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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.


Everybody Plays

Susan Boyd

It’s easy to give attention to our young player as he or she sprints across the field during practices and matches, but when their siblings have to come along they end up in the shadow of that activity. Even if they have an interest in soccer, it can still be incredibly boring to wait out their brother’s or sister’s pursuit without much to do. The roles may get reversed during the week, but it still doesn’t resolve the 90 minutes to two hours of boredom during any particular practice or game. It’s to our benefit to find ways to engage all our kids during those times so we don’t have to deal with resistance when it’s time to fly out the door and pouting while at the scene.

The most obvious way to involve all our children is to bring an extra soccer ball. There’s usually a small patch of open space where kids can kick, dribble, and pass. Having Mom and Dad join in for a few minutes of play can certainly make them feel engaged and special. During half-time, even at college matches, kids are often invited on the field for part of the break where they can try their hand at scoring and stopping goals or dribbling as fast as possible down the field. Additionally, it’s a great surface for cartwheels, wrestling, and jumping. So having a soccer ball handy can shift spectator kids into participants, giving them a moment to shine.

If soccer really isn’t their thing at all, there is plenty of active play that kids can do while waiting for practice to end. A soft ball to play catch makes a great way to pass the time and to share in family fun. Frisbees provide another source of entertainment and are easy to pack into the car. There are also dozens of other games you can bring along. Walgreens sells a set of fuzzy discs with several Velcro balls that people can toss back and forth and catch on the discs all of which are also easy to pack away. More elaborate, but fun for everyone, is the bean bag toss which consists of two wooden targets with a hole in each. You set them about 25 feet apart and players take turns flinging the bags into the holes to achieve the highest total. This game is bulkier, but very popular for tailgating, tournaments, and block parties. You can even get the game with your favorite team logos and colors or purchase a blank wooden one and apply your own decals. Games range from $30 to $100 depending on how sturdy. My grandkids love to play the “running game.” We decide on a course and they run it while I time them. They try to beat one another’s time, but more importantly they try to beat their own times. It’s an easy thing for me to watch whoever is competing on the soccer field while also manning the stop watch for their runs. An added benefit is that everyone is at the same level of exhaustion at the end of a practice or match.

Since you have to be outside, you may as well make good use of the opportunity to do things you can’t do in the house. I keep a roll of butcher paper around with a set of tempera paints that the kids can mix at the fields. They can be as unrestrained in their artistic efforts as they want, including splashing the paint off their brushes, drizzling paint, and finger painting. Once they are done with their artwork, we tear it off the roll, toss the paints, and wipe off their hands with a towel. If the fields are at a park that has extra natural areas like woods or a pond, kids can do a nature scavenger hunt. I tell them to find certain plants, insects, or creatures and armed with buckets and jars off they go. Everything has to be released at the end of the search, but they have a great time looking for items. You can spruce it up as a tic-tac-toe game where item names are in squares and as they locate them they can cross off the item with an X or an O hoping to get three in a row or block their opponents’ attempts. You can bring along some squirt guns if there’s a source of water available and let the kids battle one another away from the crowds. I don’t suggest the big squirt guns, in fact I only carry the little “derringer” style that you can buy at party stores for about $3 for six. They can’t accidently shoot long distances hitting unsuspecting fans and since they need to fill up regularly, it makes them develop strategy and even teamwork.

If you prefer that your kids not roam away from the sidelines, you can bring quiet activities for them. They probably won’t want to do homework, but the time is a good opportunity to get that done if you can convince them, especially if it simply entails a worksheet or reading. More detailed homework is probably best done at home with resources available. Otherwise, kids could bring favorite books, coloring books, even an iPod for music. Some kids have handheld video game units that they may want to use the free time for, knowing that once they get home TV and games will be off the schedule until homework is finished. I don’t suggest bringing crafts that can be easily lost like beading, however, Rainbow Looms would probably work if you have a storage box for the rubber bands. I have seen kids at games with electronic tablets on which they watch movies and TV shows. But I’ve also seen tablets dropped and cracked accidently and on occasion I watched frantic parents searching for a misplaced tablet. So that may not be a suitable option unless you know that your kids are responsible enough for them. Some kids like to have the job of ball boys and girls, which is often appreciated during a match. Be sure you check with the coach and the officials before assuming that they should participate in that way. At my grandsons’ baseball games, one parent brings a scoreboard that has rotating wheels to display runs, strikes, and outs. Usually the job of operating that scoreboard goes to one or two of the youngsters. They love being in charge, and I’m impressed with how well they do the job. Adults oversee it, but they usually end up being distracted by conversations and field activity while the kids stay focused on the numbers.

Finally, another option is to find parallel activities for the kids where you can drop them off on the way to the fields and pick them up on the way home. In our town we have a pottery shop that welcomes kids to come paint plaster objects. The purchase price includes paints and kiln glazing. It usually takes kids around two hours to complete a project, so it can be a distraction that fits in the time schedule. You may also consider a homework center where kids can go to complete their homework, get extra tutoring for tough subjects, and do some extra credit work. These classes can be regularly scheduled or set up occasionally. Most towns have at least one center or there are tutors you can hire to come to the house. In either case, your kids are supervised and are participating in fun and worthwhile behaviors. Organizing play dates for kids while their siblings compete on the pitch gives everyone the attention they deserve. When it comes to summer tournaments, parents can look for residential camps for the sideline buddies to attend while we travel to watch our soccer player. Or we could do a swap, traveling to one tournament while a teammate’s family takes the siblings, then staying home for the next tournament to take in the teammate’s siblings. If you can arrange for your club to attend some fun tournament locations, then everyone will be cool with a few hours of whiling away the time since everyone gets to go to the ocean or the Magic Kingdom after the matches. If the entire family comes along for tournaments, be sure to plan something fun to do each day by learning about points of interest along the way and at the tournament venue as well as bringing along some things to do during the matches.

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that practices and matches aren’t always engaging even for us, especially when our own kids aren’t on the field. So it’s no wonder that the siblings with far less investment in the events can be at loose ends and hate being dragged along even if that’s the only choice for parents. Therefore, finding some options for them while on the sidelines makes the experience much more fun for everyone. They’re distracted and happy, and we don’t have to deal with whining and melt downs. We can make our kids responsible for collecting the items they want to have at the fields so we don’t have even more things to keep track of. On the other hand, I like to keep a seasonal soccer box in the trunk of my car, so you may want to create a “fun” box that always comes along. No matter how we provide some entertainment for the spectating kids, it’s important to do so. Making sure everyone has a good experience guarantees a lot less stress when setting out for the fields.

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Changing with the Times

Susan Boyd

Recently I heard humorist Dave Barry talking about growing up decades ago. He remarked that he and his siblings would go out during the day and be expected to return “by September.” Such was the bucolic life in the 1950s and 1960s for youngsters. This is the atmosphere under which I grew up and thrived. My brothers and I walked a mile and a half to school every morning and home every night through areas that were isolated and desolate, but no one ever thought that it was unsafe. I’m sure there were kids who went missing or were clearly abducted during the years I grew up, especially because I lived near Seattle and the large populations growing around Lake Washington, but we never heard of such cases. The most notable excitement in my young life was when some teens were joy-riding in a Thunderbird, took the turn up the hill behind our house much too fast and sailed over the embankment into a tree. My mom called the police but I never learned what happened to those kids – it was simply a moral tale my father pounded into us when he got home about the dangers of breaking the law.

My brothers played Little League, but my father only attended one game. He announced at the dinner table that the people at the games were crazy and refused to be in their company. I had attended the game with him and there were three other parents and a smattering of siblings. Not sure where the “crazy” came from although I’m sure he’d be totally mortified if he had ever attended one of his grandson’s soccer games. Instead of being carpooled to the practices and games, my brothers rode their bikes straddling their bats across the handle bars and hanging their gloves on the bat grip. My mother didn’t have a car to drive them and besides she was busy making dinner. I played volleyball in high school and skied. My parents never attended one of my competitions and just that one of my brothers, yet we never felt neglected; it was rare for parents to be around.

Every Saturday, my two oldest brothers and I received 50 cents each and marched down our hill to the local movie house. There were always two films, at least one cartoon, and a serial that ended on what we all assumed was an unresolvable cliff-hanger. It cost a quarter to get in, so we had a quarter each for snacks. We stayed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. living on popcorn, soda, and candy for lunch. We had no cell phones, so absolutely no way for my mother to know if we had arrived at the theater safely. When we came home she was usually vacuuming to the sounds of “Saturday at the Met.” Beginning at age 8, I traveled three hours via train from Seattle to Bellingham to attend summer camp. The train stopped at least a dozen times on the journey, and I was totally unsupervised. Usually there were a few other campers on the train, and later my brothers joined me. Nevertheless there was no hesitation. I’m not sure my parents even got a call that I had arrived. It was all normal, expected, and entirely without drama or fear.

There’s a 20-year separation between our oldest daughter and our youngest son, so I have experienced the changes in how we parent. The transition I’ve observed has been both involvement and protectiveness. While I played volleyball and skied competitively, no one attended my games. A generation later, attendance was common. Shane was on the swim team as the long-distance entrant and her event always fell at the end of any competition, so I was often left alone with five or six other parents cheering on their 20 lap swimmers. She also was a cheerleader, so we were “obliged” to attend every game at which the squad performed. No parent considered missing an event. But parents didn’t attend practices. The change I saw once our sons began sports was that practices were populated with adults often just visiting with one another, but nonetheless present. The first field Bryce and Robbie played on was just down the road in our subdivision, so I sent them to practice on their bikes, just as I had done and the girls had done years earlier. But I quickly learned that I was being judged as standoffish and even an uncaring parent for not being with the other guardians down at the field, so instead of making dinner, writing, or just taking a breather for myself, I took my soccer chair and joined in. By the time the boys played at the local university, we attended all games, home and away, but of course we were now empty-nesters with the time to indulge in such activities.

Going along with being everywhere with the kids comes hovering. They call us parents helicopters, and I’ve been there, done that, even though I wasn’t that way with my daughters. It’s amazing how powerful parental peer pressure can be. Where I never had any help with or even reminder of school projects and followed this model with my daughters, I quickly saw that if I didn’t help out, the boys would be left in the dust of well-constructed poster boards and crisply polished classroom speeches. I never kept a calendar, but by the time the boys entered school I had three calendars around the house, outside cubbies and chest of drawers to organize the sports equipment, a box to hold all the notes and permission slips I had to sign, and long-term project reminders. Whether I wanted to hover or not was not the point – it just came with the territory. While I never played sports until high school and only had piano lessons after school once a week and a sewing class when I was 8 (all of which I was on my own to get to), the girls had voice and dancing lessons that I drove them to, and then the explosion came with the boys. There was a smorgasbord of sports, all of which everyone seemed to play, music lessons, Spanish lessons, tutoring, service projects, camps, and science group. Despite working full-time, I still had to find time to drive them everywhere. And as much as I resisted overscheduling, it was difficult to avoid when all their friends were participating and begging them to join in. I did hold firm on one sport per season, but that was my last bastion of resistance.

Along with the eruption of activities came a more global immersion in experiences. Some were positive – going to play soccer in England and Spain, learning about world events, sharing experiences with exchange students – but there were serious negatives. Suddenly we parents were made aware of all the dangers lurking out there. CNN began in 1980, a 24-hour news service that was hungry for content to fill all those hours. A war in Iraq helped, but the corners were stuffed with stories of kids missing and/or abused. What we blissfully weren’t acutely aware of, now became daily fodder. It wasn’t that pedophiles and non-custodial parents were born in the last few decades; it was that we learned about all of them, no matter where in the world they existed. I know I grew up with kids from abusive households, but no one talked about it. That’s an improvement that the media has helped, getting us out of the isolation. But we also became more fearful and cautious. The growth of social media fed these fears, but also helped resolved them. Amber Alerts began in 1996 and are credited with many cases of saving lives, and when they could not save lives, in apprehending perpetrators.

Cell phones allowed us and our children to have quick and important connections, which should have encouraged more freedom, but I still see caution. Phones became the instant recorder of every foible and tragedy. The proliferation of security cameras now catch us in our weakest moments, shining a bright light on our mistakes and creating instant shame. Likewise these images can be of horror, misuse of power, and crimes in progress giving us some measure of control and even more reasons to worry. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports these facts:  they received reports of nearly 467,000 entries in 2014 for missing and exploited children, but less than 100 were murdered; their recovery rate for finding children has grown from 62 percent in 1990 to 97 percent now; 758 children have been recovered as a direct result of Amber Alerts. Very few children are abducted by strangers, with the statistics at one-hundredth of one percent translating to 115 kids last year. While abducted children seems to be increasing, that impression is a product of wider reporting. In reality missing children are down 31 percent between 1997 and 2011 and all crimes against children are dropping according to the FBI. The lower numbers can be attributed to cell phones, which help law enforcement track kids and help kids call for assistance. Teaching kids to avoid strangers may not be much of a solution since the majority of child abductions are not by strangers but by people the child knows. However, the stranger abductions get the most press because they seem the most nefarious. Again cell phones can be the best prevention no matter who the abductor might be.

I will admit that when Shane went alone to Nepal a month before her 11th birthday to visit her best friend Cassie I did have a moment of pause. Even though Cassie had been going to Nepal every year alone since she was 6, I wasn’t totally convinced that this was the best plan for my daughter. However, when considering that I rode a train at 8 alone where there were stops as compared to a plane that took off from one spot, was sealed to all outside influence for the journey, and then arrived to a spot where trusted people would meet her, I was convinced it wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, she had a blast. Cassie met her at the airport with an elephant they rode into Kathmandu, an adventure few of us will ever experience, much less at age 11. Deana went to performing arts high school 1,500 miles away when she was 14. Robbie flew to National Team tryouts at 14, and he and Bryce went to play with the Queens Park Rangers youth team at 13 and 15, respectively, thanks to a friend who bought an interest in the club and invited them to come participate. These adventures on their own taught my children independence, problem-solving, and self-confidence. Instead of holding them back because of fears, I sent them off because of opportunities. I never wore a bike helmet and fell off my bike twice with serious injuries, there were no seat belts in our cars growing up so I was lucky to never be in an accident and risk being thrown from the car, and I spent hours on my own getting to school, lessons, and activities because my mother had four other kids and a foster son and no car. So, she had no time and no means to provide me with transportation. Because I could drive my kids to places it opened up their opportunities but restricted their self-reliance. Therefore it was important that I give to them times to be independent and find their own way in the world. I credit soccer with providing my boys the experiences that fostered resourcefulness. Youth soccer can give them confidence both on and off the field, teaching them to rely on their wits and teaching them how to recover from failings.

Therefore, I absolutely encourage parents to relinquish some of their control and allow kids to navigate both actually and symbolically to and through their activities. I know how difficult it is because we watch the other “stage parents” manipulating and improving their kids’ situations and worry that our own children will fall behind. But I can speak from experience that those players whose parents spoke to the coaches, insisted on playing time, decided the clubs and positions they would play, and analyzed every game watched their children either burn out or be ill-equipped to handle adversity or both. In the end these kids quit. Helicopter parents prevent their kids from developing the skills to resolve problems and set and achieve their own goals. Except for a brief time for Bryce, none of my children went pro in their chosen activities (even Deana had gotten an audition with American Ballet Theater and decided it wasn’t for her), but they are successful and happy in life, which is really what we all want. Fame seems wonderful, but it can be fleeting. Figuring out how to stretch a quarter to get the most treats at the theater has held me in good stead for decades.

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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 ( – 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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