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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 Circle of Life

Susan Boyd

"The Circle of Life" resounds as the opening number of "The Lion King," but could equally serve as the chant for most soccer families: "It's the Circle of Life and it moves us all through despair and hope . . ." Whether the circle forms over a year of soccer or during generations of soccer, we all experience the déjà vu of muddy uniforms, goals, wins, losses, and after game traditions. I'm moving through my second generation of soccer, and I find it reassuringly similar to what I already went through with a few surprising twists.

This past weekend I attended my oldest grandson's first soccer game. The weather was overcast, the temperature hovering just above freezing, and the wind howling: perfect Midwest spring soccer conditions!  Keaton's particular soccer program has its U8 boys playing 9 v 9 on a U10 field. The game was played in 12 minute quarters and the kids rotated at the goalkeeper position and through the field positions. His team has ten boys, so each quarter somebody rotated out. All the players have the same uniform: black shorts, black socks, and a reversal jersey with gold on one side and maroon on the other. So, all the fields stretched out in gold and maroon waves.
 
Confusion is the name of the game at this age. First, because of the cold, several boys were wearing jackets over their jerseys. So it was difficult to differentiate between sides. Further confusion ensues since the boys all know each other from school and the neighborhood.  At this age there isn't the killer instinct that allows them to steal the ball from or block a best friend.   Add to this mix the fact that for most of these players this game was the culmination of only a few weeks of practices. While the coaches knew their stuff, the kids were often clueless. They definitely weren't jargon savvy. When Keaton took to his midfield position in the second quarter, the coach tried to indicate his role with the following instruction: "You have a split personality." Keaton looked at him dumbfounded. Staying goal-side also seemed to be beyond their comprehension. Every kid told to stay goal-side ran dutifully to the side of one goal or the other without regard to which one they were defending, while the coach tried in vain to get them back to their original positions at least. The other stumper appeared to be ""marking"" which drew plenty of stunned expressions and no movement. Without a Sharpie, marking seemed impossible. Nevertheless they managed to play a rousing game of soccer filled with all the elements of the game: headers, crosses, overlaps, corner kicks, goal kicks, but mercifully not penalty kicks. In fact there were only two fouls called.           

When Keaton got his chance in goal in the 4th quarter, my daughter muttered, "Oh no." She felt the pressure of his position – the last stance against a score. Her brother is a goalkeeper, and she's amazed that I don't get more worked up. I tell her it gets easier . . . eventually I realized that goals will go in. Otherwise it would be a boring game. But I think I was the same way when Bryce was seven and had his chance in goal. I didn't want him to have to be responsible for a loss. Keaton had a very interesting goalkeeper technique. Whenever he got the ball, he heaved it over his head onto the field like a throw in, which meant it traveled about three yards, or he saw plenty of action in that quarter, but had some good saves.

On the whole the parents were supportive, rather than critical. My daughter told me that the parents had to be part of a "circle of affirmation," not to be confused with the circle of life. They seemed to have learned the lesson well as the only criticism of any sort I heard was from my own husband who when a foul was called turned to my son-in-law and said, "They call that?" Then he quickly corrected himself for not being affirming. This came from a man who rarely says anything critical at a game – he is famous for being positive. I think being cradled in such an upbeat group of parents left him with no alternative but to turn evil!

Despite their positive attitudes, the parents couldn't stop being coaches. Keaton wasn't the only one experiencing a split personality.  These poor kids didn't know which way to turn. They would hear "push up" from their coach and "look out behind you" from their parent; "pass the ball" from the coach and "dribble it" from their dads; "get wide" from the coach and "go to the ball" from their moms.   While the coach is focused on the team, the parents are focused on their child. It's tough to be the recipient of so much conflicting instruction. In frustration, one kid just stopped and put his head in his hands.

At the end of the game, two dozen kids with chapped faces rushed the sidelines to get their treat. I saw absolutely no swagger in the kids who won and no dejection in the kids who lost. Everyone focused on getting their treat and getting into their warm cars. It's too bad it won't stay that way. Eventually winning will matter, losing will feel bad, and body language will play a part in how kids leave the field. But Saturday it was just fun to be outside, fun to play, fun to get a treat, fun to get warmed up, and for about half of them fun to move on to baseball practice. As a side note, I only lasted 40 minutes at baseball practice . . . at that point my idea of fun was a mug of cocoa in a house with central heating.   But I loved experiencing the unspoiled joy emanating from each boy on that field and coming full cycle back to the first moments of the circle of soccer.
 

Youth Sports Scheduling

Sam Snow

At the end of last week I attended a Roundtable with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The topic was Youth Sports Scheduling – Children at Risk. We met in Atlanta for a day and half to begin the fact finding work for ACSM to publish a Statement Paper on the physical and mental impact on youth players of being over scheduled. The main focus was tournaments and the impact of repeated bouts of exercise with insufficient recovery time between the bouts.
 
Presentations were made by sports medicine physicians, pediatricians, exercise physiologists, kinematic researchers, a sports psychologist and nutritionist.   Many of these scientists are former athletes and several are not only sports parents, but also coach in the youth ranks. Their sports included tennis, soccer, ice hockey, baseball and wrestling. Indeed the drive behind their current efforts is in response to the extremes they see taking place in youth sports with their children and at the tournaments they work as a medical team.
 
The presentations included "Youth Sports Governing Bodies Current Guidelines for Tournament Play and Examples of Event Schedules", "Prior Exercise and Heat Exposure Effects on Subsequent Physiological Strain", "Nutrient Recovery Challenges During Multiple Competition Bouts", "Effects of Recovery Time and Fatigue on Kinematics and Injury Risk", "Effects of Multiple Same-Day Repeated Bouts on Overuse Injury Risk", "Bone Health Risks for the Adolescent Athlete", and "Psychological Aspects of Recovery Time and Fatigue on Injury Risk".
 
I have to say that while soccer has many shortcomings in our scheduling that we must address we are not nearly as far off center as the evidence shows is occurring in other sports in the USA. Young bodies are being put under needless distress. Often the decision to put teenagers and children into these circumstances is to make more money. We must not generate the cash to run our clubs and pay our employees off the backs of the kids if we create environments that hurt player development and the enjoyment of the beautiful game.
 
Tournaments are fine provided they follow reasonable schedules that put the welfare of the payers first. Here is the Position Statement from the 55 US Youth Soccer State Technical Directors on the matter. We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development, and can serve to reduce long-term motivation. Do not multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player? Further far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an "off season." We believe that players under the age of 12 should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than 13 should not play more than 120 minutes per day. 

We also recommend to tournament managers and schedulers:
The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
That all tournament matches be of the same length and that no full-length match be introduced during play-off rounds.
Kickoff times allow players a reasonable opportunity to prepare for competition. This encompasses rest and recovery, nutrition and adequate time to warm-up and stretch after traveling a long distance in addition to taking into consideration extreme environmental conditions.

The ACSM Position Statement on tournament scheduling will be made public in 2009 after more research is done.
 

Giving Coaches the Best Coaching Materials

Sam Snow

One aspect that separates US Youth Soccer from other soccer organizations is the research based information we use in our education of coaches, administrators and parents. This is reflected in the National Youth License curriculum, the content of The Novice Coach DVD Series, the new Skills School DVD and Technical Manual, as well as, the online postings on USYouthSoccer.org.

At the annual US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop and Awards Gala, the presenters are often leaders in their field. We try to expose our members to the latest and sometimes quite innovative methods in our soccer world. One of those presentations, two years ago in St. Louis, was made by Angel Planells. Coach Planells holds a Master's Degree in Nutrition as well as being an active youth coach in Manhattan. With the help of US Youth Soccer, he completed a survey of hundreds of youth soccer players, parents of players and coaches on their sport nutrition habits. Angel then made a presentation on his findings at the 2007 Workshop. A copy of his research paper was distributed to state and club coaches across the country.

In the same vein, recent research was done by Kristen Jones on the stresses involved in coaching. Much of the research was based on a through survey done with US Youth Soccer coaches across the nation. The complete dissertation was sent to the coaches who have singed into the US Youth Soccer Coaches database, on USYouthSoccer.org. These coaches are our first point of contact when research projects such as the two mentioned are undertaken. They too are the first members of US Youth Soccer to receive copies of the completed papers. If you have not entered yourself into the database and would like to do so, here are the details and link to sign up.

We are looking to build a national directory of US Youth Soccer club coaches. 

GOAL: build accurate contacts at the coach level to further the communication of programs, benefits and educational opportunities offered by US Youth Soccer to those who impact the game daily.

The purpose of the national coaching database is to further the communication efforts of US Youth Soccer to those who impact and influence youth soccer on a daily basis, specifically at the grassroots level.  This database would receive coaching information as deemed necessary and have the option of receiving US Youth Soccer's Kwik Kicks eNewsletter to further the efforts of the organization's membership benefits.

The US Youth Soccer National Coaching Database is live, to submit your information please click the link below.

/coaches/NationalCoachDatabaseForm/

This information is not intended to be sold to any third party.  The privacy policy can be found in its entirety by clicking the link below. 

US Youth Soccer Privacy Policy:

Please pass this message along to coaches in the soccer clubs in your area.  Thank you for your contribution in our effort to improve our communication and service to America's youth soccer coaches.
 

Dereliction of Duty

Susan Boyd

This spring thaw reveals all my sins of omission from the previous autumn. Now that the deck has shrugged off its winter mantle, the leaves and sticks I never quite got swept up before the first snow fall lie in matted heaps grey and rotting. This pretty much describes my entire environment –grey deck, grey piles of debris, grey skies, grey lawn, grey windows, grey streets, grey attitude. My deck taunts me with its reminder of all the projects I have left undone using winter as an excuse. Or perhaps I should say seven or eight winters as an excuse. My home is so bad that even aluminum siding sales people don't bother with me. 

So this week I began to do something about it. It took me over five years to remove all the pea-green wallpaper off the hallway and stairwell walls (not to mention the ten years it took me to get motivated to begin peeling it off) and another two years before I finally picked the colors and border I wanted as replacements. Next week a painter will come in and bring my vision to life after only fifteen years of gestation. A landscaper will bring order to the flower beds I have tried, in vain, to turn into an English cottage garden, managing up to this point merely cottage cheese.

Winter is a good excuse, especially in Wisconsin, but my real excuse for this procrastination is soccer. Over the past thirteen years I can count on one hand the number of full weekends I have had totally free of soccer, and I can count on my hands and feet the number of weekends where I had just one of the days free of soccer. Whenever I drive into a new town and travel down the boulevards and lanes of that borough, I can quickly spot the homes where families with kids in sports dwell. The good intentions are evident, but the follow through doesn't exist.

These houses have a rake lying mid-stroke on the lawn, half of their shutters painted, and plants in their plastic containers lined up alongside a garden bed. I don't think I have actually planted geraniums in over a decade. I just throw them into my window boxes in their plastic containers – otherwise there wouldn't be a spot of color in my entire yard. These otherwise handsome homes exhibit a barrenness of orderliness and polish. The fallen tree branches of last autumn join the fallen tree branches of spring to create a thatched barrier stretching from one end of the lawn to the other. I gather mine as needed to start fires in the outdoor fire pit – once I get that cleaned up and dried out. The derelict look of these homes belies the joy that exists inside.

While I look forward to my soccer "retirement" so I can actually spend my weekends doing what home dwellers should do, I also know it spells the end of a wonderful era. All those days sitting in rain, snow, sleet, and sun cheering on my kids, all those road trips, all those loads of laundry, all those abandoned cleats littering my garage, all those water bottles rolling around the back seat, all those smelly socks pushed up against the heating vents in the car, all those soccer balls escaping out of the back hatch and rolling half a mile away, all of those things will just be memories.   While I often wish my home looked like something out of Architectural Digest and less like a "before" photo, I realize that every neglected flower bed, every untrimmed edge, every unwashed window means some soccer memory completed. I go to bed at night with visions of Home and Garden TV dancing in my head and the fervent prayer that home improvement elves will visit me, which seems the only hope I'll ever get my projects completed. 

So add painters, landscapers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians to the hidden costs of having kids who play soccer. I got the estimate for my spring projects yesterday and realized that I need a second and third job. Maybe I'll paint other people's houses. In the meantime I am headed to Columbus, Ohio this weekend for my grandson Keaton's first soccer game and baseball practice. "Retirement" won't be happening soon.