Tag Archives: Parenting

Red Shirting versus Playing Up

5 Mar

In the United States university athletic system, the term “Red Shirt” refers to placing a player in an inactive status for his first season to give him time to develop – sometimes in cases of academics but often for physical development.  The player retains his four years of eligibility for playing.

Apparently, it’s also an emerging trend for five year-olds – typically the age when children start their primary education in the United States at the Kindergarten level.  For kids at the young end of the spectrum, it’s meant to help level the playing field for them.  It gives them time to catch up to the older kids in terms of emotional and educational development so that as they age, they stay on course with learning.
For anyone who has read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, this all should sound familiar.  With many youth sports in the United States culminating in High School (grade based) athletics before the end of the athlete’s career or eventual recruiting to Collegiate athletics, holding back kids also helps in sports development.

Evan, our younger son, is at the young end of his age group.  He has a late May birthday, with the control date for entry to school being August.  Thus most of the Kindergarten class has earlier birth days than Evan does.

Likewise, Georgia Soccer uses August 1 as the cutoff date for each age group – placing Evan as a U6 athlete this year.  I can verify that he is the youngest player on his team and is probably average sized among his age group.

So does that leave him desperately trying to keep up on the pitch and in the classroom?  Not at all.

In school, he is reading as well as his brother did when he was in First Grade and is beginning to master basic math, spelling and other skills.

On the pitch, he is accustomed to being a dominant player on either team.  He has more confidence with the ball than many kids playing in U7 and U8, as well as an emerging eye for playing in complimentary style with other players and shows a lot of patience when in possession of the ball to work for a shot or get open.

My Dilemma

As his Dad and his Coach, I want to encourage him to stay engaged with the sport.  He loves to play, but right now he’s lacking in opportunity to play with other players at his level or with his interest in the sport.

Intermediate Steps

Last fall, I enrolled Evan into our club’s “Fast Track” skills program.  While the age range for the session was to start at U7, I discussed Evan joining the group with the Coach.  He didn’t see a problem as long as I thought Evan could self-manage and keep up with the group.  After an initial adjustment, he was a competent member of the class and kept up well.

Part of my plan with pick-up soccer over the winter was to help my sons get exposure to older, higher ability and more experienced players.  Playing within their age groups, they see such a limited set of players – but with pick-up we expanded their view of the game to include players in the upper-end of the Elementary School age group and both Recreational and Academy players.

As the season has started in the past two weeks, Evan has stepped into to attend the U8 team practice as well and participate in the “Team” part of the practice for about 30 minutes each week.  Most of that time is spent playing 4v4 (Evan’s attendance is partly out of need – assuming full practice attendance we would have only seven players at practice.)  Evan kept up with the rest of the team despite already playing with his own team’s practice.

What’s Next

Evan will be the U8 team’s stand-in if we should run into any weeks where we will be short on players – six players or less planning to attend the match.  I’m expecting this to come up at least once, as the usual absences for vacations, Boy Scouts and other activities take numbers from our team.  I’m interested to see how he performs in a match with the U8 team – I think he will perform well.

Fall Season

It’s hard to look ahead when we just started Spring two weeks ago.  But – I’m really contemplating attempting to get him into our club’s pre-Academy group for the Fall.  Although this starts with the U8 age group, I think he’s a good candidate for it.

He’s proven to be really teachable, both in Soccer and a classroom.  He’s generally well disciplined and he has the passion for the sport that would help any player.

The drawback I see to playing in pre-Academy though is the format of the game doesn’t favor him.  U8 Pre-Academy plays in our club’s U10 Recreation age group – which means playing on a 75 yard pitch in 6v6 play (instead of 5v5 on a 50 yard pitch in our U7 and U8 age group).   Of course larger pitch would mean more physical demands on him, and the 6v6 format would be fewer touches each game.

The upside is big though – moving into an environment where he gets at least two professionally coached training sessions per week and better instruction than I can provide.

It might be a hybrid of the two options that works in the end – playing U7 in the Fall and then trying to jump to Academy in the Spring.

As a coach, age group director, or parent – how would you suggest a player progress?


Things I Think Are Cool for March 4, 2012

4 Mar


I’ve had a cast iron skillet for many years – but until a few months ago I never used it!  I usually favored my non-stick cookware, but here’s a great explanation of why and how you should be cooking with cast iron.  One of my favorite things is starting it on the stove and then finishing either under the broiler or in the oven.


Mango and Avocado in a salad?  Sounds like a great combination.

While I prefer smoking at a lower temperature, this Lemon and Dill chicken preparation looks great.  It might find it’s way onto our dinner table this week.


How should kids exercise?  A lot of variety and free play.

One of my revelations from my half marathon training last summer was that I could do more than I thought from a fasting state.  During the summer time, I regularly went and ran reasonable distances (6-8 miles) without eating breakfast first.  I knew it was reasonable, but some studies help back up my study of one.  It also discusses the effect of exercisers to overcompensate in their post-workout meals.


Today Would Have Been the Season Opener

3 Mar

Today was to be our season opening games for the U6 and U8 teams. About two hours after the end of our sessions, severe storms passed through Atlanta and dropped a lot of rain.

Fields closed this morning. A seven day respite until our first match.

We’ve had two weeks of practice – two hours per team. Our club believes in the philosophy at this age of not a long lead-in of practice before the first match – so that’s all we get!

It’s been a good two weeks though.

Our U8 team had a thin turnout in week one. We lost two boys to Boy Scout activities, one to vacation and one to illness. This week, we were at full strength.

U8 Session

Our trainer led us through a progression of basic dribbling in a rectangular area. He tried to emphasize the importance of keeping the ball close and under control.

After we complete technical training, we jumped immediately into our team session. I started a 4v4 game (Evan, my U6 son was our 8th player) and they played for eight minutes.

As I expected, a lot of clustering happened on the ball – both for the team on offense and defense. There were also several instances of the big downfield kick with no intended target.

At eight minutes, we paused the game and worked at slower speed on several dimensions of the game that I thought would help their play.

Shape: I introduced the diamond concept to them starting from the goal kick. Defender in the back taking the kick, wings on the sides to receive and striker forward ready to receive. On the opposite side, players acting as mirrors – with the striker providing immediate pressure when the ball is played in.

We repeated when the ball went out of bounds on the side for a throw and on the other end for a goal kick.

I assisted the players in positioning to be “Open” when their teammate was trying to play in a ball.

One thing I’ve noticed in this age group is the kids get too consumed with jockeying with the other team – and kids on offense forget that they don’t want to be too close to the other team or where the ball is coming from.

On throws I tried to emphasize sending the ball to open space, even if it means playing it backwards or laterally across the field.

I’m really trying to emphasize we want to keep the ball and not just get the ball to our offensive half.

My favorite moment of the night was when I asked one of our players, “How many times in basketball did you chuck the ball as far down court as you can?”

Answer: “None.”. He reflected on it for a second – maybe he’ll remember that in a match.

U6 Session

I won’t spend long on the U6’s – at this point in the season they are getting reacquainted with the ball and run of play after not spending time with soccer for three months.

We have one new-to-the-sport player who is a little lost right now. I’ve noticed some U6 and U8 kids have trouble figuring out what to do with their feet while dribbling. They either end up with their toes pointing in pointing out, or a mix. It takes a few weeks to straighten out.

Evan is definitely a dominant player in this age group. When we play 1v1 there’s no one in the group who can regularly beat him. When we play as a team, he’s looking for link up play but I haven’t been able to get any of his teammates there. It’s a reason why I’m considering having him play up in the fall to the Pre-Academy if he’s emotionally prepared. I’ll have more thoughts on that this spring.

The Trappings of Youth Sport

2 Mar

A controversy has brewed this week at the club where I coach.

The topic: which fields our U5 through U8 age group should play at.  Last spring and last fall, we played at Fowler Park – our county’s 85 acre and newest park facility.  Last spring the fields had good grass (sparing a few weeds on some of the fields) but overall were free from potholes and the wear that comes with heavily used fields.

This spring, these four age groups have been relocated back to where we practice – the Polo Fields, a well-used facility that used to host Polo matches.  Here, the fields vary widely from sandy, rutted messes to somewhat well maintained sections.  This is actually where I’ve played the majority of my adult team seasons.

But why is this a controversy?

The two facilities are less than two miles apart.  I actually pass by the Polo Fields en route to Fowler Park.  There is more parking available at the Polo Fields in close proximity to the playing fields than there is at Fowler Park – so this should mean that my players will be on-time more often.

The Polo Fields do lack permanent facilities.  There are not permanent restrooms – only portable toilets.  This is a significant difference – but keep in mind that matches at this level last 40 minutes for U5 and U6 and an hour for U7 and U8.  The amount of time that players will be on site is very minimal.

I think it all comes down to image.

Much like the restaurant-patrons jockeying for a better table in Waiter Rant, I think a lot of families get caught up in the trappings of youth sports.  That without swag uniforms, matching bags, and the general state of “gear porn” evident in many youth sports starting at age 5 – the families lose interest.  Good playing fields are one dimension of it.

Do you really think the quality of the field will diminish their ability to learn the sport and perform at a better level twelve months from now?  In truth, I would expect that many of today’s great players worldwide didn’t play on perfect green rectangles from the age of five.

24 Hours to Go!

23 Feb

Twenty four hours from now the Spring season kicks off in our house. Our U6 team practices at 5:30 PM and our U8 team at 6:30.

I’m looking forward to getting on the field again with the kids. It feels like a long time since our last game – and yet we’ve played soccer about two-thirds of the weeks since!

Usually I’ve ha some nerves before the first practice – but I’m feeling oddly relaxed this Spring. I think partly it is knowing nearly all of the kids on our team already and having some strong feelings of direction for the spring for both teams.

A Greater Appreciation for Food

18 Feb

Every parent has had the moment of sitting down to dinner with their kids.

Three words, uttered before even cutting into the food.

“I don’t like this.”

And it destroys the entire mood of the meal before a bite. We all know we did it as a child, but wouldn’t dream of it as an adult.

The process of learning to cook is part of learning more appreciation of food. When you understand the time and effort required to produce a home-cooked, high quality meal: you give more room for experimentation into new food.

But it also goes deeper into the food supply chain. When you grow your own food, you understand what it takes to produce high quality, sustainably produced food.

I’ve been growing backyard fruit for more than five years. I can count the number of perfect peaches we’ve produced in the dozens. It’s been a battle against fungus, bugs and birds.

I’ve had more success with my vegetable production this winter – and I’ve greatly enjoyed everything produced.

But to know there are farms that work even harder to produce Artisanal quality fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products – I have deep appreciation for their output now.

To some degree, that’s part of the paleo lifestyle – knowing where your food originates, and appreciating the quality and hard work put into producing the food.

It makes it that much more difficult to consider eating processed food products.

Food is about more than macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates and protein. Diet quality goes well beyond these measures.

What If my Kid is Bad at Sports?

8 Feb

There are tens of thousands of four, five and six year olds playing Baseball, Soccer, Softball or another sport this spring for the first time.

Just like with every other new situation – like schools and adding siblings – their parents are worried that it might not be the right thing for their kids.

It could start off seeming like the right thing and turn for some reason during the season.  It’s a long season, and every family goes through their ups and downs with sports.

The Slump

Before taking up Soccer, Aidan played several seasons of Baseball.

He never complained about going to play – but at times, his attention on the field wandered.  I wasn’t sure whether he was disinterested, bored, or where his mind was.  (I’ve seen it’s really common in the field for at least half of the kids in the field to lose focus at ages six and under.)

During at bats, there were plate appearances that Aidan seemed distant or resigned to making an out.

Inside, it killed me.  I had grown up as a Baseball player from age 5 to high school.  I had followed the Orioles for years and knew the entire team before I was in first grade.  What if my son didn’t like Baseball?

I wanted to do everything I could to try to bring him back.  But anyone who has played sports knows that trying too hard sometimes makes success impossible.  There’s an expression: “Try Easy.”

I would ask Aidan to practice at home – with varying results.  I tried to keep an open line of communication with him.  I’ve long had a good speaking relationship with him and have been able to ask insightful questions.  But I didn’t know what to ask.

The upside through this episode was that he continued to enjoy his teammates and time on the bench.  I saw him talking, smiling and laughing during games and spending time with his teammates.

What to Do

We just kept going to the practices and games.  I kept assisting our coach and warming up with Aidan before games and enjoy the time with him and lower the pressure of performance.

In hindsight, and now as a coach in Soccer, I see the slumps all kids go through in sports.  I think most coaches in youth sports recognize them and they struggle with them as much as the parent does.

We want our kids to be good at everything they try.  We want them to find success easily.  But sometimes it’s just time and experience that changes the outcomes.