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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". 

 

Comedy Pitch

Susan Boyd

Sometimes we just have to laugh even if it is at the expense of someone’s unfortunate actions. That’s why "America’s Funniest Home Videos" continues to be a family favorite. We can’t seem to get enough of people falling off of skateboards, being hit in the groin with a baseball, having someone jump out of a closet or collapsing a table while dancing on it. At least the subjects of these videos made the choice to share them with millions of viewers. So they learned to laugh at themselves with the dangling carrot of a possible $100,000 prize for best video of the year justifying any remaining embarrassment.
 
I’ve seen enough soccer games to know that odd and hilarious actions often pop up. In youth soccer, that can be nearly every game as kids possess a natural sense of wild abandon when it comes to taking the ball down the field. Their unintended quirks create some entertaining moments. Luckily, kids carry immunity against humiliation. They get so focused on the task at hand that what we witness on the sidelines as comical becomes just a momentary interruption in their real quest — a goal.
 
The classic moment is the ardent dribble down the field, a goal, and high fives all around but, unfortunately, in the opponent’s net. Who cares? A goal was scored and a celebration was enjoyed. Twists abound on this scenario. When my youngest son was 9, he played a downtown team on a small field under a viaduct. Since the field was used by several different aged teams there were three different sized goals surrounding the pitch. My son received the ball and began a fervent run down the field, let loose a sharp kick and GOALLLLL! — in one of the nets not in play. During a grandson’s game when he was 4, his team was rushing toward the goal. The opposing team’s coach admonished his team to "Stop them from scoring any way you can." Like a tsunami, the four kids threw themselves en masse in front of the portable pug goal with legs and arms extending out as if they were two intertwined octopi and sending the goal toppling out of bounds. My grandson’s team ignored the loss of the goal and sent in a barrage of shots, none of which made it past the barricade of bodies. Everyone, including the coaches, was laughing too hard at the scene to end it. It was a classic case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.
 
Throw-ins look easy, but not in the hands of young players. During one game, players tried again and again to throw the ball over the side line. Kid after kid heaved the ball down the outside of the side line, lost it backwards over their head, stepped onto the field as they threw the ball, had the ball slapped out of bounds, and in one case, actually heaved the ball clear across the field. Each team alternated in the attempt to complete a legal throw-in. Whistles were frequent. But what started out as frustration eventually morphed into a truly funny scene. Even the kids began laughing as attempt after attempt failed. Eventually someone executed a proper throw-in, which resulted in an eruption of applause from everyone: players, coaches, parents and especially the one ref who probably had developed chapped lips as he whistled each infraction.
 
Balls often fly from one field to another. Occasionally, players have to wait patiently to retrieve their ball because the field it escaped to hosts activity that can’t be stopped. But those extra balls can add extra entertainment. In one game two players picked up the two balls rolling across their pitch and scored goals in opposite nets at the same moment. The confusion was further complicated by the fact it was a tournament and all the balls were the same. Of course the ref solved the problem by discounting both goals which resulted in a battle by the coaches arguing that their team’s goal was the one that should remain in force. Parents bitterly argued what the rules should be in this case. In the meantime, the kids oblivious to the conflict continued to play with both balls, scoring goal after unchecked goal. The team that had lost its ball pleaded to get one of the balls back since its play had completely stopped. This French farce continued for at least five minutes until the adults realized that the chaos was continuing, got the ref to blow a whistle and agreed to just start over. Oh, and they returned one ball to the team on the adjoining field. In some cases, players don’t wait patiently and streak onto the field to get the ball. Parents under the guise of being helpful will hop into the fray to rescue a ball, even if in one case it was the wrong ball. This parent "helpfully" took the ball being dribbled down the field by his child’s opponent to heave it over to the neighboring field without regard to the real orphaned ball sitting forlornly untouched near the sideline. Pleading ignorance, he defended his move while the kids kept playing the ref shook his head unable to figure out what rule applied in this case.
           
Following any game, kids are encouraged to line up and do the "handshake snake" in the spirit of good sportsmanship. This tradition has led to several comical moments. In one game, a young lady refused to shake the hands of any of the players. Her coach was visibly upset with her and began to reproach her for her improper behavior. The poor girl burst into tears, which we all assumed was her realization that she had been rude. Instead, she wailed at the top of her lungs, "My mom told me not to touch people’s hands. They have flu germs!" After a gasp of recognition that we had all made similar seemingly innocent comments to our kids, we burst into laughter. The coach gave the girl a hug and sent her over to her protective mom. At another post-game ceremony where the kids got trophies, the players triumphantly held their awards over their heads ala an FA Cup victory, kissed the trophies and otherwise mugged for the camera. It was an exuberant and silly celebration. Once the pictures were over, the entire team headed to the nearest trash can and threw their trophies away. We parents were shocked. What was that all about? As one young man revealed, "Coach told us it doesn’t get any better than this." We retrieved the trophies, laughing the entire time, realizing that a comment meant to praise the kids was understood to mean something completely different.
           
All this shows that without the proper context, kids can clearly misinterpret what we are saying to them, which also leads to some comical moments. I’ve told the story of the young boy who was instructed by his coach during a corner kick to "move goal side." The poor player looked panicked — which goal? Which side? How far to the side? As the coach pleaded over and over with the kid, he finally ran as fast as he could to the opposite goal and bravely stood on the left side, obviously hoping he had made the right choice. There was the coach who told a player to "pick up the ball" as it passed her, so she did. Phrases such as "tackle the player," "shield the ball," "clear the ball," "cross the ball" and "mark your man" make sense to us adults, but they are a foreign language to our kids. As they struggle to do what they are told, they can do some pretty funny things. Tackle the player has led to several Clay Matthews-worthy sacks. Shield the ball ended up with a player throwing his body over the ball. Clear the ball resulted in girl picking up the ball and wiping it "clear" with her jersey. You can imagine what a child might infer "cross the ball" to mean, especially a child preparing for her Catholic Confirmation, and that’s exactly what she did. With deep conviction she made the sign of the cross over the ball, which certainly couldn’t hurt except that an opponent kicked the ball out from under her devotion. Mark your man can lead to double confusion. Players may wonder if they are supposed to keep a Sharpie close at hand, and if so, where should they make their mark? Female teams end up confused because the only men around them are referees, coaches and dads. Why should they mark them up?
           
When approaching any game, we need to maintain a sense of humor. Our youngest players offer us the opportunity to never take a contest too seriously. After all, it is just a game that should first and foremost be fun. We should also try to carry that good spirit into the later years of soccer. Even in the most tension-filled and significant games, there are moments of great humor. Seek out those moments and relish them. Laugh with your children. When all is said and done, those humorous events make such better memories than the bitterness of an unfair foul or a stinging loss. It is reported that children laugh 150 times a day while adults laugh as few as five times a day. Of course, if you choose to watch any recent Adam Sandler movie you cut your laughter in half immediately. I hope we can all rediscover that wild abandon we had as children and spend more time laughing even if we end up laughing at our own foibles.

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Interview with Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports and the Positive Coaching Alliance

Sam Snow

Dear Reader,
 
For this installment of my blog, I hope you’ll enjoy this Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports interview with the Positive Coaching Alliance.
 
 

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U10 Tournaments

Sam Snow

"I am a coach struggling with recreational U9/10 soccer parents and kids wanting to go to tournaments. According to the US Youth Soccer Development Manual [ed. note: Player Development Model], tournament play for U10 is discouraged (and I get that). Then why does almost every tournament out there offers U10 (some even U9 and U8) brackets?"
 
There are indeed many clubs and leagues around the nation that run tournaments for the U10 age group. For those folks it provides an additional revenue stream. Tournament organizers will go as young as they think they can get paying customers. That revenue stream is there because the parents of the U10 players either think that the tournament environment and the focus on outcome of performance develops the players and/or they want it as a sport spectator event for themselves. In fact, much of the challenge in providing a balanced environment of development and age appropriate competition for the U10 age group is impacted by the desire of the adults associated with the teams for a spectacle, as if they were watching a MLS match.
 
So what’s the solution? On the short term look for festival formats for your team rather than outcome based tournaments. Then work with the parents of your team to collectively address the matter as one of age appropriate player development with your club leaders. On a slightly longer term look to set up a U10 academy as is done in Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Montana, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina.
 
 

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Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do

Susan Boyd

This has been my mantra for 2012. I have had some on-going medical and family problems that promise to continue into at least the first quarter of 2013. Every time I begin to feel sorry for myself I repeat this statement. My parents raised tough kids; I come from ancestors who took Conestoga wagons from Ohio to Wisconsin and then ultimately to North Dakota. My family, for generations, was made of farmers battling drought and pests. They survived the Great Depression, loss of children, living in tents, and suffered through influenza epidemics and being gassed fighting in WWI. So in this day and age of flu vaccines, nuclear medicine, air travel, moving companies that pack up, transport cross-country, and unpack everything in our 3,000 square foot homes within a week, two cars in the driveway, online shopping and instant movies, we really have it pretty good. Nevertheless, when things go wrong, it can seem not only bleak, but unfair.
 
Youth soccer is filled with tough times. As parents, we can get discouraged if our kids don’t make the top travel team, lose an important game, suffer a major injury, lose their starting spot, watch best friends move on to other clubs, don’t make the state Olympic Development pool and a dozen other scenarios we’ve all experienced. Our kids likewise feel the frustration of soccer not going as well as they had hoped. It’s tough! Yet, even the toughest situation will eventually pass into oblivion. What has to last is the family, our children’s joy and the will to improve enough to not give tough times a foothold.
 
How can we let our kids know that tough times will disappear while also giving them the tools to be tough enough to face any situation? We can’t confuse toughness with boorishness or confrontation. Toughness is an internal state of mind that allows us to handle adversity with a positive and effective solution. There are several important techniques we can use. Each one plays a significant role in helping our kids not wallow in self-pity while still being sympathetic to their right to feel bad for a while. 
 
First, don’t be overly solicitous. Giving your players a good hug, agreeing that the situation stinks and giving them the space to feel bad will indicate your support. But don’t try to bribe them into happiness; pout with them; denigrate the team, the coach or the other players; and definitely don’t talk about it being unfair. Fairness is subjective, and if children think every time something bad happens to them it’s because they were victims of injustice they won’t learn to accept responsibility for their role in tough outcomes or for their ability to overcome the situations. 
 
The next step is to become solution oriented. Discuss with your children what the next step should be. Modulate their anger by gently encouraging them to come up with reasonable and well-tempered ideas. If they lose their starting spot, they might react by wanting to quit the team. After all, they lost face. Who wants to return to the field to watch another player in their spot? But that’s an extreme and emotional response to a common tough situation. So, you can agree that quitting is a solution, but point out where that leaves the player – no team. Show them how a tough-minded individual would handle it. Sticking with the team, finding out from the coach how to win the starting spot back and working extra hard to make that happen. Find solutions in which your children have to make an investment. Encourage them to give the problem time to smooth out so that any solution has the space to evolve.
 
Finally, give your children lots of praise for hanging tough. It’s not easy for your son to know he didn’t stop the winning goal in the state championship or your daughter to know her foul in the box gave the opposing team a PK. But that’s soccer. What happens in soccer happens in life too. Our children will fail important tests, have fender benders, lose a love and break their favorite toy. How they respond to those tough moments depends on their willingness to accept that those moments happen. Let them know how proud you are that they worked through sorrow, frustration and embarrassment. If they need help accomplishing that, then give it to them, but do your best to make them take the reins. Eventually our children will learn that they can overcome the bumps in the road because they have the confidence and tools to do so.
 
I certainly don’t wish anything more substantial than disappointment as the trouble life throws them, but if your children can handle the small stuff, they can also handle the big stuff. I’ve been pretty lucky in my long life to avoid really tough times, but I was given the skills and self-reliance to handle troubles. Like I said, my parents raised tough kids. I don’t know what more the fates have in store for me, but I take the problems as they come, repeat my mantra and know that every situation has a solution. Kids possess a natural resiliency that slowly dissipates as they become more invested in success and self-image. Our job is to translate that resiliency into the tools to stand tough in the face of adversity. We can do it if we also can do it for ourselves. When we become tough people we show our kids how effective being tough can be in getting through life. Truthfully, tough times may extend for a while, but they don’t last. Eventually something good will come along. We just have to develop the feistiness to get through to the good stuff.

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