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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.


Bitter Words

Susan Boyd

As a writer and professor of writing, I am deeply saddened by the level of language to which we English speakers have stooped. The increasing assault of swearing that erupts on the soccer pitch pains me. In the first place, I’ve heard far too much of it during games between teams of players who are too young to spell or read the words buzzing around them. Second, I celebrate English as a highly nuanced and sophisticated form of communication that gets reduced to less than a dozen vulgar nouns and adjectives describing everything from the weather to a political candidate’s worthiness to how an outfit looks. It’s as if we can only speak about issues and events using the term "bad," as in that shirt is bad or that bad ref made a bad call that hurt us badly or how bad was that. As these vulgarities waft up and over the sidelines and stands, we know our kids take this all in. Since "adults" speak this limited, dark language, kids want to emulate that behavior. We need a better standard.
I recently watched David McCullough in an interview on 60 Minutes. Mr. McCullough is an historian who has written biographies of American Presidents and books on things as diverse as the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence. In the interview, he lamented how woefully uneducated our children are on even the most basic facts concerning history. He spoke about a college student coming to him and stating that until she had heard his speech that day she was not aware that all the original 13 colonies were located on the East Coast. Another college student had no idea that Ben Franklin had never been our President. I was introduced to McCullough’s work by my father, who devoured his books. My historical education and knowledge can be traced in large part to reading McCullough’s books, as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bruce Catton and Gore Vidal. Not only did I get a fantastic tutelage in history, but also in language. What make these writers great isn’t just their grasp of historical events and context, but their ability to craft their writing with impactful and elegant language.
I would echo McCullough’s concerns about ignorance in history with my own concerns about ignorance of the English language. Too many of my college students — and I teach at a private school with high academic requirements — can’t form sentences with subordinate clauses or employ complex transitions. With truncated vocabularies and no confidence or real experience in developing argument, they flounder. But get them out of the classroom and suddenly they have all the language they need to express themselves. Unfortunately, it’s the limited language not fit for young or tender ears. Their main argument ends up being "whatever." Their mode is the abbreviations of texting, so spelling is now a dead art. They don’t even bother to correct spelling in their college essays that is underlined by their computer software. I struggle getting them to develop a coherent piece of writing that has clear argument with support (not anecdotes), smooth transitions between ideas, refined and accurate vocabulary, a distinctive voice, and correct spelling and grammar. They don’t see the point because all they really need is a thought and a few swear words to communicate that assertion without regard to whether or not their point is valid or factually correct. Spelling and grammar — who needs it? Words that can be precise verbal surgical instruments to dissect ideas and open them up to argument — an unnecessary encumbrance. Facts — oh please! If I say it, it’s true. 
In an age where we can listen nonstop to talking heads spew forth any collection of words and ideas, we accept the validity of those ideas that are repeated as fact so often that they enter the lexicon of everyday discourse. Often these shows disintegrate into provocation rather than discussion. Our kids learn that this is the new argument — he who shouts louder, wins. Amid all this shouting, inventiveness in language takes a back seat to crude observations. Trying to get any young person (or adult for that matter) to carefully weigh what is being said has become a battle. So many people don’t have the language tools to be able to pare down an assertion and to test it for truth. When Tums says it is the only antacid with calcium and all the others have magnesium, we immediately accept the premise that calcium is better than magnesium because that is what is implied in the assertion. We don’t bring any skepticism to why Tums is the only one with calcium while all the others have gone with magnesium. We don’t research to find out what is better. We don’t question the statement. This is a fairly simple example, but think of all the complex political campaign assertions, financial come-ons, insurance comparisons (does cheaper insurance really have the same level of claim protection as more expensive insurance?), food claims (don’t get me started on fat-free), and car ads that offer zero percent interest but in the small print only about 10 people in the United States qualify. How do we avoid being swayed by the claims? We have to use our language and reasoning skills to evaluate them completely.
As we resort to vulgarities to get us through our daily conversations we end up destroying the very tools we need to sort out ideas. There’s obviously the main issue that we’re exposing our children to language that has no place in their young lives. We adults forget about our audience as we scream at the driver who cut us off or "instruct" the referee on her error in judgment. Kids are absorbing those experiences as not only proper, but part of the rite of passage to adulthood. Even more significantly, we end up with students who don’t have the ability to be analytical in their approach to issues because argument is couched in vulgar attacks without regard to development of a reasoned response. We need to have the tools to create the discussion and to search for the answers. George Carlin’s seven words we can’t say on T.V. aren’t enough to accomplish this analysis. We’ll never get rid of swearing. That’s been around since the first cave man dropped a stone on his foot. However, we too easily substitute swearing for coherent, well-chosen language. In doing so, we begin to lower the standards of discussion to "is to…is not" because we don’t have any better tools at our disposal. Even Justice Scalia, who should have a huge arsenal of language and reasoning at his disposal, resorted to nonsense in frustration calling the majority ruling on DOMA a case of "legalistic argle-bargle," whatever that means. Kids on the soccer field are beginning the long journey to adulthood and need to have great weapons at their disposal in order to advance through the maze of ideas and roadblocks they will encounter.
McCullough said in the same 60 Minutes interview that he felt part of the disintegration in historical knowledge and language skills comes from the loss of the family dinner. The table should be a place for presenting ideas and arguing them through. Now we are so rushed we don’t have the time to savor the intellectual moments of a meal. At our table, my father would sometimes read a passage from a book or present an interesting dilemma for us to discuss. My mother was in the League of Women Voters, so every election we got the pamphlets to read and talk about at the dinner table. I agree with McCullough even though I shamefully admit I didn’t do as good a job of creating that Algonquin Round Table atmosphere for my kids growing up.
Two things we can do to insure assimilation of more sophisticated responses. First, purchase a good thesaurus rather than depending on whatever our computer word program offers. Encourage your children to look up words to discover the various shades of meaning for shaping their arguments. I remember the day I stood in our kitchen and said the word "crap." I was around 10 years old. My mother said, "Do you know what that word means? Go look it up." I was shocked to discover its true meaning rather than being a harmless expletive. Then she asked me what else I might say instead of "crap." So I had to figure out what would express my feelings of frustration while avoiding what I now knew was not a very nice descriptive word. As the years progressed, I learned to depend on that thesaurus to help me discover how to say exactly what I wanted to say. I also began to naturally develop a stronger vocabulary, which helped me in so many circumstances including my SATs, writing and handling classroom discussions. Secondly, we can challenge our children to answer "why" more often. "Why was that a bad call?" "Why should you have those expensive shoes?" "Why do you hate math?" "Why do kids bully?" There are so many circumstances where we just nod while our kids are speaking without stimulating their reasoning skills. Help them understand the difference between an assertion and an argument. That includes us, as well. "Because I said so" doesn’t cut it in the reasoning department, although I understand the frustration when kids come at us with unformed argument and we’ve had enough. "I want those shoes because they are the best soccer shoes." "Really? What is that based on?" Then help them do the research. The statement may be true, but just saying the shoes are the best isn’t proof. Kids need to learn to question statements made by others by demanding support for the stance. If Landon Donovan endorses a type of cleats, our children need to figure out if that product is really the right one for them. Of course, you may create a monster who can argue better than you can, but at least their arguments will be both substantial and substantiated.
With so many words and meanings to choose from, we can help our kids avoid settling for the easiest and least powerful. When faced with something they feel is unfair on the pitch, they can express their unhappiness in a reasonable and crafted way rather than a knee-jerk explosion of profanity. They still won’t win the battle with the ref, but they will earn his respect. As they grow up, they’ll learn how to shape their responses in such a way as to truly sway someone by utilizing strong language that isn’t irreverent. They also learn how to recognize reasoned argument and powerful word choices. The more articulate they can be, the farther they will go in any profession and certainly in life.

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Youth Awards

Sam Snow

A youth coach asks:

"I am looking for some guidance on coaching Under-9 boys’ soccer. Specifically, is it acceptable to give out player recognition/accomplishment awards to some players (i.e. sportsmanship, MVP, coaches award etc.). I was advised by one parent that soccer is a team sport and these types of awards should not be used. Can you comment on this or provide me with a reference from which I can get some advice? I would not want to use this type of player recognition if not advisable by your organization."

I think that for 8 and 9-year-old kids the focus should be on their participation in the game, growing their love of the game, making friends in the team, getting healthy exercise and learning some life skills along with soccer skills. The coaches giving recognition for good play during training sessions and after a match to individuals is fine, as opposed to a formalized awards ceremony. I also suggest that during the course of the soccer season you look for a chance to give public praise to each kid on the team.

Additionally, a private word of encouragement, recognition or praise will go a long way in building self-confidence. But, it has to be earned and sincere; no cheerleading so to speak.

If you want to have an end of the season picnic for the team and its supporters that would be the time for public recognition of group accomplishments.

Generally wait until the teenage years to give individual awards as you describe in your message, as it will then mean more to the players. They will have achieved at this age a better understanding of the award and its significance.

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Soccer Connects Us All

Susan Boyd

Okay, here’s the first story. Last weekend we were in Minneapolis for a National Premier Soccer League game for Robbie. After his game, we were looking for a place to eat. Our choice was to go north on the freeway or south. I said, "Let’s go south." Then I saw a sign for what I thought was a Joe’s Crab Shack and started thinking steamed Dungeness crab. I also remembered years ago going with Shane’s in-laws to a Joe’s Crab Shack and realized these were one in the same. So we took the next exit, traveled to the road the restaurant was on and kept driving. It didn’t take too long to figure out that the billboard had not been Joe’s Crab Shack, but Joe Senser’s Sports Theater, which had cruelly used the same font as Joe’s Crab Shack and also moved into its location. Bummer. So we kept driving until we seemed to run out of developed areas and decided to turn around. Nothing had looked good. But in turning around we noticed this restaurant called "The Good Earth," which served all natural, local foods. So we figured we couldn’t go wrong with natural. At the hostess desk, a young woman greeted us and asked if we had ever been there before. "No actually. We’re from Milwaukee and found this just by chance." She smiled broadly, "I’m from Bayside." This is the community next to our suburb, so we thought that was really coincidental. But it gets better. As we were being taken to the table she asked why we were there and we said the NPSL game. "Oh, I played soccer." Turns out she played at the same club as our older son, she was a year behind him, and knew of him, many of his soccer buddies and his high school team. Then she remembered Robbie and the conversation expanded to what various players were doing, who she had lost touch with and how her college career had gone. It was amazing that a series of decisions, a serendipitous misreading of a billboard, and a choice to eat healthy led us to reconnect with one of the boys’ former soccer chums. But it also shows how prevalent these connections are for our kids who have the opportunity to travel and compete in soccer.
Here’s another story. We had gone to a tournament in the Tampa area. Since the airlines began charging a mortgage payment for every ounce of luggage you bring along, we didn’t bring our soccer chairs as it was cheaper to buy new and then donate them to a local family. So I went to the Wal-Mart to purchase some chairs for the four-day tournament. I went straight to the camping/outdoor section and was greeted by a really nice young man who directed me to the chairs. Then he asked, "Are you here for the golf tournament?" My Wisconsin accent probably indicated that I wasn’t from Florida and I was still a bit young to be a snowbird, although now that I think of it, asking if I was there for the golf probably had something to do with my age. Anyway, I answered, "No my son is playing in a soccer tournament." "Oh, where are you from?" "Wisconsin." "I used to play against a player from Wisconsin, but he played for a Chicago team." "Robbie is playing for the Chicago Magic, but he’s guest playing this weekend for his old Milwaukee team." "Robbie…Robbie Boyd?" "Yes." "Oh, I know him really well." Then he started talking about playing against him in several leagues and tournaments. They had apparently become good friends and texted and emailed each other periodically. So I went back to the hotel, collected Robbie, and the two of them spent the young man’s break at the snack bar reminiscing and having a really good time. The guy came to one of Robbie’s games and they again had a good visit with several of Robbie’s teammates along for the ride.
Third story. I was in the LA airport waiting for my flight back to Milwaukee. The flight was non-stop to Milwaukee, so the likelihood of meeting someone from our town was high, but it wasn’t like that for this story. A young man was strolling through the waiting room, sat down near me and started staring. I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered, wary or ignore it all. After a few long looks in my direction he got up and approached me. "Sorry to bother you, but are you Bryce Boyd’s mom?" I wasn’t sure how to answer, but he continued. "Last year, Bryce was a guest goalkeeper for our Atlanta team at the Disney Tournament." Robbie’s Chicago Magic team was playing there, so Bryce had put himself on a list as available to play for any team that might need extra players. This Atlanta team asked him to join them for one game since their goalkeeper would be late arriving in Orlando due to high school finals. So this kid recognized me from that one game. Amazing. He had just come down from San Francisco, where my flight home originated, and was on his way back to Atlanta. We didn’t have a lot to say to one another, but he had kind things to say about Bryce’s skill in the net and how well he had fit in with the team. So that was really nice to hear. It was also another one of those delightful coincidences.
Have I lost you already, or are you up for two more stories? Here’s one that concerns me. I was at a tournament with one of the boys or possibly both of them. I really don’t remember. I just recall this gentleman coming up to me to ask if I was Susan Boyd. Apparently he was one of my blog readers (possibly the only one and if so, I’ll just say hi). He wanted to thank me for the blogs and how useful they had been as he navigated the labyrinth of soccer rules, frustrations and triumphs. He certainly made my day. As a reader from a completely different geographic area, I felt a bit omnipotent in being able to reach across the miles. On the other hand, my kids do that fifty times a day through Facebook and Twitter, so I shouldn’t get too full of myself. Still, knowing that someone likes what I do and takes the initiative to approach me gives me a small modicum of pleasure.
Finally…yes the last story. We were driving Robbie and his stuff cross-country to the University of California Santa Barbara for his freshman year. It was a crowded trip with lots of miles covered each day. We had made it to Omaha the night before and we were planning to stop west of Denver in Utah that night. We got to the Stapleton Airport exit at lunchtime, and we figured there should be several choices for restaurants. We decided on Chili’s. As we started our lunch, a family walked in and was seated two booths behind us. After about 10 minutes we heard someone say, "Hey Robbie, Robbie Boyd." Robbie looked up, smiled and said, "Hey dude." He got up and walked over to their table. They had a long conversation until their order arrived, when Robbie returned to our table. "Did you play against that kid?" I asked. I assumed he played for Colorado Rapids Youth team or Colorado Rush. "No, that’s Kevin from Marquette High." Turns out his family had a condo in Aspen, had just gotten off the plane and had stopped for lunch before driving west. So, someone from Milwaukee took a flight, arrived just at lunchtime, drove to the same collection of restaurants, and then chose the same restaurant we had after driving two days from Milwaukee to Denver. And the son played high school soccer at the same school Robbie attended. Kismet I guess.
The moral of these stories, if moral is the right word, seems to be that soccer isn’t just a game, it’s an experience that has tendrils curling out from our kids across the country to others who play soccer, connecting us. If you can afford it, and your kids have the desire to do it, encourage your soccer team to participate in nationwide tournaments or even joining a team that plays league games against teams from all over the U.S. Friendships grow from having soccer as a common base. Both Robbie and Bryce have played against kids that they run into in other soccer events, including tournaments, regional and national leagues, and college. They were lucky enough to attend a Jesuit high school that belongs to Jesuit HS league of four schools that rotated hosting a yearly competition. The schools were from Denver, Kansas City, Washington D.C., and Milwaukee. Their high school also traveled to at least one non-state tournament in places like Indianapolis and Sacramento. Those opportunities gave them the chance to play against some of the top college recruitment talent and to test their abilities. That was significant. But I think even more substantial were the connections and friendships that formed from a common respect for one another’s talents. When I think of these stories that show out-of-the-blue run-ins, I think how many other connections we missed when the moments didn’t intersect. If these few experiences are any indication, there have to have been dozens of others that were close but not close enough. I cherish these contacts because they are the ties that bind us all. As huge as America is, there’s still an intimacy that allows us to have shared moments based on shared experiences. Some of these moments are with strangers as would be the case when we witness an event together, but some are with distant friends that we end up running into — making us all part of the soccer family.

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Practicing at Home

Sam Snow

My 10-year old son plays soccer and loves to play and go to the team practices. He is in good programs with good coaches, but he doesn't want to practice between team practices and work on things the coaches have given him to improve on. When I do get him to practice at home, and point out that he isn't doing what his coaches have taught him and we end up arguing.
Am I expecting too much from a 10 year old?
When he does practice, should I just let him practice the wrong way, as long as he is practicing, and let his coaches worry about getting him to improve?
- a concerned parent
There are a few important factors in this scenario to consider.  The most important one is the child’s self-motivation.  For an athlete to become top class in any sport requires a lot of drive and determination.  That must come from within.  No one else can put those emotions into the player, only he or she can produce those qualities.  However, the right soccer environment can inspire those emotions to grow in a young player.  Coaches, teammates and parents should inspire young players to practice and play more on their own.  Yes, parents could force the issue and make a young player put in extra practice, but the results will fall short of the results that come from the player deciding on his or her own to put in the same extra time with the ball.
If the coach has given players soccer homework then by all means parents should remind their child to do that assigned practice.  Fundamentally approach it as you do with the child’s academic homework.  Specifically to the question of if he does practice but he’s doing it wrong the answer is yes.  If the child asks for assistance then help out, otherwise let him or her practice on their own.  If technique mistakes are being made then the coach can help the player to correct them at the team training sessions.  The most important point is the child’s decision to get out on his or her own to play the game and practice ball skills.  That’s when parents give praise!

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