Project Play – Project Parent

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This past Tuesday I attended the Project Play Summit in Washington, DC – organized by The Aspen Institute. The Summit, seeking to reimagine sports in America with health and inclusion as core values, congregated over 400 youth sport leaders from the United States for a day-long discussion about the “State of Play” in the United States. We tackled areas such as Reintroducing Free Play, Encouraging Sport Sampling, Training All Coaches, Physical Literacy and more.

We need all children to play sports and to continue playing sports into their teenage years and beyond because healthy teenagers become healthy adults.

Personally, highlights of the day were listening to Billie Jean King discuss her early days of tennis and her positive relationship with her first coach, observing the interaction between first lady Michelle Obama and her brother, Craig Robinson, during their candid discussion led by Michael Wilbon, regarding youth sports "then and now," listening to Caitlin Morris, Sr. Director of North American Global Community Impact for Nike lead a panel discussion about Design for Development and being struck with her strong leadership qualities and therefore hopeful for the role our manufactures can play in supporting grassroots youth sports, and a post-Summit dinner with many of the soccer attendees - Sam Snow, Tom Turner, John O’Sullivan, Anthony DiCicco and Stephanie Gabbert where we “solved” the soccer issues we face in the United States with the help of some margaritas.

I ended the day excited at the possibilities that exist for the growth of the game of soccer in the United States and encouraged about where we can be 30 years from now.

In reviewing my notes from the day, I was acutely aware of the fact that, time and time again, the members of the various panel discussions mentioned the role parents “play” in the challenges they face to get and keep kids involved with sports.

Parents who don’t see the value in their children playing sports.

Parents who will not encourage their child to participate in free play.

Parents who over-schedule their children so, as Michelle Obama put it, when kids go outside to play – there’s no one there!

Parents who are scared to let their children play outside for fear of them being harmed.

Parents who care more about winning than development.

Parents who put too much pressure on their children causing them to quit.

Parents who assume their children will get a college scholarship for sports.

Parents who push their children to play even when injured or concussed.  

Parents who don’t understand the concepts of LTAD (Long Term Athletic Development) and push their child too early.

While I ended the day excited at the possibilities, I also ended the day wishing I had stood up to pose a question during one of the many panel discussions at the Project Play Summit and say –

Everyone continues to mention parents as a significant problem when it comes to getting and keeping kids involved in sports. My question for the Youth Sports Leaders in the room today – WHAT SPECIFICALLY ARE YOU DOING TO ENGAGE AND EDUCATE THEM?"

PARENTS NEED SOME CLARITY AS TO WHAT IS BEST FOR OUR CHILDREN, AND WE NEED GUIDANCE AND SUPPORT IN DEALING WITH OUR EMOTIONS.

Getting and keeping kids involved in sports is a multi-faceted problem that needs to be addressed from a myriad of angles – but ultimately, with education, the parents can be a primary solution. After all,

We are the ones who need to literally force our children to put down their video games or cell phones and go outside for 30 minutes.

We are the ones who need to find opportunities for our children to engage in Free Play as studies demonstrate the positive results of this in terms of injury prevention and having fun – and we know that having fun leads to continuing to play sports.

We are the ones who need to pause and ask what the long term consequences may be for our children when we have them participating in two sports in the same season – going from soccer game to baseball game on the same day.

We are the ones who need to stop feeling like we are doing something wrong by allowing our children to go outside and explore their environment because of the societal pressure we face to be helicopter parents.

We are the ones who need to demand safe places for our children to play from our city officials.

We are the ones who need to tell our children “I Love Watching You Play” instead of “You didn’t play well enough”.

We are the ones who need to allow our children to be average or below average athletes because at the end of the day it’s all about participation and having fun, not being as good as other more naturally-gifted athletes.

We are the ones who need to stop putting pressure on our children to get a college scholarship or equate the money we are spending on youth sports to any future benefit they may (or most likely may not) receive in the form of an athletic scholarship.

We are the ones who need to let our children recover from injury instead of feel any pressure to get them back in the game to demonstrate how tough they are or to play in front of a coach or scout.

We are the ones who need to educate ourselves on the concepts of Long Term Athletic Development so our children are most likely to do just that – participate for the Long Term!

All of this being said, WE NEED GUIDANCE.

It’s not fair for youth soccer organizations to complain about the crazy parents who want their children to play when possibly concussed – if they don’t educate parents and set very clear guidelines.

It’s not fair for youth soccer organizations to complain about parents who care more about winning than developing physical literacy skills when they don’t require coaches to discuss goals and objectives with parents and communicate with them regularly.

It’s not fair for youth soccer organizations to complain about parents who think their child will get a scholarship to college if they are not telling them the statistical likelihood of it and discussing the pressure their child may feel as a result of their assumptions.


More than ever, I am committed to SoccerParenting and our mission to engage and educate parents about the youth soccer experience of their children.

Please join me, invite others, get involved in our Forums and email me personally so I can understand the issues you face as parents.

An Annual Membership to the Institute for SoccerParenting is $18.00 and provides access to all content, the Forums and supports our Mission.

Soccer in the United States has experienced tremendous growth in the past 30 years from our grassroots to our professional and national teams.

The next 30 years is overflowing with exciting possibilities for the growth of the game. That being said, the possibilities will not be fully realized unless the parents are engaged and educated by the soccer leadership. If we want soccer to become a preeminent sport in the United States, we need leaders we can trust leading us, guiding us, educating us, engaging us, empowering us - ALL OF US - players at all levels, coaches at all levels, parents and fans.

The lines of communication must be opened between our parents and our leaders and the gaps that exist must not only be bridged, they must be paved with a healthy attitude of collaboration and trust as we work together to ensure our children stay involved and PLAY.

My hope is that at next year’s Project Play Summit there will be a panel about Engaging and Educating Parents.

We must learn from organizations that see value in working with parents and purposefully build trustful relationships between coaches and parents. Best practices must be established - for soccer, and all sports to emulate, because our kids deserve a healthy environment to develop as players and people.


RELATED ARTICLES AND LINKS:

Sam Snow with US Youth Soccer on the Parent-Coach Communication Divide

Parents are NOT the Problem, They are the Solution. How to Fix Youth Sports.

Project Play Website

The Parent-Coach Communication Divide

Join the Movement for a Quality Soccer Experience for All Children

Systems of Play – Team Organization

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As the game has progressed in the United States – it’s growth evident by the increased television programming, radio shows dedicated to the sport, expanding levels of professional leagues, and increasingly educated coaches – the terminology that is casually used has become more advanced as well. 20 years ago, you never would have heard a TV broadcaster mention the 4-2-3-1 formation a team was playing in or referencing player numbers such as the attacking runs from the “7” or have a coach, in a post game meeting with parents, casually mention that the team switched from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 during the second half.

This growth of the game, plus the new U.S. Soccer’s guidelines for the size of playing fields and teams that includes information about Team Organization, has resulted in some questions from parents.

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The Language of Soccer

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I am always absolutely amazed when the winner of a PGA tour event is being interviewed on TV after a round of golf and they can remember the second shot on 7, or the drive they hit on15. I rarely remembered details from my games when I was playing (a long time ago).

However, I remember so many details of the first game I played as a freshman at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I have no idea who we were playing, what the score was, if I made any saves – nothing about that.

What I remember is the exhilarating sounds and palpable excitement coming from the stands as a seemingly misfit band of older men with their drums and noisemakers and chants and cheers lived vicariously through every pass, tackle, shot and save we made – the intensity of their cheers ebbing and flowing with the game.

I could see their smiles and watch them lean on each other in laughter as I stole glimpses of them throughout the game.

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The Soccer Tryout Time of Year

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Soccer Tryouts.

The time of year when we find ourselves lying awake in bed at night stressing over the future of our young soccer player.

The time of year when we find our hearts beating in our throats as we drop our kids off to a game or practice, trying not to put too much pressure on them to perform well but wanting to make sure they know that every single touch they have on the ball, or run they make off the ball, or communication they have with the coach – may make the difference on their name being on the final roster. Read more...

Sweeper – Keeper

Downtown United Soccer ClubThis past weekend was our Spring season Youth Academy Showcase event (U9-U11 boys and girls) where teams from all over the state converged on Greensboro, NC to play in a 2 day/3 game format. Our players really look forward to this event because we get to match up against teams we haven’t seen before…not to mention all of the ‘off the field’ stuff which provides plenty of opportunities for the players to bond while running from hotel room to hotel room and splashing around in the pool.

This was an eye opening experience for me this weekend with my U11 boys team.  We had primarily been playing 6v6 all season. This weekend we played 8v8 on what seemed to be a gigantic field. The players adjusted well for the most part.

I found myself in a coaching conundrum though.

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Don’t Call Me A “Soccer Mom”

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Let me tell you a secret. If you want to upset me, make my heart rumble a bit and the hair on the back of my neck stand up, there’s only one thing you need to do:

Call me a “Soccer Mom.”

I loath the term “Soccer Mom.”

Many of you may feel otherwise – and possibly some of you even like being called a Soccer Mom. Really – it’s not the name that I am bothered by. My disdain for the term is certainly not a gender issue.

For me, the moniker is an oversimplification – as if the unique qualities and traits, skills and abilities, talents and experiences us moms bring to the table are not being recognized. When someone calls me a Soccer Mom – even if they are well intentioned – I feel put into a box, lumped en masse, fallen victim to the misguided assumption that everyone feels the same, reacts the same, and has the same experiences.

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Do You Love Watching Your Kids Play?

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I spent a recent Saturday morning on the sidelines at the soccer fields during the Jefferson Cup tournament in Richmond, Virginia. I was distributing marketing materials for The Institute for Soccer Parenting and found myself at the fields where the U-10 teams were playing because I ran into some friends at their children’s game.

I love watching kids this age play the game!

The game of soccer is starting to take shape as developmentally players this age are becoming aware of others on the field and, instead of reacting to the game, they are thinking and responding to the game.   You sometimes see overlapping runs, through balls, solid defensive shape and improved technical skills.

Something struck me, though, as I watched the games and listened to the parents. I became acutely aware of this fact:

This is a uniquely stressful time to be a soccer parent.

Why?

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Youth Soccer Spotlight Podcast with Skye Eddy Bruce

Check out the latest Youth Soccer Spotlight Podcast with guest Skye Eddy Bruce

I was thrilled to join Football.com's Youth Soccer Spotlight recently.

Grab a cup of coffee and have a listen!

Football.com’s Youth Soccer Spotlight is an exciting and informative journey through the world of U.S. youth soccer. Hosts Michael Magid and Dinah Leffert discuss all of the hot topics within youth soccer, and also interview top players and coaches within the sport that offer up incredible insight that is valuable for players, coaches, and parents all across the country.

CLICK HERE!  for link to Itunes -  EPISODE 8

Coaching the Thought, the Awareness, the Decision Making

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If my 15 year old child were trying out for your team and was an exceptional player – great on the ball, quick to make decisions, moving off the ball to make the game simple for their teammates, hard working and focused, technically advanced – you would be thrilled. I can see you now, your eyes following them, arms crossed in front of you, a smile growing on your face, slightly nodding with excitement and approval…In your mind, you are saying “Ahhh, QUALITY.”

As a coach, you seek quality players because you know they provide part of the foundation for a successful season, a stellar developmental environment, and potentially less stress and more fun.

As a parent, I seek a quality coach.

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Join the Movement for a Quality Soccer Experience for all Children

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I am often asked why I started SoccerParenting.

It’s a long story that comes down to one word: QUALITY.

My daughter’s U-8 soccer environment was not one of quality. The fields and facilities were excellent but the instruction and inspiration for learning was lacking.

The lack of quality made me stressed – and while there are many stresses parents feel on the sidelines as our children grow up in the game – if I peeled back the layers of my stress – at the core – was the lack of a quality environment.

This is a challenging subject for any soccer parent to bring up to a coach or a club.

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5 Ways a Parent Can Support a Child with a Slow-To-Develop Athletic Mentality

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While in North Carolina last week working for the Changing the Game Project and giving a talk for parents with Waxhaw Soccer Club about “Creating a Player First Environment in Youth Soccer” I found myself, once again, answering questions from a couple of stressed soccer parents seeking advice regarding how to help their children be more focused, more committed and live up to their athletic potential.

I think this situation, which I also encountered with my own child, is often the result of a child who has athletic potential but a slow-to-develop athletic mentality.

Just as kids develop differently athletically and have various levels of athletic potential, kids develop different mentally and have various levels of athletic mentality.

As parents, we need to step back and evaluate our actions closely when we expect our children to be as mature and focused and serious and committed as the most talented of their peers – and they are just not there yet. This is a situation that often leads to stress in the parent-child-family relationships and it is sometimes these children who burn out or drop out of the sport.

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Will U.S. Soccer’s early-specialization decree trigger unintended consequences?

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This article originally appeared on SoccerWire.com and is republished here with their permission.

With the recent news from U.S. Soccer announcing the launch of a Girls Developmental Academy in 2017, and the mandate that players in the DA will not be allowed to play other sports or in other competitions, I am reflective of the lessons I learned as a multi-sport athlete – and as the parent of one, too.

What athletic qualities will the young athletes affected by the DA soccer-only mandate have five to 10 years from now, when they are entering the college and professional ranks as a result of their non- participation in other sports?

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Just Like Schools, Great Soccer Clubs Have Great Teachers and Active Parents

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For 24 years, I had the privilege of making an attempt to impact young people’s lives whilst serving as a physical education teacher. For 12 of those years, I wore two hats; that of PE and health teacher as well. I was a firm believer that not only were educators responsible for educating kids from the neck up so to speak, but from the neck down as well.

Leaving school each day brought about the next phase of my day; that of soccer coach. In the early years I spent time at the youth level as well as coaching high school soccer. Following my years as a high school coach came 24 years at the collegiate level.

My interest in educating soccer players at all levels became a passion which led me toward becoming a coach educator with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

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High School Soccer – To Play or Not to Play.

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I’m just going to come right out and say it…

I didn’t want my daughter to play high school soccer.

For those of us with children playing at a high level, this is often a difficult situation.

I know – I hear some of you right now…the gasps…I see you shaking your heads.

But let's not get critical of each other as our children make these decisions.

I consistently work to navigate this very confusing path of wanting to help my child live up to HER goal of playing soccer in college while simultaneously making sure it’s FUN and that the path is her own. Read more...

Kevin Payne – Part 5: PAY TO PLAY

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The PAY to PLAY Debate.  

Personally - I often find myself scratching my head when people say "Youth soccer will never develop players as long as players have to pay to play."  I don't understand this because I'm not sure where people think the money will come from with a country so large and with so many players as the United States.  The MLS teams are supporting the boys MLS DA Teams in many ways - but that leaves millions of other players.

I was interested to ask Kevin Payne his opinion of PAY to PLAY- as it surfaces often in youth soccer talk.  Kevin is the CEO of US Club Soccer - and is currently running for Executive Vice President of the U.S. Soccer Federation.  We need advocates for the youth game and the 99% within U.S. Soccer - so I'll be keeping a close eye on the elections at the end of February!

I’ve divided our conversation into a 5 part series - this is Part 5!

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The Institute for Soccer Parenting Publishes Mission and Value Statements

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The Institute for Soccer Parenting has recently published their Mission and Value Statements in an effort to guide parents in making sure their children have a fulfilling soccer experience by providing concrete foundational proclamations for parents in the form of Vision Statements.

The Mission and Value Statements will guide SoccerParenting.com in their content creation with the end result being parents who are better prepared and equipped to ensure their children’s youth soccer experience is a positive one and a platform for parents to unite advocate for the youth soccer player when necessary.

SoccerParenting.com has divided their website content into six categories the 6 Pillars of a Fulfilling Youth Soccer Experience. The Coach, The Mind, The Parent, The Game, The Next Level, The Body.

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Kevin Payne – Part 4: Should Coaching Education Be Required?

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Should Coaching Education Be Required?

I had the pleasure of sitting down last week with Kevin Payne, CEO of US Club Soccer who is currently running for Executive Vice President of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

I’ve divided our conversation into a 5 part series.

We didn't have video of the call - just audio - so have a listen, or read the transcript below.

Part 4:

Should Coaching Education Be Required?[

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Kevin Payne – Part 3: Is the Boys DA Working?

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In this conversation Kevin Payne and I discuss the Boys DA and if it's working or not.  With only one non-MLS team making the finals in any age group in the past 2 years - it raises some questions about if the Non-MLS DA clubs can keep up.  Also - we discuss the size of the DA and the commitment of the boys based on their potential to play on the National Team.

Kevin Payne is the CEO of US Club Soccer and he is currently running for Executive Vice President of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

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Kevin Payne – Part 2: A Girls Development Academy & the State of U.S. Soccer

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I had the pleasure of sitting down last week with Kevin Payne, CEO of US Club Soccer who is currently running for Executive Vice President of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

I’ve divided our conversation into a 5 part series and will be publishing them throughout the next week.

We didn't have video of the call - just audio - so have a listen, or read the transcript below.

Part 2:

A Girls' Development Academy & the State of U.S. Soccer

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Kevin Payne – Part 1: How Can we Stop 75% of Kids from Dropping Out of Soccer Before 14?

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I had the pleasure of sitting down last week with Kevin Payne, CEO of US Club Soccer who is currently running for Executive Vice President of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

I’ve divided our conversation into a 5 part series and will be publishing them throughout the next week.

We didn't have video of the call - just audio - so have a listen, or read the transcript below.

Part 1:

How We Can Stop 75% of Kids from Dropping Out of Soccer Before 14

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Parents: What to Expect of a Youth Soccer Practice

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Ask a youth soccer player what their two favorite things to do when playing soccer are, and they will tell you:

  1. PLAY GAMES
  2. SCORE GOALS

With that in mind, why do so many youth soccer practice environments not give the players enough time to do those two things?

We need to raise the bar when it comes to the quality of the practice environment for our children - and to have a better practice environment - we must have better coaches.

How can parents help?

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Youth Soccer Rankings

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The original title of this article was going to be “How Rankings are Ruining Youth Soccer”

…and then the past hour happened.

I spent an hour of my life navigating between Got Soccer, Top Drawer Soccer (where, yes, I am sad to admit, I purchased a subscription so I could see the numbers), and YouthSoccerRankings.us checking out rankings on everything from teams of 9 to 18 year olds, to individual players, to regions….At one point I had 7 browser windows open!

To sum up my conclusions after the past hour, I’ve decided on a better title for my article:

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“How Youth Soccer Rankings are Wasting Our Time”

While I am tempted to end my article at this point so as to not waste your time thinking about Silly Rankings – I do have a couple of points to make.

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ODP: The Good, The Bad & The Reality

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The Virginia State ODP Team in 1988

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A couple of parents have emailed me questions about the Olympic Development Program in the past few weeks.   ODP, for those of you in the Soccer Parenting community who are not familiar with the term, is a popular identification and development platform run by US Youth Soccer. ODP, founded in 1977, is “the original” identification platform in the United States, as they make a point of saying on the US Youth Soccer ODP website.

It was so original, in fact, that my 44 year-old self grew up playing in the ODP program! (see picture above!)  Given the infancy of soccer in the United States when I was growing up, ODP was THE ONLY place for the most talented players to compete against and with each other. While my club team was exceptionally competitive and provided an outstanding training environment, the ODP team was the best of the best coming together with professional (usually collegiate) coaches. Keep in mind that at this time the majority of club coaches were volunteer parents and so ODP was a place to receive, often times, our first dose of professional coaching.

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