Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer

US Youth Soccer Intagram!

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority


Capri Sun


Wilson Trophy Company

Nesquik - Great For Team Snacks!

Nike Soccer - Play Now!

Play Positive Banner

Print Page Share

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". 


Mean What We Say

Susan Boyd

A man in a body bag lying on a gurney at the funeral home awaiting embalming suddenly starts kicking. Declared dead, here he was alive. A miracle? Perhaps. A couple walking in the foothills of the Sierra Madres stumble across rusted cans filled with old gold coins worth millions. A miracle? Probably not, but lucky none the less. A soccer team beats an opponent that on paper was far superior. A miracle?  Absolutely not. The use of the word miracle illustrates how loosely we use language without regard to actual context. We call anything unexpected and unusual a miracle. It diminishes the value of the word and its real impact in our conversations. We banter around the term to describe things as insignificant as getting good grades, “It’s a miracle she passed Trigonometry,” getting somewhere on time, “It’s a miracle we didn’t hit any red lights,” or avoiding discomfort, “It’s a miracle he didn’t throw up after eating all his Halloween candy.”              

As a writer and English teacher, I am constantly encouraging students to be precise in their language. We accept laziness in composition — just look at any text or Twitter — and we settle for the use of vulgar four letter words as our adjectives of choice. This results in communication, which not only doesn’t elevate the conversation, but actually obscures it. We use emoticons to relay our meaning rather than expressing the meaning in a way it can be universally understood. When my students tackle a writing project and have to operate without the safety net of “lol” or smiley faces, they often flounder in the task. The nuances of satire, the delicacy of emotion, and the power of argument fall outside their abilities. Without the proper vocabulary to express themselves and the inability to depend on some type of external composition crutch, they completely freeze up.          

One might assume a thesaurus would help, but it can actually inhibit good communication because students choose word options that are totally inappropriate to the context simply because they perceive the option as intellectual without regard to its meaning. In one episode of “Friends,” Joey has to compose a letter to support Monica and Chandler’s adoption application. His coarse product prompts Ross to suggest he use a thesaurus to create a more sophisticated response. The ensuing letter reads like a ridiculous parody. The sentence, “They are warm, nice people with big hearts” became “They are human prepossessing homo sapiens with full-sized aortic pumps.” He even signs the letter “Baby Kangaroo Tribbiani.” In the struggle to sound wise, he, like many of my students, ended up sounding foolish. Ironically, to find a perfect synonym requires that the writer fully understand the meanings of the synonyms available to use.             

I rely on a great text to help me find the perfect word for any situation. It was compiled by an attorney, who became exasperated by the number of cases he witnessed being overturned because of imprecise language in the jury instructions or in the decisions. Called “The Thinker’s Thesaurus: Sophisticated Alternatives to Common Words,” it goes beyond the expected synonyms to discover related words based on use rather than just meaning. Every alternate has a clear explanation of its definition and use.  For instance, “word” has 27 distinctly different usages. Author Peter Meltzer provides detailed examples of each usage, helping a writer select the best synonym for the job. Eponym (a word derived from a real or fictional person) has a very different utility than common synonyms for “word,” such as “term” or “expression.” The sentence, “Marat Sade provided us with the eponym for ‘sadism,’” more clearly defines meaning than simply saying he provided us with the term “sadism.” The latter could be interpreted as saying he made up the word, rather than he was the model for the word which is what eponym means.           

Clearly, I am a strong advocate for using words that most accurately state what we mean. Which brings me to the word, “miracle.” I’m not a religious person, but I was raised in a strict religious home, and I have many relatives and friends of all faiths who participate regularly in religious services, studies and lifestyle. I’m well aware of how loosely we as a society have come to banter around the word “miracle,” without regard to its significance in the lives of people of faith. Most of us who speak of miracles aren’t talking about some powerful, meaningful and unexpected gift from God that cannot be comprehended through reason alone. Instead we are talking about some experience that benefitted us in a surprising way. But the actual event can be logically explained.           

When the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the Russian team, it was declared “The Miracle on Ice.” The Disney movie about the event was titled simply and provocatively, “Miracle.” This past month, all the pundits were asking, “Can the U.S. repeat the miracle on ice?” The clamoring about miracles makes good press and certainly hypes the event to increase viewership (and it follows – revenue), but it belittles the actual meaning of miracle. We can say it was astonishing or unpredictable, but we know any “miracle” in the sports world is fully explainable. The team trained well, the opponent stumbled, external elements played to the team’s strengths, or, like it happens in soccer, the fluke shot scores. It’s amazing when we make all the green lights, but not miraculous. It’s wonderful when it doesn’t rain during the company picnic, but that’s not a miracle. The difficulty is that “Astonishing!” isn’t as strong a headline as “Miracle!” “Lucky” isn’t as emotional a word as “miracle.” We have gotten used to the hyperbole of the word without regard to its specific spiritual intent. The more we use the word indiscriminately the more we demean its power.

I don’t have a strong investment in whether or not miracle is used correctly, but through the years I have been well aware of how sloppily we use certain language that should have specific meaning. Recently, I heard a panel discussion on a girl who had been declared brain dead after routine surgery. Her family, unable to accept the diagnosis, have chosen to sustain her in a hospice on life support with the belief that God would provide a miracle and resurrect her. All but one member of the panel argued that there would be no miracles because someone clinically dead will remain dead even if her organs are kept working with machines. The lone dissenting member argued that miracle is defined by an unexplainable event like coming back from the dead. A miracle is an act that exists outside of reason and science. Whether or not you believe in its possibility isn’t the point. Nevertheless, the panel ended up angrily mocking this man’s argument. When the discussion shifted to another topic, people constantly brought the dialog back to what constituted a miracle, inferring that if he was ridiculous enough to believe that a child could come back from the dead then he must believe other things like finding a penny on the ground or losing ten pounds without dieting are miracles, trivializing his point. This got me thinking about how we appropriate language to serve our purposes without considering how that usage affects others.             

No matter what I feel, the random use of the word miracle will continue. We are too inured to the impact our use has. However, I still want people to recognize how careless we can be with our word choices. English has such a richness. In “My Fair Lady,” Professor Henry Higgins says to Eliza Doolittle:  “The majesty and grandeur of the English language — it’s the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative and musical mixtures of sound.” The way we use powerful, singular words like miracle in a broad spectrum of occasions and the way we have reduced our communication to emoticons and abbreviations are symptoms of how we have settled for a less majestic and grand language. When we accept less and less precision and splendor in our selections, we give ourselves over to misunderstanding and dullness. More significantly, we do our children a disservice. Even the SAT is accommodating our diminishing language immersion by forgoing the writing sample and making the vocabulary more “user-friendly” code for simplifying. More and more, I see schools ready to abandon writing and speech as considering them insignificant aspects of an educated life. We have gotten sloppy in our language because we aren’t challenged to be smart and accurate. Therefore, we are subjected to misspelled and grammatically incorrect scrawls on the news and the inability of people to articulate an argument. We foolish believe that if we can put words on a page, we are capable of writing, which is no truer than believing if we can walk we can win the 100-meter dash. We aren’t thoroughbred writers and speakers. Excellence requires years of development. If we spent as much time encouraging our children to become outstanding readers, speakers and writers as we spend encouraging them to develop a perfect first touch, we would prepare them to be exceptional citizens who not only clearly mean what they say but express themselves with power and creativity .


Comments (0)


Playing in Stressful Matches

Sam Snow

A youth coach wrote in with these comments and question:

"A few of the boys I coach in soccer (U13) tend to feel the stress when playing highly competitive games in Division I. Despite trying to reassure them and instill confidence, they tend to freeze up and not play fluidly. This causes them to make mistakes, which only makes the situation worse – they then further lose confidence in their abilities and the cycle continues. When they play games that aren’t high stakes they relax, have fun, and play well. That helps restore some of their confidence. I try and use those low stakes games as examples for them but it doesn't seem to make a difference. I've also tried positive visualizations (having them picture in their minds & speak out loud how they will play) which has helped a little at times. Do you have any advice to help reach these boys? I know they can do it – they don’t seem to know it though. Thanks!"

The scenario described with young players who are learning how to compete is not unusual. That the coach is already practicing visualization is a wonderful step toward helping the players cope with game day stress. I suggest adding to the self-talk and team talk the mantra of the US National Teams – respect everyone, fear no one.

Learning to play against quality competition is an ongoing effort with players moving up in the levels of play. Just look at the first day of matches of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup with the successes of Martinique and Panama. In two matches, the lower ranked team knocked off the higher ranked team. This U13 team could draw inspiration from such performances.

Here are a few suggestions to build up the team’s performance and confidence:

  • Play training matches versus older teams. Play three 25 minute periods. In this way the coach can change the lineup and/or formation between each period. The coaches should be the referees during this training match so that they can speak to players during the run of play. Playing against a team that is one or two years older will help the younger team to deal with a faster game both physically and mentally. When they then go back to a match versus their own age group the game speed will seem easier to manage.
  • In training sessions, play more two touch and one touch small-sided games (2 vs. 2 up to 8 vs. 8) to get the players accustomed to thinking and playing faster.
    • Speed of play is mostly mental (tactical decision making) and secondarily physical (technical speed and physical movement). In training sessions, build the team up to a full field game of two touch for a 10 minute stretch. The coach might have to gradually increase the length of time literally one minute per training session.
  • Continue training on visualization. Now add a trigger word.
    • Develop a refocusing technique helps to trigger mental focus to a controlled state of mind. The trigger word helps the player to forget about a mistake just made or to calm oneself just before a stressful moment, such as taking a corner kick. Practice the trigger word by spelling it out in one’s mind during the day of the match. Try the word “support”, which is important for all players to do for their teammates whether attacking or defending and regardless of their position in the team formation. Even during the match when a player senses distress then spell “support” out in the mind and/or say it out loud. The use of the word “support” is a great example of the effective use of a self-talk trigger word used to remain focused during difficult moments in the match.
    • Self-talk refers to the internal dialogue that occurs in one’s mind, such as the instructions or encouragement that a player gives to oneself. Players’ thoughts occur often and are very automatic; for this reason rather than trying to eliminate all thoughts during a match a coach should try to work with players on managing their thoughts. When players begin to doubt themselves or tell themselves what “not” to do, it tends to lead to poor performances and mistakes. By having a go-to trigger word, it gives the player the skill needed to counter their unproductive thoughts. By replacing the negative talk with their trigger word, they are able to remain focused on the skills needed to be successful.
  • During a match, point out to the players the small victories they are achieving:
    • A pass well received
    • A tackle made for possession
    • An intelligent off-the-ball run
    • Good communication with a teammate
    • Constantly looking around the field for tactical cues
    • Tactically good positioning
    • Acts of good sportsmanship


  • Remind them that their anxiety stems from their competitive drive. That’s a good thing. Now refocus that drive onto individual performance, not on the outcome of the match.

    • Did I make positive comments to my teammates throughout the match?

    • Did I consistently make recovery runs when we were defending?

    • Did I work hard to move to be in the right place to support my teammates?

    • Did I consistently visualize myself making good passes/distribution to my teammates?

Comments (1)


Marching On

Susan Boyd

It’s funny how certain connections get made in our brains. I passed the parking lot outside the indoor facility where Bryce and Robbie played for a decade. The lot was always full in the winter with plenty of late comers circling. We parked there at least twice a week and often as many as six times a week. Now the lot still fills with cars, but our car wasn’t included. It has no need to be. And that little fact made me wistful. Somehow life was marching on leaving just memories in its wake.                

How often have any of us remarked when we hear the name of a college or pro player announced and wonder if he or she is related to another player we used to watch. Amazingly, we discover it’s a son or daughter of the player, and we feel ancient. How did this happen? That 19-year-old we cheered can’t possibly have a child old enough to play in college — after all, we’re not that old. But it’s true. The generations continue to expand. The time our kids play in any one era, be it youth soccer, travel team, high school and/or college, never takes up more than four or five years. So we flow seamlessly into each chapter, until suddenly, the book is over. Other books open up. Our children will graduate from college, get jobs, find a spouse, have kids and need us to babysit. Yet, there is something really vacant in our souls when soccer is over.               

I think we invest a lot into our kids’ sports, even more than in their schooling, because we experience most of that sport life first hand. I don’t imagine most of us attend our kids’ schools every day, peering over their shoulders as they complete tests, sitting in the back of the room shouting, “Way to go” as they answer a discussion question, muttering at the teacher if we feel he has wrongly disciplined our child, or buying our students Quantum Physics spirit wear. On the other hand, we intimately share the ups, downs, ins and outs of our children’s youth sports. When the sports end, there’s a void that must mimic empty nest syndrome (though I have yet to experience that as our children insist on returning home in leap frog manner!).                 

In all the other phases of our children’s lives, we are looking forward to the next phase. We welcome graduation because it means, we hope, that our children will be ready to take on employment. We welcome employment because it signals a commitment to independence. We definitely welcome their marriages since we will gain another beloved family member and because it hopefully means we will soon be grandparents. I can speak from about that journey having watched it unfold with our daughters. They were more traditional — school, graduation, jobs, marriage, children. Deana had been a dancer and wanted to act, but ended up changing colleges and becoming a fashion merchandizer. Now she runs fashion merchandizing for a worldwide company, travels to exotic locations and loves what she does. Shane went to work for the Minnesota Twins, married, had children, and became a stay at home mom. At each step, I didn’t experience any voids because the phases segued one into the other like a seamless ribbon of accomplishments.                

When sports end there isn’t the next sports phase to look forward to. It’s just over and we have to move on to the more customary life paths. Maybe that’s why we get so anxious about our kids making the travel team and the high school team and being recruited to play in college. We have hopes of them turning pro. We want so badly for this to be our child’s journey for years to come. Life phases happen naturally and generally on an anticipated timetable. Our kids may not get into the dream college, but they will get into college. They may not get a Wall Street job, but they will get a job that satisfies and supports them. They will find a soul mate and that may lead to children whether naturally, in vitro, or adopted. The options are all open and all possible. That’s not the case with sports, yet we want a future in sports to be just as conceivable and predictable. Unfortunately, we have very little control over those next steps. So much is dictated by talent, luck and exposure.               

What happens when the sports don’t end? Not necessarily what you would expect. Our oldest son just signed a pro contract with an indoor soccer team. Be careful what you wish for. His pay is so low that he has had to move out of his apartment back home and we’re supporting the kid again! People, however, remain impressed, which is wonderful for him. Getting there has been a long struggle, and staying there will be even more of a struggle. However, we, his parents, can take little credit. Sure we schlepped him to practices, games and tournaments, bought thousands of dollars in clothing and gear, flew him to tryouts, and listened to his anguish as opportunities evaporated when they seemed so sure. But that’s what parents do. Making the pro level was totally on him. He persevered, sacrificed, dealt with adversity, kept his body at fighting fit, and worked every network he could. We didn’t do that. My point is that in a way this is the natural progression of his life, but it happens to not follow the usual path. He still has to finish his last year of college.  He can’t even think about marriage or children at this juncture. He’s opted to follow a life route that will eventually result in all the things our children accomplish, but he has to take some detours before getting there.              

Living the life of an athlete may seem glamorous, just like living the life of an actor or a musician, but truthfully it is just plain hard work with little monetary reward. All their satisfaction comes from personal achievement. When we went to the first game for which he suited up, I felt oddly distant from the experience, as if I had entered his office and was watching him doing his job. It was completely different than the youth soccer experience including high school and college. In those games I was sitting with parents who had the same investment in their children succeeding as I did in my son. We were a fraternity bonded by our allegiance to our children’s team. Now I was in a huge arena filled with strangers who cheered and jeered without regard to those players being someone’s offspring. My pride at his success was no different than any parent’s pride in a diploma or a new job. But with that pride came a void. I was no longer that partner in his development. I was a spectator.                

He’s at practice right now. I’m not involved in any way even though he is practicing in the same facility with that parking lot. I won’t be pulling my car into a slot after letting him out at the door. I won’t be walking into the indoor park to lean over the balcony and observe his practice. And I won’t be gathering him up afterwards to listen to his chatter about good and bad play on the way home. The only thing that will remain the same for now is that I end up washing his sweaty practice clothes! But life has marched on with his soccer becoming the same professional phase as attending graduate school or getting a job.                 

Bryce had this dream that he announced after a brutal loss when he was 8 years old. I expected him to leave the field dejected, but he was oddly effusive. “I want to do this all my life!” Yeah, yeah, right. Don’t all kids look at Lionel Messi or Abby Wambach and dream of being them? But, as a parent, I did what I could to support that hope. Nevertheless, with all the carpools, private coaching, competitive teams, top tournaments and a private college that cost four times more than his scholarship, it ended up being Bryce’s choice to dig in and do what was necessary to get to the goal. Somewhere along that journey my role changed from personal to detached. My involvement had been intense and daily, just as all parents experience with soccer. Then eventually our participation morphs into a distant observer or evaporates all together with the end of soccer. It’s tough. Our dream may be that our kids continue to play, but the longer they play the less they need us to be a part of the process. So in achieving the dream, they naturally push us out of the game. That’s what has to happen because getting to the top has to be a personal commitment unfettered from anything we parents want. That leaves us circling the lot without a reason to park.

Comments (0)



Susan Boyd

I used to teach a course in technical writing. I had to drill into my students that technical writers can’t make assumptions about the reader’s knowledge of a topic. Writers must provide clear definitions of terms, create uncomplicated processes and provide volumes of information as they deliver instructions for projects from setting up a computer, to building a grill, to operating a voting machine, or to playing a game. In order to impress upon my students the importance of thinking ahead and creating clear technical instruction I had them do an interesting exercise. I divided the class into groups of three and provided each group with a relatively simple graphic design. The group’s job was to develop instructions whereby another group could recreate the design on the blackboard simply using the instructions. Let’s say the design was a circle with a line bisecting it parallel to the floor and a triangle under the circle with the apex of the triangle touching the circle. Students dove in, snickered at the simplicity of the task, wrote their brief instructions, and then traded them with another group. Here’s where the fun began. The students wrote, “Draw a circle.” The group creating the design on the blackboard froze up immediately. They had no idea how big the circle was. The next instruction was “Bisect the circle with a line parallel to the ground.” But the group had no idea how long the line should be and if it bisected evenly with the ends all inside the circle, outside the circle, and or uneven in length through the circle. There were even students who had no idea what “bisect” meant. The next instruction was “place a triangle under the circle with the top of the triangle touching the edge of the circle.” Yet again, the students were confused. Was it an equilateral triangle, obtuse, right or isosceles? How big was the triangle? How far down should the triangle be drawn? What the groups glibly thought would be a piece of cake turned out to be complex and confusing.             

Parents make assumptions all the time about what our kids should understand, and we get frustrated when they don’t seem to be leaping to accomplish a task. Just this weekend I was out of town watching two of my grandsons in Columbus. There was a horrible snowstorm in Milwaukee, and Bryce was watching the house. He called me in a panic because he couldn’t get the snow blower to work. I said it was probably out of fuel, and he informed me he had filled it up and it still wouldn’t start. With a sinking heart I asked if he used the gas tank by the lawn mower, which contains pure gas, and the answer was yes. Unfortunately, the snow blower requires an oil and gas mixture and that can was set in front of the machine. Bryce was embarrassed, but I told him that unless he had bought the blower and read the instructions, he would have no idea that it needed a different fuel. It was an important lesson to me that I couldn’t just assume that he would know how to run the snow blower. Do our kids intuitively know how to run the washing machine, the vacuum or the dishwasher? Did we? Yet even our kids think they should be able to do it automatically. They see us approach these tasks with ease, and so they expect to do the same. When we try to explain how to do something, we run the risk of wounding our children’s pride. It’s a thin line between being helpful to them and demeaning their abilities.              

We face this challenge daily. I did a blog several years ago about the humorous aspects of these misunderstandings, but there are more serious outcomes that can affect how we interact with our kids, their friends and teammates, coaches and other parents. I was watching my grandson’s 9-year-old basketball team’s practice where they scrimmaged a girls’ team. The game was lively and funny. I was sitting next to a mom who had played basketball in high school, and she was getting increasingly frustrated that her daughter didn’t know how to set up a pick. She felt it was intuitive because she herself had done them over and over for 10 years. She expected her daughter to launch right into the skill. During a break in the action, the mom called her daughter over and began quizzing her, “Why don’t you set up a screen? Why do you act so timid? Why aren’t you taking more shots?” I saw two distinct expressions on the child’s face: First, total disgust at her mother’s instructions and second, befuddlement over what she was supposed to be doing. Using pick interchangeably with screen was a matter of using synonyms for the mom, but to a child completely clueless as to how the two activities are actually one in the same, it was confusing. The mother’s expectations ran in direct opposition to her daughter’s understanding and ability. Skills, that for adults come easily and logically, only do so because we have had years to develop the context in which to understand them. A slide tackle for a child contains words that she understands, but the intent of those words get muddled. We shouldn’t expect any player to automatically know what a slide tackle means and how to execute one, but we do it all the time. We show our frustration at their misunderstanding which only makes the situation worse. Kids become disappointed in themselves for not intuitively grasping a skill because the adults seem to believe that those skills should spring innately from their children.             

We can develop a great deal of impatience when we rely on someone to have the same understanding of a situation or a skill as we do. We forget that learning requires time, context and maturity to result in the abilities we consider intuitive. Take the offside rule for instance. Those of us with years of experience in soccer usually understand the rule. But that is not necessarily the case for most young players and for many adults. Add to the mix the misunderstanding of “over and back” for offside and you can have parents completely apoplectic when the offside flag goes up. Those of us who get it have little tolerance for those who don’t get it, and we tend to judge them for their inability to understand the rule naturally. Coaches can assume their young players know certain skills when in fact they have no idea what the coach is talking about. Wanting to please they will struggle to fake their understanding as best they can, feeling inadequate and foolish in the process. A coach can aggravate the situation if he continues expecting that players should intuitively understand his commands. Telling a goalkeeper to keep her feet doesn’t translate into staying upright as long as possible to watch the play develop then dropping to save a ball. It translates into staying upright even once the ball is kicked to the lower left post. When reprimanded for not going down to save the ball, the confusion on how to “keep your feet” versus diving for a save simply deepens. Until the process is completely explained, players will continue to misunderstand the skill. “Clearing the ball” seems absolutely intuitive, when in fact few youth players have any idea that to clear a ball means to boot it from the defensive end to the offensive end. Continually shouting “clear it!” won’t make the term anymore obvious. Clear has synonyms which mean pure, distinct, unobstructed, transparent, and obvious. The synonym which most embodies what “clear it” means is to free the ball, but even that is ambiguous.  Clearing the ball can only be completely understood when fully explained.            

Our capacity to convey ideas to our children and others cannot count on their ability to understand those ideas with the same intuitive awareness we possess. Our intuitiveness comes from experience and repetition, not from some sudden innate epiphany. Expecting others to have the same context isn’t fair. But we forget how our knowledge developed over time. We only have our present understanding against which we measure what others should understand. At my daughter’s house, I had to do the laundry. I have been washing clothes for more than 40 years, so washing them on this particular day should have been easy. In a distinctly humble moment, I realized I had no idea which detergent to use, how to add the detergent to the laundry, how to even turn the washer on given the complex combination of time, temperature, agitation, fabric type and weight of the load. There were literally bells and whistles the likes of which I had never encountered. Only after doing one load did I discover a secret compartment where detergent, bleach, and fabric softener could be dispensed. It was all so confusing and did not fit at all into that intuitive style of washing I had carefully developed over the years. I felt the same as I’m sure I did the first time I ever tried to do a load of wash, which was on a much simpler machine. It gave me a much needed perspective on how we all assume that because we know and understand something, everyone will know and understand it, when in fact the only intuitive knowledge should be that intuition has no standards or expectations.

Comments (0)