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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". 

 

The Good, The Bad and The Foul

Susan Boyd

A recent movie release, "Mr. Woodcock" starring Billy Bob Thornton told the story of a boy's elementary school coach returning years later to woo and marry the now grown student's mother. Woodcock was a coach from you know where and the beleaguered student experienced every stereotypical horror from the dreaded rope climb to dodge ball. Now he gets to relive the misery. While the movie wasn't a masterpiece it did illustrate the affect a coach can have on the development and psyche of a player. 

Coaches can be volunteers, part-time professionals, or full-time professionals. Most players are taught first by volunteer coaches who can range in knowledge from learning that soccer balls are round to former professional players helping out with their kids. It used to be that volunteer coaches were a largely unsupervised cadre of men and women which resulted in the early years of soccer being hit or miss on the development level. Now coaches are asked to get a coaching license, which certainly helps increase both the quality and the consistency of youth soccer.

Parents should make sure their child's coach is licensed. The main purpose of licensing for volunteer beginner coaches and an important purpose for veteran coaches is to insure that they go through a background check. No coach can be licensed without the check and more and more soccer organizations are requiring that all coaches be licensed.

The second purpose of licensing for all coaches is to insure some consistency in how kids are coached. Every year changes in the structure of the game at the youth level crop up, so licensing helps coaches stay current with rules and requirements. Under-8 soccer for most states has moved to 4 v 4, with Under-10, Under-11, and Under-12 soccer seeing similar changes in the number of players on the field. In addition, field, goal and ball size are dictated by the new organization of the age groups. Coaches need to be sure that they are coaching both for and to the right level. A seven-year-old player is lucky if she can manage a dribble cross field. Learning complicated step-overs wouldn't be appropriate.

Coaches need to understand their role as teachers. Therefore, coaches should be free with the praise and minimal with the criticism especially at the younger ages. They also need to understand age appropriateness. Walking across a field once I heard a coach screaming four letter expletives at his team. I looked over to see a group of six or seven year old boys, wide-eyed and near tears. In many clubs, coaches will be called upon to cover teams from Under-8 up to Under-17, so they need to be sure to adjust their coaching methods to the age.

Parents should ask to see a coach's pass to reassure themselves that a background check has been done. The pass should indicate the expiration date of the pass and the license level the coach has achieved. Coaches can be licensed as G, E, D, C, B, or A with a national level possible for D – A. Most volunteer coaches will have a G or an E license. E licensed coaches usually selected that level because they wanted to coach older as well as younger players and want to move up the licensing ladder. G coaching clinics are held regularly in most states and can be located on the state's Youth Soccer Association website.  Parents should expect their child's coach to be licensed and for their child's soccer organization or club to require licensing.

Parents should definitely attend practices, also. Clubs need to remember that they are providing a service for which they are paid. Parents have the right to be sure that they are getting their money's worth. On the same page, parents shouldn't interfere with practices. That includes forcing their child to practice when he or she doesn't want to.   Sometimes it's just too much and kids need to slide into the experience slowly—my youngest son was that way. All he really wanted to do was talk to his friends and watch the ball get kicked around. It took him about three weeks to finally decide to fully participate. Now I can't get him off the field! No coach should have to deal with any player who doesn't want to be there. So have some mercy on both the child and the coach. Watch the practices to see if the coaching style fits your child, if the coach works well with all levels of players on the field (does she ignore the weaker players in favor of coaching the stronger ones?), and if the team respects the coach.

If a coach seems to be out of hand – yelling, swearing, driving the kids, belittling them – parents absolutely have the right and even the responsibility to approach someone from the administrative staff about that coach. A difficulty arises at the older ages when kids have to try out for a team. Parents are uneasy about "rattling the cage" when it comes to a coach. And I have seen vindictiveness played out for parents who dared to question a coach's demeanor. I think it is important to separate out coaching knowledge from coaching behavior.

I don't think most parents are in a position to question a coach's decision about playing time, position, formation, practice drills, and the like. However, I do think that parents have the right to question how a coach behaves on the field and in practice, just as parents have that right with teachers or health professionals. If behavior becomes abusive or coarse, then administrators need to refrain from a defensive posture and listen. Standards of behavior should be required and maintained by soccer organizations. Nevertheless it is a difficult subject since many clubs basically pull the wagons in a circle around the coach and don't address his or her behavior. Instead they attack the parent or player for questioning the coach's demeanor.

Finding the right coach and the right team for a child takes some effort. The right team may not be the one that all of his or her friends are on. It's hard to resist the popularity or the car-pool convenience factor of a team, but if a child isn't happy, it won't matter how popular or convenient a team turns out to be. Don't be afraid to visit some soccer teams in your area to observe prior to placing your child on a team. Parents do the same for school, so it makes sense to do it for after-school as well. Don't be afraid to talk to the coaches and to other parents to see what philosophies, demands and expectations exist. Do they all mesh with yours?

In end, if you make a selection and it isn't working, there's nothing wrong with fulfilling the season commitment and then moving on. It's a rare soccer team that retains more than 30 percent of the players throughout the lifetime of the team. Few players will move on to high school and college playing. Therefore, the years in youth soccer should be above all, fun and filled with happy memories.  Parents shouldn't let the seduction of higher level soccer convince them to leave their child on a team where the coach is abusive and the atmosphere is miserable. If you can't change it, then move on to a place where people smile and say "good job."
 

International Travel

Sam Snow

Elite players in soccer have an opportunity that participants in other sports do not have to the same extent, travel. Given the truly global nature of soccer with 202 countries as members of FIFA an American soccer team could literally go anywhere in the world and have a match. Players and staff must be flexible and adaptable to both on the field situations and away from the pitch. Some young elite players have their international careers derailed by their inability to manage the off the field aspects of foreign travel. Here are a few of the adjustments the 1994 and 1993 boys' teams in the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program had to make while competing in Italy last week.

Using locker rooms and showers at the match venue was a new experience for many of the kids. Very few, if any, youth soccer complexes in the USA have locker rooms or showers. Our youth soccer players are in the habit of changing into their game uniform at home or the hotel, then ride back dirty after the match. Using the locker room and changing, as well as showering, in front of teammates were new experiences for all of these players. While it took some prodding and they were reluctant they did adapt to this new aspect of European soccer customs. Good preparation perhaps for high school, college and professional soccer where locker rooms are the norm.

They also learned that at game time, the subs put on training bibs and go to the bench first. The starting eleven line up, first the captain then the goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and forwards, with the other team and march to center field to line up on either side of the officials to then wave to the crowd and be acknowledged. From here they go directly to their positions on the field to kick-off the match. They do not return to the bench, so this means that warm-ups or water bottles or other personal items must be taken to the bench by the reserve players and staff. This also means that the coaches must have their act together and get across to the players everything they need to in the locker room before exiting for the pitch.

The players also had to adjust to a Mediterranean diet and being 14-years-old this was a major adjustment for some. A few of the kids were unable to adapt and their intake of a balanced diet suffered. This of course caught up with them on the field for the energy to play at a high pace for a full match. Begging for french fries was an indicator to the staff that the players need more guidance on an athlete's diet back home. They did adapt to the time zone and a change in their sleep routine. This was merely adjusting to a five hour change in time zones which they did after the first two days.

A great aspect of foreign travel for our soccer players is the chance to experience a different culture; to broaden their horizons both in soccer and life experiences. Of course a piece of that experience is languages other than English. Players and staff should learn some of the language for the country they will visit before going. One interesting aspect of the language experience is not speaking the same language as the referee. Of course tone of voice and body language still come across if you are cutting loose on the referee. It may seem a small thing but not the being able to understand the language of the referee means the players really do need to understand the universal signals used by referees for the calls made during a match. This is another consideration for the coaches of elite players to teach to their teams.

Well, these are just a few examples of the versatility needed by select players and their staff. However, there are more to consider such as, altitude, weather and field conditions. The point for coaches here is to know that you must teach the players proper off the field habits that will impact their match performance. The more versatile the players and staff the more positive will be the experience of international soccer travel.
 

Neither Rain nor Snow

Susan Boyd

With spring soccer season sloshing its way into our lives, I got to thinking how I survive the mud, the rain, the snow, the cold and the puddles. Since, every soccer season offers its own obstacle course of weather and locations, I thought it might be a good time to recap some of the survival techniques I have gleaned from other wiser and more experienced soccer parents. I can lay claim to a few of these suggestions, but in truth I owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who have journeyed before me and made my own trek much easier.

I throw my soccer kit into my trunk as soon as my momnesiac mind (see previous blog) can remember to do so. In the kit (actually a box) I store the following: towels, folding umbrellas, gallon size zip-lock bags, four or more 33 gallon garbage bags, NASA blankets, gloves, stocking caps, extra socks, extra underwear, old pair of shin guards, old pair of cleats, Dry-Guy, paper towel roll, toilet paper roll, safety pins, bottled water, small broom, Wet-Ones and first aid kit. The NASA blankets you can get at most sporting goods stores. These are the tin foil looking thin sheets that are actually very warm and great protection for the team shivering on the bench. They fold up into a tiny package, so are easily transportable. Whenever I see those stretchy one size fits all knit gloves and hats on sale I buy a dozen, usually at Walgreen's or CVS. They disappear fast and are godsends on those days when the wind is really whipping around. The Dry-Guy I mentioned in an earlier blog. It's a machine that looks like an upside down table with a protrusion for the motor. The four "legs" are actually tubes through which warm air blows. It can dry out a pair of cleats or socks or goalie gloves in a matter of hours, so it's really useful for tournaments when you don't have much time between games. The toilet paper has come in so useful over the years for those port-a-johns that are missing a roll and for those au naturelle visits you sometimes have to make on isolated fields. I put the garbage bags down on the floor of the car and they really work to collect the mud, water and yuck that soccer cleats bring into your vehicle. You can then carefully remove them and shake them out and reuse them. The broom is for those games in the snow – you can use the broom to brush off the lines on the field and later the snow off the shoes.

In the summer I just add sunscreen and more water to the kit. While we can hope that mud and rain are well behind us, the occasional thunderstorm can create the same soupy conditions that long-term spring showers produce. On really hot days you might want to bring along a cooler filled with ice water in which you put several dozen hand towels. Placing these soaked towels on the back of a neck can really help reduce temperature and are great for players to use during a game. Most big box department stores will have packs of towels you can buy for under $10 a dozen, especially in August when kids are college bound. It's an easy quick fix for a really muggy day. Kids usually don't want to put on sunscreen but if you can catch them and rub some on the high risk areas it will help minimize pain later in the day: tops of ears, necks, faces, back of legs and if they have those buzz cuts, top of the head or even the part for a pair of braids.

I learned a really great tip when I travel to tournaments. Because I invariably have a fistful of papers confirming hotels, rental cars, airline itineraries, and soccer schedules it's difficult to keep them all sorted out. I read about this trick in a travel magazine and I thought "genius!" Print each one on a different color of paper. That way when you look in your bag or purse or notebook you can identify the one you want to see right away. Sometimes I have to get a bit creative on colors if I have maps to several different fields and the hotel in addition to everything else, but it certainly is so much easier to just pull out the sheet I want instantly. I also am a huge fan of www.maps.google.com because you can click and drag the map to position it exactly how you want to print it out. They have a service called "My Maps" that you register for, but it's free. You can design the map anyway you want with great logos including a soccer player to mark your destinations. They have different fonts, lines for routes in different colors which you can label, and as you place the lines it tells you distance and time of travel. You also can print it with both roads and satellite photo or a new feature called "terrain." This may sound silly, but I can't tell you how often seeing a landmark has helped us locate the turn we want to make. I know many people are Buck Rogers in the 24th century with their navigation systems, but for those of us mired in the 21st century, the Google maps work really well.

If kids are traveling overseas be sure to make a copy of the main page of their passports and keep in a safe place at home. That way if the passport is lost or stolen, you can fax the copy to the American Embassy or Consulate and it really speeds up the replacement of the document. If you are lucky enough to tag along, then leave the copies with a friend or relative. We also learned the hard way that for our kids under 18 it helps to have a copy of their birth certificate when traveling within the U.S. by plane. Robbie's name has been placed on the no-fly list which we didn't find out until returning to Milwaukee from Tampa one hurried evening. Luckily I had a copy of his birth certificate with me left over from getting him his driver's permit and that helped get him on the plane.   It didn't matter that the Robert Boyd they were looking for was in his mid-forties and Caucasian, while our Robbie is 17 and African-American. Seeing was not believing. They wanted proof of where he was born and when! We have heard of other parents traveling with their minor children who still had to show some proof that their kids weren't eighteen hence the value of a birth certificate. Finally bring your insurance card and be sure your kids have a copy with them if they are traveling without you. If you have your SSN on the card, black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Wisely, most insurance companies are now going to group and participant numbers that have nothing to do with SSN. Besides proof of insurance, hospitals need the telephone number of the insurance company so they can get charges authorized before treatment, so check that the number is on the card and copy.

I also have learned to keep the following in my car: jumper cables, kitty litter, a folding shovel, an up-to-date atlas, puzzle book or magazine with pencil, a deodorant spray like Febreeze, Lysol or Oust and folding chairs. The boys will add things like PS2, DVD, PSP, MP3 and whatever other alphabet products are necessary for a road trip. To that end I have added a six outlet power cord and an outlet transformer plugs into the lighter. It was nearly a panic to rival Wall Street's Black Thursday when the power cord went missing one trip! Those of you who live in the south may not think you need the kitty litter, but if you get some freezing rain or black ice, it sure comes in handy.  The puzzle book has saved my sanity during several long bouts of rain delays. The spray I believe is self-explanatory!

Lastly, when we are traveling to another city for a tournament I do a bit of internet browsing to discover "time busters" near the hotel or the fields. I check out shopping malls, movie theaters, bowling alleys, parks and attractions. I put them on a sheet with phone numbers and operating hours. Sometimes nobody wants to go out at all, so I make sure to jot down the numbers of food places that deliver. Sure they have a phone book in the hotel, but if you don't know the area, it doesn't always help identify places close enough to be reasonable. Actually this is where Google maps come in again. When I locate an address, I can also locate specific restaurants by either name or type, and attractions in the vicinity. Google provides the address, phone numbers, and occasionally the operating hours as well as links to a business website when available. So it makes it quick and easy to do.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you have an enjoyable and organized soccer season. I'm sure lots of you have other tips to add, so put them in the comments section. That way, I'll continue to look even more organized and wise than I really am.
 

Reel Time

Susan Boyd

Outside of my family and soccer, my greatest passion is film. I love movies, especially old movies. I find myself drawn to certain films time and time again. Although so familiar that I can recite lines of dialogue, I still enjoy letting these movies wash over me once more. People may wonder why I would "waste" time on an experience I have already had. I'm not completely sure why, but I think I understand it in some ways.

Strong visual medium, such as art, books, and film, strives to offer the viewer enough complexity that no one can take it all in with one viewing. Studying the "Last Supper" multiple times means art historians continue to make stunning observations about what Da Vinci intended and what mysteries exist in the fresco. Readers can still glean new insights and interpretations from Moby Dick or King Lear. In addition visual medium depends upon the experience the viewer brings to the event. I am certain that seeing "An Unmarried Woman" while happily married and then again in the throes of a divorce will alter perceptions of the film. Great art is vibrant and alive allowing not only for the possibility of a new outlook but a new outcome as well.

I know that on that wet and foggy tarmac in Casablanca Rick will convince Ilsa to leave with Victor using the unforgettable dialogue ". . . maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life . . ." but I am nonetheless caught up in the moment because the promise still exists that she may not leave. Rhett tells Scarlett, ""Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. . ." yet before the door closes I can hope Scarlett will explain and all the ridiculous mix-ups preceding it will sort themselves out. In the "Godfather" there is that moment of tension before Michael Corleone shoots the police chief in cold blood that I'm not sure he can do it or that he can survive doing it, despite the fact that the scene has played out on my TV screen a dozen times previously.

When the character Tom Baxter walks out of "The Purple Rose of Cairo" into the movie house to meet Cecilia, Woody Allen showed how the promise of something different draws people into movies. Cecilia watches the film repeatedly until finally at one viewing Tom Baxter turns away from the prescribed action and says to her from the screen, "You really must like this movie." It would never happen, but it is exactly the reason I watch films again. It's comforting to see the same moments played out again and again, but it is also delectable to think this time it might be different.

So what does my movie viewing have to do with soccer? I think I bring the same optimism and openness for whatever may happen when I come watch soccer games. I try not to set myself up for any expectations or disappointments and instead just let the game play out. I wasn't always that way. I did try to "write a script" for every game, and like a director whose actors have refused to follow her scenario, I would go crazy. I'm not sure why I thought I could control the outcome of a game by my tantrums and taunts any more than shouting at the screen "You idiot. . .don't leave with Victor" would change Ilsa's mind. It took me a long time to realize that the destiny of the game was to a certain extent already written at least in the sense that no one person could change the outcome. I know that in Europe and South America the crowd believes they can turn the tide – and perhaps screaming in the 10s of thousands they can – but I have never attended a youth game with more than 100 fans on the sidelines, so we are a weak tribe against the fates!  

I do make a huge investment when I watch my movies. I make sure the house is quiet, the shades are drawn, the dogs are walked, there is a full glass of water or ice tea beside me and a good blanket to curl up in. I hang on every word, cry at even the puniest of emotional moments, and feel myself gripping the arms of my chair as tensions rise. I know the tiny high school team will win in "Hoosiers" but I still hang on every shot, every foul and every disappointment because they might lose this time.

It's that way when I go to a soccer game. I make sure I have my chair set just right, a bottled water next to me, an umbrella or blanket nearby if needed and my "hope springs eternal" tube of sunscreen. I have seen this game many times, yet I have no idea what the outcome will be, and that creates delicious opportunities for amazement or frustration or tension or joy. All the things I feel when I see a good movie. The big distinction is that the game will be different each time. I can count on it. All I have to do is sit back and enjoy. That's worth the price of admission.