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The 50/50 Blog

Note:  Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog (web log) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the United States Youth Soccer Association (US Youth Soccer). Links on this web log to articles do not necessarily imply agreement by the author or by US Youth Soccer with the contents of the articles. Links are provided to foster discussion of topics and issues. Readers should make their own evaluations of the contents of such articles.


The 50/50 Blog: 5.11.15


Virtual Reality Soccer


From the  Norwegian group that brought you bubble soccer... here is soccer from a bird's eye view.



Iceman with ice in the veins



Aron Johannsson played the hero for AZ Alkmaar on Sunday afternoon, netting a wonder-goal winner from nearly 40 yards with two minutes to play against Eredivisie guests NAC Breda.



USWNT vs Ireland in pictures


wnt moms

With a sellout crowd of 18,000 on hand at San Jose's Avaya Stadium that included the players' mothers, who had been flown in as a surprise the night before the game, the U.S. women's national team began its Women's World Cup send-off series with a 3-0 win over Ireland. See the images here.


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The 50/50 Blog: 5.5.15


The US Youth Soccer Show


Check out the May episode of the US Youth Soccer Show.


Be Smart with Social Media


682x422_Media_Wall_Social Media

Want to make a good impression with a college coach? Your social media presence is important. Read More



UEFA Champions League Semifinals




The UEFA Champions League semifinals kick off today with Juventus playing Real Madrid. Read more here.



2015 Women's World Cup


U.S. WNT roster full of US Youth Soccer alums

All 23 players named to the roster for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup have US Youth Soccer ties. Read More




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It Takes a Village

Susan Boyd

We raise our kids within the confines of social, institutional and family discipline. Every day we turn over the shaping of our children’s moral compass and boundaries to teachers, coaches, clergy, police, neighbors, media, peers, and outside pundits in the field of child rearing. We can set limits, model behaviors, instruct, and demand, but kids ultimately have so many influences that they begin to pick and choose which ideas suit them best and will get them in the least amount of trouble. Peer pressure in particular, often fueled by media stimuli, can be a powerful arbiter of behavior. Parents have a difficult time getting our kids to understand and accept what we consider to be appropriate conduct when there are so many opposing forces out there. It may take a village to help raise our kids, but the village may also hinder how we want them to develop.

I grew up raised by everyone in our family circle. Aunts, uncles, grandparents never hesitated to put in their two cents’ worth, even right in front of my parents. Neighbors would freely give me a swat on the behind if I trampled in their garden or threw dirt at their kids, and they had no fear that my mother would report them to the police. Instead, she was grateful that they had handled it immediately. But we’ve moved from an acceptance of that type of discipline. In fact, if someone accuses our kids of something, all too often the knee-jerk reaction is “not my kid.” We’ve become apologists for behavior that used to be completely unacceptable because when our kids are bad, it reflects badly on us. I’m not in favor of corporal punishment, and I’m sure the psychological studies on how it affects our children’s self-image are true, but I also know that most of my peers grew up feeling the sting of a hand or spoon on our hind quarters and we still managed to become an innovative, confident generation.

Recently during the unrest in Baltimore a video went viral of a mother running out into the crowd of young rioters who were throwing bottles and rocks to drag her 16-year-old son back home, cuffing him several times around the ears. As she put it, “I didn’t raise him to be disrespectful to the police…and I didn’t want him to be another [victim].”  Her tiger mom response drew lots of opposing points of view equally divided between those who praised her for giving her son an important lesson and dragging him to safety and those who saw her attack as damaging and an inappropriate way to handle the situation. As I told my boys – I’d have done the same thing minus the slapping. They nodded knowingly. On the other hand, would she have wanted the village to intervene?  If her neighbor had seen the teen and gone to drag him back, would the mother have been thankful or angry?  It gets complicated.

When it comes to youth sports there’s an entire extra layer of discipline that’s added, sometimes not as we would hope. Coaches can forget that their charges are not adults, using the saltiest of language when motivating or chastising them. It’s uncomfortable for parents, who want to respect the authority of a coach to train, but want to protect their kids from influences they feel are improper. One time my 6-year-old grandson was playing a game on my phone. When he achieved a high score, he could input his name on a roster of winners. The game was a very innocent non-violent offering from Disney, so imagine my surprise when I saw the top scorers list where all the names were four letters long and not names at all. When I asked my grandson, he admitted with a sly grin to inputting the titles. I knew his parents didn’t swear, didn’t allow him to see anything with swearing (even bleeped out), and he went to a Catholic school. “Where did you learn these words?” fully expecting to find out he had some peers who used them. “My T-ball coach says them all the time.” How can a parent combat that? You can approach the coach, point out that his or her language makes your child uncomfortable, and hope things improve. If the reaction isn’t positive, then you can talk to the club president or board. Or you can use it as a teachable moment – explain to our children how limiting and disgusting such language is and let them know you don’t approve, especially if they should start repeating the words.

A more pressing problem would be if the coach gets abusive. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. Coaches can be very passionate people, but when that passion spills over to physically or verbally accosting kids, we need to step in. That type of behavior is not an acceptable response no matter the age, but particularly for our youngest players. One coach berated an 11-year-old player for five minutes as the reason the team lost the game, totally devastated the trembling boy. His parents were angry, but so were several of us. We took it upon ourselves to confront the coach so the parents didn’t have to. Therefore, the coach couldn’t rationalize that the parents had sour grapes motivating their complaint. Instead he had to listen to us parents who witnessed the attack and agreed it was cruel and unnecessary. That’s how the village can step up in a supportive and significant way. Even if our own children aren’t victims of an aggressive coach, we should be advocates for the kids who are. It’s difficult because we don’t want our intervention to affect our children’s role on a team. Coaches have a tremendous amount of power leading to intimidation, so if parents can join forces and come to the coach calmly and kindly, that intimidation is voided.

Taking the protection and/or discipline of other people’s children can be tricky. I can shift into “mom” mode when I see trouble. I took the cigarettes of three pre-teen boys sitting next to me at a Brewers’ game (when you could still smoke in the stadium) and told them I didn’t think their mother would approve. Maybe she would have, or maybe she would have resented me stepping in, but I felt I needed to at least give those kids pause the next time they lit up. I also wanted to go give whatever shopkeeper sold those kids the cigarettes a piece of my mind. The village is only as strong as its weakest members. On the flipside not everyone is on the same page when it comes to the standards we want for our children. Entrusting our children to others can be tricky. We don’t want to be handing out a list of expectations for the kids:  No candy, only G or PG movies, no swearing, no political discussions, etc. We can quickly get a reputation as being overprotective. Therefore, I think that as part of the village we need to check out with other parents if certain things are okay – we plan to go to a PG-13 movie; is that okay with you?  As much as we hate having our kids exposed to things we carefully avoid, we should be sensitive to what other parents want. It can be as simple as making sure team snacks have a peanut-free option, for example, and as significant as helping parents out with carpooling.

On the positive side, youth sports provide some excellent additional training. Kids learn how to cooperate, compromise, win and lose with dignity, avoid cheating, and other important moral lessons. Naturally, as they grow, more and more negative influences will seep into their experiences. These can then become teachable moments. Since my sons are minorities, they faced a fair amount of racial slurs during games. They learned that this was more a way to get into their heads than personal attacks, so eventually they could shut it out. It didn’t make it right that it happened, but it also gave them the resilience to learn which battles to fight. At one college game when Bryce was in goal, the opposing school’s students sat behind the net jeering and cat-calling. At one point they yelled out, not knowing it was true, “Bryce, you’re adopted” obviously believing this would be huge slap in the face. Since everyone on his team knew he was adopted, one defender turned around and shouted back to the students, “Yeah he is and his family is awesome,” while the entire team clapped. Apparently those young men had learned the lessons of support and rejecting intolerance, and I suspect some of the lessons were learned on the field. That’s a village in which I was delighted to be a resident.

Discipline is a personal process for every family. Yet we can’t control the vast majority of time our children require discipline. We have to count on a myriad of other disciplinarians. Usually we can trust those people to do the right thing; after all many of them have their own children whom they raised well. Of course, we’ve all experienced those times when parents don’t manage their own kids, leaving them to run wild in a restaurant, cause trouble at the pool, cry during a movie, and any number of other annoying situations. The question is do we intervene?  We’re part of the larger village, but we may not be a welcomed part. Likewise, we may not appreciate the behavior modeling and discipline of others within our village. Yet it’s difficult to reject someone’s intervention when it’s well-meaning. Even more difficult is figuring out if what another parent accuses our child of doing is valid or not. We don’t want to be so defensive that we miss the bigger picture – our children need to be accountable for their misdeeds. The good news is that youth sports adds a significant and powerful layer of modeling and oversight which is generally very positive in the development of our children’s ethical nature. We should all let it be known that we welcome the oversight of our children by others. Despite the eyes in the back of our heads we can’t see everything. We need to trust family, friends, neighbors, police, teachers, clergy, and strangers to help us out in keeping our children on the straight and narrow, not to mention safe. No village is perfect, but I’m grateful for their assistance.

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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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