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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org 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.

 

Jeering and Cheering

Susan Boyd

An essential part of the youth sports experience is having fans cheering our kids. We parents love to attend their games and embarrass them (and occasionally ourselves) with loud vocal support. Unfortunately, especially as they grow older, our vocal support drifts and crosses the line to taunting the opposition. It’s a natural evolution fueled by tradition and learned behaviors at professional events. In the name of good sportsmanship we try to curb the instinct, and official rules of conduct for various youth sports organizations request that we abstain from jeers and focus on just cheering for our players. A recent national flap on this issue was sparked by the very high school sports governing board guidelines under which my own sons played here in Wisconsin. When the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) sent out an email reminding schools, coaches, players, students, and parents to avoid taunting, even helpfully including a list of phrases to avoid, a basketball student-athlete took exception to the perceived restrictions and lashed out via social media with a profanity-laced rant. Her punishment was a five game suspension, not for attacking the guidelines but for violating the athlete’s code of ethics by swearing in her posts. There it might have ended, but her local paper picked up the story, and suddenly so did ESPN and Sports Illustrated. Without all the facts public opinion was squarely with the student and her position that the guidelines were stupid, and also condemning the WIAA for the suspension.

I find this all very intriguing beginning with people being so upset with being asked to be civil at games. I guess we could chalk it up to the right to personal expression being curbed by this stuffy organization, which overall doesn’t always have the best reputation in Wisconsin. People probably look upon ridiculing as an entitlement for attending sporting events. Watching and supporting sports for parents of athletes is a personal experience, which only extends to the school or club because of their children’s association with those institutions. Therefore, we are probably less interested in deriding the opponents than in supporting our own kids. However, for most students releasing their energy through cheering and jeering is considered a rite of passage. Even athletes speak positively about the contempt heaped upon them with chants and catcalls during games. Somehow it’s a backhanded compliment that their abilities elicit the need to heckle them.

One unavoidable reason that this has provoked such a strong response is the way the WIAA framed their decree. First they called it a “point of emphasis,” which just screams of ivory tower, living in a bubble, elitism. Instead of speaking in normal terms that simply encourage participants to avoid excessive ridicule, the email did highlight possible consequences for violating the guidelines, which only fueled the anger. Naturally, the WIAA had to quickly discount the enforcement portion of their email, since they never had sanctioned any school or person for “normal” taunts. The WIAA should have simply reiterated their stance on the more significant issue of taunts that cross the lines of decorum such as attacks that focus on a physical disability, a player’s race or religion, sexism, or ethnic backgrounds should never be tolerated, encouraging schools, fans, and participants to make a good faith effort to tone down the jeers heard regularly during most sporting events. Unfortunately the WIAA provided a “helpful” list of phrases to avoid, which only further reinforced their total out-of-touch position. Here are the phrases: air ball, you can’t do that, fundamentals, scoreboard, and sieve. Holy Cow! Other than air ball, I think very few of us have heard any of these phrases used in the last decade as a way to mock the other team. That may explain why none of these guidelines have been enforced because they rarely occur having been replaced by far more current vernacular.

Right now, the WIAA has been heaped with national ridicule for their well-intended, poorly executed email, the purpose of which was simply to reinforce the concept of good sportsmanship. I don’t think most people would argue that fair play extends to the use of language, and in general, people want to maintain some level of appropriateness in their public shouts. However, even as long ago as the Roman amphitheaters people expressed both support and disdain with shouts, bringing a more sinister element to these emotions with a thumbs up or down on letting a competitor live. Luckily, we don’t go that far. The WIAA further caught grief for its treatment of the high school tweeter. Most people assume she was punished for questioning the WIAA’s policies, but she was actually punished for violating the athletic code on profanity that flowed freely in her posts. There is a case to be made for consistency. Profanity is officially considered cause for all different types of consequences for high school and college athletes, but these consequences are rarely enforced. Players should receive an official warning if they swear during a game, and if they swear at an official that is supposed to be immediate removal (usually a red card in a soccer game). But officials don’t enforce the policy most of the time and decide when a situation is egregious enough to warrant a send-off, which makes enforcement very subjective and therefore open to challenges if applied. That weakens both the policies and the issuing organization. Many people thought a five game suspension was overkill for the young athlete, and there’s certainly a possibility that it will be overturned or diminished. All of which makes the WIAA look like it overreacted and when it comes to implementation chose a rather knee-jerk approach.

While the entire incident has become an embarrassment for the WIAA, it has opened the conversation on what might be appropriate when we cheer at games. Language is extremely difficult to police, and even the WIAA admitted that their email wasn’t new policy to control behavior, just a reminder of long-standing guidelines. However, we do have common sense tests for what should and shouldn’t be voiced. We can all tolerate some taunting. It seems to be part of the culture of “sticks and stones.” What we need to avoid are personal attacks that border on hate speech. I don’t like profanity, especially when young kids are around, but it has become the way many of us express our intense positions. As a writing teacher, I’m appalled that three four letter words seem to have replaced the elegance and beauty of all English adjectives, adverbs and verbs, but I understand in the age of texts and 140 character tweets we have reverted to a much more abbreviated and profane way of emphasizing our points. I’d rather see us focus on speech that can harm rather than speech that is clanking and abrasive but is essentially just puffery. My sons are biracial, and they were taunted regularly with racial slurs, which concern me far more that someone shouting “F” you at them. The WIAA hasn’t attended to this issue enough, and officials have been as lax in handling verbal attacks as they have been in handling profanity, perhaps placing both on the same level.

Because this situation ended up highlighting the relatively minor issues of common jeering and simple profanity and the ridiculous way the WIAA approached the problem, the press missed the chance to zero in on more significant concerns at our youth games. Definitely, we parents need to take as high a road as possible to set a good example for our kids. But we can’t avoid the serious issues of heckling, which becomes ugly and personal. It’s incumbent upon governing organizations to not only make policies clear on these racist, sexist, and physical appearance attacks, but to find ways to enforce them. This means setting guidelines and requirements for officials so that they more aggressively handle personal attack situations. Coaches and schools need to be held accountable for their athletes’ behaviors and to an extent their fans’ behaviors, and all punishments must be fairly applied to all involved. Kids who chant “loser” aren’t the problem, but kids who chant racial slurs are and should be sanctioned either individually if possible or as a school. All too often the worst situations are glossed over or ignored which only emboldens hecklers the next game. It’s unfortunate that the WIAA is taking all the heat because I’m sure other state athletic associations and sports governing organizations have similar problems. They just didn’t get called out so publically by first an athlete and then by national publications. Nevertheless, everyone needs to revisit the issue of good sportsmanship as it relates to language. We can laugh at the flubs of the WIAA, but we shouldn’t dismiss the dangers of hate filled jeering. As one local high school coach said, “We just ask students to cheer and support their team rather than cheering against the other team.” Good advice.

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Women In Soccer

Sam Snow

A few weeks ago I attended a symposium for Women In Soccer - http://women-in-soccer.com/.  Almost 110 people attended the symposium. The speakers included Carrie Taylor, Diane Scavuzzo, Lynn Berling-Manuel, Lesle Gallimore, Shannon McMillian, Louise Waxler, Rosalie Kramm, Sally Grigoriev, Chris Moore, Jeff Plush, Jerry Zanelli, Duncan Riddle, Steve Hoffman, Yvette Brown and Angela Hucles.

The day was filled with a great exchange of information from the speakers and the audience members. The fundamental goal of the symposium was to get more women, especially the former players, more deeply into coaching, officiating and top tier sport management. We also need more women in soccer media, marketing, governance, sports sciences, etc.

The push toward a tipping point gained real momentum at this symposium. To keep that momentum going there will be a meeting to devise action plans to achieve the goal of more women in soccer leadership at the 2016 US Youth Soccer Workshop in Baltimore next month. The session will be led by Carrie Taylor and Ruth Nicholson. That session will be in convention center room 321 beginning at 2:15 PM on Saturday, January 16th. If you support this effort tin any way then please do attend that session.

In the meantime you can email Carrie Taylor (carrie.taylor@lagunaunited.org) your goals or reach out through Twitter @Carrie1v1 #WIS2015GOALS. PLEASE also include the #WomenInSoccer hashtag. You may also read and add to the document via Google.

Carrie Taylor has shared a link to the following document:

WIS 2015 Goals

Goals list. Please invite people to add their goals as you see fit:

Open in Docs

 

We hope that you’ll actively participate with us at the January 16th meeting.

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End of an Era

Susan Boyd

Quick! Name the soccer player with the greatest number of international goals. Hint: this forward has appeared in four World Cups and three Olympics. Give up or did you know? It’s Abby Wambach, who retired from the game on Dec. 16, 2015 with 184 goals scored in international play. And yes, that is more than any other player male or female in soccer history. That means more goals than Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham or Mia Hamm who amazingly ranks second in the world with 154 goals. Abby’s impact on the sport transcends gender distinctions and national allegiance.  She definitely elevated the game here in the United States, but she has also joined the international pantheon of notable players with name recognition around the world.

Abby began playing soccer when she was six and made the U.S. National team in her teens. She played college ball at the University of Florida where she honed her signature diving header. Her headers determined games with last minute clutch plays, most notably in the 2011 World Cup when her header at the 122nd minute tied Brazil in the semi-finals, leading to the U.S.’s ultimate victory to make it to the finals. Her head was marked by both her own team, as the point to hit in hopes of a goal, and by the opponent as the dangerous weapon which had to be stopped. Yet teams often couldn’t thwart the power she possessed with both her head and her feet, and more significantly the power she possessed to inspire her team. The New York Times declared she was “the soul” of the Women’s National Team, and there was little argument with the truth of that statement. She motivated teammates to persevere through tough matches and helped them remained focused leading to strong performances and significant come-from-behind victories. While her skill as a player is unquestioned, it is her character which sets her even further apart from other sports marvels. She possesses integrity, determination, humility and joy, traits we hope all our youth players aspire to and achieve. She embodies the true character of a role model. Abby was a refreshing stand-out who could inspire both girls and boys; someone we could trust to provide drama-free behaviors. When Hope Solo, the goalkeeper for the Women’s National Team, was arrested for domestic abuse just prior to the 2015 World Cup, Abby kept her opinions to herself, focused on the competition ahead and supported her teammate. That’s a class act. As she shifts to a new role as commentator, soccer representative and endorser, she will continue to bring to soccer the same high level of investment and scrupulousness. Pointing our kids in her direction wouldn’t be a mistake.

However in this climate of larger-than-life sports celebrities who all too often seem more self-involved than humble in the face of their success, it’s difficult to find people we want our children to look up to. We may chuckle at some of the antics, but the behaviors of these notables aren’t anything we want our children to model. Abby’s time of playing has ended, and new players will take her place as time moves forward. Just as Mia Hamm and Cobi Jones gave way to Abby Wambach and Landon Donovan, they have now given way to Alex Morgan and Michael Bradley.  Unfortunately we parents don’t get to pick the sports icons our children adore. That comes from a mix of public opinion and personal attachment. We may be able to steer our kids gently in a certain direction, but ultimately they want the jersey that everyone else is wearing. Alas those who imbue a jersey number with legendary magic can’t all have the dependability that we witnessed with Abby. Too regularly our heroes end up letting us down. So that begs the question, what do we do when our child’s idol has clay feet? 

In 2013 we had a summer of huge disappointment when Brewer’s outfielder Ryan Braun denied he used performance enhancing drugs, had a suspension overturned and then in a disastrous turn of events had to reluctantly fess up. Caught up in the same scandal was Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees who dug in his heels in the face of overwhelming evidence and refused to admit to any wrong doing, though the evidence (and the baseball commissioner) said otherwise. Thousands of kids were sent into a tailspin as they struggled with the aftermath of fallen idols. These kids had jerseys, posters, signed baseballs and other memorabilia, all of which lost their luster quickly. Some continued to support their heroes, but most were too scared and ashamed to admit their allegiances. It was confusing to hear newscasters and sports reporters tear down their icons daily. Parents were also conflicted because they understood the seriousness of the charges but also felt loyalty to their team. Imagine how much more upsetting this was to young players who didn’t comprehend the issues except on the most rudimentary level. All they really understood was that their star was tarnished and by association so were they.

These doping suspensions weren’t the first implosion of a sports star’s image (think Tiger Woods, Tonya Harding, Lance Armstrong), but is regrettably emblematic of how many players end up on the wrong end of the law, lying or flaunting poor social decorum. We parents have the unenviable task of helping our kids deal with the news. We need to help kids separate the legend from the reality. It’s important for them to understand that just because someone can score goals from 30 yards out doesn’t mean he’s a pillar of integrity. Kids can still be enamored with a player’s skills while taking exception to her conduct. We parents should point out that all the adulation can warp a person’s sense of humility and entitlement. Whatever the circumstances of a professional player’s fall from grace, kids should be able to learn some valuable lessons about making ethical choices, being honest and taking responsibility for behaviors. We should openly discuss the reports and kids should be encouraged to come up with how their hero might have better handled the situation. We can ask “What would you do if someone offered you a way to cheat?” or “Is there a time when lying is okay?” or “Does someone famous have the right to ignore the rules?”  While these seem to be rhetorical questions, we may be surprised at how our kids view the issues.  Rather than judge the responses, we should encourage a dialog, focusing on all the issues involved, and continuing the discussion as it impacts their lives. We should do this is so that our kids learn to analyze moral dilemmas and arrive at solutions that will make both us and them comfortable. It’s not about one right answer but about developing the tools to find their own answers while in the midst of an ethical quagmire. It won’t be just about sports, but really all about life.

Abby’s retirement marks the end of an era with the Women’s National Team that set amazing standards for quality of action both on and off the pitch. When we find a player that we believe embodies a strong work ethic and moral compass, we shouldn’t be shy about pointing that out to our youngsters. The player may not be the biggest star, but at least he or she can serve as an example of what we want our children to aspire to. It’s all right if our kids hitch their loyalties to someone we consider possesses questionable principles because should he or she falter, their fall will provide valuable life lessons. More importantly, there will always be an Abby Wambach out there to whom we can direct their attention. Sports heroes despite some extraordinary skills are also human beings with frailties, but some, like Abby, have fewer than others. An era of decency will continue long after good players retire. Someone will take their place. It will be exciting to see who steps up in women’s soccer.

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Meeting the Costs

Susan Boyd

Despite soccer being a simple game requiring little equipment, it has morphed into a rather expensive sport. When our kids are under ten we can get by with minimal costs. Most soccer shops will offer inexpensive packages of cleats, shin guards and ball for around $50, but those costs quickly spiral into double and triple the amount as kids get older. The costs for training escalate depending on the type of club team your child plays for.  The further up the skill level our children travel the higher the costs rise. If you change clubs you’ll have to change uniforms which often include a number of peripheral items such as warm-ups and soccer bags. Utilitarian cleats give way to high end boots which are specialized to playing position and ironically cost more the lighter they become. Apparently removing materials somehow increases manufacturing costs. Naturally the more players become advanced the more they have to travel to find equal or stronger competition, so those costs need to be added to uniforms, cleats, training and ancillary equipment. Some clubs will include fees for coaches’ travel in the club dues, but other clubs will ask every family to contribute an amount each trip. The final financial insult comes if your family decides to travel with your child.

What began as a simple $100 to $200 yearly expense can suddenly explode to 20 times that amount. It’s a subtle increase at first, and then before we know it we’re writing checks in rapid succession being rushed along a money trail with no stops and no exits. So how do we pay for this?  Some people may be lucky enough to absorb the costs, but most people will need a plan to handle the assault to their finances. There’s several ways to make this work, but we have to be proactive and definitely not shy about pursuing possibilities that ease the burden.

Many clubs have financial plans for families. These may be in the form of scholarships, payment plans and substituting volunteer hours for fees. My main advice is to not be shy about asking. We may feel embarrassed to seek help, but you’d be surprised how many families can’t handle the expenses without some assistance, especially if they have multiple players in the family. So call the club treasurer or president prior to try-outs to discover how the organization handles paying fees. Don’t be afraid that your questions will somehow interfere with your child being selected. Clubs understand that they need the best players to have a winning record to attract more top players and significantly more paying families. So they are usually happy to work out payments without putting parents on the spot or dismissing their children because they might not pay up all at once. Clubs make money from their fees, but a big money maker for most clubs are tournaments, which require a huge number of volunteers to make them run smoothly and be attractive to the best teams to enter. Clubs will generally have a volunteer requirement which must be met to be a member, but those requirements often barely meet the minimum needs for tournament personnel. So clubs will also offer a reduction in club fees for extra volunteer work. Bruce agreed to help mow the fields once a week in return for lowered fees in our case. A club may also offer scholarships in return for significant continual volunteering such as painting lines weekly, running concessions, cleaning bathrooms and clubhouses, etc. It actually makes good financial sense for the club who would pay far more to hire people to do these jobs than they give in fee credits. Occasionally clubs will have a fund raising event and give credits on dues if a family reaches certain fund raising goals.

It’s not unfair to ask our children to help out with these fees. They may appreciate the opportunities offered to them more if they have a financial stake in the outcomes. Kids can earn a referee license at age 12 to oversee U6 to U10 games with a minimal amount of training offered through your state referee association. The fees they earn aren’t significant, but if they work two or three games a weekend they can earn $30 to $40. After a month they’ve covered the cost of a uniform. They can continue to earn more advanced referee qualifications which leads to higher pay. As they get older they can also earn a coaching certificate. By earning a “D” license Bryce netted a fair amount of money in high school giving private goal keeping clinics to young kids in the club. If you live in a city or near a city with a professional or college team, they will probably run summer camps and require teen counselors. Kids can make several hundred dollars over the season depending on how many camps they work. The place we spend a lot of money is the local soccer store, so once kids reach employable age, usually 15 or 16 in most states, they should apply to work at the store. Not only can they make money, but they will also benefit from employee discounts to help defray costs.

I ended up getting a second job to help pay for the boys. I was lucky enough to get a job in soccer first as the administrator of Bryce and Robbie’s soccer club and then with the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development program. The pay wasn’t great, but it was enough to help out with our travel expenses, allowing us to go as a family to most away tournaments.  Some parents in our club took part-time jobs at places like the Hallmark store or the local grocery to earn just enough to cover expenses associated with select soccer.

There are actually scholarships out there to cover costs for soccer players. Most are sponsored by the clubs themselves. An internet search with the keywords “scholarships for soccer club fees” produced information and applications for scores of club teams. Adding a regional keyword like your city or your state should help narrow the search. Locating a club which offers financial assistance can help a family locate the most financially responsible options for try-outs. Additionally many of the ethnic clubs underwrite their select teams so that club fees can be more on the youth recreational level rather than the stratosphere of most select clubs.  When Bryce played for United Serbians, our fees for the year were only $150 which included coaching and uniforms. We paid extra for tournaments and travel. Occasionally clubs can apply for community grants to provide scholarships for their players. Checking those out and writing up a grant for your club could end up returning big dividends.

Generally scholarships only cover training fees and not travel, so families need to find ways to afford those costs. There’s economy in numbers. We parents need to help one another out by sharing the expenses. Players can travel with other players and share hotel rooms. We usually had at least two other teammates with us on every trip. Putting three or four boys in one room greatly reduced the costs for families and “car-pooling” to tournaments saved many families from the expensive costs of driving just their own child to an event. The team can get together for meals and order pizzas to eat in the lobby or sub sandwiches between games, reducing the food costs substantially. Even better a group of parents might grocery shop and buy the makings for sandwiches once arriving at the tournament. Getting bulk sports drinks from a big box store also saves money.  If a team must fly, have a parent coordinate a group rate for the team. This can be a substantial savings over regular airfares. Groups can be as small as ten, so a soccer team would certainly qualify for these special rates. Arranging for 15 passenger vans when you land is often far less expensive than every family renting separate vehicles.   These large vans are also good for those longer road trips saving on transportation costs.

Finally soccer equipment can be very expensive, especially with the quarterly release of the latest professional soccer player sponsored cleats. However, if you need to keep costs down you can turn to organizations like Goodwill and Salvation Army who generally have a rather large selection of soccer boots. They won’t be the fanciest pair around, but they’ll grip the turf just as well. I would avoid used shin guards as there are concerns about fungus. But you can get relatively inexpensive shin guards at stores like Wal-Mart, Dick’s or Sports Authority. You don’t need the FIFA or MLS branded pair. Clubs can help expenses by sticking with the same uniform for as long as possible. Every fall they can sponsor a uniform exchange where players who have outgrown their kit can pass it down to younger players. Old numbers can be removed and changed at the local soccer store for a nominal fee, so no need to worry in that regard. The exchanges could also include balls, goalie gloves, warm-ups, and bags. There’s no need to break the bank to be outfitted to play.

My friends with kids who play hockey and football have far greater equipment costs than we ever did. In fact, when I saw what the gear for a hockey goalie cost I quickly maneuvered my boys away from the sport. Overall progressing in any sport translates into more costs. If a player is passionate, it’s difficult to ask him or her to give up the game. Therefore we parents have to find a way to pay for it all. My one caveat is to caution against expecting to “recoup” the costs through a college scholarship. You’d be better off putting all the money you spend on soccer into a college savings program. That’s not to say kids won’t earn scholarships – many will – but the reality of these scholarships is that they won’t cover tuition much less room, board, books, and incidentals. And if your player attends a private school or an out-of-state institution then the scholarships will often make just a puny dent in the expenses. In reality we all need to decide what we can comfortably afford, and then we need to stick to that budget. It may mean choosing a less “successful” club to make some savings. Don’t worry about that. Top soccer players have come from all types of clubs and programs. Ultimately it is the individual player’s determination, skill and attitude that dictates how far he or she will go and not how loose a parent’s purse strings are.

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