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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". 

 

Sticks and Stones

Susan Boyd

For some inexplicable reason I have been watching "American Idol" this season. Other than some of the preliminary rounds with all the awkward, tone deaf William Hungs believing they can actually win a recording contract, I've pretty much ignored the program. This year the nephew of one of my husband's patients, Danny Gokey, is on the show, so I guess that's the curiosity. What I've discovered is that the real point of the series isn't for the contestants to win. No, it's for the public to judge them and not just with a weekly vote. Idol bashing has risen to the status of a new public sport. Each contestant is run through the ridicule mill facing criticism about wardrobe, dance, tattoos, voice, facial hair, hair, hair color, and personality. Simon Cowell doesn't even figure in these slam downs. Normally thoughtful and rational people suddenly become nasty, back-biting fiends when they discuss the show.

Reality shows in general bring out the armchair critic in us. We have an opinion about every aspect of someone's else life just because we can. Having "The Bachelor" in our living rooms one hour a week for twelve weeks gives us the right to decide who his wife should be. We can get as upset about someone getting voted out of the tribe as we would if it were our own mother being sent to the gulags. So perhaps it is no surprise that we find ourselves offering up our critiques on an eight year old's ability to pass under pressure or a coach's choices for the starting line-up. We have been validated as experts. After all, the fate of America's Idol rests in our hands!

We live in a media world where people's fates can be decided with the beep of a buzzer or a cell phone call to the number on the screen. We zap our enemies instantly on the video screen. We can order anything (and I mean that literally) on Ebay with a few clicks of our mouse. So it's no wonder we think we have the right to offer running commentary on our child's soccer game.

Stand on the side lines of any soccer game and you will hear a chorus of opinions freely and loudly expressed. We criticize the opponents. We criticize our fellow players. We criticize the coaches. We criticize the referees. We even criticize the parents. You've heard the comments and, admit it, you've made the comments. "He can't pass." "She's a ball hog." "I swear I could coach better than he can." And those are the just the observations I can repeat on a family web site.  The more passionate we become, the more X-rated the vocalizations grow. We forget we aren't in our living room shouting at the screen, "He's an idiot for picking her." When we're at the soccer field we're in a crowd of people who actually love "the idiot" and think he's doing a bang up job.

Most players are too young and too innocent to be the object of our judgment. How often have you spent the ride home in the car critiquing the entire game and judging the individual player performances?  Such evaluations can model for our impressionable children undesirable behaviors. They are learning to aim the magnifying glass at others, rather than on themselves. And if you think those comments don't spread beyond the car, then you live in a fool's paradise. Of course sometimes we make our comments public. Sideline chatter regularly turns to assessments of the players, frequently focusing on the opposition. The problem is that in the close confines those comments might be overheard by the parent of our target. Those stinging remarks can affect relationships not to mention stirring up immediate conflict. I've seen my share of sideline battles brought on by an overheard observation. I came close to erupting when someone accused my eleven year old son of "flopping." I was surprised at how much I was personally offended by the remark. It showed me the power of words.

We grow up hearing "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," which is a noble concept and totally unrealistic. Words hurt us all the time. We have all been the object of some form of ridicule which you think would give us pause when dishing it out. But our culture and the sense that in this huge world we are somehow anonymous embolden us. We may express our views in hushed tones under our breath to the person next to us and believe it won't go any further, but the grape vine curls everywhere. Our words have tremendous power to harm. While we'll never be able to totally stop the urge to criticize, we can all try to be more mindful of where and when we exercise our expertise. So keep delivering those reality show verdicts. After all, Simon Cowell's balance sheet depends on your continued disparagement of the contestants.
 

Relive Pain with PRICE

Sam Snow

If you experience a sprain or strain while playing soccer, a method known as PRICE is a good way to relieve pain and reduce swelling. After a few days of the PRICE method, most sprains, strains, pulls and tears should begin to heal.
 
Try the PRICE method for your next injury.
 
Protect: Protect the injured area from further injury by using braces or crutches.
 
Rest: Rest the injured area by discontinuing painful activity.
 
Ice: Cold packs – either an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables – can provide short-term pain relief as well as reduce swelling by limiting the blood flow to the injury.
 
Compression: Wrapping an elastic bandage snugly around the injured area can decrease swelling and speed up the healing process. (Wrap towards the heart.)
 
Elevation: If possible, keep the area elevated above the level of the heart to help reduce swelling.
 
When to See a Physician
Although every injury situation is different, if the player is not able to withstand the pain or the ability to move is limited, then a visit to a physician is in order. Pain and swelling that last a few days without getting better are other indications that a physician should evaluate the injury.
 

Rare Meeting

Sam Snow

It is rare to have such a meeting; well actually it likely never occurs anywhere other than the United States, as occurred last Wednesday. The annual State Technical Directors meeting took place at the 2009 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop. But this year's meeting was special with the addition of the U.S. Men's National Team head coach, Bob Bradley joining us. Coach Bradley spoke to the State Association Technical Directors on the current status of the U.S. Men's National Team and how the team is performing. A great dialog took place among the coaches as we spoke about player development and international competition. It was clear that many of the challenges club coaches face in developing youth players and improving team performance are also faced by the National Team staff. So no matter what the level of play is there's always room for improvement.
 
We finished off the morning session with reports from the US Youth Soccer Technical Department and the Coaching Committee. The best was yet to come in the afternoon session.
 
Joining the coaches in the afternoon were several state association presidents and executive directors, as well as luminaries from US Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer. The afternoon meeting began with Larry Monaco, president of US Youth Soccer; Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer; Jim Cosgrove, executive director of US Youth Soccer; Dan Flynn, general secretary of U.S. Soccer, Bob Bradley, head coach of the US Men's National Team; Kevin Payne, chair of the U.S. Soccer Technical Committee; John Hackworth, Development Academy Technical Director for U.S. Soccer; Jay Berhalter, assistant general secretary of U.S. Soccer; Hugo Perez from the U.S. Soccer staff; Kati Hope, manager of the U. S. Soccer Coaching Department; four of the U.S. Soccer National Staff Coaches; Jeff Tipping, Director of Coaching for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America; Robin Russell, from the UEFA Technical Staff and three US Youth Soccer ODP regional head coaches. It is easily said that almost every real mover and shaker in American soccer was in that room last Wednesday afternoon. So what did we talk about? The national implementation of the recommendations and guidelines in the book Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States. The document is currently available for download or hard copy purchase at http://www.ussoccer.com/articles/viewArticle.jsp_280734.html. Both US Youth Soccer and U. S. Soccer are promoting and urging soccer clubs all across our nation to put into action the Best Practices philosophy! Ultimately, the document helps to organize a body of work originally created by many current and former U.S. Soccer coaches as position statements regarding club soccer or as curriculum for coaching education courses. It serves as a compilation of what U.S. Soccer considers to be an appropriate and responsible approach to developing soccer players.
 
At the core of "Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States" is the belief that there is not just "one way" to teach soccer to players, nor is there just one style of coaching. These player development guidelines highlight that there is a broad spectrum of styles and methods for how everyone experiences the game. Some of these factors come from a player's background, while some of them are a product of a player's own personality.
 
At the youth and junior levels, however, there is a set of fundamental principles that should be considered by anyone coaching soccer. The starting point of these principles is that young soccer players require a certain amount of uninterrupted play, which allows them to experience soccer first hand. These young players should be allowed the opportunity to experiment, and with that, succeed and fail. A coach's long-term goal is to prepare a player to successfully recognize and solve the challenges of a game on his or her own. It is vital that the coach approaches soccer with this in mind.
 
It was clear by the end of our meeting last Wednesday that the coaches and administrators in attendance agreed with the goals and objectives within the Best Practices document. We hope you will join us and do your part to fully implement these principles!
 

Sports Complex

Susan Boyd

My three year old granddaughter plays shy around everyone, but put on some Little Richard and the girl goes wild. She bobs, weaves, claps, hops, twists, and twirls. Every inhibition she showed moments before melts away in the pounding piano chords and wails of the music. The girl can't help herself. This need to move about and use our bodies begins prenatal. Every mother and father knows about the kicks and rustles of their child in the womb. Some swear babies react to music and activity before birth. Once released into the world, babies definitely love to flail their limbs about.

So sports are a natural outlet for children. Tumbling tops the charts for the really young, but several team sports are now available for children as young as three. Parents, fearing they might miss a window of opportunity for their budding athletes, rush to get them into as many sports as possible. Adding to the pressure to do it all are TV programs which highlight precocious youngsters who golf with pros at age five or play junior national tennis at eight. However, the majority of kids are playing sports for which they have no idea of the rules or even that games are governed by rules. Either they or their parents or both just like the activity.

Youth sports are a booming business increasing every year as more and more kids and parents clamor for a wide variety of options. Over 41 million kids are involved in youth sports with many of those playing multiple sports. Lacrosse has increased from 82,000 players in 2001 to 204,000 players in 2005.  USA Hockey has 350,000 members.  Little League has close to 2.2 million players. US Youth Soccer registers 3.2 million players a year and CNN reports that the total number of youth soccer players may be as high as 17 million! Add the kids participating in recreational sports such as skateboarding, skiing, and bicycling and the numbers explode.

There was a time when play meant "Go outside until dinner." This unstructured play allows kids room for imagination and for taking pride in their own undirected accomplishments. After building a deck onto our house we had a huge collection of odds and ends of wood, nails, chicken wire, brackets, and metal. We became the hardware store for the neighborhood.   Kids would come into our garage and pull out materials for building skateboard ramps, hideouts, and boxes to capture insects and frogs. Projects in various states of completion filled our courtyard and provided hours of intense involvement. Then there was the day we got a huge box with some delicate china pieces wrapped in literally miles of bubble wrap. The kids ended up laying the wrap out on the road and riding their bikes over it making the most amazing music out of snap, crackle, and pop. Those experiences have their place building memories and developing reasoning and discovery skills.

However more and more we are shifting to organized sports as parents feel the peer pressure to ride the youth sports wave. We fear our kids will miss out on popularity or being part of the group if they aren't in every conceivable sport available. We need to be careful not to transfer that pressure to our kids by over scheduling. Kids end up facing conflicting practices and games and the rush to do it all. The best lesson we can give our children is that of fully completing a commitment. Letting kids miss a practice for one sport so they can play in a game of another sport teaches them that they are above the team and their needs come first. That's the exact opposite of the principles kids should be learning from sports. And let's face it, most of our tiny athletes won't turn out to be sports celebrities, but we do want them to grow up to be honorable human beings. We need to be reinforcing the idea of teamwork, commitment, making choices, and respecting rules and leaders while giving kids the room to have down time.

Balancing multiple spots is possible if you use the seasons to subdivide and conquer. Kids can play soccer in the spring and football in the fall. Or do soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. It's our job to keep track of what conflicts exist and guide them to decide which sport they will choose for the season, but make it clear they can't do them all at once. Indulging them sends the wrong message and leads to huge headaches later when the conflicts can't be resolved. Sports for kids under 12 should be primarily for exercise, giving them a taste of possibilities, and for learning the life lessons that sports offer.

Most doctors and physical therapists will support keeping a variety of sports in a child's life for as long as possible. The argument is that specialization too early will result in repetition injuries and uneven body development during the growing years. While I agree with the physical reasons not to specialize, I really think the best argument is that kids need experiences to enrich their lives and lay a strong foundation for future decisions.  Every sport opens the door to new friends and new ideas. I'm a soccer junkie, and I wish all my grandkids would eventually select soccer as a sport they wish to continue into adolescence, but I'm also a realist.   Not every kid is an athlete and not every athlete has the same strengths and interests. Even multi-sport athletes, who are few and far between, have one sport in which they excel even if they have strong abilities in other sports. No child can discover what part of her body responds best athletically and how her body will grow until she's much older. Tennis has a different skill set and body type than football, so kids need to complete their development before being able to wisely select a personal sport. Until then, they should try out as many sports as scheduling and finances allow.

Parents need to also accept that sports may not be the arena where their child's talents shine. Not doing well at sports doesn't mean the child is a failure. Unfortunately we have a "jock" culture which places athletes on a more visible if not higher pedestal than those who achieve in the arts or the sciences. Not many kids want to wear an "Einstein" endorsed button-down shirt, while every third child sports a Bret Favre jersey. Yet we have to keep in mind that lack of public adulation doesn't diminish the accomplishments and contributions non-athletes make to our lives. There's an art culture out there and a math culture and any number of other cultures which our children can join. We would do well to challenge our players with those opportunities also.   Pick a season to do pottery classes or go to science camp. 

It all comes down to providing the widest possible range of experiences we can for our kids. Sports should be a portion of that range but not overtake it. In reality most kids will not pursue sports into high school and even fewer will continue beyond high school. But sports will provide the foundation for good health and strong bodies. Sports can offer an outlet for the rest of our lives. So we should give kids several options in their early years. We should temper it all with free time and other pursuits. We don't want to give any kid a complex from sports; instead we want to give them the intellectual and motivational skills to someday design and build a sports complex.