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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.


Random observations

Susan Boyd

At a soccer game this week the opposing coach took exception with the center referee's calls.   Shocker! But what I loved was how he handled getting his yellow card for his dissension. "Good," he shouted, "At least I finally got my point across. You've got both benches yelling at you." Oops, he must be new to the game. Everyone knows referees are 100% wrong – it just depends on whom the call affects.  I doubt many refs leave the field at the final whistle saying, "Wow I didn't ruffle anyone's feathers," or even, "Wow I didn't ruffle one team's feathers." Referees know they have a virtual "Kick me" sign on their backs. Oh, sure they hear the occasional "Thank you" which is usually followed by "Finally!" But even as the thank you floats over the field it's surrounded by "Get some glasses," "Are you crazy," and "You've got to be kidding." I would support a Referee's Day – like Mother's Day – where all players, coaches, and fans in every sport send a card to at least one official letting him or her know how much their officiating is appreciated. Without referees games would be even more out of control than we already think they are.

I saw an ad for an insurance company where a mother humpback whale cavorts in the ocean with her calf. The voiceover tells how protective the whales are to their young even, "guiding the calf to the surface for its first breath." Humpback whales don't buy insurance – they just leave their kids with whatever wisdom about survival they can impart. When it comes to youth sports, parents see survival training as pushing their kids. I often hear parents exhorting their children with, "You've got to get on the select team" and "You need to be a starter."   There's a line between encouragement and expectation which is often slippery and vague. Knowing when to push and knowing when to let them swim on their own ends up being relatively simple for whales and terribly complicated for humans. But then humpbacks only have to worry about blubber hunters and orcas. Humans have to worry about getting on the right team, into the right college, and finding a home in a good school district. We parents have already been through these rites of passage and want our kids to do better, even if we did great. That leads to lots of pushing in every area when we probably should pick our battles better. I wonder if they sell insurance for high pressure parenting?

This week I traveled from Milwaukee to Detroit and back home in one day in order to see a soccer game. It was an 800 mile journey and well worth it. This is what we do for our kids when it comes to supporting them.   Or it's lunacy. I haven't quite figured it all out. But as long as I have the time, the money, and the working vehicle I'll continue to go to as many games as possible. Of course I'm eating up their inheritance, but that's the little secret we'll keep among us. Luckily I have grandkids too, so I foresee lots of long trips to see all kinds of games continuing far into the future. I chalk this all up to the first trip I ever made right after moving to Milwaukee from Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks were playing Nebraska in Lincoln, and I and Bruce drove there, watched the game, and drove home. We didn't even have very good seats but we did have fun. Once you drive 1200 miles round trip in one loop to see a college football team with no one you know on the roster, then driving 800 miles round trip to see two of your kids play doesn't seem quite as crazy. Right?

The push is on to find indoor practice space for many soccer teams. School gyms, indoor soccer fields, indoor driving ranges, and even roller skating rinks get calls begging for times for practice sessions. Coming from a state that usually has a blanket of snow on the ground from mid-December to mid-March, I know the panic that sets in when indoor space can't be found. So imagine my envy when I found out that the team we played in Detroit has an indoor full field facility of their own with bleachers that can accommodate up to 5,000 fans. I wondered whose deep pockets paid for that. But then I also thought why don't teams join forces and build an indoor facility that they can share. Club teams are so competitive and want their facilities to be a selling point for drawing in good players, so they usually focus just on themselves.  But I don't see a lot of clubs with indoor practice spaces of their own. So it might be an excellent business move for clubs to share in constructing, maintaining, and renting out indoor facilities to allow for consistent, affordable, and controlled practice space. Just a thought.

Long-Term Player Development

Sam Snow

This past weekend I attended a conference on Long-Term Player Development in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The conference was hosted by the Eastern Ontario District Soccer Association, in collaboration with the Club Head Coaches and Technical Directors Forum of Eastern Ontario. I conducted four sessions at the conference under the phase titled Active Start/FUNdamentals, which is an introduction to development-appropriate coaching for players aged U-6 through U-12.

On Saturday morning, I ran training sessions for U-6 players with a focus on movement education and exploration in the way the ball rolls. This session included dribbling, catching, kicking, throwing and a 3v3 match with two balls. The U-8 session focused on playing in pairs to work on cooperation, communication and problem solving. Those objectives were accomplished through games that involved passing, receiving, dribbling, tackling and shooting. The final session for me on the day was with U-10 players. Here we got into small group play with an emphasis on problem solving. Through group games with the players in groups of three or four, they had to work on problem solving, which meant tactical thinking, communication, cooperation and, in some cases, competition against the other groups. During these games they practiced in a dynamic way on dribbling, shielding, tackling, intercepting, receiving, tactical awareness, passing, shooting and goalkeeper skills. They also got exposed to the mindset of perseverance. Oh, and they got to sing "Oh Canada" during the cool-down!

On Sunday morning I worked with a group of U-12 players on goalkeeping. US Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer have advocated for the last 30 years that players get exposed to all positions through the U-14 age group. So to that end, I ran a training session where all of the players had a chance to work on goalkeeper skills. To say the kids had a good time hits the nail squarely. They improved in the session not only in catching and throwing skills, but also confidence, courage, reading the game and competitiveness.

At the end of both days the conference attendees had a chance to ask questions of all the presenters. That proved to be a great exchange of ideas and information for all of us.

Now, the central theme of the conference was Long-Term Player Development. All sports in Canada have agreed to use these principles as the core of their player development. Therefore, the coaches in all Olympic sports in the country are furthering their education to learn the theory and its practical application.

Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) is an important concept for all coaches to consider. The term was first coined by Dr. Istvan Balyi, who described the typical lifetime development of a player and how coaching and training should be applied to that player so that they may be the best that they can be. Over the years many sports organizations worldwide have adopted this approach to their coaching plans. Balyi identified clear chronological stages in a player's development. It is important for all coaches to be familiar with LTPD so they know what they do in coaching sessions will have a beneficial impact of the development of the child through to adulthood. To begin your education on LTPD, click here (pdf).

Maybe participation trophies

Susan Boyd

I don't know how many of you followed the unfolding drama of the 33 Chilean miners trapped for 69 days one-half mile below ground, but I found the rescue mesmerizing. Each miner had a particular trait that the news media used to label him, and so we got to know the miners as the one from Bolivia, the one who had a new daughter, the one who had a mistress, and so on. They each have names, of course, but we got to know them not as Luis or Pedro, but as some aspect of their private lives, now made glaringly public. One miner had been a professional soccer player in the 80s and 90s, Franklin Lobos. The media spoke often about his soccer playing and how he had even played for Chile in a pre-Olympic international qualifier. He spent most of his career on teams in either the 2nd or the 1st Division, so he was known around the country. He began on his regional team in the Atacama Desert where he returned in 2005 to drive trucks for the local mine. His soccer nickname was "El Mortero Màgico" – the Magic Mortar – a bit ironic for someone trapped in a collapsing mine.

While trapped, the miners received feeds of Chilean soccer games for entertainment, which makes sense. It's their most popular sport and a good way to kill two hours of the many they spent underground. I was a bit curious as to how they watched the games. I understand sending down a cable through which programming could be provided, but what did they watch it on? Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer never seemed to find that a curious enough question to pursue. Did they project the game on a sheet on the cave walls or did they manage to send down a 19" TV that 33 men were supposed to gather around to watch? I digress. My point is that soccer seems to make its way into lots of the world's events no matter how remote they may be from actual soccer.

So here's the kicker (excuse the pun). Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has announced that there will be a soccer game between the miners and the rescuers. The miners will be captained by Frank Lobos.  No word on who will captain the rescuers. The game will take place Oct. 24, and I suspect CNN will carry it live either on the network or on its website. The President stated that the winners would get the presidential palace La Moneda and the losers will have to go back into the mine – ha ha. You know how comics say that sometimes it's too soon to joke about something? Well President Pinera should have heeded that advice.

First of all a contest to determine a winner between men who narrowly escaped death and the men who brought them to safety seems a bit macabre. Would I want to get into the boxing ring with the policeman who saved me from a kidnapping? Would a family want to challenge the fire department to a game of street hockey a few hours after surviving a house fire? It may be that I really don't understand the full allure of soccer in other countries since we aren't as fanatical in the U.S. But the prospect of a contest between rescuers and the rescued makes me wonder if anyone could be a winner in that situation.  Will there be trash-talking, cheap fouls, aggressive play? Will the referees issue cards? Will there be a Cup?

Sports are a matter of pride for those who play them. Yes we play for fun, but we never play just for fun. Ask anyone on a U-8 team or on the sidelines during a "friendly" game what the score is and everyone knows. Sports embody competition. So how will winning or losing a soccer game help the psychology and post-traumatic stress of the miners? If they win, they have just defeated their saviors and if they lose they will take another public ding to their fragile self-confidence. Right now I would think that everyone involved would want to find ways to restore their sense of well-being. How can defeating their rescuers or losing to their rescuers accomplish that? Nevertheless, according to news reports, the miners "warmly" greeted the idea, cheering and clapping when the president proposed it in the hospital. Realistically I'm not sure they were in a position to show any dissent if they felt it given that the president was the one who organized and authorized the expenses for an aggressive rescue. Some of you may say I'm over-thinking this entire event; after all it is just a game and might be a bonding experience. But if that is the case, then I suggest they play a game in which the teams are mixed with rescuers and miners on both sides.   And I absolutely suggest that President Pinero refrain from jokes making losers return to their worst nightmare. Find a way to make everyone a winner because right now that's what they are.

Know it all

Susan Boyd

I'm as competitive as the next person. I like to win at word games and trivia, and I always want my kids and grandkids to win at their games. I also found out that I'm competitive with my GPS. On a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio, my TomTom suggested that I take a route I didn't think was wise. Once I veered from the directed course, the machine became insistent, recalibrating my route dozens of times and urging me in a pleasant tone, "in 500 feet turn right and stay right. Turn right and stay right. Turn…" as I breezed past the exits one after another. The machine remained calm in the face of my defiance, finding alternate routes that I swear went through several backyards and across a baseball field to get me back on track. I fully expected it to finally say, "Okay, do what you want. It's your funeral." But it never did. I, on the other hand, kept yelling at it, calling it names and declaring my own superior knowledge of the route. I think, in retrospect, the GPS was right because I did get caught in a big back up, but you never heard me admit that to the machine. On the way home I docilely followed all instructions without question.

This trip was to go down to see my grandsons play in their football games. The conflict with my GPS made me realize that competitiveness is directly related to the amount of knowledge or skill you feel you possess in a particular situation. I get very competitive when I play word games or trivia because I expect to do well. I am appropriately intense at my sons' soccer games because after a quarter century of watching soccer, I think I understand the game enough to have an opinion about the way a game unfolds. But I know very little about football. I could know more. I've watched it enough over the years. Yet I choose to remain blissfully ignorant because, in truth, I don't care to be an expert. I know four things about football: How to score a game including that a safety is worth two points, that you have four downs to go ten yards, that there is a defensive squad and an offensive squad, and that no play last longer than one minute from whistle to whistle with most plays lasting less than 15 seconds. Oh, I also know what the quarterback is, but I can't tell you a nose tackle from a linebacker or a running back from a tight end. I watch football games relatively benignly, although I can get excited about my beloved Oregon Ducks winning.

So in Columbus I found myself enthusiastically positive the entire time on the sidelines. I had no idea what was the right positioning for my grandson or the proper movement. I just yelled "Go Keaton, go" or "Well done maroon" because they were the maroon team. Around me people expressed disappointment at various plays yelling things like "you should have gone inside" or "get off your line faster," but all I saw was my grandson running, taking people down and getting to the person with the ball. I thought he was brilliant. I discovered that being ignorant about what is good, bad, or indifferent about the game let me just be happy about anything the boys did. At one point, after the other team scored, Keaton's coach came down the sidelines yelling, "that's cheap football" with a very scary intensity that made me want to back away slowly like I would from a bear in the wild. Only competitiveness could make him that keyed up.

I will have to get smarter about football because I will be attending dozens of games that matter to my grandsons. But I'm also a bit reluctant because I know once I understand enough of the nuances of the game it will change how I react. It will allow me to be critical, which means I'll have to fight that urge. Right now I can just blissfully and ignorantly say, "good play" to anything the boys do because I'm just proud that they're playing. I can be unconditional in my praise. I know that my competitiveness makes me somewhat intolerant of fans on the sidelines of soccer games who say things about how the game is being played that I considered ill-informed. But at least they can cheer on their sons and daughters without criticizing, being disappointed in their play, or coaching. Their kids can feel their pride unreservedly. It's not a bad trade-off for everyone concerned.

While I would never trade away my knowledge of soccer, it is an intriguing conundrum for us parents. We need to understand the game in order to talk intelligently with our kids about this sport they love. We need to understand the game to show that we respect the sport they play. And we need to understand the game because we naturally want to understand what we have invested so much time, money, and emotion into. But with every bit of knowledge we acquire, there's those instances when we will see mistakes, bad ideas, and questionable coaching, and we will feel the need to comment. Yelling at what I perceive as stupidity on the part of my GPS comes from my own knowledge of the route and my own competitive arrogance that I know better than some piece of electronics. So it's no wonder that we end up yelling at a game where we know there are people who can hear us and alter their behavior based on our "suggestions." But I can tell you that my trip home from Columbus was so much happier and smoother than my trip down when I just let my GPS do its job. If I could just let my kids, the refs, the coaches, and the opposing team do their jobs during a game I might have less stomach acid and more smiles. It's just that sometimes I'm convinced I know better and that's a competitive urge that's hard to resist.