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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.


Week 1 - FUN

Susan Boyd

Last weekend I watched my youngest son's team lose a game 4-1 with two of the goals occurring within minutes of one another. The coach left the field first, looking grim, and the boys did their cool downs and then walked slowly across the field with their heads down. The goalkeeper's mother stopped to talk to me and then saw that her son was standing at the railing surround the field talking to his father. "Oh he's talking. I didn't think he would want to talk." We've all been there: the utter dejection of a horrible loss. And in those moments it's difficult to remember that this is all supposed to be fun.

But without the fun, there would be no way to get past the times when we feel let down, disappointed, frustrated, or defeated. It's the fun we experience either watching or playing soccer that keeps us coming back. When kids look forward to playing, to practice, to traveling, and to being with their team, then they are developing the attitudes that will get them over the humps. So how do we make it fun for our kids and, by association, for us?

First, be supportive. No matter what happens on the field, begin your conversation with your child with a positive statement. If kids feel that their efforts are being appreciated, they are far more likely to want to continue in an activity. After all, who wants to stop watching "SpongeBob" to hit the pitch if all you hear is what you're doing wrong. Being supportive also means showing that you're happy your kids are playing soccer. I know some parents just don't like soccer. We weren't raised on the sport, so it can seem confusing and occasionally boring. This is all the more reason to sit down together as a family and watch a game on TV together. Talk about which players have your child's position, watch how they play and cheer for a team. Watching a game together validates your child's choice for a sport and can be a great way to bond. Don't show your discomfort with soccer, if you have any, and develop an enthusiasm for the game. The most important thing is for your child to feel your pride, which will give them the joy they should feel.

Second, make going to soccer fun. Before a game, make it an event by blasting game song as you pull into the parking lot. Let your kids spray their hair with team colors or put on some face paint. Bring signs to the field cheering the kids on the team. Establish points for doing certain things well during practice, which can include listening and following instructions, not just soccer skills. After a certain number of points they can be redeemed for an ice cream or a fancy sports drink. If your child feels he or she is missing out on a favorite TV show to attend practice, maybe recording the show will help. If your child becomes reluctant to play or practice, make sure he or she goes to the scheduled event, but don't force them to participate. Let them warm up to joining in, but make sure they understand that they have a commitment to fulfill, so they have to at least show up.

Third, do fun things together as a team. Arrange a barbecue after a practice, have a parent-child soccer game, attend a local high school, college, or pro soccer game, arrange for the kids to be ball boys/girls or even to scrimmage on the field during half-time, hold a parents' practice where the kids watch the parents get coached, and do a team news email that let's everyone know what's going on and mentions each player with some tidbit. In youth soccer, teams can range from groups of close friends to a blend of far-reaching players. Finding ways to keep camaraderie alive will also keep fun alive. When kids feel included in the family which is their team, they find themselves enjoying the experience more. The same goes for the parents, so be sure to get all the parents involved as well.

Finally, don't pass up an opportunity to have fun. If it's raining, turn the umbrella upside down and see how full you can get it. If it's cold out, have a foot stomping, hand clapping fest. If it's a blow-out game, then cheer for things other than the goals your team isn't making. If the field is a mud bowl, then have a cleanest/dirtiest uniform contest after the game or the practice. Attitude is everything. The older your kids get, the more fun will elude you. So set the bar high and keep aiming for it. Fun will see you through the tough times, the low moments, and the set-backs. I love watching professional players during a hard fought contest and see the joy on their faces no matter the score. Sure they are working to pull a victory out of the moment. Sure they hate getting penalties or missing a goal. But they can't disguise it when they feel that rush of joy at a great pass, an amazing shot, a breath-taking save, or a well-placed tackle. That joy began when they first touched the soccer ball. We can help our kids find the same fun, and in so doing, we'll get to share in the joy.

It's All Politics

Susan Boyd

Debt ceiling debates, taxes, entitlement programs, and campaign promises can't hold a candle to the politics parents experience in youth sports. From tryouts to playing time, to position on the team, parents witness the power of politics. We all have our war stories – the time our son didn't make the all-star team, the year our daughter sat on the bench, the season our son's team got demoted a level. We know how painful it is to experience the sting of a political action against our child or our child's team. I hear it on the sidelines all the time, "I'm okay with Ben not making the 'A' team because his skills aren't good enough, but I'm not okay with him not making the team because of politics."
Where does this insidious cloud arise? How do we get from having fun learning a new sport, to cut-throat decisions that impact our families with frustration and sadness? More importantly, how do we eliminate as much of the politics as possible? We need to look at three factors: coaches, club policies, and league decisions. There are solutions out there to improve the situation, but we first have to understand what creates them.
Youth sports could not exist without volunteer coaches. They provide the opportunity for thousands of youngsters to participate in and learn about a wide variety of sports with minimal initial expense. Most youth players can be part of a team for an entire season for $100 to $200 and sometimes even less. Many of these volunteer coaches are former players, but just as many can be helpful parents with little experience in the sport but lots of enthusiasm. Both types bring much needed support, management, and dedication to the players. Volunteer coaches are the bedrock upon which youth sports are built. In the early years of most youth sports, and in particular in youth soccer, coaches don't make decisions about who makes a team, playing time, and assigned position. Teams are usually randomly formed or built from a group of friends who register together. Playing time is mandated to be equal for all players, and in most leagues coaches are directed to rotate players through all of the possible positions. So the elements that breed politics aren't there. But trouble brews once some of these restrictions are either lifted or loosened for coaches. Now, volunteer coaches have power to make decisions that will affect kids' futures. That power translates to families as political.

Volunteer coaches often coach their own children, so conflicts of interest crop up continually further aggravating the impression of political bias. Even more frustrating can be that these same coaches hold positions of power in the clubs or league organizations that govern their behavior. Therefore these coaches can wield a great deal of power when it comes to our children. No matter how much expertise a coach may have, it's hard to overcome an impression of bias in parents' eyes when they feel it's directed towards their children. Just as each of us wants the best for our children and their future, coaches have the same desires. But they have more latitude to make things happen. So, no matter what their motivation, parents will read political intentions in their decisions.
Once kids make the move from playing recreational sports to playing select sports, issues of politics will arise. Now decisions that outsiders make affect our children directly. Parents who enjoyed a friendly and significant relationship with their club may find themselves and their kids pushed out. They feel betrayed by a club that they supported through many volunteer efforts, and sometimes, ironically, as volunteer coaches. But clubs feel the need to nurture winning teams rather than relationships because clubs need money to survive. Players won't flock to losing clubs, especially high paying players, so clubs need a winning reputation to draw members in. Their decisions can seem ruthless for a family that has been with a club for years, part of that club family, and comfortable in their routine. There is definitely a loss of innocence, and parents see politics behind their pain.
Even leagues can make political decisions that negatively impact our children. Some leagues will firmly limit the number of teams that can play in each division so that teams that have the same records end up in different levels. Since the factors to separate those teams go beyond win-loss records and competitors, they may seem fickle and therefore politically motivated. When leagues have board members whose children play on teams that appear to receive favored treatment, accusations of politics are sure to follow. When all-star leagues have coaches from teams that field more than the average number of players, then parents will cry foul, and whispers of politics will flood the sidelines. 
As youth players grow and improve, the distance between strong players and capable players will widen. As the rules and regulations on playing time and playing position relax, some players will benefit and some will suffer. Therefore, it's not always politics, but certain behaviors by authorities that can lend a political air to even the most innocent decision. One way to avoid personal involvement in important team decisions would be to hire professional coaches after a certain age level. But this diminishes the powerful and significant role volunteer coaches can play in a sport. Even volunteer coaches can be "professional" in terms of teaching the sport, behaving with integrity, and promoting good sportsmanship. Coaches should be licensed which will assure a minimum level of knowledge and skill. U.S. Youth Soccer Association offers a National Youth License and most state associations require that coaches be licensed through U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Soccer Federation, and the National Soccer Coaches Association. Additionally clubs may limit volunteer coaches from coaching their own children especially once rules that demand equality in play and position are relaxed.
Parents need to be aware that despite lectures about loyalty and willing acceptance of hours of volunteer work, clubs will drop a player if another one they perceive as a better player comes along. Clubs have restrictions on them for recruiting. So, you can watch and be diligent that your club is not violating those restrictions since that can negatively impact your child. Sometimes a player is recruited whose family has the means to pay the club dues and fees, but they get those waived by club in return for agreeing to play. That can really sting, especially if your family is struggling to pay the dues and if the "scholarship" player hops out of a late-model Cadillac when he comes to practice. There is little you can do to protect yourself from these situations except to understand that they happen and you have little recourse when they do. Additionally, when playing against clubs that play fast and loose with the rules, your team may be the victim. For example most youth teams up to age 12 are not to be "select" teams with handpicked players. But clubs looking to develop stronger teams at the older ages will begin that development early with younger players. Parents can quickly see the handwriting on the wall and gravitate towards those clubs with the hopes of giving their kids a jump-start on the process. It's a situation brewing with political overtones. Loopholes in the rules and passive enforcement allow these situations to continue, not to mention that many soccer authorities will argue; creating ""super"" teams allows the best development of top players. 
The best solution to keep politics at a minimum is to insure that those who have the power to make decisions don't have any conflicts of interest. Parents should not be deciding if their child, a relative's child, a child's friend, or a neighbor's child are worthy of being on a team. Parents and clubs should insist upon a clean process. So, even if a parent is coaching his or her child, another coach should be brought in to help with the try out process. If a parent serves on a board for a club or a league, that parent has to stay out of any decision that directly impacts his or her child, club, relative, neighbor or friend. As a parent you need to insist on this type of integrity in the try out process and in the coaching process. If you are sure that playing time issues and positions are decided in a political way, then you should probably look for another team for your child for the next season.
We will never wipe out the cloud of politics in youth sports. We get to enjoy a few years free of that stain and then we have to face the reality of how sports get promoted in America. But we can try to keep the innocence and joy of the sport alive for as long as possible. Don't make your opinions about political behavior known to your children. Talk to them about what they could improve upon to get on that all-important team, increase their playing time, or win the coveted position. After all, politics or not, each child must learn not to rely on sour grapes and the scapegoat of politics if they want to improve and get ahead in youth sports, school, jobs, or life. Use the opportunity to teach those life lessons and leave the politics to the politicians.

Passback Tour

Sam Snow

This past Saturday I had the pleasure to work at a U.S. Soccer Foundation Passback clinic in Dallas. Here's some background on the program in case you are not familiar with it.
The U.S. Soccer Foundation's Passback Tour, brought to you by Nestle Pure Life, features a series of free soccer clinics for youth in underserved communities.

The Passback Tour provides:
-Soccer clinics that emphasize the importance of healthy lifestyles
-Interactive health-hydration booths for families of youth participating in the soccer clinics
-Connections for families with local soccer programs that will help children achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity daily

Through the Foundation's Passback Program, new and gently used soccer gear is collected by organizations, teams, clubs and individuals, then redistributed across the globe to help underserved communities play the Beautiful Game. Soccer is a unifying force that brings together people of all ethnicities and has the power to open doors, hearts, and minds of those who play.

Since its inception, the Passback Program has collected and distributed over 750,000 pieces of soccer gear. However, there is always more that can be done. We hope that you can help us reach our ultimate goal of collecting and distributing 1 million pieces of equipment.

The dedication to the Passback Tour has allowed us to enrich lives through soccer and provide desperately needed equipment to hundreds of people who don't have the means to get equipment on their own. We truly appreciate all of our "Passback Stars" hard work and dedication to the Program. Find out how you can jump on board to this unique opportunity that allows people to reach out and connect to their community. Share the Equipment, Share the Game!

Dr. John Thomas spearheaded the event along with the help of David Edwards, Health Educator for the Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute – An Affiliate of Baylor Health Care System and Brian Gonzales, Founder & President of Good Football, a Sport & Development Group, The clinic was held at the facilities of the Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute. Many thanks go to their staff for making the facility available for free, as well as having several of their staff members assist with registration and service to the attendees.

The boys and girls who attended the clinic ranged in age from 5 to 12 years old. Some had played the game before and some were new to soccer. We laid out 10 grids and then split up the kids by ages with appropriate age groups in each grid. The clinic was conducted in two 1 hour sessions. At the first session, while it was still below 100 degrees, we had 125 kids attend. At the second session, as the temperature rose to 100+ degrees (that it has been in Dallas all summer long), we had 80 kids out playing the game. Helping Dr. Thomas and me with the coaching was Tom, a North Texas State Staff Coach and quite a few North Texas State Soccer ODP players. 

The ODP players were paired up and each pair was given a grid to run training activities and small-sided games with the kids. It was fun watching the ODP players, who are quite accustomed to being on the other side of the ball as players, in a training session now taking on the coaching role. After they got their balance in their new role, several of them did quite well. I can tell you that there are a few future coaches among them

Dr. Thomas and I ran the ODP players through how to conduct the training activities before the kids arrived. A few of the ODP players worked both sessions and thus committed themselves to a three hour stint at coaching youngsters in 90+ degree heat. In fact, it got hot enough during the day that 10 balls popped. I can honestly say that I had not seen that happen before – soccer ball spontaneous combustion!

Outstanding training activities were provided by Vince Ganzberg from his Human Development program for Indiana Soccer which has the goal of "Raising the Bar for Indiana's Youth through Soccer." If you would like to have a copy of the booklet with the activities we conducted and more, just contact the Indiana Soccer office or me and a copy of the booklet will be E-mailed to you.

Thanks go out to Charles Dickson for the photos of the North Texas State Soccer ODP players coaching the kids during the two sessions. Impressively, another 900 pictures were taken of the kids. The US Youth Soccer marketing department also, provided premium give-away items for both Youth Soccer Month and Soccer Across America.

If you ever have the chance to be involved in a Passback clinic or any Soccer Across America event, I urge you to do so!

Raising Funds

Susan Boyd

Every non-profit has been feeling the pinch in this economy. Trying to just break even gets trickier, so groups depend heavily on fundraisers to supplement fees. This past summer I have had neighborhood kids at my door selling something for their team, church, and/or school. I've bought frozen cookie dough, geraniums, smell-n-write pencils, wrapping paper, chocolates, cookies, and seeds, none of which I need. But I'll buy because my own children were once out there trying to raise money for their soccer team, and I was grateful for neighbors, friends, and family who bought what they didn't need. 
Most fund raisers require the kids to go door to door, collect orders, return weeks later to deliver the orders, and collect the money. The items are usually overpriced with a huge amount of the money collected going to the manufacturer. But I've also found some good fundraisers meaning they fulfill three important criteria. First, whatever is being traded for money gives something of useful value or fun to the purchaser. Second, the non-profit gets 90 – 100% from what they sell. Third, the fundraising requires minimal/easy effort on the part of the non-profit. I really like the type of product that can be distributed immediately upon payment. Even better, I like the type of fundraiser that doesn't require any product. So here are my suggestions in no particular order.
1.      Concession Stand – Professional and college sports venues offer non-profit organizations the opportunity to man the concession stands taking home a percentage of the stand's proceeds. You have to get on their lists and usually only adults can work since many of the stands serve alcohol. But if your club does a great job and shows up consistently with responsible workers then the club can count on several regular working dates.
-        Pros – minimal investment by your organization other than gathering workers and putting in a strong effort when on duty.
-        Cons – could be difficult to get enough dates and usually only adults can work.
2.     Gift Wrapping – During the holidays many malls, department stores, bookstores, and boutiques offer free gift wrapping for their patrons. They contract with non-profit organizations to provide the actual gift wrapping and allow them to solicit donations for the service.
-        Pros – no investment by your organizations other than perhaps printing flyers to encourage people to shop and wrap when you're on duty.
-        Cons – seasonal work and you have to arrange your dates well in advance.
3.      Penny (coin) collection – Select a day for your volunteers to set up tables outside of various locations such as groceries, big box stores, and malls. Have large containers available for people to drop in pennies. Anyone making a paper bill donation could receive some inexpensive item such as a lollipop, penny candy, or sticker. Advertise that your organization will be collecting pennies ahead of time so that hopefully people who have penny stashes at home will bring them to drop off.
-        Pros – minimal cost for the organization for flyers and penny candy.
-        Cons – need some good coordination with stores so that you can have permission for multiple sites. This is a hit or miss fundraising event. If you advertise the week before and have flyers up at the participating stores you could collect hundreds of dollars.
4.     Discount card – This you coordinate with a service which provides the cards. They will canvas local businesses, get them to agree to discounts and freebies, and print off the cards. They will usually give a discount to your organization for upfront payment for the cards or they will accept payment later at a higher rate. Overall the cost is usually reasonable, and most aggressive organizations can sell enough cards to keep the cost in the 10% of profit range. 
-        Pros – you can give your contributors their card immediately and profits can be fairly high. A strong seller since the product is like a credit card, it fits in people's wallets, and the discounts last for a year.
-        Cons – there is a cost risk and you do have to do door-to-door sales.
5.      50/50 Raffle – This is an easy to sell fundraiser that you can do at tournaments, games, or along with another fundraiser such as a car wash or bake sale. All you need is a roll or rolls of raffle tickets which you can buy at most office supply stores. Sell the tickets for a set price such as one for 50 cents, three for a dollar, or an arm's length for five dollars. Your organization keeps 50% of the money and awards 50% to the raffle winner. Occasionally the winner will donate his or her winnings back to your organization.
-        Pros – a quick, easy way to make some money.
-        Cons – not a huge fundraiser, but if you do it several times during a season could be a big winner for your club.
6.      Windshield Wash – Here's an easy variation on the car wash. Arrange with a fast food restaurant in your area to set up a windshield wash service during a busy time at the restaurant drive-through line. Have a group of volunteers stand at the beginning of the drive-through and offer to wash the customer's windshields for free, giving them the option of making a donation. Then mark the cars that want their windshields washed with a post-a-note and have several crews working to wash them after they order their food and before they pay for their food. You can have two washers per vehicle, one on each side, working quickly to wet down, squeegee, and dry off the windshields. Crews should practice before coming on line so they can work efficiently and not slow down the drive through.  
-        Pros – less difficult and time-consuming than a full car wash, minimal expense, and you don't have to coax anyone off the street to agree to your service.
-        Cons – could end up with everyone accepting the service and not making a donation.
7.      Dollar Dive – Set up a table outside of businesses which have constant foot traffic. For a dollar donation, people can "dive" into a fish bowl and select a ticket or ping-pong ball whose number relates directly to prizes. Most prizes will be penny candy, but some will be money ($1, $5, $10, and grand prize $20), and perhaps things related to your club (t-shirts, scarves, etc.). Check for any local ordinances which prevent you from offering money as a prize. In a variation you could have a box filled with small prizes that you can buy at a party supply store and let kids "dive" in the box to get a prize.
-        Pros – minimal cost for the tickets and prizes. You could even ask people who can't work the tables to donate $10 to purchases the prizes. You can have dozens of tables set up at multiple locations on a single day, improving your fundraising possibility.
-        Cons – need to coordinate with the businesses to set up your tables outside of their doors and you will need to do some preparation work to create your prize number sheet. Need a number of volunteers.
Each of these fundraising ideas can be combined with one another or with a tournament you are holding to add extra money. Other than the gift-wrapping, these fundraising opportunities can be done any time of the year in just about any circumstance. With some creativity, you can probably tweak these ideas to make them work even better for your group. Most of these fundraisers will produce in the hundreds of dollars, and since they don't rely on Uncle Charlie needing more magazines, you can do them multiple times with the same clientele. In fact, some of these might actually get people excited about donating and looking forward to being separated from their money, since these possibilities are fun and painless.