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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". 


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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Savor the Good Things

Susan Boyd

Bundled up in my winter coat, swaddled by a blanket, I sit on the sidelines in wind, rain and cold, although the calendar has barely crept into October. At times like this, I remind myself of the positive reasons for youth team sports, in particular soccer. It’s true that sports can overtake a family’s life with practices, games, travel and team meetings. Likewise, they have an impact on the finances, which can quickly spiral into the stratosphere as kids get better and more involved. Driving through snowstorms to get to an indoor game or sweltering in 100-plus temperatures to cheer on our 8-year-old may seem like an excessive sacrifice for an inconsequential activity, but it’s not. Youth soccer provides some brilliant models for our kids’ social and life development.

Participating in a team sport is well-worth some of the annoyances that come along with the play. Team sports teach responsibility in several ways. Even when young, kids can learn to be in charge of their gear — packing it in their bag and making sure they have everything in there. They take the responsibility of making sure that the uniforms make it into the laundry and then make sure they get washed. They may even learn at some point how to wash their own clothes. As they grow older, they should take on the obligation of keeping their own calendar (we can still keep the family one) and remembering to get to practices and games. They may also organize their own rides to and from events to help us out with the carpooling. Once they can drive, they have the added task of making sure there’s a car available, filling it with gas occasionally, and coordinating school, homework and other activities with the demands of soccer.

Sports require problem-solving. People often talk about having a “soccer brain,” which is really all about anticipating complications and choosing the best outcome, usually in a split second. The tactics of soccer are all about problem-solving: How do I get past this defender? How should I set up a wall? Should I use my right or left foot? Working out situations with teammates requires conflict resolution, which is a specific form of problem-solving. Kids have to figure out ways to approach their coaches if they have concerns about playing time or position. If they have conflicting events in their schedules, they need to figure out how to resolve them and then how to let the proper people know. Problems crop up as they go through soccer, which they will need to address. If we let them solve them on their own, they’ll be that much further ahead in solving life’s other concerns.

Every player has to have persistence to defend, to score, and to advance. Things won’t always go perfectly in practice, games, or off the pitch, so kids need to learn how to set goals and then have the determination to make things happen. When there are setbacks they learn not to dwell on them and to use their reasoning and skills to work through them. The persistence they develop as players carries over to other situations in school, job, and family. Sports teaches them to stick with it, fight through obstacles, and stay focused on the goal. It’s both fact and analogy.

One of the biggest advantages of youth sports is teaching the players collaboration. In the college writing courses I taught, I regularly asked my students to collaborate on tasks. I was amazed at how few could do so successfully. I would observe groups where a single student took over the project while the others stared at the ceiling or fiddled with their phones. Other groups would divide the task into parts, each student working independently until they all brought their work product together without any cohesion or flow. Then there was always the group that simply languished, uncertain on how to proceed and too afraid to ask. When groups succeeded invariably they had at least one member who played a team sport. He or she understood the process of collaboration and helped the others get on board. Collaboration means suggesting options together, openly discussing them without any one person’s opinion being more important than another’s, and then arriving at a joint conclusion through negotiation and compromise. During practices, teammates work with one another to find the best collaboration to achieve the best results. They work through various tactical drills to discover how everyone’s talents mesh and then pick the best combination to bring success. Teams with a weak center midfielder will develop strategies to best exploit all the talents of that center while bolstering with help from other players. The ability to adjust collaboratively is necessary during matches when the opposing team occasionally thwarts the plans. In those cases, collaboration may require a leader, but also requires the unselfish investment of every player in creating an effective action plan. Learning to compromise for the good of the team is an integral part of any collaboration. When players learn to cooperate on the pitch, they can translate those behaviors to the classroom, boardroom, neighborhood and even family life.

Finally, kids learn the value of sacrifice when playing on a team. The image of sacrifice resulting in some terminal disaster is promoted by the connection with lambs to the slaughter or maidens tossed in volcanoes. In reality, sacrifice is the process of giving up something for the good of others or success in a situation that ultimately benefits everyone, even the person making the sacrifice. A player who holds onto the ball and tries to take on three defenders isn’t realistically going to score, so he or she should sacrifice personal glory by feeding off the ball to an unmarked teammate. Even more significantly, a player may be in a position to score, but the shot is tricky, so he or she passes it off to a buddy who has a clearer line to the goal. If a contest is close, players may need to sacrifice their playing time in favor of a stronger player, yet everyone shares in the victory.

Likewise, players learn to make personal sacrifices, giving up some sleep to take an early morning training run or missing the prom to join the team at a tournament. Too often parents try to minimize the sacrifices kids need to make, but sacrifice helps a child learn how to prioritize, to not dwell on what’s lost, and to realize no one is truly entitled to have the whole cake. Kids who make sacrifices for the things they want end up valuing them more.

These positives of team sports are predicated on parents letting their children learn about and use these skills. We can be helicopters keeping track of everything, doing all the logistics, solving their problems, protecting them from disappointment and doing all the talking. Then what? Sports can help kids mature into extremely capable adults. Any athlete who aspires to the college level has to be able to independently handle the demands of studies, athletics, and possibly even jobs. The same holds true for any child growing up and taking on more and more duties. They can’t just suddenly leap from the cocoon of their parents to life on their own. They won’t learn how in the summer between high school graduation and the first day of college or a job. These skills must develop over time, building on one another. We parents can provide some safety net, but we have to diminish that role over time and we can be assisted by the natural benefits of youth sports. We want to simply become the cheerleaders on the sidelines, in reality and metaphorically, braving the elements to give our kids wonderful opportunities.

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The Ugly and the Beautiful

Susan Boyd

Soccer is called the beautiful game, but sometimes it fails to like up to this moniker. Take the recent ban of two of the highest FIFA officials: FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini. The two men were sanctioned by FIFA’s ethics committee and banned from representing FIFA or any of its affiliated organizations for 90 days; a ban that can be extended another 45 days. This comes on the heels of Blatter being named in a Swiss investigation for arranging a TV rights deal between FIFA and Jack Warner, former president of CONCACAF, which involved substantial pay-outs. Platini was expected to take over as head of FIFA when Blatter resigned in February, but his own ban puts those plans on hold. Another likely candidate, South Korean Chung Mong-joon, was recently banned for six years. Therefore the role of interim FIFA president has fallen to Issa Hayatou, the head of the Confederation of African Football. Ironically, Hayatou was sanctioned in 2011 by the International Olympic Committee for taking bribes from a sports marketing firm. It seems there is no one with clean hands who can take over FIFA, at least not from the present board. Rumors have long swirled around the organization that members of the board took bribes to give the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Most fans of the game especially questioned the 2022 award to a country that has summer temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The World Cup is played in the month of July. Just two weeks ago, FIFA conceded the point by rescheduling the 2022 World Cup for the balmy 104 degree days of November – a move that has far-ranging effects on scheduling for national and international leagues and tournaments. It’s been an ugly year for FIFA.

Despite these dark incidents, soccer still has the power to inspire. My faith that soccer, in particular youth soccer, can survive the machinations of some powerful, corrupt leaders comes from the joy I see at every youth game I attend. In the last few weeks I’ve come across three truly amazing stories in which soccer plays an important and inspirational role. These few vignettes I think are far more indicative of what soccer has to offer our kids and our families than the sordid backroom dealings of some men who don’t really see soccer for what it is – a beautiful game played for enjoyment.

In Thailand, there are large communities of fishermen and their families who live on floating man-made islands off the coasts. Kids in these villages were limited to the sports they could pursue due to their restricted neighborhood. They raced boats and swam, but what many loved to do is watch soccer. In 1986, in one such village, Panyee, a group of kids decided to form a soccer team and build a floating pitch on which to play. This was uneven, undersized, and roughly constructed with tiny goals, but it provided some benefits as well. The small size meant that the players had to concentrate on footwork and the fact the pitch was floating in the middle of a sea meant it got wet and slippery, teaching the players how to handle adverse surfaces. They decided to enter the top Southern Thailand youth tournament called the Pancha Cup. They advanced to the semifinals despite a lack of training facilities and coaching. Behind by two goals at halftime, they managed to fight back and even the score in the second half, but lost on a last minute goal. Disappointed, they were nonetheless happy to have accomplished what they had, and the village was so proud of their efforts that they constructed a new pitch that was full-sized, smooth, and even. The kids continued to practice and to enter tournaments over the years, eventually rising to be one of the premier youth clubs in Southern Thailand becoming youth champions 2004 through 2010. They accomplished all of this without fancy equipment, expensive coaches and limited competition. Their story demonstrates the role of passion in development. Their love of soccer informed their desire to play even if it meant playing under the most unusual and adverse conditions.

Here in the United States, another island soccer program proves the significance of teamwork and passion. A 12-year-old player, Luc Gandarias, on Whidbey Island, northwest of Seattle, plays soccer despite being legally blind. Luc suffered from late on-set hydrocephalus when he was 7. This condition creates excessive fluid build-up in the brain, putting pressure on the organ leading to loss of functions and possibly even death. Luc ended up losing all sight in his right eye, can only see shadows out of his left eye, and lost 50% of his hearing in his right ear. But he was determined not to be defined by his disabilities. He fought to return to soccer, and his teammates were supportive. Because he has a shunt above his ear to release fluid from his brain he wears a head gear that looks a bit like a 1920s football leather helmet. He uses his hearing to find his way on the field counting on his teammates and occasionally his father to give him direction. His coach agrees that besides being an inspiration he has also provided his team with a reason to talk to one another on the pitch, a skill many players never fully learn. More importantly, Luc wants kids with disabilities not to dwell on them, but to push through and find ways to achieve whatever they want in life. "This is my way of showing everybody — all the blind kids out there — that they can do what they want,” he said. “If you set your mind to it and you put your best foot forward, it is all possible.”

In Pittsburgh, a high school player, who is still learning English, performs as goalkeeper — without legs. Emmanuel Hilton plays on the JV team and has excelled in the position. He was born without legs in the Congo, where his mother, appalled by his birth defect, threw him out into the middle of a busy highway. Luckily, a motorist stopped and rescued him before he was hit. He ended up in an orphanage where he lived until he was adopted by the Hilton family a year ago after seeing his smiling picture in a brochure. This story touches me particularly because I have two adopted sons who came to our home when they were 3 and 1-and-a-half years old. I know the traumas that abandonment and abuse can cause, and I also have seen the healing power of playing soccer. Both our sons have seen soccer as a form of salvation from their pasts, and I’m sure Emmanuel feels the same. He goes by the name “E-man” and has been fully accepted by his teammates. He had been reluctant at first to try out, but he exceeded all expectations, according to his coach, and gets the team motivated from the back. Likewise, he feels uplifted because he has a community of friends who support him and depend on him. As he says, “They like me, they’re happy, so I feel comfortable…” He energizes the team, which energizes him. “It (missing legs) doesn’t matter to me. I can do anything. I can do anything right now.” 

We can get caught up in the “what’s next?” part of soccer, and forget to enjoy the beauty of our kids playing. Reading these stories, I understand that when we get so entranced by the glory, we forget the pure joy. The Panyee FC, Luc and Emmanuel have overcome some tremendous odds, so they provide inspiration. However, we need to also note that none of them feel they are extraordinary. Instead they are part of a team, enjoying and appreciating the efforts of others, and contributing to whatever roles their team asks. That’s something every kid can do. It’s a philosophy that the leaders of FIFA might better embrace.

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