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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.


Metaphorically Speaking

Susan Boyd

We often use sports’ metaphors in our everyday lives. We talk about rolling with the punches, sidelining a project, throwing in the towel, doing an end run, keeping an eye on the ball, going to the mat and being saved by the bell. We may not even know which sports these phrases spring from, but we understand how to use them in conversation. It’s not unusual for sports’ idioms to be an integral part of how we express our opinions. So here’s my parents blog written with the help of (mixed) sports’ metaphors. I’ll just dive right in.
As parents, we can find ourselves in deep water and behind the eight ball when it comes to how to deal as our children jockey for position on their team. While our child may be in the running to make the cut, he or she may just as easily miss the cut. We then find ourselves wanting to level the playing field by encouraging the coach to appreciate the cut of our child’s jib. We know the score. Unless we keep our eye on the ball, our child can be left at the gate. If he or she is ever going to run the bases to cross the finish line, we may have to exercise a no-holds-barred approach to intervention.
To get our children off to a running start, we need to assess what odds are against them and then run interference by stepping up to the plate and tackling the problem. For example, we should bounce some ideas off our children, such as bat a thousand and approach any game or tryout with a full-court press. We can pump them up so that they will want to be first-string material. Develop a game plan: Encourage your children to keep an eye on the ball, know the score, and be that wild card that a coach can’t ignore. Put yourself in their corner so you can help them clear any hurdles. To have a fighting chance they don’t need to draw first blood, but they do need to be first out of the gate with a positive attitude. We can’t move the goal posts, but we can get the ball rolling by giving our children a few arrows in their quivers. Even if they have two strikes against them, our children can still paddle their own canoe and show that they have what it takes to be a big leaguer.
Even if your child is a dark horse, there’s no reason he or she has to be sent to the showers. Our children may need to warm the bench but when they get their chance they have to give it a run for the money. Most coaches will give all team members a fair shake. Tell your child to use every opportunity to take his or her best shot. Our kids can show that they can get the hang of playing when given the chance. It’s probably not a bad idea to go overboard. Better to let her rip rather than settle for a sub-par performance. Bowl the coach over by being a heavy hitter. 
Should they end up shooting an air ball, we parents need to hug the shoreline and give them shelter from the storm. Not gaining the upper hand doesn’t mean the game is over. We may need to adjust our aim and tell our kids to hang in there. When we hit a snag use our home-court advantage and let our children know that they haven’t yet hit their stride. They need to continue to take practice swings until they can play hardball with the best of their competitors and leave them in their dust. Don’t ride roughshod over your kids, but don’t pull any punches. You have a ringside seat to their dreams. Root for them. Teach them to set their sights on a goal. Some dreams may be sidelined, but other dreams will fly out of the park. As long as they continue to make waves they’ll always be major leaguers. 

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A Life at the Movies

Susan Boyd

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there — fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. . . If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."
This prologue to the film, "Love Actually" is one of my favorite movie quotes. Written just two years after 9/11, it shows the optimism and humanity of our world despite horror. I find comfort in these words whenever tragedy strikes, as it has, does, and will. As many of you may know or have guessed, I’m a movie fanatic. My brother is a screenwriter and producer, my mother held Oscars parties all my life, and even my father, who hated musicals, got us all tickets for "Sound of Music" Christmas Day 1965. Even bad films can provide clues how to conduct ourselves. It’s not a bad way to frame one’s life. There’s plenty in movies to guide us as parents and human beings.
Films continually show me what’s possible to achieve as a parent. Yes, films are perfect little slices of life where all variables are controlled and outcomes can be dictated, unlike our messy lives where we have to deal with the phone ringing just as we’re making that big point to our daughter, or a fight erupts on the way to practice so that everything ends with an explosion and then a rush to the field. But I still marvel at how Hollywood, given its over-the-top lifestyle and revolving door marriages, manages to capture mature adult-child relationships, especially the way to have a conversation with our children that isn’t based on accusation, defensiveness and door slamming.  
Near the end of the film "The Kids Are Alright," one character, Jules, finds she needs to apologize. It’s not just that it’s an elegant apology, but that it’s an apology at all. 
"Parents make mistakes, and it is not a sign of weakness to apologize for those mistakes. Look, it’s no secret your mom and I have been going through a rough patch lately. That happens in marriages, especially ones that have lasted as long as ours. But instead of looking at our problems and trying to deal with them head-on, I went and did something really stupid. It may be shocking to you, but adults aren’t exempt from making mistakes. Anyway, I know you’re all really furious with me. I can take that. I’m a big girl... I know this whole thing’s confusing. I wish it wasn’t. But life’s just like that sometimes."
As parents, it’s important to humble ourselves occasionally in front of our kids. If we get overzealous after a game, criticize when criticism isn’t appropriate, or make an accusation that proves not to be true, we need to apologize. It teaches our kids that there isn’t a double standard where they have to be contrite for their errors, while we can simply gloss over ours. It also shows that lying about our mistakes isn’t a viable option for a healthy family life.
While the film "Rudy" may seem overly melodramatic playing out against an emotional soundtrack, it does provide an important message about persevering despite insurmountable odds. When kids find themselves riding the bench or being passed up athletically by their teammates, it’s natural to think about giving up. Sometimes that’s the right decision and only we as parents can help our kids know if it is, but I have often been inspired by the Notre Dame locker room manager’s speech to Rudy. As a former player, he understood both the desire to quit and the ramifications of making that choice.
"Since when are you the quitting kind?... So you didn't make the dress list. There are greater tragedies in the world...You’re 5-feet nothin', a 100-and-nothin', and you got hardly a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in with the best college football team in the land for two years. And you're also gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this lifetime, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody — except yourself. And after what you've gone through, if you haven't done that by now, it ain't gonna never happen... I guarantee a week won't go by in your life you won't regret walkin' out, letting them get the best of ya. You hear me clear enough?" 
Not a bad speech to give in your own words with your own examples of what sticking with it can mean for your child.
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is most memorable for combining animation with live action, something we take for granted now, but was innovative in 1988. Most of the film is silly, uninvolving, and unintentionally violent. But I love one of Roger’s lines: "A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Sometimes in life it is the only weapon we’ve got." What a wonderful reminder that lots of problems can be ameliorated by a good group laugh. Humor is a potent family tool. When anger starts to bubble up, switching gears to humor can definitely defuse a situation. In "Lilo and Stitch," the film veered wildly from warm family drama to science fiction war of the worlds. But hidden in the jumble are some important lessons. At one point, Lilo says, "Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind…or forgotten." Later, Stitch says, "This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good."
It’s a great reminder that family is what you make of it. We can’t look with envy at any other family because they don’t have the same personalities, expectations and history our family has. The huge variety of ways we end up creating our families, raising our children, and handling adversities and triumphs has no right or wrong way. Lots of talking heads would like to tell us all the mistakes we are making and how we can move to perfection. But perfection is boring and confining. The discoveries we make when we risk some of that perfection can add such highlights to our lives. Deciding to take off a year before college or eat out every night or get a tattoo may not be right for some families, but is the "perfect" course for your family to take.
Finally, my favorite movie quote comes from, naturally, the film "Parenthood." The film focuses on a family of four children and each of their families. Each sibling has made different choices and faced different challenges. The grandparents are often criticized by their children for some slight or lack in their upbringing. Add to the mix that the youngest child is a ne’er-do-well who seems to be his father’s favorite. His reemergence into the family, after another "get rich quick" scheme flops, opens wounds, but also makes each of the siblings face their failings when raising their own children. Near the end of the film, we learn the prodigal son needs money from his father to pay off gangsters who may kill him for the debt. The patriarch responds to his eldest son’s frustration about enabling the youngest. "Did you know we once thought you had polio?...I hated having to go through that caring, the worrying, the pain…You know, it’s not like that all ends when you’re 18 or 21 or 41 or 61. It never, never ends…There is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the ball, and do your touchdown dance…I’m Larry’s father and he’s still my son. Like Kevin is your son. You think I want him to get hurt? He’s my son."
We are parents until we die. And we have to accept that we won’t always do the job error-free, but what really matters is the love. So long as we express that love with praise, hugs, and actually saying "I love you," then we’ll be successful. If a few movies help us along that pathway, then at least we can be entertained while we learn. Not a bad way to spend the rest of our lives.

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Handling Tragedy

Susan Boyd

Lately it might seem the world is unraveling around us. Just before Christmas we witnessed the deep heartbreak of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. On Monday, it was a double bombing in Massachusetts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Then on Wednesday night a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas. In these tragedies children became victims. As parents, we acutely understand the loss because we know the chasm the death of a child can create, even if we haven’t mercifully experienced it personally. Our hearts tear open at the thought of never having the joy of seeing our children grow up. We reach out in thoughts and prayers for those who have experienced such devastating loss.
This week makes it difficult to write about soccer issues when so many people are hurting. At the same time, I’m sure there are thousands of confused children whose parents are equally confused on how to talk about these events to their children. When acts of violence are so random and sudden, children (and we adults) feel helpless. The media latches onto the videos, sound bites and theories that are played unrelentingly so that it’s difficult to shield your child from any of it. How do we comfort our children so they can feel safe and calm, especially when we ourselves are confused and concerned?
We can only do so much to console our children, but if we do it regularly and calmly, they will be reassured. I am devastated personally at these tragedies, watching images of people so horribly damaged either directly by injury or indirectly by being the friend or relative of someone injured. I feel their pain acutely and understand their agony. A friend’s daughter died on 9/11, a bright young woman on her first business trip to New York and so excited about being in the Twin Towers that she called her parents just moments before the plane struck. These horrible things happen and touch our lives forever. As parents, we need to insulate our children from the worst aspects of the stories while being honest about the nature of the event. Andrea’s parents ran the restaurant we always stopped at after soccer practice. As soon as we parked our car out front, they set out our drinks on the table. They were good people, who raised good children. Robbie and Bryce knew them well. So I had to be honest about Andrea’s death — the boys were acutely aware of the Towers falling — and had to answer their questions about how this could happen. Their fear that they could also be victims wasn’t so much voiced as implied. Eventually, they accepted that they were not in imminent danger and that we would protect them. But the event came up again and again as the world raged around them with wars, shootings and accidents. We had to be vigilant to when fear was seeping in and be sure to maintain a positive and strong attitude that they were safe.
While we can do our best to isolate our children from such horrifying incidents, kids have a remarkable ability to discern that things aren’t quite right and ask why. Add to that friends at school who might have a more worldly view of events along with glimpses of tragedies from the T.V. or newspaper, such that our children pick up on danger and anxiety. Trying to find the language to talk to our children about these incidents can be difficult. However, I remember an interview that Fred Rogers gave several years ago, that has now been oft repeated on the heels of these tragedies. Many of our kids may have no knowledge of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, his show no longer regularly available, and many of us may have found his approach to talking to kids too full of treacle, but kids loved him and his gentle attitude about life’s ups and downs. He said "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’" I find this point of view not only comforting, but true. At Sandy Hook, Boston, and West we witnessed hundreds of cases of human kindness and assistance. 
Our kids know little about politics and fanaticism and inhumanity. They live their lives expecting to be protected from danger, to be loved, to share in moments of joy, and to achieve at the things they like. When they come in contact with these serious and tragic events, they have tremendous confusion because they have no context in which to place the experience. As parents, we can provide a positive context. We can assure them that these events touch very few lives despite the media onslaught of images and talking heads. That, on the whole, we are all safe. Bad things do happen, but they don’t happen to most of us. When they do, the grief and emptiness is unfathomable. When they happen to us, there’s another level of attention we need to administer to our children. But in most tragic incidents, our role is to let our kids know that the world is a relatively safe place to in which we exist, and that as their parents, we will be ever vigilant to avoid any unsafe event we can. We should give our children this sense of being enveloped in love and safety by our actions. Be sure to say, "I love you" every chance we get, hug our kids when they leave for school and when they come home, let them know how proud we are of them for all their accomplishments, be sure to read to them books that highlight peace, joy and positive behaviors, tuck them in every night, and put a note or two a week in their lunches or backpacks that reaffirm how much they are loved and wanted. It seems like so little, but for our children it’s their cocoon from anxiety.

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Cloudy with a Chance of Storms

Susan Boyd

Admit it — when you watch your kids play soccer, your sideline behavior mimics the pinball wizard. You are swooping left and right as they dribble down the field. You’re bumping and grinding in an effort to influence a shot. We should expect a giant "tilt" to flash across the sky every time we try to will our child’s kick to the proper target, whether it be a teammate or the goal. Worse, we parents turn into competitors when we arrive at the field, ready to do combat vicariously. We also become critics judging everything during the game, including the coaches, the referees and most importantly — our own children. Not wanting to appear judgmental, we bite our tongues, chew the skin off the inside of our cheeks and swallow our injured pride as we glide toward our players with a sunny smile plastered on our face.
We bring to games at minimum the wisdom of age and at maximum personal prowess in the sport. Therefore, we have a huge context in which to place all the events of a game. If we are the least bit competitive, which to be honest applies to all of us, we want to see our children, their team and their club, succeed. In the first place, achievement is definitely preferable over failure. But more importantly, our children’s accomplishments reflect positively on our parenting. We take pride in their triumphs and bask in the reflected glory. Therefore, it’s natural that when we see possibilities for improvement we want to rush in and offer them. Should we also have experience in the sport, or any sport, then we come from the point of view of a knowledgeable teacher. We feel our instruction is warranted because we come from a place of experience. We also understand that our kids are far less receptive to us as teachers than actual teachers. All they want is unconditional support, which leads to the shredded cheeks and punctured tongues.
How should we handle our own competiveness, especially when we see great potential in our kids that they don’t rise to? It’s not easy. Our kids have the power to drive us crazy. Luckily when they are pre-teen, most don’t recognize how much power they have. Thank goodness! Otherwise, we’d have to deal with their purposeful pressure on top of our own internal pressure. Can we just stand by and let everything play out naturally? I seriously doubt it, and I’m not convinced that’s the right way to handle it. We do have a responsibility to nurture our kids, support them and, yes, teach them. Sports exist in their world and are part and parcel of our kids’ experience and growth. But we do have to tread lightly, especially if we have experience either in sports in general or in soccer specifically, lest our passion be interpreted as criticism. There are three specific things we can do.
First, long before you talk to your child, your actions will speak volumes. Don’t be that embarrassing parent on the sidelines screaming and yelling at anything that moves. I wish following games parents would have to watch a video of the game, but only focused on the sidelines. My son-in-law is the team videographer for my grandsons’ football teams. They live seven hours away, and since football season runs concurrent with soccer season, we don’t make many of our grandsons’ games. Therefore, we watch the videos. Oh boy are they revealing. While the boys play with zeal, the audio feed reveals what the parents are saying the sidelines. Fifty percent of the dialog is R-rated, around 80 percent is attacking, and only a sliver is positive reinforcement and usually comes when a long run or a score is made, not just spontaneously during the game. When our kids look over and see us getting worked up, fighting with referees, fighting with other parents or just showing stern faces and clenched jaws, they feel the tension. So a broad smile and a "good game" at the final whistle contradicts the behavior the kids observed for 60 minutes, totally confusing them. Letting go of our own vicarious investment in the game to just support our kids and pushing our judgment into the background will set the stage for a dialog later.
Second, when the game is over find the things to praise even if the game was a blowout and not in favor of your kid’s team. It is actually amazing how that helps the knot in your stomach, quells the urge to start lecturing and gives everyone involved the time to feel good even if the atmosphere is bad. Knowing that you have to say something positive at the end of the game means that you have to pay attention to find those positive moments, which helps take the focus off the negative. Sometimes kids feel so badly about a game that there is little you can say. They will reject any attempt to offer a positive outlook. They just want to feel bad. We learned with both our sons that after a loss or a game where they were on the bench more than on the field, we needed to just keep silent. After a while they initiate a conversation usually not about the game, but eventually they segued into the game. We let them vent. But we still presented them with something we witnessed that was positive, not always easy to locate, but even to say "glad the rain held off" can bring a smile to a child’s face.
Third, open a dialog not by offering advice but by asking your child, "How did you feel about the game?" This gives them the opportunity to locate the topic. Kids are intuitive about their performance, the performance of the team and the performance of the adults involved, so let them decide what they want to talk about. It will often happen that your child ends up asking your advice or at least opening the door for you to offer some suggestions. Your child might say, "I thought I was really passing the ball well, but the coach kept telling me that I wasn’t doing it right." This gives you the chance to ask, "What exactly did the coach think you were doing wrong?" — creating the opening for a discussion about passing. Perhaps you noticed that she was rearing back too much with the leg or not passing with her head up, so if she tells you the coach saw this as well, it gives you a chance to talk about how valid that criticism is. Let your child take the lead. "I think my head IS up!" Your response could be, "Well let’s work on that at home. Maybe we can make it more obvious to the coach." Avoid taking sides against your child, which just makes the situation not only adversarial but also makes your child defensive. Often sincere suggestions can seem attacking. That’s why playing off your child’s perceptions lets you be supportive while actually pursuing an agenda of instruction. Kids do manipulate us, but as adults we should be able to manipulate a situation such that we don’t come off as the bad guys and have the opportunity to deliver positive life lessons. As an auxiliary to all of this, remember not to start this dialog while walking off the field or even during the ride home unless your child begins it. Wait a bit (here’s where the tongue biting and tooth gnashing come in) and then broach the subject. Everyone will be calmer, time heals wounds, and time offers you the chance to gather your thoughts so you don’t express knee-jerk comments based on your competitive disappointments.
I sat for four years watching my daughter come in last in the 1000-meter freestyle swimming races. She didn’t just come in last. She came in last a good five minutes after her next competitor. I hate the smell of chlorine, the race was always the last event (last is the theme here), and she was always last out of the locker room afterward. My tongue, lips, teeth and cheeks all suffered permanent damage while I held back. The fact is she was always happy, talked about how certain times she earned were her best, how she improved on her turns and how the coach told her she was getting better. So I never had the opportunity to even talk to her about the things I thought she should work on. She didn’t want to hear it, so it wasn’t my place to offer it. She wasn’t going to be Missy Franklin, and they don’t race the 1000-meter in world competition. So what difference would it have made? All I would have done is created an atmosphere where she felt diminished. That’s the real lesson here. Sometimes as parents we just need to step back and let things unfold naturally. My son, Robbie, spent his first two years in soccer wandering around, passing the ball to whomever ran by no matter the jersey color and watching the clouds overhead. We never expected him to eventually become Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin or be elected to the Second ESPN Rise team in 2009. We thought he would play soccer for fun for a few years and then move on to something else, perhaps being a meteorologist. But when he moved to a select club because his brother, who was always driven, moved there, he blossomed. Once again, we never offered any advice, but in this case there was little advice to offer once he decided soccer was his passion.
Therefore, I would say that as parents we can enjoy our kids’ play, but we usually can’t do much to change it. If we want to change it, we have to be very cautious in how we approach the discussion. And most importantly, we have to accept that our child’s investment in the sport can’t be taught. Our kids have to decide that they care enough to improve, even to push themselves to the highest levels. Our role is primarily to support that drive as best we can with good coaching, travel to appropriate tournaments, and the best club we can comfortably afford. The rest of it is far too ephemeral like those clouds Robbie liked to watch. We have to accept we can’t sculpt the clouds.

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