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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.


Option Economics

Susan Boyd

Multiple sports and activities give kids the opportunity to explore different interests and to discover what most appeals to them. But these compound activities mean increasing costs for different uniforms, equipment and instruction. Since we parents have no idea what sport or extracurricular activity our youngsters will ultimately latch onto, we want to minimize these exploration expenses. Better to save the big investments for those interests that become part of your child’s regular schedule. So how do you offer your child an introduction to lots of options without breaking the bank?
Joining an organization that offers a variety of choices can make classes inexpensive, yet expansive. The YMCA or Jewish Community Center can provide introductory classes and teams for just about any sport, including soccer, basketball, swimming, judo and gymnastics. Your membership gives plenty of value if you sign your kids up for the courses. Add taking your own classes or using the facilities, such as exercise equipment and the pool, and you really stretch that membership to be a great value. Community recreation programs provide a great local option for so many different activities. In my town the recreation center sends out catalogs twice a year offering classes from drama to dance to science to languages. These classes can give kids a taste of what is out there to pursue. Most schools, even with cut-backs, have a school band and/or orchestra for the elementary and middle school years, which don’t expect students to have any knowledge of the musical instruments in which they have an interest. Instead, they ask the kids to come early to school or stay later for lessons. Since music lessons can run up to $50 or more for a half hour, this school option saves you money until you know that your child has a musical aptitude and the discipline to pursue instrument training. Finally, many churches sponsor basketball, soccer and baseball leagues with volunteer coaches. These leagues can be really fun for children as they learn how to play the sport. There’s no pressure for intensive training, winning or limiting playing time. All the kids participate with an eye toward enjoying the experience and learning rules and tactics of the game.
When joining teams, parents should consider recreational levels to start. These teams are generally very local, small, run with volunteers, and therefore inexpensive. If you’re a parent who played a particular sport in high school or even college, you may want to get your player started right away in the sport at a high level, if possible. However, keep in mind that whatever drove your passions may not be what drives your child’s. So dip the toes in slowly, giving your child a chance to experiment and either develop his or her own passion or and you have to be prepared for this reject it. It’s much better to know early on before investing a great deal of time and money. On the other hand, make sure your child completes his or her commitment before giving up on a sport. As I’ve mentioned before, the reason a child rejects a sport may have nothing to do with the sport. It may be a conflict with another player, teasing, or even a team parent who criticizes them. So, be sure to determine why your child wants to quit.
There’s no reason your child has to have brand new equipment in order to play a sport or participate in an activity, especially when starting out. Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul and other charitable resale services can be a great place to get things like cleats, shin guards, helmets, catcher chest pads, etc. Likewise, there are sports resale stores that provide lots of great equipment. We got our first set of golf clubs for the boys from Play It Again Sports, and the boys used those for years. They never developed an interest in playing golf on a regular basis, but when friends asked them to complete a foursome, they were ready. Musical instruments can be rented, usually with a "rent to own" option. So if your child decides to continue playing, none of those rental payments were wasted. Another great option can be services such as Ebay or craigslist. You should always be able to find a good selection of equipment on these services, most at bargain prices. Once your child selects his or her primary activities, you can even use these services to find great, gently used equipment for a bargain. Obviously, as your child develops further, you’ll want to get the best equipment possible, but you can make that transition as the activities narrow and specialize.
Finally, whatever you do, don’t overload your child with options. Kids do need time just to run and scream with their friends. Try to create "seasons" for the activity choices. Your child could do drama, choir and basketball in the winter; soccer, pottery and trumpet in the spring; swimming, tennis and science in the summer; and football, cooking and gymnastics in the fall. By taking little nibbles of each experience, you don’t overwhelm the kids, and you allow them to yearn to return to some of their activities in place of others. As their friends develop their own interests, they will influence the choices our kids make. So eventually around ages 10 to 12, our kids will cultivate which extra-curriculars they want to pursue based on their passions, the chance to bond with friends and the fun they have.
As they specialize, they will minimize the options but, ironically, increase the expenses. You can serve as guide on this journey, but give them enough room to make their own choices. If any choice can’t fit in your family’s budget, then don’t be shy about saying it’s off the table. As disappointed as they might be, kids will eventually shift their interest elsewhere. Even to this day, both our sons become wistful about the sports they didn’t choose, but Bryce just got a professional contract in soccer and Robbie, who is short, has had great success in soccer — where size is less important than in football and basketball, his other sports interests. Since most kids won’t go beyond youth sports, it’s important that they enjoy what they are doing, feel an important part of the team and have pride in their accomplishment. And that goes for anything they decide to do, whether it be singing or taking astronomy classes. Let it be joyful and confidence building.

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Playing doctor by not playing the child

Sam Snow

The team mom/parent of a player states through an email that her son won’t attend the soccer game due to his bronchitis. The following practice, the player shows up and I ask if he is still sick. The player states to me, "A little. I am still on antibiotics and can’t run." As a coach, what should I do?

The foremost obligation of any team coach is the well-being of the players. So, for the sake of the ill player and the rest of the team too, the player in question should remain at home until fully recovered. This is not an injury from which he is recovering, but an illness. That illness could be contagious, so the coach must not put the rest of the team at risk of catching bronchitis.
On the one hand, it is praiseworthy that the player wants to attend training even though he might not be ready to participate. He is being supportive of the team. That is a good attitude for a coach to reinforce. However, the desire is misplaced in this instance. First, the player should remain at rest until fully recovered. Second, he should not put anyone on the team at risk of catching his illness.
Too often, though, whether it is an illness or an injury, players come back to training and matches too soon. Returning to training before full recovery means inefficient training and the likelihood of injury. If a player has been injured severely enough or was ill enough to see a physician, then the coach MUST have a written release from the doctor. Once the player is back to the team, he must not play in a match until the coach feels the player is 100 percent ready to play. This means the coach must first have the player go through training sessions to evaluate his rehabilitation. The coach can control the strenuousness and amount of contact in a training session, but he or she does not have that control over a match. It is very important that a player eases back into full action gradually after illness or injury.
Sometimes the player and/or the parents will push too soon to have the player back in training and matches. Do not succumb to that pressure. Club administrators must support the decision of the coaching staff to put the player back into match play at the right time. If a player is not fully rehabbed then soccer participation could lead to chronic illness or injury. The adults involved in the situation must take the long-term perspective that it is better to miss a few matches, than to resume active play too soon, which could be detrimental to the player. The general rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution.

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The Business of Experience

Susan Boyd

            I’m not a huge football fan, but when the Green Bay Packers played the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football, I had a couple reasons to watch: I grew up in Seattle and I live in Wisconsin. So I watched the debacle, which could only loosely be called a contest, get worse as the minutes slipped away. Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half. The replacement referees got call after call wrong, resulting in both Seattle and Green Bay getting second chances they didn’t deserve. Fights broke out over unrecognized penalties. Lackluster Green Bay marched into the red zone and twice came away with only field goals. Then there was the interception/reception heard ‘round the world. That play will probably be watched more often than Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. Two days later the referee lockout settled, which allowed the impending Thursday Night Football game the steady hand of experienced officiating. In the meantime, cheap shots by players knowing they could push the boundaries resulted in concussions and Texans quarterback Matt Schaub even lost part of his ear when his helmet was ripped off. Away from the weak eyes of the replacement refs, players, one after another, shove, slap or actually punch opponents who retaliated and got tagged with the penalty.
            Make no mistake: sport is business. That includes all sports, not just professional sports. We don’t think of our tiny youth club as being a business, but it is. That’s why referees figure so prominently in the business plan. It’s no coincidence after a major blown call on a national stage that the NFL got it together and placated its experienced referees. Another week like the one that just happened or another national game on Thursday night grinding through sloppy refereeing would have meant fans abandoning the game in droves. When the bottom-line profits were threatened then the bottom line dropped a bit further to accommodate the demands of the referees.
            How does this relate to youth soccer? Similar principles and pressures are at play. Clubs live and die by their reputation in the eyes of parents and players. If a club can maintain a winning record; visits to state, regional and even national championships; and send a fair number of players to the college ranks, it can brag on its prestige. Therefore, even youth clubs depend on both excellent officiating and quality players. Unfortunately, quality referees are becoming less and less available. Referees have to come up through the ranks and many young referees get burned out because of the abuse they encounter from coaches and parents. At $15 or $20 a game, it doesn’t become worth it to put up with catcalls, arguments or even physical abuse. But without serving long term as a referee, learning by experience how to make appropriate calls and developing the confidence to make calls, referees can’t evolve into the refs clubs need for games and tournaments at the older ages. The drive to put more games in the win column, even at the U-6 level, makes coaches confrontational when it comes to calls as they try to save every game. It’s incredible to consider, but paid coaches at many clubs have to worry about their jobs if their "success" rate, as measured in games won, drops.
            That’s the problem youth clubs have. In order to attract the best players, the most paying players and the best coaches, they have put up numbers. The actual focus for youth clubs should be player development, but that often falls by the wayside because developing players doesn’t necessarily create the glamorous statistics that parents seem increasingly enamored by. If clubs don’t attract enough paying players they can’t support their budgets. But attracting those players becomes a numbers game of wins, which means recruiting strong players who either can’t pay or won’t pay but can help insure wins. Likewise, clubs want coaches who have as high a license rating as possible. But the higher the rating, the higher the salary demands. So clubs continue to advertise their success in terms that really don’t serve the average soccer player.
            This drive for "success" extends to parents, who want their children to be on a winning team. We live in a success-driven society. I was apoplectic after Monday night’s call — yes I cheered for Green Bay over my old home town. The agitation I felt was actually odd because I’m not on the team, I have a real life, and win or lose, what Green Bay accomplishes doesn’t really affect my life. Yet, that’s what fans do — they internalize the ups and downs of their team. Add having your child on the team, and things become even more personal. So it’s not surprising that parents will get emotional, verbally attack referees and coaches, and even come down hard on their child or other players. It’s also not surprising that parents switch clubs seeking the most successful one they can find that will take their child.
            Presently, the United States Soccer Federation sponsors a Developmental Academy for male players U-15 to U-18. This too is a business, which relies on clubs wanting the status of being Academy members and paying the price of participating in the program. There are corporate sponsorships both on the USSF level and the club level. The success of the Academy is closely tied to the success of the Men’s National Teams. The Academy has promised to improve the pool of male players for the USMNT, which theoretically should improve its success. Unfortunately, the first test failed as the men’s team failed to qualify for the Olympics this year. The team has also had some stunning losses, including to Mexico last year in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final. The question for parents is if they should try to get their players onto Academy teams. The pluses are competition and exposure, as the best Academy teams do get more college attention at tournaments. However, there are multitudes of Academy teams that have such woeful records they don’t garner college coaches’ attention, and the competition is too far above their ability level, so that it is simply demoralizing. The development portion of the Academy is completely dependent upon the individual clubs, as the teams are far too spread apart to create a strong central coaching center. Many of the best Academy teams are associated with MLS clubs, so if you are lucky enough to live within driving distance of an MLS Academy team, you will have the opportunity to experience the top level. This is not the case for most players, and even if they are just a few hours away, the stress of driving to and from these team practices can take a huge toll on academics and temperament. The Academy also requires that players don’t play high school soccer, which should be a major consideration for you and your child.
            How do we diminish the effects of business on youth soccer? I’m not sure we can as a whole, but as parents we can demand that we get our money’s worth in development and not demand winning as a part of our pay back. The players who want to will ultimately get seen by college coaches. They can guest play on teams going to college recruiting tournaments, and they can be seen at their high school games. But they have to have the skills, such as first touch, screening the ball, playing off the ball and passing.  Those come through development. The business of youth soccer should be to develop top players through its system. The better the players, the more wins the team will have. Yet we have to be patient. Through U-12, we parents need to ask clubs to focus on development, and we need to wait for that development to pay off rather than jumping club to club to club looking for wins.
            Finally, if this replacement referee era taught us anything, it should have taught us that top referees need to be respected and appreciated. I liken the replacement referee situation to putting a first year neurosurgery resident in the operating room in charge of a case. He bungles the operation, the patient dies and the hospital says, "Well, even the experienced neurosurgeon with 25 years experience has had patients die on the table." That’s true, but experience allows the surgeon to handle a crisis and to probably pull success from disaster. Likewise, referees make mistakes, but experienced referees make fewer of them and can find a way to balance out a mistake during a game. The youngest referees need our forbearance to move from unsure to confident. We parents and coaches need to use opportunities to teach the referees rather than chastise them. If our child makes a mistake doing homework, berating them for the mistake rarely gives them the self-confidence to continue to try. They now fear failure because they fear the anger. However, if we use the mistake as a learning opportunity, then we build from the mistake. The same holds true for our young referees. We need to let them know they are appreciated for stepping into the lion’s den and doing the best they can to keep order in a game. We need to respect the experience they bring to the game, as they develop along with our own players.
            I’m sure the pundits will be watching with eagle-eyed criticism of the returning referees. Every time they make a mistake, it will be over-analyzed and over-discussed. Hopefully, that will only last a week and hopefully they will be able to point out how better controlled the games have become and how less egregious the mistakes are. As the NFL moved toward its most profitable year ever, it recognized that it needed the experience of its referees to insure the money kept rolling in. Youth clubs need to recognize the same thing and understand that developing players and respecting budding referees will ultimately build their clubs to the profitable and successful levels they seek. Once they set the standard it will help maintain them going forward. As parents, we need to look for a quality product to buy, which means looking past wins to find the real core advantage of a good youth club.

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Making the team

Susan Boyd

            Your son or daughter wants to play college soccer—how do you make that happen? Will it happen? If it does, what does that mean for your player and your family? Getting recruited doesn’t mean sitting back and letting your child’s statistics speak for them. Having a college coach develop an interest requires some hard selling unless your child happens to be on the National Team. Even Regional Team players find themselves in the position of hustling to be noticed. You need to start early and you need to be tenacious.
            First the good news: As long as you keep your options open your child has an excellent chance of getting on a college team. Girls have an advantage because there are more women’s college soccer programs than men’s. This is due to Title IX and the need to offset football programs. Obviously, if you look primarily at schools without a football team you are more likely to find men’s soccer teams. The other consideration is Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 in the NCAA and the NAIA. I know most kids and parents see NCAA Division 1 as the only option but by narrowing your options so much you may be denying your child the opportunity to play college soccer. There are schools out there that go begging every year for quality players who might be able to find your child more than just an athletic scholarship because they want him or her badly. Bryce was offered $32,000 a year by a Division 2 school with $34,000 of expenses. He eventually turned down the offer to play for a Division 1 school with even more expenses and only a $7500 offer. He based his decision on location and major.
            That’s the next most important consideration. When Bryce was visiting University of Wisconsin, which is in the middle of Wisconsin on a small lake, the coach told the story of kid they were recruiting. They thought they had reached an agreement and the coach was so excited to get the guy. At the end, he asked the player what he was planning to major in. "Marine Biology," was his reply. That was the end of the negotiations. Pick schools to pursue based on going to that school, not on the team. This means, of course, in the topsy-turvy world of college sports that the number one team in the country might be 50th the next year due to loss of players and/or personnel. Coaches get fired, move to new teams, quit, or retire. The team you fell in love with may not be the team that exists by the time your player joins it. Robbie’s college team has had three head coaches in four years. So once again, make your choice based on the school, members of the team you might respect and whether or not you want to be close enough to go to the games. Everything else can change in a heartbeat. 
            In picking schools ask the important questions. Does your child feel comfortable at a school with 48,000 students? Is he or she comfortable living a long distance from home? What does your child want to major in? Would your player be better off being on a great team with little playing time or a weaker team where he or she could be a significant player? What living arrangements does the school offer? Will that be comfortable for your child? Don’t get stars in your eyes and be blinded to the more important factors. If your child spends a season on the bench because of injury, will he or she still love the school experience? Will the school be too tough for your player to handle both soccer and academics? Remember, there are academic standards for playing sports that can end up costing your son or daughter a season if he or she can’t keep up.
            Remember also that there are three divisions in NCAA and there is another college league, NAIA, which also has three divisions. Don’t rule out non-Division 1 schools. Division 3 in the NCAA and NAIA can’t offer athletic scholarships, but they have other resources and may actually be able to give your child more money to attend school than the schools who can give athletic scholarships. Likewise, Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, putting their emphasis on academics. Less than 1% of scholarships are what is considered "full ride" and in soccer that hardly ever happens. Instead, soccer splits around 9.5 scholarships among all the men soccer players on a team and 12.5 scholarships among all the women players on a team. Since most soccer teams carry 25 to 32 players you can see that the money isn’t great. In fact, in all of the NCAA there are only 138,000 full scholarships for Division 1 and 2 and most of those go to football players. In the NAIA the standards to get an athletic scholarship are less stringent, so your child is more likely to qualify. You also need to remember that scholarships are renewed each year at the coach’s discretion. If your player spends a lot of time on the bench he or she is likely to see the scholarship dwindle to make more money available for "performers." 
            Begin your college search early so you can "market" your player properly. Locate a variety of teams at all levels and in all leagues. I would say 20 to 30 teams to begin with. Eventually, you’ll narrow these choices down. Be sure you have up-to-date emails for all head coaches and assistant coaches. Head coaches make the final choices but assistant coaches do most of the active recruiting. Letting schools know you are interested in their program is the first step. end to all the coaches an email that includes why you like the school, the location, the academics, and the soccer program. Personalize the email by showing that you have paid attention to what is happening on the team.  Note the skills of a particular player or talk about a recent game. Coaches want to know that you are truly interested in their team and not just blindly emailing every school in a 200 mile radius. Start this process in the sophomore year. Your soccer team should be attending at least two college recruiting tournaments a year, so let the coaches know when and where the team will be playing and once you know the schedule, send that along as well. You can contact coaches by email and phone as much as you want under NCAA rules, but they have very strict rules about how much they can contact you, including returning phone calls. I recommend having your child do the contacting. Even if a coach doesn’t reply, keep sending emails. One a week wouldn’t be out of line. Coaches can push delete. A player is considered a sophomore until September 1st of the junior year which is when coaches can contact him or her. This is when the emails can build up in your account. Your child may get emails from schools you never considered so be sure to look them up and find out if their interest in you should be met by your interest in them. Remember, it’s a bird in the hand kind of situation.
            It would be a good idea to create a DVD of some of your child’s highlights. Don’t send it until it is requested. We visited IUPUI and saw a 33 gallon trash can in the coaches office overflowing with DVDs. They don’t have time to watch except the ones they request. Include both club and high school highlights and a stat sheet. Start keeping stats freshman year. Don’t include stats before then. Coaches aren’t interested because the competition can’t be trusted. On the back of the stat sheet do a resume with a photo. In the resume give facts such as GPA, SAT, ACT scores, outside service, school awards, interests, and family contact information. Update the DVD and sheet regularly. Usually when you attend a college recruiting tournament, the sponsor will offer the opportunity to post your child’s resume, stats, and photo on a website where coaches can download the information. Bryce actually got recruited this way. The coaches of his school came to see a player on the opposing team, saw Bryce play, were impressed and looked him up. So have a photo and information you can easily upload to these sites.
            Don’t give up if you really want to play at a particular school. Robbie emailed his top school every week and never heard back from them. We sent him to the camp they sponsored along with nine other schools. He ended up being named MVP of the camp and got recruited on the spot by the school and two others. I don’t recommend going to lots of camps as they are expensive and sometimes schools are already done recruiting. But if players have a top school that has been ignoring them, then why not? There are 250,000 seniors playing high school football and only 19,800 available scholarships. Image how much worse it is for soccer players. Therefore, don’t fight for a school because you think there will be money. Since your child should be picking a school on academics, he or she could go to the school and then "walk on" which means requesting that the coach allow him or her to practice with the team in the hopes of making a positive impression. Some coaches don’t allow any walk-ons, so find out what the coach’s policy is before planning on this strategy. Also, some coaches will only allow walk-ons during spring season. Your chances may be slim, but with some confidence it could be the best option. Many colleges have a club team, so consider joining that as coaches have been known to show up at a game to watch for talent.
            At the aforementioned camp one of the schools which was actively recruiting Robbie was an NCAA Division 3 school which consistently ranks number one in the country and has won numerous national championships. He loved the coach and the school was excellent academically. However it was in Texas, way outside Robbie’s comfort zone. He will never be in a national championship with his present college team, so he can be a bit wistful about passing up the opportunity. As you help your child search for a school, keep that kind of experience in mind. There may be more opportunities for success and national recognition with a smaller school and a different division. Decisions about who gets invited to professional combines often come down to a player’s position in his or her college league. Being a big fish in a smaller pond could prove to be more effective than being a big fish in huge pond. An excellent player might get dwarfed by a ton of other excellent players. Depending on your child’s aspirations you might want to keep future opportunities in your considerations.
            Finally, remember that if you look to a variety of choices for schools and teams you have the best chance of landing both a spot on a team and a scholarship. Most decisions are made before the beginning of senior year, which is why you need to start early. Girls with a spring soccer season often have their decisions made before January of their junior year. These will all be verbal decisions. Nothing is set in stone until national signing day and even then I’ve heard of players reneging with consequences. Until signing day, there’s a gentleman’s agreement which can be disrupted, but is rarely. Usually a player has to do something unusual to prompt a school to reconsider or a new, better offer has to come in for a player to want to change schools. This rarely happens because if a school really wants your son or daughter the school will speak up earlier. Most importantly, don’t waste a coach’s time. Remember, if your student doesn’t meet the minimum academic requirements for the school he or she won’t get in. Soccer coaches don’t have that kind of pull with admissions and they worry that your child won’t be able to handle the academics and will become ineligible. Don’t think your superstar soccer player will be attending Notre Dame if his or her grade point average is 2.5. Coaches talk to each other, so they may end up discussing your son’s or daughter’s record. Don’t lie on the stats or the resume. Coaches are very astute and have ways of getting stats from high school, club and tournament websites. They do their homework and won’t take kindly to being duped. No matter what responses you get, if your child wants to play college soccer I can nearly guarantee there will be a match out there. You have to plug away, which means starting early enough to give your player a chance to discover and stretch out the options.

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