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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". 

 

That's My Team

Susan Boyd

With the World Series under way I find myself watching two teams playing that I had little interest in except that the Brewers played against the Phillies in the playoffs. Yet as the teams dwindled to these two, baseball fans found themselves developing a team alliance usually along Division lines AL vs. NL. We can't help but attach a team identity to our viewing.

The interesting thing about teams is that they are easily identifiable. Jerseys, team colors, mascots, and stadium names help us figure out which team someone is supporting. We even attribute certain traits to team fans: Packer fans are working class and love beer and cheese; Yankee fans are all De Niro wannabes; Laker fans epitomize "cool," wear sun glasses indoors, and one is actually De Niro. Dressing in team gear gives us an instant connection. We can be half-way around the world and someone wearing a Seahawks jersey becomes our new best friend.  We assume we speak the same language both literally and figuratively. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals who share our goals, our values, our triumphs, and our disappointments makes us comfortable.

This is exactly why we extend our inclination for team membership to the rest of our lives. Unfortunately it gets messier to identify whose team people are on without the simple parameters that sports teams provide. In high school there were classifications like the jocks, the geeks, the brains, the homecoming queens, and the loners.  However such narrow classifications didn't allow for the jock with a 3.8 grade point or the science geek who was also a homecoming queen. Outside of the ivy covered walls life gets even more complicated. We want stereotypes to be true because they allow for a simpler way to approach people and to compartmentalize our lives, but unfortunately people are defined by far too many attributes to pigeon-hole anyone.

When I was in graduate school I was in a study group for my linguistics class. The course was really rough and so we would often get very silly during study group just to keep our sanity. After the semester was nearly over some occasion arose where I mentioned my husband, the doctor. The room became silent. "You're a doctor's wife? But you don't act like a doctor's wife! You're funny." I was curious as to what a doctor's wife was supposed to be like and I was told that first off I shouldn't be in graduate school, I should be wearing designer clothes, I should belong to Junior League, and I should be haughty. Since my mother-in-law is also a doctor's wife and doesn't fit any of those criteria either I was surprised that people still thought that way about my doctor's wife sisterhood. Of course I have also seen a car with the license plate MRS MD which only helps perpetuate the stereotype.

Expectations about team affiliation in life can get ugly. People make assumptions based on factors such as race, religion, gender, social class, and geography. When those assumptions are wrong it's either embarrassing or confrontational.  And we've all made them. When I was directing the talent show at my daughter's high school I walked into study hall and asked for some strong boys to help me move some set pieces. Three girls jumped up and said, "What's wrong with strong girls?" OOOOH that hurt! I even wrote a biography of Betty Friedan. But I couldn't avoid my own stereotype of who belonged on the team of strong people.

We all know the uglier examples of stereotyping and the effects. What really spurred me to ruminate on this topic were Democratic Congressman John Murtha's comments that his district in Western Pennsylvania wouldn't vote for Obama because he was black. Apparently the Democratic Party team's agenda isn't as significant as the race team's agenda in Murtha's eyes. If I were a voter in his district I'd be pretty offended whether or not I was voting for Obama. Murtha had assumed that white, older, working class voters wouldn't be able to get past racial issues. If someone didn't vote for Obama that non-support was chalked up to race when in fact it could have been, gasp, on the issues. Expecting white voters not to support Obama is like expecting black voters to all vote for Obama or women voters to vote for McCain because his running mate is a woman. The teams of blacks, whites, women, and men are far too complex to be reduced to a single issue. Unlike the American League wanting to beat the National League, teams in life have multiple goals and cross affiliations.

So even when you're at an intense soccer game, remember that all the people wearing your team colors have lots of other teams they belong to in life. Just because they join with you in wanting to trounce the opposition on the pitch, it doesn't mean they feel the same way about the environment, politics, education, or any other issue in life. And don't assume anyone on the other side of the stands is your enemy. You may find out they belong to your team on lots of things. They just have the wrong jersey on.
 

Indoor Soccer

Sam Snow

Coach Snow,

In our community, we are having friendly debates/discussions on the pros and cons of playing indoor soccer and more specifically using the walls or not. This has been a topic for discussion in many of the areas I have been in my coaching career.  I was hoping you could help me out with this topic by locating a previously written article(s) about the topic or have one of the higher ups use this topic in one of their blogs.
 
Having US Youth make a statement or share their opinions helps out a lot. I visit the US Youth Soccer website daily to read up on articles of interest and curiosity and have added the links to your blog site on ours.

Thank you for all that you do!
 
Coach Jeff Ginn
-------------------------
 
Hi Jeff,
 
This seems like a healthy debate for a club to have.  The general consensus of the state Technical Directors is that for development purposes the futsal version is preferred over the indoor soccer version played inside a hockey rink using the walls.  Yet if no other soccer playing option is available in some climates during inclement weather then indoor soccer using the walls is better than not being able to play at all, perhaps for several months in some locales. 
Below is the section on indoor soccer from the Player Development Model being written by US Youth Soccer.  The full document will be made public at the 2009 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop in San Jose next March.  The portion reprinted below is from the first draft, so revisions may or may not be made.

One of the beauties of soccer is that the game can be played anywhere the ball can roll.  Indeed playing in a variety of conditions helps to develop more well-rounded players.  So a mix of outdoor and indoor soccer along with some variety in the type of playing surface, size of the field and type of ball used will have a positive impact on ball skills and clever play.
 
Soccer on the beach is not only great fun but certainly impacts the players' skills and physical fitness.  Players are more likely here to experiment with more acrobatic skills too.
 
At times the weather conditions dictate that soccer go indoors for some time.  Coaches must take this fact into consideration in the curriculum for player development for the club.  You could play indoor soccer inside a hockey rink type playing area using the boards or Futsal.  Some indoor facilities are large enough that fields are set up and may allow even up to 11-a-side matches.  All of these options keep players active in the game.  The same basic skills, tactics and knowledge of the game as the 11 vs. 11 outdoor game occur indoors.  Yet Futsal may offer the best compliment to player development.  One of the benefits of this version of soccer is that it can be played indoors or outside, on a dedicated Futsal court or tennis court or basketball court, so the options of where to play are better.  Young players exposed to playing Futsal show a greater comfort on the ball along with more intelligent movement off the ball.
 
The priority in Futsal is to motivate players in an environment that is conducive to learning.  The more pleasure kids derive from their participation, the more they wish to play and practice on their own.  While their instinct to play is natural, their affection and appreciation for soccer must be cultivated in a soccer rich environment.  Futsal is the foundation to such goals because it: [i]
Allows players to frequently touch the one "toy" on the field, namely, the ball.  In a statistical study comparing Futsal to indoor arena soccer with walls, players touch the ball 210% more often.
Presents many opportunities to score goals and score goals often.  With limited space, an out of bounds and constant opponent pressure, improved ball skills are required.
Encourages regaining possession of the ball as a productive, fun and rewarding part of the game {defending}.
Maximizes active participation and minimizes inactivity and boredom.  Action is continuous so players are forced to keep on playing instead of stopping and watching.
Provides a well organized playing environment with improvised fields.  Without a wall as a crutch, players must make supporting runs when their teammates have the ball.
Reflects the appropriate role of the coach as a Facilitator.  With all the basic options of the outdoor game in non-stop action mode, players' understanding of the game is enhanced.
Players enjoy the challenge of playing a fast-paced-fun-skill-oriented game that tests their abilities.  Allows the game to be the teacher!
 
 


[i] United States Futsal Federation
 

Advice to a fellow coach

Sam Snow

Hi Sam,
I have a question about formations, especially the back players.  I coach recreation Under-12 girls and we play 11 vs. 11.  All of the other teams have their four back players stand at the 25 yard line and wait for the ball to come to them.  I encourage my back players to get involved and get forward as much as the game will allow.  We have lost every game so far and our parents are requesting that we do the same because we're not winning.  Is this the way youth recreational soccer is supposed to be? Most of the girls on my team played for a different coach last year and she instructed her backs to stay 25 yards in front of the goal.
 
What do I do?  Please advise.
 
Thank you,
Jack
---------
 
Hello Jack,
 
Please do resist the urgings of the parents and instead educate them on why your approach is the correct one.  In the National Coaching Schools, one of the tactical concepts we teach is called compactness.  Essentially this means a team should move up field as a unit on the attack and move back into their half of the field to defend.  We expect everyone on the team to be involved in the attack and everyone on the team to be involved in defending.  Even with the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program we look for players who have the versatility to be involved on 'both sides of the ball' as the saying goes.  So we look for talented well-rounded players who can both defend and attack.
 
The approach of telling fullbacks to not move forward beyond a 25 yard mark is inhibiting those players from learning how to play the game. 
 
Coaches take this action for a variety of reasons.  Among those reasons are a lack of understanding of the tactics of soccer or a fear of failure.  Soccer, like basketball, is a game where the team moves together around the playing area.  Imagine a basketball team where some players are told to never cross the halfway line for the fear of the opponents scoring; that indeed would be a poorly played game of basketball.
 
What's most important in your situation is to teach the players about positioning.  The idea here is the distance and angles that teammates take between each other during the match.  Those distances and angles constantly change as the ball and players move around the field.  It requires anticipation and game sense from the players.  When children as young as 12-years-old are learning the sport of soccer they will make mistakes in regard to positioning.  This is simply the learning process in action.  However those mistakes may mean lost scoring opportunities in front of the opponents' goal and giving away scoring opportunities to the other team in front of your goal.  This creates fear among the coaches and supporters who often value the score line more than a well played game.  This is the fear of failure component I mentioned earlier.  Regularly the adults involved in youth sports fear losing more than the players do.  Yet winning, losing and tying are part of learning how to play the game.
 
So your challenge now is to balance short-term and long-term objectives.  For the short-term work on the team learning to respond quickly when the ball is lost to the opponents to sprint back into good defensive positions - and here I mean the entire team.  For the long-term objective work on the concept of positioning, which in the end is more important than learning positions.
 
Do not hesitate to let us know if the US Youth Soccer Technical Department can be of further assistance.
 
Keep Kicking,
Sam
 

What We Love to Hate

Susan Boyd

I was watching the World Cup qualifying match between England and Kazakhstan at Wembley Stadium when something flashed along the advertising board on the sidelines: "7,000 referees quit every season."  I'm assuming that this was in Great Britain or perhaps even just in England proper. Either way, it is a disturbing statistic. Every referee that quits has to be replaced by a new referee who won't be as experienced as the referee he or she took the place of. Replacing 7,000 referees seems almost impossible. Each person has to be trained, tested, apprenticed, and certified before taking on games.   And even then, the instincts that time and experience can hone won't have developed yet. Bad refereeing frustrates coaches, players, and fans, but novice refs can't hope to be excellent referees immediately.

When families are just learning about soccer and have only watched their own children's games, they may not have the expertise and context in which to judge the competency of referees. But naturally that doesn't stop sideline second guessing. Add to the mix that referees of youth games are usually the youngest and least experienced refs, and you end up with a volatile mix for sideline conflict. At one of Bryce's Under-10 games, the referee made a player do her throw in three times, declaring that each time the player had lifted her back foot. On the fourth attempt the girl planted both her feet firmly on the ground, threw the ball, and another whistle blew. Several parents exclaimed, "Not again!" at which point the referee turned and threw out most of the parents within listening range. This was a young ref who was trying to operate completely within the rules. It was a bitter cold day, but she made the players take off their warm-up pants and put on their shorts because the rule book didn't allow for warm-ups. She didn't yet have the experience to be comfortable with some common sense adjustment of the rules and the parents only saw her as the enemy.

I've often wondered what happened to that referee. Her dedication to the rules and decorum of the game were commendable if not misplaced. But she needed to learn how to adapt to the situations that weather, parents, fields, and equipment create. With time and mentoring she would have probably made a good referee, but I'm not sure she could survive her various trials by fire. If she didn't, she quit, and then she had to be replaced by another younger, untrained referee. Inexperienced referees with inexperienced fans makes for an unpleasant situation, which taxes everyone. But it's the only way everyone learns.   

Two weekends ago Robbie played in a tournament outside St. Louis which featured some of the top high schools in the country. The competitive level rivaled some of the club teams Robbie has faced, which makes sense since many of the players came from top club teams in the nation. The sponsors understood their responsibility to provide good refs knowing that coaches, players, and fans had the experience to recognize the difference between good refereeing and mediocre. Nevertheless, some of the refereeing was excellent – fair, appropriate, and by the book and some was actually terrible – rookie mistakes, unbalanced application of fouls, and laziness. All of which I think speaks to the difficulty in locating sufficient referees having both experience and excellence. At the adult level, with expectations so high and the importance of winning even higher, coaches, fans, and players won't tolerate faulty refs. This results in even bolder attacks.

I have personally witnessed three physical attacks on referees and we hear of them on the news. Then there are the bottles, stones, spittle, and verbal harangues which referees have to endure during upper level games. So it is not surprising that after years of experience referees say to everyone, "Be careful what you wish for" and quit. If they aren't berated out of the sport, they may be unable to keep up. The most experienced referees are usually the oldest, and some of these aren't fit enough to keep up with the action. It's difficult to call offside when you are twenty yards behind the play.   Once the fitness goes, their ability to be excellent referees diminishes. So they may quit or they may be asked to quit. Once again the system suffers the loss of experience that has to be replaced by a new referee.

It's difficult to expect anyone to continue in a job where he or she receives constant abuse. Yet we have all been to games that were played with only one or two referees because there weren't enough available referees. We have also been to games where referees never showed up, which is also not surprising. Given the option of snowboarding with friends and earning less than $20 while being criticized, a teenager might well select the former over the latter. This situation has led to more and more games for the youngest ages being played without benefit of referees. That's sad on two counts. First it means that games don't have the proper neutral supervision leaving coaches and parents to work out conflicts. Second it means that the first step in becoming an experienced referee has been eliminated, moving new refs into higher level games with more at stake for everyone.

I agree that bad refereeing can ruin a game, although I am of the belief that no loss can be totally blamed on the officiating. I also know that if teams were left to compete without benefit of refereeing, even bad refereeing, there would be chaos. Based on the variety of interpretations on things as simple as out of bound balls, I can't imagine most infractions would be resolved quickly and amicably without a referee. In effect, referees are the people we love to hate, and no matter their qualifications we call their decisions into question whenever they go against our team. So I guess what I am asking is for each of us to try and limit our criticism of the referees during games to just one or two well justified cat-calls. We need to trust our coaches and the captains of our soccer teams to handle what they feel are the most egregious mistakes of referees and settle for grumbling amongst ourselves on the sidelines. Otherwise we'll be adding scores of zeros to that 7,000 number and running out of replacements. The rest of the banner at Wembley Stadium read: "No respect, no referee, no game." No one wants that to come true.