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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". 

 

Matters of Convenience

Susan Boyd

As the fall soccer season begins, we all find ourselves questioning how we can streamline our caravans to set-up at the various games, tournaments and practices. Like some kind of nomadic soccer tribe, we fill up our cars with what we hope will cover all the necessities with a minimum of expense and trouble. Invariably, we find ourselves in situations where we are totally unprepared for the weather, terrain and/or lack of amenities. How do we equip ourselves without overburdening our bank account and car? Remember that none of my suggestions are endorsed by US Youth Soccer, but these are items I have gleaned from personal experience or recommendations from people I trust.
               
I have long advocated what I call the "soccer box," which should contain the essentials to get through any soccer experience. This box can be formal with a store-bought storage container or informal with a box gathered from your local grocery. I go with the latter since I usually end up spoiling the box enough during the year to need constant replacements. In the box I include first aid items, such as various sized bandages, gauze, tape, small scissors, wraps for sprains, antiseptic cream, pain killers such as ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen, plastic gloves and alcohol wipes. You can buy already prepared kits, but these are overpriced and you probably have most of these items already in your house. Next, I make sure I have lots of plastic bags, including large bags (15 and 33 gallon sizes) to gather wet uniforms and cleats and to lay on the floor to keep from soiling floor mats. And zip bags in gallon and quart sizes for those small items we need to collect and keep. Throw in a roll of paper towels and a roll of toilet paper (lots of those portable toilets run out), wet wipes, hand sanitizer and a terry cloth towel. Then I include those extra items that suddenly and inexplicably go missing at the most crucial times: shin guards, shorts, socks, one dark and one light shirt and old cleats. These can all be last year’s cast-offs that will still fill in when someone loses or forgets something. Finally, I throw in inexpensive knit gloves and hats, disposable hand warmers and some old sweat pants. The gloves, hats and warmers are usually sold in bulk at stores like Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Costco, etc. I’ve been lucky to find these items at two for $0.99. Sweat pants you can pick up at your local Goodwill for very cheap.
               
Once you get to the field what you sit on can be important. You can go deluxe with chairs that have roofs, footrests, recline features and heated seats. I'm a big fan of the chairs with roofs, but these are bulky, heavy and costly (around $30-$45), so only you can decide if they are worth it. They do let me use my umbrella to cover my knees rather than my head and shoulders, so I feel cozy sitting in the chair during any storm. You can also buy a product called Lava Buns, which you heat up in the microwave staying warm for 6 hours. They would work for games nearby, but not when you don’t have a microwave handy for tournaments. Chairs without arms take up little space in the trunk and work as well as the "spread eagle" folding chairs most of us use. These can cost as little as $10, so make a smart economical choice that is light and easy to carry. If you want to go simple, consider camp stools that are really easy to transport. For bleachers, I’ve found the stadium seats that use straps rather than hinged metal for the opening apparatus are the best bet. The metal and plastic joints tend to break easily, while the straps hold up. You can get heated stadium seats that use a car charger, but again there are a lot of parts that can break or go bad. 
               
Be sure you include an umbrella or two. My biggest pet peeve with umbrellas is that they drip down my back, but now there are umbrellas with a longer back side that guide the water to the ground rather than your chair back or coat. Called the Senzumbrella, you have to order from Great Britain and they aren’t cheap, but count on the Brits to make a state-of-the-art umbrella. The Superbrella chair provides hands-free coverage both against rain and sun. For a simple, cheap option there’s always the umbrella hat which Amazon offers in a pack of two for just $6.99 that comes in a variety of colors. There’s a Brolly Umbrella, which has a special hand grip eliminating cramping when holding our umbrella for long periods of time. For a state of the art umbrella, none is better than the new Blunt umbrella. This is a pricey option, but has incredible wind resistance, won’t rip and tear, and maintains a taut shape. There’s also the Dualumbrella, which combines two umbrellas into one to avoid that jostling of hitting and dripping on one another. The Nubrella is a hands-free clear plastic umbrella that envelops you using shoulder straps, and keeps the drips away from your shoulders and back.
               
Taking drinks and food to the field can be difficult, but there are several very cool (excuse the pun) options for doing so. Many people have purchased rolling coolers and then found themselves unable to navigate the rough gravel, divots and terrain on many parking lots and soccer fields. The longer the handle, the easier a rolling cooler is to control. Coleman has a tall cooler with a long handle for a reasonable price. It will hold 2-liter bottles standing up. It also has a soft-sided model, which has an additional pocket for other food. Igloo has developed a "cube" cooler with a long handle that will transport both large bottles and cans. My favorite cooler is the most versatile but will require a luggage roller to wheel out to the fields. Called the Flip-Box, it’s available at Sports Brella. This is a collapsible cooler that also protects hot foods. Made of Neopolean-P, which is an industrial insulator, it works with or without ice. In the latter mode, it will keep drinks put in at 33 degrees cool for at least six hours with their temperature only rising to 40 degrees. It will also keep food warm. When empty, the cooler breaks down and at home it will come apart with the pieces fitting in your dishwasher for cleaning. There are two sizes 26 quarts (45 cans) and 41 quarts (60 cans) for $29.99 and $39.99, respectively. Finally, Picnic Time has a soft-sided cooler called the Sidekick which has legs and collapses like a sports chair. It has two openings on the top: one opens up the entire cooler and one opens just large enough to pull a drink out, helping to keep the cool in.
               
As the weather gets colder, you’ll want to find ways to stay warm while sitting in your chair, sipping a drink, nibbling some snacks from your cooler and staying dry under your umbrella. There are plenty of options for blankets and cover-ups. I know they seem silly, but a Snuggie can be a great option allowing your hands to be free and yet allows you to be covered completely. But if they just seem too "uncool," then consider some of the other sports blanket options. Bed, Bath, and Beyond has a variety of water resistant blankets and throws ranging from $20 to $45. My favorite is the Tuffo because it comes with a carrying case with pockets. REI has a blanket with heat reflection to radiate back 80% of your body warmth. It’s just $17, so it’s affordable warmth. A hooded blanket provides great protection from winds and light rain. Wal-Mart has one for just $12. If you want, you can go heated. Thermafur offers a blanket through either Amazon or One Stop Equine Shop. This blanket uses the heating packets you would put in your gloves or shoes. There are several 12V car blankets that could warm you up after the game but won’t retain much heat for very long away from the electric source. Mambe offers what they call "the extreme blanket" in two sizes. The blanket has a reflective side to hold heat in, fleece, and is waterproof. It even has pockets on the corners so you can hold it around you without exposing your hands to the elements. All this comfort doesn’t come cheaply, starting at $80.
               
Finding comfort while watching games doesn’t have to be difficult if you are prepared. Research what will work for your pocketbook and climate zone. These options are just a dozen of what’s out there. I’m sure your searches will bring you even more choices. Just be sure to keep everything in one place in a manner that would be easy to load into your car on a moment’s notice. A duffel bag, cardboard box or trunk bag can serve as great storage options. No matter what you choose to do, remember that the best products will be worthless if they are sitting in your garage when you are miles away at a game. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. You can also consider adding a crank powered radio with National Weather Service capabilities and a good phone charger for the car. Sticking a few games and playing cards in back seat pockets in case you have to take shelter in your automobile during an electrical storm can help eliminate boredom and sibling battles. Think outside the box (excuse my second pun) and you can have a great, safe, dry and warm soccer viewing experience.
               

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What are Checking Runs?

Sam Snow

Last June a National Youth License coaching course was held in New Jersey. One of the coaches in the course had his U10 girls’ team come out to be demo players in the U10 training activities run by the course candidates. During those sessions I (Sam Snow) mentioned to the group of coaches about the quality decisions being made by those players on their positioning and movement within the activities. They clearly were beginning to think one step ahead in the game. They also backed up their decision making with good ball skills. A week or so after the course the coach of those players sent me a message part of which I copy here:
 
"After watching my girls – you mentioned that the next thing I should work on was checking runs. That is a topic that there doesn’t seem to be too much material on and yet I am wondering if you were suggesting to make it an entire lesson – or just part of what they do during a session on triangles? I am sure this is elementary to you – but I wanted to get your thoughts on introducing the checking runs, any activities or games? Or should I just use it as a coaching point? Any help would be appreciated."
 
I replied to the coach and as I always do I copied the state association Technical Director. The New Jersey Youth Soccer Technical Director is Rick Meana (RM) who is also an instructor for the National Youth license. From my response to the club coach, Rick and I began a discussion on off-the-ball movement. In the Principles of Attack this is called Mobility.
 
Adjustments in positioning and runs to get to the right spot on the field are what tactically aware players do throughout a match whether they are attacking or defending. With that fact in mind, here’s the discussion beginning with part of my reply to the club coach.
 
SS: It’s good to read that you are continuing to work with the girls on the triangle shape in their defending and attacking play. When you think the players are ready, add the idea of the checking run to create space for yourself to activities 3 and 4 in your session plan. Checking Run: a feinting technique that involves taking a few quick steps in one direction before turning and sprinting in another.
 
Attacking Runs
 
RM: So moving on with this area -- they say 98% of the game at the top level is spent without the ball -- various "locomotor" movements, etc.
 
7 possible movements a player will make in a game without the ball:
 
1. Checking (away from and back to the ball --U10-12s?)
 
2. Supporting (to a teammate under pressure --U8s?)
 
3. Penetrating (between opponents, preferably through a different "seam" that the ball travel through; i.e., straight ball being played to an angled/diagonal run-- and an angled/diagonal ball being played to a straight run)
 
4. Unbalancing (to the blind/off-ball side of the opponent)
 
5. Clearing (out of a wide channel for a teammate penetrating run)
 
6. Overlapping
 
7. Withdrawing (into a wide channel)
 
So my question from what ages is possible to address/train these runs? 
 
SS: I think all seven movements are possible with the top U12 teams – far left on the bell curve – think the best U12 teams at Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders, etc. I believe some of the off-the-ball movements (mobility) are assigned to appropriate ages in the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model (PDM).
 
1.  Checking – I think the idea can be introduced at U10 and then clearly a part of the training plan from U12 onward.
 
2. Supporting – I think the idea can be introduced at U8 and then clearly a part of the training plan from U10 onward.
 
3. Penetrating – well one could say that penetrating runs occur for U6 and onward. However, tactically timed penetrating runs through the seams of the opposing team likely won’t start until the U12 age group. I think there are college teams that have a difficult time with this type of attacking run – as opposed to just mindlessly sprinting up field. Again players to the left of the bell curve in the U12 age group could read the run, but they will need a really good coach to help them see the tactical moment and to take advantage of it. When to run and when to not make this run will be the biggest challenge to teach.
 
4. Unbalancing runs – U14 and onward. I think runs number 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 will be a lot for the U12 age group to learn well enough for it all to be a conscious part of their game. Third attacker runs for the U12 age group are possible if it’s presented in a somewhat concrete manner, such as far post runs on a cross or a corner kick.
 
5. Clearing – the notion of run out of a place to open that space for a teammate is an idea that U12 players can comprehend. Again make it a bit concrete for them with a tactic like – when the left or right fullback overlaps then forward players should pinch in toward the middle of the field to help open the space on the flank.
 
6. Overlapping – the tactic could be taught from the U10 age group and onward. The problem for the U10 players with this tactic will be patience – theirs and their parents, and possibly their coaches, too. However, players who are not expected to run-n-gun all the time could add the overlap to their attack.
 
7. Withdrawing – do you mean this move as the opposite of clearing? If yes, then I think for sure U14 and older players will understand the maneuver.
 
RM: Yes--- for withdrawing run I mean an outside MF or winger getting "sideways on" or "butt to the touchline" or "white on your boots" type run.
 
SS: OK, so "withdrawing" is to get out as wide as possible when on the attack; get some chalk on your boots. I think that even U10 players can begin to grasp that idea, especially if they get passes from teammates when they are wide on the pitch and wide open from marking. However, the idea of withdraw in order to create space for a teammate in the central channel of the pitch may not click for the kids. It’s an indirect reward for a 10-year-old. For example, Sam says, "Yeah my run opened up Rick, but he got the ball instead of me. I made the run, why didn’t I get the ball?"
 
We then carried the discussion over to runs made when defending.
 
Defending Runs
 
1. Pressing
2. Closing 
3. Tracking
4. Marking
5. Covering
6. Sliding over
7. Stepping Up
8. Dropping Off
 
SS: First I have two questions. Are numbers 2 and 7 essentially the same? If # 2 is about the first defender and # 7 is about 2nd and 3rd defenders then the breakdown of the eight types of defensive off-the-ball movements make sense to me. My second question, is sliding over in item 6 the same as pinching in?
 
With these thoughts in mind here’s my age group introduction of each type of run:
 
1. U6 – true it’s not an intentional tactical thought, but it is occurring and should be encouraged.
 
2. U8 – the idea of controlling your speed as you close down the dribbler I think can be planted as a seed in the minds of U8 players.
 
3. U10 – for sure the straight forward notion of pick up an opponent and run with him or her when your team is defending is comprehensible to this age group.
 
4. U10 – it’s concrete, but since its off-the-ball I think the skill can be taught at U10 but not sooner.
 
5. U10 – the coach will have to be patient though as the kids will often forget to recover in order to cover.
 
6. U12 – this is a much more abstract recognition of space and a tactical moment in the game.
 
7. U12 – this age group could get the idea since it is a way to stay compact and I think that idea, both for defending and attacking, is important to teach and reteach from this age onward. However, only coaches with solid understanding of the principles of defense will be able to teach the concept in a way the U12 players will understand
 
8. U12 – since it’s just the opposite of "stepping up" then I think it could be introduced.
The last two tactical movements, stepping up and dropping off, are only introduced to the U12 age group. I think consistent execution of those defending tactics begins at U14.
 
RM: YES and YES to your two questions!
 
SS: Based on our discussion the saying that U12 is the Dawning of Tactical Awareness jumps off the page.

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"Be Yourself..."

Susan Boyd

"... Everyone else is already taken."  - Oscar Wilde
 
This year, one grandson decided to play lacrosse for his middle school sport. He’s never played before; in fact, he has never played an organized team sport. Luckily, most of the boys on his team are also new to lacrosse, although several have played sports prior to joining the team. He has watched his uncles play soccer and heard the numerous soccer stories we tell with great pride. He has also witnessed his two male cousins, who play baseball and football, get lots of strokes for their achievements. When he was visiting this summer I could tell how excited and proud he was to join the ranks of his sporting relatives. He talked about lacrosse every chance he got, lamented missing some of the practices while visiting in Wisconsin, and expressed his great excitement that he would soon be practicing and playing. He told us about all his equipment and when visiting his cousins found himself with some common ground for discussion with them as they talked their various sports exploits. While we were in a Christmas shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, he found a rack of lacrosse ornaments and asked if I would buy him the one that had a shield and a lacrosse stick. On the shield was printed "If you can’t play nice – play lacrosse." He loved the tough guy sentiment. 
               
While I naturally am always rooting for my grandkids to play soccer, I quickly realized that each child had to find his or her own path that might not even include any sport. Those who play sports all excel at different sports. My granddaughters have selected dance and horseback riding to express their more active side, but they also are very much into art. It’s a wonderful hodgepodge of interests that gives each of them their own identities. Yet there are still bridges between each that allow for connections with one another’s interests. Why is it important that they be unique? How can we help our children maintain their individuality? 
               
How often do we hear, "All the kids are doing it!"? We recognize that with conformity comes ironically a mix of anonymity and positive peer regard. Fads like loom bracelets and sagging pants make kids feel like they are part of a group, safe from criticism and confident in acceptance. Some things we find benign enough to allow and other things we see as dangerous precedents. When our oldest daughter wanted her ears pierced at age 8, we were hesitant. It was a huge fad at the time and all the "cool" girls had pierced ears. But we also worried that she wasn’t old enough to care for her ears properly or to understand the ramifications of putting a nearly permanent mark on her body. Ultimately, we gave in. She got one ear pierced, screamed and refused to have the other ear done. We actually ended up begging her to get the piercing. Ironic! Our boys both asked for tattoos when in their senior year of high school. Now that’s really permanent! We discussed all the concerns we had and told them they had to wait until they were 18 because we weren’t signing off on the procedure; most importantly, they had to pay for it themselves. They must have been very motivated because they each have a tattoo. 
               
We tried to pick our battles, but at every step we were conscience of the allure of "fitting in" by being as much like everyone else as possible. Shopping at Water Tower Place in Chicago, I witnessed three suburban moms ascending the escalator. They each had brunette blunt-cut hair pulled back in a ponytail, white tuxedo shirt, blue jeans, black ballet slippers, and long mink coats. Triplets couldn’t have been more similar. I realized that the need to fit in doesn’t end when we conquer acne. Who among us has the courage to break away from the herd and go in a different direction? Some might call such actions foolhardy. After all, who wants to live next door to the neighbor with the "prairie" lawn or the fuchsia paint job? Who wants to be that neighbor themselves? Conformity allows us to operate as a society under an umbrella of laws that maintain structure and order.
               
Yet just this last week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech, which encouraged citizens to strive for a change and to be leaders in a non-violent revolution, which by definition means to break away from conformity. Being unique means thinking for oneself. Being unique can translate into leadership. Being unique frees up our creativity. Being unique takes us outside of the box to new discoveries about ourselves and our environment. Finding a balance between being distinctive and being a conforming member of a group isn’t easy no matter our age. It is usually harder for kids, who don’t have the maturity to react with independence when faced with peer pressure and group dynamics. Kids are willing to make waves, but unfortunately that’s usually with their parents and authorities in order to fight to be an integrated, conforming member of their peer group. Add to the mix a team sport like soccer, where kids wear uniforms, have a prescribed regimen for practices and games, and aren’t generally rewarded for being a renegade — instead, they’re recognized for conformity to the team’s demands. Look at any youth girls’ soccer team, and you’ll observe this level of running with the group. In addition to prescribed uniforms, most young girls attempt to add distinctive elements that only serve to highlight their conformity. Most wear the same headbands, sleeve clips, undershirts (necessary when dealing with the sheerer uniforms), shoelaces, and even similar boots in similar colors. Even as they step outside the standard uniform, they partake in standard behaviors.
               
Kids on sports teams may also be timid about becoming leaders on their squad, not wanting to draw unwelcomed attention to themselves. We parents have observed the on-field spats that arise when a player attempts to direct the action or make a suggestion. Players become defensive if corrected by a peer and lash out. Most youth players aren’t interested in creating conflict to promote their ideas and stand by their position. There’s always a popularity pecking order, so if a child lower in the order attempts to emerge with some leadership he or she could face censure. Popularity has never been a measure of someone’s ability to be a leader, but it often controls who can step into the role. Players who have strong skills and a well-developed soccer brain may not rise to the level of their abilities simply in order to protect whatever position they presently hold on a team, rather than risk criticism or ridicule.
               
How do we help our children develop a sense of individuality? Obviously, our own example helps create the backdrop to support this lesson. We need to make clear to our kids why we make the choices we do. In my entire time growing up, my father always bought used cars except once in 1959 when he bought a new Ford Fairlane completely stripped down — no radio and no white walls allowed. So, even when we finally had a new car it didn’t look or drive like a cool car. However, my dad always made it clear why he did this. He wasn’t going to lose 30 percent of the value of his purchase before he even got it home. In his world, cars were not status symbols but a means to get from point A to point B at a minimum of cost and trouble in relative comfort. So while our next-door neighbor bought a Thunderbird, we lived with our Fairlane for 10 years until my dad bought a giant Buick station wagon for a family trip to the East Coast that could accommodate our family of seven and all our gear including tents, sleeping bags and Coleman stoves. Because, naturally, my dad wasn’t going to pay for a hotel room! He was a highly respected, successful dentist and real estate speculator who once sold land to Bill Gates to build his first Microsoft campus. But he said he would let his accomplishments speak for themselves rather than advertise his success with possessions. Naturally, as a teenager I was aghast at his choices. We lived in a really wealthy community and all my friends belonged to the country club, had fancy homes and cars, and went on extravagant vacations. The important fact, which I failed to note at the time, but realize now, was that they were my friends despite my less than glamorous lifestyle.
               
This bittersweet lesson has certainly helped me be a better parent when it comes to teaching my kids the value of celebrating their unique characteristics. Did my kids want to fit in and follow the group like lemmings over any cliff? Of course they did. But we were able to have good discussions about the wisdom of such blind loyalty. The victories weren’t necessarily often or readily apparent, yet they existed nonetheless. We parents have the opportunity to share with our children the benefits of striking out on their own in some areas. Our younger daughter loved to wear striped shirts with plaid skirts or mix purple with orange leading to some ridicule at school. Eventually, however, she garnered respect for her fearless choices. If we can notice those moments and praise them, we will go a long way to helping our children develop the inner determination to stick with unpopular choices. This could lead to resisting drugs, alcohol and sexual activity. If kids succumb to peer pressure in seemingly innocent situations, they end up being less equipped to resist the bad peer influences. We can discuss with them how they don’t have to be judgmental when they choose to swim outside the main stream. They need to simply point out that certain choices make them uncomfortable, but they don’t expect everyone else to behave like they do. By expressing their position they also often find that other kids have been silently supporting the same position. This enables kids to identify that the perception of what the group wants isn’t always the truth of the matter.
               
We parents recognize that adapting to the group is part of normal youth development. So we pick our battles when it comes to demanding that our children don’t follow suit. Whenever we put our foot down we need to have a discussion as to why. While it becomes cliché, the truth is that when our offspring say, "all the kids are doing it," we need to focus on the word "all" and point out that it’s just not true. I probably said "our family is different" a gazillion times, and I know most of you have said the same thing in some form an equal number of times. When our kids listen and agree, we need to be quick with our support. Ultimately we aren’t trying to mold our child in our image, but we can hope that they absorb our morals and our vision for their unique development. Oscar Wilde knew about being special with his flamboyant and often unaccepted lifestyle, but he stuck to his image because that gave him peace despite the turmoil. If more of us celebrated the uniqueness of others there would be less bullying and less intolerance. Giving our kids the freedom to express their own distinctiveness is a gift with significant and meaningful ripples.

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Needless, Heedless, Wanton Injury

Susan Boyd

When we enroll our kids in any youth sport, we don’t plan to put our kids in harm’s way. We vaguely consider the possibility of injury, especially when buying shin and mouth guards, but we don’t dwell on those chances. We expect that 99 percent of our children’s participation in a sport will strengthen their health, fitness and ability to work well with others. We wouldn’t be surprised at a few bumps and bruises, and we do know that broken bones and torn ligaments come with the territory. Yet, we don’t see any of these injuries as a reason to be cautious. Unfortunately, there are some darker inflictions that stain youth sports with serious consequences. Some are unpreventable, but we can actually protect our kids from many of the most horrendous injuries with proactive vigilance and intervention.
               
Recently, the news reports have been filled with depressing stories of young players facing paralysis, brain injury, even death from injuries they incurred while playing. While some players had pre-existing conditions that led to their injury, such as heart defects or blood disorders, most suffered from a direct result of the sport they were playing. These severe injuries can be attributed to overuse and underdevelopment of the body, unsafe conditions, aggressive coaching and ignoring symptoms. As parents, we can educate ourselves about these situations so we can better ameliorate their costs. We need to be serious advocates for the safest possible playing conditions. Certainly sports require contact and fierceness, which can lead to injury, but those injuries should be within normal expectations, not extreme cases with life-threatening or life-altering results.
               
Overuse and underdevelopment harm comes when youth players aren’t properly trained physically or are pushed to practice tactics far above their developmental level. Young people have muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons that are still strengthening and growing. Expecting them to perform the way adult players do can lead to serious and long-term injury. For example, girls have a higher incidence of ACL injuries, but there are proven training exercises they can do in the younger years to help protect their knees. Youth players don’t always have the control to pull back on tackles and kicks, or they may lack the impulse control that keeps them from stomping on players who are down. Therefore, we need to be sure that coaches are carefully monitoring players and staying on top of the behaviors of the most aggressive team members. Doing repetitive skills and movements can lead to stress fractures, but also to strains that can be even harder to resolve than a sprain, tear or fracture. Kids need to do warm-ups and cool-downs every practice and game to protect their bodies. No one should be pushing any player to attempt skills beyond those that their bodies and brains can handle. In fact, kids should be concentrating on skill development up to age 12 or 13 and not on games. The stronger their development, the stronger their ability to resist both common and serious injury. Find a club that recognizes the need for youth players to be developed fully before they begin aggressive competition.
               
All too often kids face unsafe conditions when they play, which we should be monitoring. The biggest problem is dehydration. We are all too often loathe to stop a game or a practice for water breaks, but the numbers of players who suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke grows every year. These are serious conditions that can lead to brain injury and even death. Often by the time symptoms appear it can be too late. We need to insist that players remain adequately hydrated. We also need to be aware of dangerous playing surfaces. We don’t want to embarrass other teams by reacting to their field environments, but huge pits, exposed sprinkler heads, overly slippery conditions, and debris on the pitch can contribute to serious and avoidable injuries. No game or practice should be conducted in unsafe conditions. This also means lightning, which too many of us ignore. The guidelines state that all players, fans and staff need to clear the field and go to covered safety at the first sign of lightning, which includes thunder, and should not be allowed to return until there has been no weather activity for 20 minutes. We may think lightning is far away, but since it is dictated not by air strikes but by ground conductivity, we can never be sure of when a charge could appear. Finally, we need to be sure that all goals are properly anchored and prevent kids from hanging or climbing on them. Every year, kids are hurt by falling goal stands that they have pulled over on themselves, which can lead to various injuries.
               
While we all love to win, we have to be cautious about overly aggressive coaching. Coaches should be properly licensed and well aware of the development levels and abilities of their players. For example, a coach that encourages slide tackles younger than U-12 risks injury either to his player, the opponent or both unless the skill is properly taught and the players have enough maturity to use them wisely. No coach should ignore weather conditions and should watch carefully and plan for hydration. Coaches of young players should be focusing on the development of players’ skills and bodies. Team tactics and games can come later when young bodies are better equipped for those stresses. Most importantly, a good coach will put safety first. There are pieces of safety equipment beyond shin guards that young soccer players might consider using such as head guards and heart protectors. Even if a coach doesn’t insist upon them, he or she should be sure no player is ridiculed for using that equipment. Creating an environment where kids understand boundaries means protecting them from serious, avoidable injury. Coaches should seriously rein in any player who acts too aggressively or violently. Kids need to learn the appropriate levels of attack and when restraint is called for. If a coach likes to see kids bully their way through a game, he or she is risking player injury.
               
Even if a child is injured, we can help keep the long-term bad effects at a minimum by not ignoring symptoms. Kids complaining of joint, muscle and head pain should be checked out. Minor injury can turn into major injury if not treated properly when it happens. Most commonly ignored are concussions. We’ve learned over the last few years how best to treat a concussion and the importance of treating them completely. Any head injury means a player shouldn’t play again that day, but any head injury with any amount of black out, even for few seconds, should be seen by a doctor immediately. We’ve all seen players stride defiantly to the sidelines after a bad hit, anxious to keep playing, and a few moments later collapsing due to brain inflammation. In addition to concussions, any joint or extremity swelling should be regarded as serious until the cause is medically determined. Small, normally insignificant tears or strains can turn into far more debilitating injuries if not treated properly. Strains should be treated with applications of either heat or cold per the doctor or trainer, and kids need complete rest from playing to recover. We certainly don’t want our kids to become hypersensitive to illness and injury, but we also don’t want them to exacerbate a simple injury into a worse one. Treat complaints matter-of-factly without undue drama. You can be sympathetic without being panicked even if your child seems to have something serious. Calm on your part will help your child stay calm. Be very aware of any signs of dehydration that doesn’t require just high heat and humidity to appear. Over exertion can bring on symptoms. Encourage your child to take responsibility for staying hydrated and for noting any light-headedness or stomach cramps that can be the first warnings of heat exhaustion or stroke. Most importantly, teach them to keep the coach informed if they feel they need medical attention.
               
Although youth players collapsing from concussions or heat stroke isn’t common, and horrible injuries where a hit in football or a ball striking the chest resulting in serious consequences are mercifully limited, many of even these outcomes can be avoided with pre-emptive measures. If kids play within their physical limits, aren’t pushed by coaches or parents to stretch beyond their abilities, and recognize and treat their minor injuries right away, they can usually play safely without long-term interruptions. While crutches, braces and casts might be badges of honor among players, they also represent the possibility of enduring impairment. We want our kids to feel free to play with some abandon, but we also need to be vigilant for any trouble.

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