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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.


Spirit of the Game

Susan Boyd

Barclay’s Bank, which sponsors the English Premier League, has an ad on the field boards that reads, “To those who champion the true spirit of the game – thank you.” I assumed the statement reflected some high-minded, lofty ideals which addressed good sportsmanship and fan behavior but actually it touts their contest rewarding winners with home game tickets and trips to away games. Avid fans, top vendors, or support staff such as grounds crew enter by answering team trivia or convincing the judges of their commitment to a team. Considering the persistent overt racism voiced by fans and players, the violent hooliganism, and the dangerous physical confrontations among players and between players and fans on the pitch, I’m disappointed that the contest focuses on devotion and team details rather than rewarding integrity. 

Here in America the NFL has its “Together We Make Football” campaign that has a similar framework. Initially, fans were encouraged to write short essays, submit photos, or make short videos in which they detail how the NFL has affected their lives. That contest closed October 19, but people can still participate online with further submissions that can’t win the grand prize, but can be considered for inclusion in an NFL film to be shown during the Super Bowl. One individual and one group entry will win tickets to the big game where they can witness live the blatant self-important plug for the NFL. The intent is to show that football has had a life-changing impact on people whose stories will splash across the Jumbotron, which of course makes football larger than life both figuratively and literally.

NBC’s Today Show in tandem with Sunday Night Football airs a segment every Friday under the umbrella of “Together We Make Football.” Reporter Josh Elliott details a human interest story inspired by the home team. So far we have seen a woman recovering from breast cancer, a Special Olympics flag football team that won the national championship, a football teen with cerebral palsy and two sisters from a football family who also play the game. These weekly inspirational stories weave a mystical emotional shroud that provides gallant attributes to the power of football in people’s lives. At the end of each segment the team’s owner and/or coach plus some of the more popular players greet the subjects of the story and their families providing tickets to Sunday’s game and sideline passes. There’s definitely no denying how meaningful the gesture is for the participants. I don’t really like football, but if I got tickets and sideline passes to a Packers game, I would have a big smile on my face. That’s the power of casting the light of notoriety on one’s life. However, I notice that there’s no real sacrifice from this billion dollar producing business. It takes little effort to toss some tickets around. I would prefer to see the NFL stop using this project for just self-promotion of game broadcasts. Where’s the large donation checks to the most appropriate weekly charity such as cancer research or Special Olympics? Where’s the commitment for long-term volunteerism to organizations that support these charities? Given recent melt-downs over domestic violence, child abuse, and drug and alcohol problems, I’d think the NFL would want to take the extra step toward showing a more honorable, selfless face. If it needs hooks in its media campaigns, why not one that also contributes something that promotes decency and philanthropy?

Then again, perhaps contests aren’t supposed to be about ideals. It is certainly easier to quantify a level of enthusiasm or a detailed knowledge of team minutiae than to measure someone’s moral essence. Nevertheless, the language of the Barclay statement bothers me. Touting someone being the “champion of the true spirit of the game” infers something far nobler that being loyal or even rabid about the sport. The dilemma lies in the phrase “spirit of the game,” which got me thinking what that should be, especially as it relates to youth sports. What should be our job as parents to model that spirit and instill it in our children? Do we even have an obligation to discover and impart a broader aspect of play that includes moral, altruistic and idealistic elements?

I argue that the spirit of the game has to mean more than self-aggrandizement through a contest. Very few youth players will participate in soccer after middle-school. The drop-off rate in youth sports is around 70 percent at age 14. The reasons vary, but for most kids they find something else that interests them more, usually because they know they aren’t advancing enough in skills to continue to compete successfully. They also will quit from undue pressure on winning, overbearing coaches and parents (both their own and those of fellow teammates), and demands they aren’t willing to fulfill. These issues all lead to a lack of fun. No matter how short or long players participate sports, and soccer in particular, can help invest kids with ideals that translate to other areas of their lives and their futures. Children can learn through soccer the value of cooperation, unselfish play, humbleness in victory, grace in defeat, unconditional support for teammates, a strong work ethic, promptness, and respecting authority. These traits serve us throughout our lives and I believe exemplify the spirit of the game. Yet we often don’t demonstrate them in our own behaviors, berating our children and the team for a bad play or a loss, encouraging our kids to hang on to the ball and score, overly celebrating a win, screaming at the referees, coming late to events, and letting our kids miss practices for insignificant conflicts. When Robbie was playing in a U-11 tournament game, the opposing coach kept exhorting his players to “take him out.” He even suggested they “break his leg if you have to.” No one called him on his boorish behavior including the referees. In fact, several of the team parents took up the call. The clear message was that violence in the pursuit of a win was appropriate and the authorities can and will ignore it. Certainly I was upset that they were talking about my little 10-year-old, but I was also upset that this was the “spirit of the game” the kids were learning.

My hope is that we embrace the best “spirit” and then demonstrate it in our words and actions. All too soon soccer, in fact any sport, becomes more about competition and winning and less about fun, but that doesn’t mean we have to abandon our ideals in the transition. Soccer would be much more fun if this spirit was evident at games and practices. It would take the burden of competitive stresses for perfection and winning off the table and it would open the door to more positive interactions with teammates and opponents and would temper the increasing competition for older youth. I wonder if the fan who has attended every one of his Premier League team’s matches for 40 years has done so while practicing decorum and integrity. Rewarding someone for dogged loyalty doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is a pillar of honor. In the Barclay contest, spirit of the game implies commitment rather than principle. A grounds man who mowed and lined the pitch for three decades has obviously done so because he does a good job, has been compensated well enough to stick with it, and probably loves the team for whom he works, but that doesn’t mean he has a spirit that translates to laudable behaviors. Should his devotion be enough to qualify to win?

I’m also bothered by the use of the verb “champion.” To champion a cause comes from a more chivalrous age of knights who exhibited courage, honor, and service. Yet while the Barclay contest clearly borrows the British medieval term, it fails to address its historical intent. I can guarantee that the weekly winners aren’t being measured by their courage, honor and service. In fact to enter most fans just have to answer a question about their team and then submit that answer along with the entrant’s name and address. No one needs to make any more of a sacrifice than springing for a postage stamp or taking the time to fill out an on line form. Those who truly champion do so without regard to personal cost and in the pursuit of attaining something positive and powerful to benefit others. 

Finally, I’m troubled by the addition of “true” to “spirit of the game” and then having that spirit be merely the strong support of a team and the game. “True spirit” equates with something essential at the highest level, which is defined in the contest as commitment to team and sport. Championing that true spirit means nothing more than maintaining and promoting fan loyalty, without tackling a more significant spirit of charity, honorable behavior, the pursuit of goals loftier than wins, improving one’s community, and speaking out against intolerance and violence both on and off the pitch.

When I first saw the statement on the stadium scrawl I thought Barclay’s was looking to lift fan involvement beyond racism, hooliganism, and loutish behavior with a message to fans, players, and management that the game needed to find a moral center that people could stand behind. Since the English Premier League is now known at Barclay’s Premier League, it seemed appropriate for the sponsor to open a dialog about the responsibilities of fans, players, officials, owners, and organizations to be more attuned to the higher ground the sport could achieve.  That wasn’t their intent unfortunately, but I’m hoping we can open that dialog anyway with our youth players in America.

The values that soccer encourages provide some of the strongest reasons kids should participate in youth sports. A percentage of players will have the skills, determination, and opportunities to move on to high school, college, and professional sports, but the vast majority of players will only participate as kids then move on to other pursuits. Therefore, beyond the obvious benefits of fitness and social interactions, soccer can also provide our children with life lessons that will impact their development well into their adult and professional lives. Learning behaviors of integrity can be a meaningful and lasting benefit from playing sports. We should: encourage our teams to participate in community projects that help others such as delivering Thanksgiving boxes, cleaning up neighborhood lots to provide areas for play, collecting for UNICEF, reading to kids on the oncology ward at hospitals, and any other of dozens of charitable undertakings; model good behavior on the sidelines; expect kids to show respect for one another, opponents, and authorities; look at losses as learning opportunities not devastating disasters; accept wins as something earned not entitled and not to be flaunted; and teach unselfish play, reward it, and demonstrate how it can lead to great outcomes. To champion the true spirit of the game means that adults need to practice admirable ideals and help our kids achieve and embody them. When they leave the sport, the spirit of the game should go with them.

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The Player's Game

Sam Snow

The Player's Game

By Chris Panayiotou, Developmental Director of Coaching - Virginia Rush Soccer Club

Football, soccer, voetball the player’s game?

I dream of being like my heroes Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney, ah the fame

I dream that 80,000-90,000 fans are screaming my name,

I want to ask the stars, with all those people screaming your name….

How does this affect your game?

How do you think?

When coach yells, the sidelines screams directions I just freeze and shrink


They say that soccer is the player’s game

I just can't concentrate when the adults yell my name

I want to play where it's nice and quiet

Not where a referee misses a call and induces a riot

I want to play where I'm free to make mistakes

Not when that happens the adult berates


The parents yell boot it, punt it, whack it clear

I just want to dribble keep the ball near

After all, the ball is the world’s favorite toy

I am not a grown man, just a small boy


People are yelling pass, pass, pass

Tell me dribble and I will be the top of my class

I want to dribble and touch the ball

I want to be free from the noise and try it all


Dad when you were young how and what did you play?

Did your parents come and watch you, what did they say?

The ride home is at times what I dread

Because what you say I should do, is not what coach said


Today is my day, to learn and embrace,

All that I can from my coach and teammates.

From me to you, and you to me,

The way forward is clear to see.

These six words mean the world to me.

Mom, Dad, there is no better way for you to say,

"I loved watching you play today."

These words I hear, and never fear are true and kind and full of cheer.


Kick around with me, show me what to do

Let me take part in pick-up games like you used to


I am still a young person not a professional player

I need support and praise not a nay-sayer

Thank my teachers and coaches for their time

They are trying to help my skills be sublime


Praise my effort, grit, determination and will

Let me develop, try new things, gain a skill

Sit back, relax, enjoy this ride

This is my journey let me fill you with pride



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For Love of Country

Susan Boyd

This week the United States Women’s National Team marched decisively toward qualifying for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup by winning the CONCACAF Championship. The top three teams automatically earn a berth and the fourth place team will participate in a play-off against a CONMEBOL team (South America) for one last spot that the two leagues share. Presently, they are ranked as the top women’s team in the world. The World Cup will be played June 6 – July 5, 2015 across Canada. Having watched the CONCACAF games, I’m impressed with the quality of soccer. The matches have so much to offer youth players. While we focus on the male superstars, we too often forget the level of soccer that women play. Skill, team tactics, determination, power, and spectacular performances come together with the women’s matches. These are great opportunities for youth players, both girls and boys, to witness some of the brightest and most athletic players in the world practice their craft.

I mention all of this because having the World Cup in Canada means it’s more accessible to us than any of the upcoming Men’s World Cups. In 2018, the men will play in Russia. Who knows what our relationship will be with Russia by then given recent world events. I also remember the 1980 Olympics in Moscow that America boycotted, so there’s a precedent for not participating due to politics. The 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar in the heart of summer, so heat will be a tremendous factor. Again, we may find politics playing a role in who attends the event, to the point some teams may not feel safe to participate. The Middle East will hopefully settle down by then, but it may also explode further. Given that backdrop, Canada will be quiet, safe and manageable for families and teams.

Soccer fans support and promote the men’s game, yet some of the most athletic and amazing players come from the “fairer sex.” When looking at World Cup records, women stand equal with the men, and several women surpass the men in the number of consecutive World Cups and goals. Nail-biter games have elevated the Women’s World Cup. In 2011, the U.S. lost to Japan in an extra-time game that had breathtaking moments of great play and close calls. They beat China in 1999 in a double overtime game that was decided by penalty kicks. In six Women’s World Cups, the U.S. has won twice and come in either second or third in the other four years. It’s a pretty amazing record, one that promises to continue next year. This is all the more reason for young fans to come watch live matches at such a high international level that are at our doorstep. The United States obviously has an amazing team, but Japan, Brazil, Germany, Norway and Sweden have top squads that offer intense competition and crowd-pleasing play. Certainly, you can watch these games on TV, and at a bare minimum that’s what we soccer families should be doing. But given this great opportunity to go see matches live, I’m hoping parents and youth soccer clubs will seize the good fortune the locations offer.

FIFA, through Ticketmaster, tender a number of ticket packages that include a full pass and a half pass to the venues across Canada. Those who purchase the packages will have the first chance to buy tickets to the finals on July 5 in Vancouver. Specific seats for the packages will not be available until November, so right now all packages can be obtained. However, once the teams are selected and the venues where those teams will play announced, ticket sales will pick up and sell out quickly. You can either take a chance now to buy passes for a stadium close to you or you can wait for the schedule and risk not getting good seats or even any seats. United States matches will sell out quickly. You can get tickets through this link at FIFA As a warning, you will only have two minutes to complete your order, so have your credit card ready before you open up the site. Group sales are available through the same link if your youth team wants to attend some games. One last warning, remember that you now need a passport or a passport card to travel to and from Canada, so if you don’t have one of those documents for everyone in your party, you should apply now. Passport cards are the least expensive and get you into Canada and Mexico for land crossings as well as the Caribbean and Bermuda sea ports but not for air travel to any of those locations. 

The drama, athleticism, and excitement of international soccer isn’t limited to the men’s teams. For a much more reasonable cost and considerably easier travel, you and your family can attend the top level of international competition. While we have to separate the men and women due to some physical differences in strength and force, there is no real separation in skill and team tactics. The chance to participate in a world-class event will be available just north of us in a country that speaks English, has a currency close to our own, and a pleasant summer climate. You couldn’t ask for a better family soccer trip. These women do have professional options but at far lower pay than any of the men make. If you go, you will be witnessing the dedication and passion of soccer from players who do it more for love of the sport than for wages and endorsements. That kind of intensity for country and sport argues for some really special competition where youth players can see the best that the world offers and the heart it takes to be the best.

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Singing in the Rain

Susan Boyd

While we love attending our kids’ and grandkids’ games, few of us look forward to those drizzling afternoons under grey clouds with temperatures bordering on the Arctic. But we muster it together because we want to support our players, and there’s a bit of guilt knowing we can cover and warm up even as they are slogging through the mud and cold. If they have to play in these conditions, the least we can do is sit in them. At the same time, I’m getting older and apparently more porous because the wind just whooshes through me, dropping my core temperature. Then again, I’m the one who decided to have a 22-year difference between my oldest child and my youngest, so sitting in the elements for a couple decades now is the consequence of that choice. Throw in five grandkids’ sports and my all-weather exposure is expanded. Here in Wisconsin we understand sitting in the worst weather to see sports. We are home to the Ice Bowl after all. The Packers have played in an open arena with metal bleacher seating on concrete tiers for nearly a century, so we’ve learned how to stay warm. I accomplish that by watching the Packers on the TV in my family room. However, I can’t avoid all inclement weather through the grace of televised games, so I need to have my foul weather outfit at the ready.   

The best solution is naturally to encourage kids to play indoor sports like fencing and basketball. But this being a soccer web site, I know that ship has sailed. I have grandkids who chose football and lacrosse, so they seem intent on maintaining the exterior sporting experience. I have one granddaughter who does dance, God bless her, but another who is a horsewoman. This Saturday, Robbie has a game at 2 p.m. in weather which promises something between a biblical deluge and a Donner party blizzard. The bleachers back onto the river with serious wind gusts and no cover anywhere. It must be October in Wisconsin. So because this is where we live, soccer is what Robbie plays, and Saturday will be his game, deluge or not, I’ll be there depending on my gear to withstand the dreadful conditions.

I really love my rain suit. It’s royal blue, covers me head to toe, and repels the elements with reliability. Unfortunately getting into the suit requires some monumental gyrations. The pants don’t glide effortlessly over shoes and especially not over boots, so I have to remove these before pulling on the neoprene slacks. The suit doesn’t breathe very well, which seems like a benefit at first – holding in my body heat – but actually it reduces me to a sodden mess all too quickly. Nevertheless I love that I don’t need to be holding an umbrella dripping down my back or onto the person sitting in front of me or creating a bivouac tent out of garbage bags. My hands are free to clap, pump in the air, or hold a cup of cocoa. The rain suit I own is from Coleman, but I’ve seen others equally as capable from Eddie Bauer, Erehwon, REI and Columbia. I have the zipper style, but there’s snap ups, and snap ups over a zipper, as well as pull overs with drawstrings. I think there are silkier materials that don’t hold in the heat so feistily, but I have a history with my rain suit, so there you have it. I’m loyal.       

Then there’s my ear muffs. Hats tend to ride up and off my cranium. Maybe I’m a Conehead or maybe hats just ride up and pop off everyone’s head, but I can’t seem to keep them over my ears, which is the part of my noggin that gets the coldest. So I bought these ear muffs several years ago that have a stretchy knit band with two globes of fluffy material that fit right over my ears snugly. I can then pull my rain suit hood over them and have a nice thermal dome. I’ve tried the ear muffs that have a stiff plastic adjustable band but they require elaborate adjustments and still tend to pop off. And the tiny stretchable covers that are worn as “ear socks” make me feel too much like an odd Vulcan far removed from my mother planet. So I protect my ear muff fearful I won’t be able to replace it should it stretch out or break or get lost.   

I fluctuate on gloves. I keep dozens of pairs of those “one size fits all” knit gloves in the car and for many occasions they’re all I need. But I also have a pair of wonderful thick insulated ski gloves that actually keep my fingers from losing all feeling. I get so distracted as I feel my fingers teetering on the brink of frost bite. I used to ski competitively, and I could skid out on an ice patch doing 60 mph ripping the skin off my nose, cheeks, and forehead, and still not be as uncomfortable as when my fingers get too cold. I do keep hand and foot warmers available but I find they have a limited “range” and tend to run out of heat long before a match is over, leaving my fingers victim to the cold. So a great pair of gloves is essential for maintaining comfort. And they have to be water repellant (as opposed to water resistant which is a polite way of saying “ha, ha fooled you - your fingers will be soaked soon!”). 

I believe firmly that the right pair of socks makes all the difference. Just like I can’t stand the tingles in my fingers from frozen nerves, I likewise hate the pins and needles of chilblains in my toes. I trust in wool. It breathes, it’s warm, and it doesn’t hold moisture. I spent a small fortune on a pair of wool socks from New Zealand that have brought me great comfort over the years. New Zealand sheep apparently have special oils in their wool that make anything knit from it smooth and sleek. I don’t know if they are really better, but I was in New Zealand in the fall and needed some warm socks, so my options were confined to New Zealand wool. The brag that they are the best in the world helps me justify the expense. And they have stayed soft, oiled, and warm all these years, so they were probably a good buy.

When I don my warrior outfit to fight the elements, I feel a bit like Paddington Bear. Paddington is the other famous bear out of England, the first being Winnie the Pooh. If I used Pooh as my role model, I’d be painted up as a rain cloud and floating over a honeycomb. Paddington is far more sensible when it comes to the inclement weather. He has a large floppy yellow sou’wester perched on his head, a duffle-coat inspired rain slicker, and, of course, that all-important London accessory, Wellington boots. Commissioned in leather by the Duke of Wellington in the early 1800s, the boot has evolved into a rubber or PVC puddle avoidance must-have. You can get them in basic khaki green, which is the workhorse variety, or spice them up in brilliant patterned designs. No matter your taste, waterproof boots need to be on your feet for any sloppy day, even if there isn’t rain falling. With my warm wool socks over my feet shoved into waterproof boots, I feel plenty toasty. 

Insulating your extremities and your bum from resting directly on a surface seems fundamentally important. Why let the stored up cold and disgustingly sloppy earth add to your misery? I carry two foam cushions with me to all games. One I use to elevate my feet off the ground, out of the direct cold and damp. I keep it in a plastic bag that I can remove and wash when I get home. Furthermore, I bring some insulation for my seat as well. I have a folding bleacher seat that heats, but I also have to remember to keep it charged. So there are games where it didn’t have enough juice to stay warm. Therefore, I bring a foam pad for my seat. Keeping my body away from what can only be described as a metal or concrete block of ice means I can keep my temperature better regulated. I found that the foam needs to be at least 1 1/2 inches deep, but I prefer 2 inches because over the course of a two to three-hour game, the foam compresses and puts me far too close to the chill. 

Of course not all games happen in the cold. I’ve been to my fair share in Florida, Las Vegas and Southern California to understand that I can be just as uncomfortable in the swelter as I am in the frost. So I like to keep a small cooler filled with ice water in which I soak hand towels that I can wrap around my neck or press on my wrists or temples. Despite wanting to keep my hands free during games, I do have an umbrella for those hot sun-scorched days. That umbrella’s fabric reduces 90% of all UV rays, which is important. Shade won’t keep you from burning in direct sunlight unless it is provided by UV material. I also keep plenty of sunscreen, including UV lip balm. I have a broad-brimmed UV sunhat and good polarized sunglasses. You won’t want to wear a rain suit in a summer storm because it would be far too hot, but a light water repellant jacket with a hood should be sufficient. I actually don’t mind getting water-logged by a warm summer rain storm, but that might be due to how many really cold rainy games I’ve sat through. 

No matter what the climate, I like to be prepared for the weather. It’s pretty easy to keep my hands free and to limit the amount of extraneous equipment. I keep a cold rain box in my car next to a hot rain box. I obviously need more clothing items when it’s cold, but I can usually put those on at the car, and then bring my seat and foot cushion along to the game. Keeping things simple doesn’t mean I need to suffer. If you come to Robbie’s game on Saturday, I’ll be the Stay-Puff Marshmallow man seating at the top of the bleachers on the center line. I tell you where I’ll be sitting because I won’t be the only marshmallow man there. It’s Wisconsin in October.

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