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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Playing Like a Girl

Susan Boyd

Last week, Abby Wambach announced her retirement from soccer. She will play her last game with the U.S. Women’s National Team against China on Dec. 16 in New Orleans. The match culminates the USWNT’s World Cup victory tour. Abby, who is 35, was considering staying with the team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janerio, but her announcement means that her wicked headers won’t be available as the USWNT pursues gold. Her leadership will be missed along with her skill. Her impact on soccer in general and women’s soccer in particular is both far-reaching and significant. Though she won’t be actively playing, she’ll continue to influence the sport for many years to come.

I began playing sports in the 1960s when there were few options for girls and even fewer role models. In elementary school as an early developer I was taller than all the boys. Therefore I was the designated center fielder for our recess baseball games because I was the only one who could heave the ball far enough from the outfield to hit a baseman’s glove. However, I never got credit for my skills because I was “just a girl.”  In my high school, girls had the choice of three sports: tennis, gymnastics and volleyball. We didn’t even get to run track, but we were encouraged to be cheerleaders. When my daughters entered high school, they had far more options. Deana trained at a performing arts high school in dance and Shane joined the swim team. Many of their friends played soccer, ran track and played softball. Nevertheless, boys’ sports still generated the majority of fans, priority use of the facilities, and a much more revered status in the social hierarchy. Still, there were several seminal changes in the 80’s and 90’s as athletic women took on a more visible and important position in sport coverage. There had been Babe Didrikson, Althea Gibson, and of course Billy Jean King, but when women’s soccer exploded onto the American sports scene, people sat up and took notice that women were succeeding on the international stage, and they were exciting. In 1991, the USWNT won the first Women’s World Cup and then appeared in the finals three more times, winning in 1999 and 2015 and losing in the final match to Japan in 2011. This tremendous success has created dozens of female sports role models from Mia Hamm to Michelle Akers to Christine Rampone (who was 40 years old in the 2015 WWC) to Abby Wambach.

Amazingly, Abby has 184 goals so far, with a .730 scoring average per game, more goals than any other international player, male or female. She has two Olympic gold medals and appeared in four WWC. Her fierce play and height as a forward made her a go-to person to crank a header into the goal, most famously in 2011 in a last second goal to tie Brazil in overtime in the WWC quarterfinals. The U.S. went on to play Japan in the finals, ultimately losing. She has been the point woman with the press, a strong advocate for the value of female athletes, and a determined teammate. Some may question her retirement just before the 2016 Olympics, but she obviously felt that going out with a WWC victory would be the right decision. She will continue to influence the sport, the young fans just embracing the game, and the overall growth of and respect for all women athletes. As President Obama said when he hosted the USWNT at the White House: “This team taught all of America’s children that playing like a girl means you’re a badass.” Precisely.

All these years, girls have had to endure hearing the phrases: “You play like a girl,” “You screech like a girl,” and “You act like a girl,” which are meant to demean boys, but backhandedly also demean the girls. Everyone should want to play, screech, and act like a girl because girls are awesome. Coaches need to learn not to express frustration with play by reverting to the old stereotypes of weak girls who are scared of the ball and worried about breaking a nail. I broke every one of my fingers at least once playing hardball and volleyball. Nails were the least of my worries. Female athletes train as hard or harder as their male counterparts, suffer injuries and play through them, possess drive and ambition, and push the limits of their skills and endurance just as much as any male athlete. What girls have now is tremendous validation through the success of women’s soccer, the growing status of professional women’s basketball, the increased visibility and TV ratings of women’s tennis — through stars like Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Anna Sharapova, and the Williams sisters — and a strong media emphasis on all women sports rather than just the stand-by gymnastics and figure skating.

The proliferation of sports channels has opened the door for televising more women-centered sports. I have the Pac-12 Network in our cable package, which regularly shows all the women’s soccer games in the league. Women have gained a literal seat at the sports table by being commentators, reporters and producers. It’s not unusual to see women offering analysis on all sports, not just women’s sports. All the major networks and ESPN employ women in roles traditionally held in the past by men in broadcasting, and some women have risen to be the primary reporters in their field. Girls can now have as role models not just the athletes on the field, but also the pundits talking before, during, and after games. I still remember all the arguments against having female reporters for NFL games — we can’t allow women in the locker rooms after games, women haven’t played the game so can’t understand it, and women aren’t relatable to the male viewer. All of those caveats were eventually cast aside as women earned their place in the booth (and the locker room).

Abby wasn’t the first to highlight the power and ability of women athletes, and she certainly won’t be the last, but she did make a huge impact in promoting both soccer and women in sports. Many high school and college women soccer players owe a huge debt of gratitude to the pioneers on the USWNT who kept playing even when they had little money, little fan support and little media coverage. By persisting in their sport, succeeding on an international level, and bringing prestige to the United States, they earned their status as top athletes regardless of gender distinction. For a long time, the argument was made that women can’t compete with and against men since they are smaller, less muscular and aren’t raised to be aggressive. Despite this opinion, women, who continue to develop as athletes in their own sports, have branched out to compete against men as jockeys, curlers, archers, golfers, equestrians, kick boxers, and in mixed doubles tennis. Women are carving out a strong position in boxing, basketball, lacrosse and soccer, all sports that could easily become co-gender without losing any intensity or team skill. Girls no longer have to accept traditional women’s sports as their only opportunities. In some schools girls are playing football with the boys. Likewise, women are being certified as officials for sports that have been males-only like baseball umpires and football referees. Significantly women have crossed over as officials for men’s soccer games for at least two decades.

I hesitate to say that a woman will never have the physical power to generate a 60 home run season or be a triple double basketball champion because I’ve seen women athletes evolve tremendously over my lifetime. Once the opportunities opened up and girls began to get the same training as their male counterparts, the differences in skills narrowed rapidly. As trainers learn more about and focus on the needs of young female athletes we’ll see fewer and fewer of the injuries that have plagued them and held them back. Rather than accepting different gender traits as exclusionary coaches should be embracing them. For example, as girls have more opportunities to play sports with the boys, they will gain from exposure to the boys’ aggressiveness and boys will gain from exposure to the girls’ ability to bond. Playing like a girl should be worn as a badge of honor no matter who’s called out.

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A Peek Inside a National Youth Coaching Course

Sam Snow

A Peek Inside A National Youth Coaching Course

The National Youth Coaching Course is designed to provide club directors of coaching, youth coaches, physical education teachers, and soccer administrators with the knowledge to successfully structure soccer environments for children aged 4-12.

The role of the coach as a facilitator is explored; the physical, mental and emotional needs and capabilities of players from 4-12 are explored; the lessons from developmental psychology are explored; and the art of teaching is explored. Candidates are videotaped for analysis during live training sessions. Take a look below into what goes on at a National Youth Coaching Course and then see if one is taking place in your area.

Figure 1: Coaches and instructors come together each day for presentations on the characteristics of children and the methods to effectively coach them


Figure 2: A lecture opens each day of the course to provide information on effective coaching for young soccer players


Figure 3: Candidates have study groups to discuss the course material, work on a group project and prepare session plans for each day


Figure 4: Candidates get to practice coach with children throughout the course


Figure 5: Each practice coaching session is videotaped for review by the study group


Figure 6: The videos are critiqued by the study group and an instructor


Figure 7: Instructors then consult one another on how to help each candidate improve their coaching


Figure 8: Direct guidance by the instructors is given to guide each course candidate toward successful coaching


Figure 9: Each day the course candidates are given essential information and guidance by the lead instructor


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Old Friends

Susan Boyd

Over the course of years of playing soccer, Robbie and Bryce have been members of several teams. Each change brings a sudden break in the friendships they developed. For parents, it means we lose our comrades on the sidelines — other parents with whom we shared a love of soccer and an enthusiasm for the team. While the boys often maintained their ties to former teammates through social media, that’s generally less true for the parents. We tend to have more tenuous connections since we get scattered with multiple kids’ teams, work relationships, school parents, and our other social acquaintances that don’t involve the internet. Some of us go on Facebook, but even that requires a ridiculous amount of time to sustain. So, in general, when our kids leave one team for another, we lose contact with the parents from that team.

Last week we had returned to Milwaukee after visiting family on the West Coast just in time to rush off the plane, head north, and catch the second half of Robbie’s match. Since he was competing against a team from our hometown, I knew there would be a number of Robbie’s old teammates. I looked forward to seeing them all grown up — all that advanced facial hair compared to the baby-faced 14-year-olds I had known. The bonus turned out to be reconnecting with the parents, many of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade.

One competitor’s mom had four kids in our club and so we’d had a lot of contact over a number of years. Robbie actually never played with any of her children since it was a daughter who was Robbie’s age. But the advantage of adult recreational soccer is that the team isn’t tied to a single year, so her younger son was playing on the opposing team. In my great hurry to focus on the game I didn’t notice her, and she didn’t identify me because I’ve lost a great deal of weight since I last saw her, but luckily I had to take a phone call, so she caught my voice which is apparently readily recognizable. It was special to give her a hug, and then, in that shorthand mothers develop, catch up on one another’s lives during a slow walk down the pitch after the game. I love how easily, even after a separation, we fell back into a comfortable cadence and familiarity that a shared love of the sport and our children brings. It reminds me once again about the many intangibles of my kids playing youth soccer.

It’s definitely difficult when a change of team brings a rift in relationships. It could be your child leaving the team or a teammate departing, but either one brings a separation. How can we deal with that situation, especially if there’s expressed resentment for the abandonment? That bitterness can be generated by several factors:  jealousy, fear, sadness, and ambition. Each one has to be addressed differently in order to maintain those long-term ties, which may not be nurtured for years but can be restarted when the occasion presents itself. Leaving a sports team seems to be particularly difficult, perhaps because a team is more of a choice than a school, easier to change than a house or a neighborhood, and is based on mutual trust and goals. Leaving a team can be for reasons which seem egotistical or ambitious and therefore aggravating, even affronting. On occasion a player can be dismissed from a team for reasons which are usually based on ability, signaling to a family some type of weakness even failure, which is a bitter pill to swallow. Therefore, friendships may be disrupted by resentment not solely by separation. We can continue to enjoy the benefits of these relationships if we can overcome whatever bitterness departures create.

Jealousy is difficult to handle because it rises from comparisons which may not be rational. If a teammate moves to a more competitive team, we instinctively react by defending our child’s skills. How could one player gain more favor than our own kid? Jealousy leads to resentment and ultimately to rejecting people with whom we’d previously been warm and congenial. When jealousy is directed toward us that can be as difficult. We want to do the best for our player, but we also respect and like their teammates and parents. For most of us, it’s not ego that makes us seek a different team, rather our own children prompt the change through their own passion. Jealousy is less of a concern when it comes to school. Even the smartest kids rarely switch school classes. They make take a different math or science section, but they primarily remain with their group. So we tend to have less jealousy because our kids all have a secure place in the hierarchy. Nothing stirs the green-eyed monster more than seeing someone overtly succeed over our own loved ones. The best way to deal with it is to meet it head on. Before leaving a team, a player and his parents should let the squad know why they’re moving on and express their appreciation for all that the team and coaches have contributed to this opportunity. If a teammate leaves, we should express our wishes for success and a willingness to stay in touch. We never know when a player might help create that bridge to another opportunity for our own child. When we belong to a team we share a lot of special experiences and we parents may disclose some very personal details as we sit on the sidelines, so change can be seen as a divorce that has to be met with recriminations and envy. Instead we should recognize it’s a natural progression just as moving up to first chair in the orchestra would be or getting the lead in a play. We should be happy for a child’s development.

We can also feel fear when there’s a change. It can be a fear that everything will fall apart if one of the cogs goes off on its own or fear that a close connection will suffer with separation. So we often react with anger or pulling away so we can be the first to sever the bonds. The comfort I can offer is from experience and observation. Teams, even clubs, go through several metamorphoses over the years, but there is always a place for every player. Bryce’s team completely dissolved between U-14 and U-15 as players left for what they perceived were greener pastures. As a result, on the second day of tryouts Bryce was the only one who showed up. That was in June. When he began high school, he was still without a team because he had missed all the other tryouts. The good news was that club soccer wouldn’t begin until spring. From his connections with his high school teammates, he ended up being invited to play for a Serbian team a year older who was desperate for a goal keeper. It turned out to be a great year and the fees were only $150 for everything — a far cry from the $1,500 other clubs were charging. As teams evolve and change, they seem to find a way to enfold players who may have thought they were abandoned.

Losing a good friend from a team comes with a great deal of sadness. However, the benefits of texting, Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, and other social media outlets makes staying in touch much easier. Robbie and Bryce still connect with players from their first youth squads up through college. Robbie recently went to a Packer’s game at Lambeau Field to watch his friend, Josh Lambo, (yes that’s his name) the goalkeeper on his Chicago club team who now is the kicker for the San Diego Chargers. Through years of evolving from a national team soccer player to a pro soccer player to a college student kicker for the football team to a professional kicker in the NFL, they have stayed in touch thanks to the virtual connections available to them. When Robbie left his home town club team for the Chicago Magic, I was sad to leave several of the parents, not to mention the kids I’d gotten to know. This summer, Bruce and I went to dinner and there at the next table sat the parents of Robbie’s old teammate, Nathan. We chatted on and on, learning that Nathan was going to be married soon (impossible!) and that Linda, his mother, worked in the same ER where Robbie did. Such are the threads of friendship that aren’t broken, just stretched with a change.

We are all ambitious for our children, and that ambition can lead to uprooting and moving to a new team. That’s natural, but can be disruptive and painful. We see a team as exactly that, a group of people working together who have one another’s backs. So when our child leaves or a friend of our child leaves, it seems jarring and even a betrayal of that larger trust. Yet it happens every day, during every tryout week, during any year. Because we enter youth sports without a grand plan, we just enjoy the camaraderie. Then at some point, we begin to hear the rumblings of “that club has winning teams,” “another team has better coaches,” or “recreational soccer won’t get your kid a scholarship.” Earlier and earlier parents are buying into these observations and as a result they begin to shop around. Those of us who are simply looking for a good sports experience may find ourselves in the midst of some grand ambitions. I suggest staying the course until your child expresses a consistent passion to develop his or her skills further. Until then, enjoy the fun our kids are having interacting with one another, playing a game they love, and finding good friends in the process. Also, rest assured that if and when a team changes or our child precipitates a move, things will stay steady. They’ll make new friends, they’ll keep many of the old ones, and the connection we shared with parents will transcend time, even if the time is a decade. There’s something special about having shared the experience of supporting all the kids on a team.

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US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Coaching Manual

Sam Snow

2015 ODP logo

The US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program has contributed to the improvement of players, coaches, administrators and referees since its inception in 1977. No other high performance soccer program has such a long and deep history in growing the game in America. In 2014 we began a process with both the boys and girls programs of helping the players and coaches learn and execute the American style of play. The contents of the accompanying Manual are derived from the information shared with us by the Youth National Teams of the USA to raise the level of performance for international competition. US Youth Soccer encourages all teams participating in high performance soccer to utilize the Manual to its fullest. By doing so clubs will raise their overall level of play and should, in time, produce more players and coaches capable of making their way farther along the pathway toward the Youth National Teams.

View and download the US Youth Soccer ODP Coaching Manual here.

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