occasional bumps and bruises. Games are a jumble of activity punctuated with outbursts of glee. Somewhere in the midst of this joyous chaos a few gems of learning are picked up. I know that eventually the entire rhythm of the games will shift to winning. The players will express disappointment in one another's efforts and learn to lay blame. I'm not sure how or why this shift occurs, but it does. Some of it may be learned on the ride home from games where we parents point out that Johnny didn't pass very well or Mary is a ball hog. And some of it just grows from the competitive need to win where one mistake can spell the difference between winning and losing.

I often miss the pleasure of just laughing on the sidelines. Once winning becomes important that drive spills over to the spectators. A 16 year old going to kick the ball and whiffing evokes disappointing grunts while a six year old doing the same thing elicits giggles. Own goals aren't funny when they occur in state league play, but are hilarious in recreational soccer especially when followed by leaps of joy from the striker and her teammates, who only understand that a goal is a good thing. When winning gets involved, watching a game can become an exercise in self-control rather than unbridled engagement. I know too well the tension that winning brings to a competition. During last fall's state tournament quarterfinals Robbie's high school team fought to a 0-0 tie in regulation finally scoring a golden goal in overtime. All the restrained tension spilled out in body shakes and tears. That would never happen while watching Archer kick the biggest kick ever. So I'm grateful for those years of just enjoying the moment without any stake in the outcome.  And when they look back, the kids will be grateful too.
 

Argentine Football Association (AFA)

Sam Snow

Well I continued my visit in Argentina with a tour and meeting with the staff at Estudiantes. The facility is impressive with a dozen fields, swimming, tennis, and golf, indoor facilities with locker rooms and dorms and administrative offices. The discussion with the staff included the possibility of US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program players and coaches being able to stay and work with Estudiantes for an extended period. I will let you know how this possibility works out in a future blog.
 
The next day, we were taken on a private tour of the Boca Juniors facilities and we were allowed to observe the second team and youth teams in training. In the afternoon we toured the training facilities of the Argentine Football Association (AFA). We were guided on the tour by Mr. Ruben Moschella. The facilities include eight first class fields, one beach soccer field, dorms, cafeteria, exercise rooms, health centers, Futsal indoor center and offices. While in the building reserved for the full national team we meet the son-in-law of Diego Maradona, head coach of the Men's National Team. He handles all of the administration for Coach Maradona's work with AFA. We had to quickly leave that building as Diego was on his way to the facility and does not like to have anyone there when he is in the building. It was interesting watching him drive onto the complex and up to the building at 60 miles per hour; I think he believes his is a Formula 1 driver. Even though we had to leave one building on the complex we continued our tour. We ended in the main cafeteria and met there with Mr. Hector Elizondo. He refereed the first and last match at the 2006 World Cup and is now in charge of the instruction of FIFA referees in CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. By trade he is a special physical education professor at a university. He was very interested in our TOPSoccer brochure printed in Spanish. Overall the tour was enjoyable and we made good connections with AFA personnel.
 
On the next to last day of my stay in Buenos Aires I was able to meet with Juan Grondona, the first vice president of FIFA and the president of the AFA. We discussed the possibility of an exchange between AFA and US Youth Soccer. The door was opened by Mr. Grondona for coaches and referees from AFA to visit us to pass along their information on the education of referees and coaches and for us to share with them our methods. We will also look into the possibility of American coaches attending education sessions with AFA at their training center. Again I will let you know in a future blog on how this possibility develops.
 
This was a productive trip for US Youth Soccer and our members. We will grow this soccer relationship in Argentina. I urge all of you involved in any way with the beautiful game to explore the world as everywhere you go soccer is part of the culture.
 

Buenos Aires Trip

Sam Snow

Right now I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The purpose of the trip is a series of meetings with Estudiantes, Boca Juniors and the Argentina Football Association to discuss their approaches to youth player development, coaching education and the advancement of referees. The first meeting will be today as you read this blog with Estudiantes. But Sunday was a wonder soccer day.
 
Along with Jerry Matlak, Mike Strickler, Bill Buren and Virgil Stringfield, all from the Florida Youth Soccer Association we went to La Bombonera, home stadium of Boca Juniors. The match today was with River Plate, the Super Clasico. The Boca Juniors versus River Plate match is one of the most renowned derbies in soccer across the world. The atmosphere was incredible with thousands of people jumping up and down in unison and singing team songs. Confetti filled the air along with smoke bombs and steamers. Click here to see a 30 second video I shot at the game.
 
The match ended in 1-1 after Boca went ahead at the 59th minute. So this year neither team earned the bragging rights for this derby. On Saturday, we watched a match of lesser renown, but also interesting and entertaining. It was between Gimnasia and Rosario Central. This was a match with both teams fighting to keep from relegation into the second division. With a tie Rosario would stay up and Gimnasia needed a win to stay in the first division. Again the fans brought wonderful energy and excitement to the stadium. When 5,000 fans jump in unison on wooden bleachers it is literally a moving experience!
 
After watching both of these matches and then speaking with the other coaches on this trip one of our observations of the skills of the Argentine players compared to Americans is heading. Most of our heading is to strike at goal from a cross or to clear it while defending. Most of the heading we saw in these two matches was to pass. The headers were flicks and straight on headers to put an air ball down to the feet of a teammate. It was clear that heading the ball in Argentina is a finesse skill as well as a powerful one if necessary. So how good is the skill with these players? Even as I write this blog I am watching sports center and a soccer tennis game is on of 2 vs. 2. Two of the players are youth players from Racing and the other two are sports announcers in dress shoes and suits. They are playing on a marked field in the TV studio… final score 11 to 9 for Racing. When the sports casters have heading skills better than most of our coaches then you can be sure the skill is a serious part of the soccer development culture.
 
That fact was borne out today in our visit to the training facilities for Estudiantes where among the dozen soccer fields were several areas marked off for soccer tennis. If we have youth soccer clubs playing soccer tennis at all then it tends to be a defensive approach. With the Argentinean players, it is a possession and attacking game with the passes over the net being only from headers.
 
So in looking at another soccer culture, we see an area we can improve. Heading can have as many variations as passing. It is a skill where we could be quite talented given the athletic ability of our players. So coaches let's teach this one, but with finesse as well as power…just like good passing.
 
I'll have more from Argentina in my next posting on the US Youth Soccer blog next week.
 

Off Kilter

Susan Boyd

I pride myself on my organization, but recent events have placed me in a whirlpool of chaos. Suddenly all my careful planning, filing, labeling, and storing have dissolved into 150 boxes with vague notations such as "master bedroom coats". Since I have never in my life stored a coat in my master bedroom, I am totally confused. I may have another woman's box. She may be as organized as I but sitting in her torn up home staring at a box that says "Office Soccer Schedule"" and withering with bewilderment. Unless her own children play soccer, in which case she is probably tearing into the box hoping for sudden and complete order.

Now that soccer season has begun in earnest, I am undone. I don't have my two foot by three foot calendar on the wall where I can fill in every detail of our complicated lives. I don't know where half my soccer necessities chortle in hiding. Random gloves and hats appear from various open boxes without rhyme or reason. Even Robbie has begun to feel my panic. Where he once depended upon me to be able to find any lost or misplaced soccer item, he has had to accept that I no longer have the rock solid and uncanny ability to zero in on the truant article. I am as lost and misplaced as his soccer gear.   The well-oiled machine of our soccer lives now coughs and sputters without dependable results.

So you can imagine the absolute elation and relief when I discovered my soccer survival box intact in the garage. Untouched by the disaster and escaping packing by the movers, the box sat on the shelf like a beacon of hope and tranquility. Within its cardboard corral my rain jackets, umbrellas, paper towels, wet wipes, and other soccer accessories rested tranquilly awaiting their return to my van. Robbie might not have all his uniform pieces, but we have toilet paper for the port-a-johns. Last weekend we traveled to Indiana for Midwest Regional League competition and had occasion to tap into the box for rain gear and umbrellas. We were even able to provide umbrellas for others who had not yet set up their car for soccer season. I felt partially back in control.

This chaos has put lots of things into perspective. For instance, I recognize that my children aren't the only ones who forget to pack their cleats in their bag and realize it after two hours on the road. I'm not the only mother who runs through a check list with my kids before we depart. The phrase "If you keep everything in your bag, you won't lose it" echoes through many a home. Smelly, month old wet shorts sit buried in the bottom of thousands of soccer bags. The mad rush to locate a ball pump repeats itself dozens of times at tournaments. So while organization can be a wonderful way to avoid crises, it isn't completely reliable.

Once, when I was a manager, I somehow lost the player pass, medical release and birth certificate of a player. We were at a tournament that was run by someone even more compulsive than I am, so rules were meant to be followed to the letter. The tournament was in Florida and families had given up their spring breaks, spent hundreds of dollars to travel down, and naturally expected to watch their children play. So I had to figure out how to solve this crisis. I tore through all my paperwork, which had been completely in order prior to boarding our plane – believe me I had checked and double checked everything. So I hoped that somehow the paper fairy would fly down, point her wand in some dark recess of my brief case, and illuminate the missing paperwork. No such luck. Then I had a Eureka moment. I knew this player was in Wisconsin US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and I knew that we had to have a birth certificate on file plus a player profile with picture to participate. I called a friend in the State Association's office, she faxed down a new card, the birth certificate, a blank medical release, and the photo. In fifteen minutes I had reproduced the player pass (not laminated, but who cared), had the parents fill out a new medical release, and returned to the registrar with ALL my paperwork. Did I find the missing paperwork? Yes – apparently the paper fairy was having a bad day – the clear protective folder was stuck to another folder. 

The moral of the story is that no matter how organized any of us might be the fickle finger of fate has a way of demolishing the best system. So we need to be prepared not to panic, to be problem solvers, and to accept a lack of organization as part of being human. Ultimately even the worst case scenario can be resolved. We need to keep our eye on the real purpose of all this structure – letting our kids play this great game and have fun doing it. Until all my boxes are open, all my papers sorted, and everything put in their rightful place, I'll have to accept a certain amount of bedlam in my life. The games will go on without my structured input. And they'll be just as good.