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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". 

 

Cyber Tools

Susan Boyd

I’ve watched the evolution of soccer technologically. As the boys grew and developed, so did the means of using computers and now smart phones and tablets to make soccer more accessible. We began with paper registration for their teams, lining up in the school gym with scores of other anxious parents holding the forms necessary to get our kids into the recreation program in our town. I met a mother there who had eight kids, all at various levels of soccer, who calmly filled out by hand eight sets of registrations and then stood in eight different lines, recruiting other parents to hold her place in each line. Since only a parent or guardian could sign up their children, she had no choice but to stand in front of the registration table in person. Now we open a club’s website, fill in an online form, and click submit. We can locate game calendars, maps to fields, rosters with phone numbers, and practice schedules, all from the comfort of our homes. That mother of eight would probably consider having more children if she could sign them all up with a few strokes of her keyboard…then again maybe not. Technology has opened up an entire banquet of excellent soccer tools for families. These can be categorized as achievement, record keeping, facilitation, training, and promotion.

Young players love getting praise for their efforts. A passion for a sport grows out of their belief that they could be successful at it. While child behavior experts bemoan our cultural insistence on stroking our kids for just breathing, I argue that early praise creates both confidence and investment in an activity. Watching the youngsters’ faces light up when they get a small trophy or ribbon after a competition tells me that they deserve to feel good about their effort. On the other hand we don’t want to overdo it to the point that kids can’t enjoy a game without some token at the end. There are apps that can create material to motivate. Soccer Card Maker app by Starr sells for $1.99 and lets you design a soccer trading card for your player and others on the team. There’s a wide variety of styles and you don’t even have to print them out, simply share them with family and friends via social media. A car decal can be a great way to show your pride and support without being unnecessarily effusive no matter the outcome of a match. Two web sites I’ve found seem to have good turn-around times, a variety of styles you can personalize, and reasonable prices: Car Stickers and Decal Junky. Finally, you might consider a wall decal for your player’s bedroom. There are a vast number of companies offering loads of clever decals running from $10 up to over $100. Because there are so many providers, using a marketplace website is the best option. Here’s the link to Amazon’s selections, but there are other sites such as Zazzle that can be a gateway to choices.

Coaches and parents not only love to keep statistics, but often must keep them. Goal differentials, team standings, player stats, and youth rules regarding equal playing times complicate the process of staying on top of the numbers. Luckily once players get to the high school level, schools are great at keeping and reporting statistics. But you may still need help with club stats. Several apps address these concerns. For the youngest players there’s a great app called Playing Time ($1.99) that allows coaches and parents to record exact playing times by toggling radio buttons by each player’s name. You can sort the players by playing time, number, or name. One parent or an assistant coach could be in charge of the app to keep that stat recorded accurately. If someone on the team wants to make games professionally available to friends and family who can’t attend, iScore Soccer ($9.99) is an excellent tool. With easy to use input functions, someone can track a game and stream the updates to anyone with a computer or smart phone. Additionally the application keeps track of all the data and delivers it in an exportable file that lets parents and coaches have player stats at their fingertips. Not quite as sophisticated but able to still stream game updates, statistics, practice schedules, and line-ups is Soccer Mesh which is free. A bit less reliable and capable, but for young teams it should be adequate.

I was a team manager for both my sons’ teams and was the club administrator for three years. I would have loved some of the apps available now that facilitate the management and communication these jobs entail. I can’t believe that Team Snap is a free app considering all it does to make life easier for not only managers, but coaches and parents as well. This application can send SMS messages to everyone with a single click allowing managers to inform teams of weather delays, cancellations, field changes, etc. Parents can post on the app if their child can’t attend a practice or a game so that it’s on the record for everyone to see – no misunderstandings. Additionally, a great feature is that you can share photos by both posting them to the app for those with the password to peruse or parents can select photos to send to family and friends. It’s a great feature for those of us who aren’t very good about taking pictures. I always appreciated when others shared their pictures with me. Finally the app lets you upload maps to fields and all the schedules any parent might need. Many tournaments not only offer online updates, schedules, and standings, but they now have gone one step further and offer tournament apps. Schwan‘s USA Cup, Pepsi International Soccer Cup, and smaller tournaments such as Grove United Memorial Day Shoot-out all had apps for their events in 2014. Search your application store for your tournament participation as they will help keep everything in the palm of your hand. No more running across fifteen soccer fields to find the board with the postings. Naturally the biggest convenience that technology has afforded us is online registrations. Soccer clubs, city recreation programs, and tournaments all have a way to log-in and get those registrations completed. No more lining up at a table, getting manual credit card transactions, and hoping you filled everything out correctly.

The biggest application explosion has been in developing and explaining training methods for players. Hundreds of apps offer practice drills, game tactics, physical training plans, and nutrition monitoring. You can search your app store for these, but I’ll mention just a few. One of the best for parent coaches is Easy Practice – Soccer Practice Planner for Parent Coaches which is free. It begins with material for U5 and goes through U10. There are drills, videos you can share with the players, information on how to lay out the scrimmage field for the drills, and equipment lists. Coach My Video is also free and allows coaches to film individual players, scrimmages, and games then play back the video in various modes including slow motion and frame by frame, draw lines on the video, zoom, and change angles. It will work on any IOS device and may be best used on a tablet. It provides a great teaching tool for coaches. Soccer Fast Footwork Drills (free) sets forth dozens of ways to improved dribbling, passing, and holding the ball with descriptions, drawings, and videos all designed by coach Lou Fratello. He has other apps that address shooting and advanced drills, all free. Goalkeeper Mastery by Vogel Academy is a free application that specifically addresses the training of keepers with drills, videos, exercises, and diagrams. For nutrition help one of the highest rated apps is Wholesome (free). The beauty of the photos, the massive facts, and the organization of food information based on things like calories, vitamins, minerals, energy, and nutrition information makes it an excellent tool for parents and athletes looking for the foods they need to promote muscles, energy, and health.

Technology can be used to promote an interest in athletics. Kids who develop a passion for a player or a team are likely to sustain an interest in the sport. Professional teams all have mobile apps that allow people to follow team members, check in on statistics, and even watch streaming games. Giving kids an opportunity to keep up with the culture surrounding their sport helps them feel connected. Searching through your app store will reveal which apps cover the team, player, and/or sport your child wants to follow. There are also applications which will encourage participation in soccer with clever games, professional team websites, and videos. Games for the youngest players are Dora’s Super Soccer Showdown and Sponge Bob Plays Football. For the older player there’s naturally EA Sports’ FIFA, which you can get as app, but works best on a game console. Head Soccer is a free app which can also be a multi-player game and is the hot soccer game on mobile devices right now. My only complaint with the game is that it has levels that unlock new avatars and game scenarios. Players can purchase points in order to speed up the process, which is tempting, making a free app suddenly very expensive. The MLS has a free app with tons of extras beyond team reports including a Matchcenter which has graphs on things like shot accuracy. There are links to teams, players, and photos, plus videos including player interviews. Likewise, Barclay Premier League has a free app which offers many of the same features, plus links to UEFA and Euro standings and teams. Local colleges and universities have websites that allow fans to follow games and stats, a few even have apps which you can find with a search.

Finally, you can download soccer movies and music to entertain on the way to practices and matches. Some great film choices are:  Big Green Machine, The Game of Their Lives, and Shaolin Soccer. For music to get the body moving before a match I’d suggest UEFA Champions League Anthem, Soccer Songs by Various Artists (which came out of 2014 World Cup), Ole, Ole, Ole, I Believe We Can Win, and Football World Hits 2010 (from South African World Cup), plus if you access this link you’ll see a list of 50 “pump up” songs that will get players in the mood to which I would add our family’s favorite “All Star” by Smash Mouth. You can download these from iTunes or Spotify, plus I’m sure several other music sharing sites.

Most of these apps are available for IOS or Android, although a few may not cross platforms. Nevertheless, with so many excellent applications out there, you can find many to suit your needs and your smart phone. I remember distinctly when we were at a tournament way out in the boonies of Central Florida with only swamps underfoot and Spanish Moss hanging over us, when four team parents walked up to the sidelines with piping hot Starbucks. They had located their store using something revolutionary – a GPS with points of interest. I thought it was amazing. Now I just pull out my iPhone, click my Starbucks app, and have listed all the stores in a 20 mile radius, their operating hours, whether or not they have a bakery, and a drive up. Tournaments won’t be nearly as much of an adventure now, but they’ll certainly be convenient.

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Just Kicking It Podcast

Sam Snow

I invite you to listen to a podcast I recently did with Brian Shrum and Joshua Foga on Just Kickin’ It (www.justkickinitpod.com) – Episode # 13.

Here are some of the topics discussed.

  1. Tell our audience a little bit about yourself, how you got to the position you on in, and your duties as the Technical Director for US Youth Soccer?
  2. Your thoughts are grassroots soccer in the U.S. - better or worse?
  3. Ways to improve grassroots soccer coaching?
  4. Good pathways for young soccer players and novice parents?
  5. Specialization versus Sampling?
  6. Pathway for coaches’ education for new grassroots coaches?
  7. Dropout rates in youth sports…i.e., soccer?
     

You can access it here and please pass along to anyone that you believe will benefit from the information.

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Armchair Quarterback

Susan Boyd

Apparently I’ve had it wrong all these years. I encouraged, nay even demanded, that my kids and grandkids spend as much free time outside running and screeching. Even in the winter I would send them to the basement to run and screech, safely removed from the temptations of electronics. I signed them up for athletic teams so they could develop healthy habits, learn cooperation, understand the humility of wins and losses, and possibly, just possibly, earn a college scholarship. I am one in a legion of parents with the same requirements and dreams. We drive our kids thousands of miles every year so they can get to practices, matches, and tournaments. We spend a king’s ransom on uniforms, equipment, dues, and private coaching. We battle the elements in order to support our young players. Most importantly, we pat ourselves on our backs that we don’t have those squinty-eyed, slouch-shouldered kids who spend their free time clicking on a video controller and staring at a TV screen.

Then my entire world was shattered by this weeks’ TIME magazine. Using March Madness as a backdrop, TIME did an extended report on college e-sports better known as video gaming. Just 90 miles down the road in Chicago is the first college to offer athletic scholarships in video gaming. These aren’t some token amount — they can be as much as $19,000 rivaling and even surpassing the amount given to most physical athletes including those battling for March Madness glory. Robert Morris is a commuter school in the heart of Chicago that has attracted corporate sponsorships for their gaming athletes who wear jerseys and fall under the athletic rules of the college but not those of the NCAA. This means that when they compete in their “Final Four” championship this May, the winning team is guaranteed $30,000 in scholarships, plus the players can be awarded money and equipment from game companies. They train in state-of-the-art classrooms outfitted with ergonomic chairs, HD TVs, and high speed internet, all donated by the industry’s companies.

Gaming is big business, which is probably why schools, including Harvard and Stanford, are flocking to cash in on the trend. There is a collegiate league that sponsors the North American College Championship leading to that “Final Four” showdown. Who competes?  Amazingly, many of the schools who have established NCAA sports programs such as University of Michigan and Texas A&M. However, it’s smaller, private schools who are the pioneers in this program. Just recently the University of Pikesville (KY) announced it would be offering scholarships in the fall. Presently, dozens of other schools, even some athletic powerhouses are exploring the prospect of setting up e-sports programs. This might be the start of the NCAA having to address the issue of amateurism in college athletics. With the e-sports athletes being able to cash in on their abilities with scholarships, salaries, and products, they may soon outstrip their basketball and football counterparts in financial viability.

The president of Robert Morris, Michael Viollt, feels that the program adheres to the same teaching and community standards as other sports teams. “These guys have to learn to communicate with one another in clear and concise patterns, and take leadership positions.” The operative word in that statement is “guys.” Gaming is traditionally a male pursuit. Since the e-sports teams aren’t under the auspices of the NCAA it means they are probably outside of the Title IX rules as well. That means college women may be shut out from this pool of money. In addition, these e-sports athletes are as prone to the enticements of professionalism as are their athletic brothers. The lure of huge paychecks in the professional competition ranks can pull players out of the college level quickly. In a recent championship in Seattle in July for “Dota 2,” the Chinese team members each earned a $1 million prize. Competitive gamers can earn on average $4,000 a month. My son who briefly went pro in indoor soccer was being paid around $500 — a season. Certainly makes one think, doesn’t it?

Lest you believe this isn’t a spectator sport, you should know that the 2014 World Championship of “League of Legends” drew 40,000 fans to the World Cup stadium in Seoul. There were over 32 million viewers for the 2013 championship streamed online. So it’s no wonder that ESPN has taken notice. They will air the finals of “Heroes of the Storm,” which begin as a 64-team collegiate tournament. It’s no coincidence that sounds like a familiar bracket set-up. However, last year’s NCAA final between Kentucky and Connecticut drew 21.2 million viewers, which “Heroes of Storm” should eclipse. Although the “League of Legends” finals only drew 130,000 in 2014, those numbers are expected to jump dramatically this year. More importantly, the winners of the “Heroes of Storm” competition are guaranteed a three-year college tuition scholarship. No one on the winning Kentucky team got that guarantee.

E-sports teams are run in a parallel fashion to their sports counterparts. Players must attend daily practices, must attend all their school classes, and must maintain a study trajectory to graduate on time. They watch team films which are replays of certain sections of their contests against one another and against other schools to find ways to maximize their power. These scrimmages are an important part of their training just as they are for college sports teams. The e-gamers take their training very seriously. They concentrate on good nutrition, the right amount of sleep, learning to trust their teammates, and developing strategies for improved play. They have coaches who give notes and encourage better teamwork.

There is presently the National Collegiate e-Sports Association (NCeSPA) which compiles statistics on the colleges who compete. There are Eastern and Western divisions where presently Georgia Tech and University of British Columbia sit on top. Because matches don’t require any travel, these teams can compete across the country easily, opening up the competitive possibilities. On its website, NCeSPA allows viewers to see the players, learn the schedules, and keep track of statistics (www.ncespa.com). Collegiate StarLeague (www.cstarleague.com) lists an extensive bracket for the various game competitions they sponsor and actively advertise for teams to join with the prizes they will award to the athletes who win. They have links to Twitch, the online gaming application which connects gamers to one another through chat rooms and which streams games, and to Razor University which recruits e-sports athletes for teams. Twitch was recently purchased by Amazon for nearly $1 billion (yes billion with a “b”) showing the financial power gaming has acquired and the trust major investors have that this pot of gold will continue to grow.

All of this certainly makes me re-evaluate the push for our sons and daughters to succeed on the pitch. It may be that they’d be better off taking a quick run every morning and then knuckling down with their mice, keyboards, computers, X-Boxes, and PlayStations. As one scholarship player, Jonathan Lindahl, said, “My parents were always telling me to get off the Xbox. So I’m really rubbing it in their faces.” Given that a much larger percentage of e-sporters end up playing professionally than the 1.2 percent of other college athletes and that their ability to immediately cash in on their talents while still at school could make e-sports a far more attractive option for getting an athletic scholarships. Given that most sports cost families dearly during their youth development and given that most of us already supply our players with the tools to play video games, we may all be better off simply concentrating on the latter and forgoing the former. As e-sports grows so too will the popularity of individual players, the status of schools with winning teams, and the opportunities for more scholarships. I certainly don’t regret one single moment of watching my kids play in their various sports:  soccer, basketball, baseball, swim team, dance team, and cheerleading. I also don’t regret the money we spent. But now I get it when there’s a line outside of Game Stop for a week before the new Halo or Call of Duty version is released. Those kids know a cash cow when they see one.

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Talent for Hire

Susan Boyd

Besides the steady discussion of bracketology during March Madness, we are inundated with the perennial argument concerning paying student athletes. As obscene levels of money change hands before, during and after the three-week event, people ask why the real generators of these sums shouldn’t get a share. It’s a difficult situation and the sides are clearly drawn. The NCAA absolutely refuses to even consider the possibility, while players both current and graduated argue the fundamental unfairness of the situation. In 2014, Ed O’Bannon, a starter on the 1995 National Champion UCLA men’s basketball team, realized that his likeness was being used in an NCAA video game entirely without his permission. He argued that he was no longer an amateur student-athlete and as such deserved to be compensated. Several other former basketball and football players joined the suit. On August 9, 2014 the court ruled in their favor. The precedent may lead to other financial doors opening for college athletes.

The problems in considering compensation for college athletes are three-fold. First, payment would result in athletes becoming employees, a standard that requires all kinds of legal obligations including workman’s compensation, payroll taxes, termination standards and benefit packages. Second, they would need to decide exactly how much pay would be appropriate. Third, there’s the issue of fairness across the broad spectrum of college sports since most sports outside of Division I football and men’s basketball don’t bring in any money to the schools in the form of lucrative TV deals and fan support.

Since scholarships rarely cover the full financial needs of players, they are forced to add heavy debt to continue playing and studying. Therefore, even players who get a good scholarship can find themselves without enough money to get groceries for the entire month or to purchase all the books they need. NCAA rules are very stringent concerning financial assistance. Students can’t accept money or anything of monetary value from boosters, coaches, or university staff for even the most rudimentary of costs. The story is told of a young basketball player whose father died. His coach drove him to the airport so he could attend the funeral and sat with him before the plane took off. He bought the player a sandwich for the flight, which was against the rules. The coach didn’t buy a plane ticket, he bought a sandwich under $10 as an act of kindness during a stressful time. The university, player and coach were cited by the NCAA for the incident. In the meantime, March Madness generates billions for the universities, the coaches in endorsements and analyst jobs, and commercial sponsors. But nary a penny for the players. Since less than 2 percent of college athletes go pro, there is no pot of gold at the end of the college years that the vast majority can hold out for.

The argument that at least these players get a college education, which translates into higher pay would be wonderful if the graduation rates were strong. The NCAA uses its own algorithm which differs from how the Federal Government measures graduation rates. The NCAA argues that transfer students who leave a school in good academic standing should be included in the graduation rates since the original school has no control over that student leaving. However, the government doesn’t take that factor into account at all unless a student eventually graduates. This naturally skews the NCAA rates to higher than the national rates, which they then use in the press to tout the academic strength of athletes. Additionally, the graduation rates are for all athletes, which average out the notoriously low rates for football and basketball. Soccer graduation rates for both men and women are quite high, as are those of lacrosse and golf. However, these sports represent only a small percentage of all college athletes. Additionally, female athletes do graduate at a higher rate than their male counterparts. Therefore, many athletes, as many as 44 percent never graduate and don’t enjoy the bump in pay benefit.

College athletes, no matter the size of their scholarship, or even the absence of a scholarship, have a grueling schedule. Because their eligibility is dependent upon maintaining a minimum grade point average and successfully completing a proscribe number of credits each year, they can’t cut back on studies to give them more time for practices, games, travel to games, weight training, study hall, appearances, and team meetings. They must arrange their classes around their athletic obligations, which means they often can’t take prerequisite classes in a timely manner, have to do online courses, and may find themselves taking evening classes after practices. Coaches, fearful of losing players to academic ineligibility, will prohibit the athletes from taking courses with strenuous academic standards. For example, when Robbie was a freshman he wanted to take a chemistry course that was a prerequisite for his pre-med studies, but his coach told him he couldn’t, which meant Robbie would have to wait an entire year before he could begin the reason he was attending college. Instead, he was steered to take earth sciences, pre-algebra (he had completed calculus II in high school), and U.S. history. Some colleges even offer what is called “paper courses,” where a student logs into an online course two or three times in a semester and completes a paper for his or her grade. The courses are never difficult and there seems to be no bell curve of grades. Additionally, there’s no monitoring to check that the student and not a proxy has written the paper. These come in handy for coaches when an athlete has a grade point too low to be eligible. A couple “A’s” in paper courses can lift that up immediately. Therefore, the label of student-athlete is a bit disingenuous for many.

That label was instituted for the sole purpose of insuring that no scholarship player would ever be considered an employee. And for decades the label worked. But recently several athletes have begun to question their lack of share in the deep-dish financial pie that universities and the NCAA enjoy. College athletes see the daily hypocrisy of the title “student-athlete” as they watch teammates who never attend a single class and yet magically manage to keep their academic eligibility or as they watch their coaches earning in the six to eight figures cutting endorsement deals, being hired as consultants and announcers, scheduling paid speaking engagements, and receiving gifts from boosters, or as they witness schools spending funds liberally on lavish building improvements rather than funding more scholarships. Northwestern University football players voted to unionize, several on-going lawsuits on behalf of injured athletes to receive compensation for their injuries, and groups of athletes who have completed their college careers who have filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA are the recent indicators that the tides are shifting. For their part, the organization has adamantly refused to even discuss the issue, stating simply that “if you’re going to come to us, you’re going to come as a student.”

Both of my sons were Division I student-athletes in soccer, and I can attest to the difficulty of that job. Yes, it is a job for which they get paid in minimal scholarships, which are constantly at risk should they become injured or fall below the eligibility levels or get caught breaking any one of the thousands of NCAA rules. Bryce never graduated – the combination of athletics and studies proved to be more than he could responsibly handle. Robbie graduated, but it took five years and several occasions of scrambling for credits when he changed his major mid-stream. The scholarships they received covered around 25 percent of their expenses. Bryce was recruited by a private school where the tuition was over $30,000 and Robbie was recruited by an out-of-state pubic university, so he had to pay additional tuition that wasn’t covered by his scholarship. Both boys transferred to a public in-state university, which made their education more affordable but didn’t reduce any of the myriad of demands.

How does this impact youth players? Once a child begins to exhibit some interest and talent in a sport, everyone begins talking scholarship. There’s a special pride and honor attached to earning a slot on a college roster. It’s certainly a vindication of years of dedication and hard work and offers some respite from the heavy expenses of higher education. Nevertheless, parents should be wary because the time commitment of being on a team can actually end up destroying the reason kids go to school, which is an education. It’s not unusual for players to burn out with all the demands and just quit. As difficult as it was to juggle studies with athletics up to college, those pressure ramp up at the university level. If our kids are recruited to a private school, they may not receive much financial assistance (very few players, especially freshman, get a “full-ride”) and parents are left to either pay or borrow the balance. Therefore, parents need to have a serious discussion with their potential student-athletes about the reality of the title. We need to be honest on how far we will go financially to support our children in their athletic pursuits just as we have a discussion on choosing a college for the education. Let them know, for instance, if you will support them being recruited by a private vs. an in-state public school. Because of our savings and a small inheritance, we were able to afford most of the expenses not covered by our sons’ scholarships, but not every family has that luxury. No family should go deeply into debt for the chance to say their child is a student-athlete.

The promise of paying those students for their efforts can naturally be enticing to families who would want the best of both worlds – a free college education and the honor of having a college athlete. I’m hoping, should the decision be made to pay athletes, that A) the “lesser” sports won’t be neglected and B) the schedule will require that sports and education are pursued separately allowing the latter to have a student’s full attention during a true off-season. However, no matter how this controversy plays out, families need to decide how realistic it is to encourage their children to become student-athletes, whether at one of the three NCAA divisions or the NAIA, keeping in mind that Ivy League and Division II schools don’t offer athletic scholarships. Parents need to rise above the hype that surrounds college athletics and look realistically if our children can handle the strains and ultimately graduate, which is the point of going to college.

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