Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Even after explaining the statistics which you can find at anchorit.gov and sharing my daughter's story, as I did in a blog post a few years ago, I called Be With Me, Just for Today. Far too many people, once they learn of the dangers of furniture and TV tip-over, convince themselves their children are not at risk.
Common excuses include, "I'm always with my child", "My child is not a climber", "My child knows not to do that", "My furniture is too heavy to tip", "I don't want to (or can't) put holes in the walls or my furniture", "I don't have the right tools", "It's too expensive", "It takes too much time", "My (husband, parents, etc.) won't let me or doesn't think it's necessary", "It's not likely to happen, so why spend the money?", or, "We have expensive, good furniture, it's safe."
Some people are not compelled by statistics or words or even someone else's heart-wrenching story. Perhaps they are more visual. Sometimes, pictures have a greater impact. Some people are moved by music, not words or pictures. I ask you to take 3 minutes to watch. Then, perhaps you will share it with anyone who still does not understand the importance of anchoring furniture and TV's. Who doesn't fully grasp the potential consequences. Who thinks it only happens to "someone else". I am that someone else. You or they could just as easily be that someone else.
This was my reality 11 years ago today. A day I will never forget. A day that makes the Christmas season incredibly difficult every year. The song is called "Visitor from Heaven" by Twila Paris. It's beautiful. The pictures tell a love story. Heavily punctuated with why it's so important to anchor your furniture and TV's. So you never have to tell this kind of a love story.
Please, anchor it.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Today is one of those days.
It began by waking my son and wishing him a happy birthday. A fairly routine event in all of our lives. Celebrating the birthdays of those close to us. For parents, sometimes those birthdays carry a lot of emotion for one reason or another. First birthdays for example. Or, milestone birthdays like sweet 16 or turning 21.
Yet today, it got me. It's not really a milestone birthday, but then again, it is. He is my eldest child. Seventeen years ago today, he made me a mom. SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO. How is that possible? I'm still 28! Forget the fact I was actually 29 when he was born...
No, seriously. How is it possible that 17 years have already flown by from the day he was born? Everyone always says, "Enjoy them, they grow up so fast!" It's so true! There were many days when he was younger, I couldn't wait for him to get older. There were equally as many days I wished I could somehow savor where he was and slowed down the whole growing up thing.
So why am I so emotional? Well, aside from the obvious that my baby is growing up? It's really a lot deeper than that. He is one year away from official adulthood. He is a senior in high school. Even though he still enjoys birthday streamers on his door, he's really no longer a child. He's a young adult. Aside from the fact he's driving and starting to blossom into a more independent young man, it hit me he'll be graduating next spring. GRADUATING. That means he'll be leaving the nest. He'll be going off to college. I won't see him every day. I won't have any control over what he does, who he spends his time with, or where he goes. I may not hear from him for days or weeks at a time. He's going to leave his mama!
That scares the bejesus out of me!
It's already begun... kind of like training wheels for both of us I suppose.
I know it's as much about letting go for me as it is about learning to be independent for him. I get it. I just don't like it.
After some thought, I realized that today, it's the anticipatory grief of letting him go. Even though rationally, I know this is how development works. But I've already lost a child. For real. To an accidental and preventable death. My greatest fear is losing another one, be it literally or figuratively. Statistics tell me that's not likely (they also told me Meghan's death was not likely) and statistics also tell me that these next few years are fraught with opportunities for stupid choices on his part or those of whom he spends his time with, and that one lapse in judgement, one moment of peer pressure, and... well, it can rob an anxious mama of her sleep for years to come!
I know I will need to let go and hope and pray I've raised him to do the right things in life. I have to hope he will embrace the challenges that lay ahead of him and rise to the occasion to take the reins of life and make good, healthy choices. I've taught him how to use his wings properly, it's up to him to fly. I hope he can say, "No." I have to hope he finds happiness and success and that learns from his mistakes without serious life long consequences. I have to hope he will learn to fly without my constant reminders, nagging, and support. I hope he'll want to learn to fly. Hell, I hope he'll remember to eat since he's too damn lazy to make himself anything!
It's more than that, though.
It's also a day that makes me look back 17 years to who I was then, and who I've become today, in large part, thanks to him and his brother and sister. Becoming a parent changes you forever. No one and nothing can prepare you for that. He was a very challenging child on many levels. He still is at times. He taught me as much as I taught him, maybe more.
I am most definitely not the same person I was this day seventeen years ago. I am most definitely not the person I thought I'd be as he embarks on his senior year in high school. My life is really not at all what I imagined it would be the day he was born. Is anyone's?
A lot can happen in 17 years. I can't help but think about all he's seen and been through in his 17 years. All we've been through together. The birth of twin siblings when he was 3. He lost his beloved sister when he was merely 6 years old. For a time, he even blamed himself, thinking he should have somehow been able to save her. He really struggled with her loss, and still does today. He has learned a lot about grief and emotion, life, love, and death, and the importance of grief keeping, sharing, and honoring life and death. He is a wise old soul. I wonder what his life's purpose is. I wonder where his path will lead him...
It is worth mentioning, today is also a trigger day for me. Yes it's HIS birthday, but I can't help but wonder what his relationship with is sister would be like today. It is a day that she should be here, celebrating with us, but she is not. It makes my heart ache for all of us. What she would want to do to celebrate her big brother and his bird day (yes, bird day)? I'm pretty sure she'd make it special. It makes me so sad that she's not here to celebrate with us. To celebrate him. It makes days like this very bittersweet for me. I am often on the verge of tears and irritable for much of the day, all while trying to go about my day and make it be all about him, as it should be. Well, I DID give birth to him, and that was no picnic! So I should get a little shout out! :-)
That's just how grief manifests sometimes. When you don't always expect it to.
He is also a child of divorce, and has 2 step-parents. That was obviously not what I expected to be the state of our family 17 years ago. He's already been in 2 weddings, ours! He has a fantastic relationship with his step-dad, less so with his step-mother. He has a large extended family and step-family. I know he loves his mama! Even if it's mostly because I feed him. He is the big brother, and is learning to balance that role as a positive role model/mentor role and the obligatory teasing and sibling rivalry that brothers share. He's been to more wakes and funerals and weddings than most kids his age. He's had a lot of loss in his life. Then again, he's also had a lot of love and learned how to cope with all of these things, and he now has an empathy and compassion far beyond most boys his age as a result. He is fantastic with younger children, too. The girls think he's all that. He is a handsome fella...
Then there is the history that he's witnessed and the state of the world today, not to mention what he and all of our children will inherit in the years to come... It makes a mama's heart ache for her son's future. All I want is for him to be happy, healthy, and safe.
He's also had a lot of wonderful experiences, lots of love and joy, the opportunity to travel, and an abundance of silliness! Because that's how we roll. He's learned, hopefully, that there is something to learn from everything that happens in our lives, good and bad. We always have choices and all choices have consequences, be they good or bad. No one does anything to us. We choose what we do and how we react. We control how we feel, no one else does. Ever.
So yeah, 17 years ago today, I woke with cramps. The cat insisted on sitting on my big belly and kneading away. You know, to distract me... He was 5 days "late". I shouldn't be surprised timeliness is not his strong suit these days. I wandered around the house, restless, for a few hours. I remember believing it was actually labor around 10:30 am. Fast forward several hours and at 7:42 pm, I held my newborn son in my arms and my life was forever changed. My heart understanding what unconditional love was for the very first time. I had no idea what was in store for us, but I wouldn't change it for the world.
Happy birth day to my Kyle. You are loved more than you can imagine. You have taught your mama more than you can ever know, and I suspect you will continue to do so throughout your life. You quite literally changed the course of mine. I love your wit, your humor, your silliness, and your perspective. I wish when you blow out those candles, all your dreams come true.
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Did you ever wonder what it was like to be a superhero? Or what it's like to have a superpower?
Did you ever wonder what it takes to be a superhero? Are they born that way? Do they choose to be a hero? Does someone else bestow the title on them based on merit of some kind?
That evening, we were bused to Capitol Hill for a reception at a U. S. House of Representatives building in the Canon Caucus Room. There, safety heroes had the opportunity not only to connect and network with each other, but to mingle with some of our U.S. House and Senate members and their staff. Safe Kids works hard to legislate changes in laws to keep kids safer.
That evening was unscheduled, so I took some time to walk around the harbor and sit and quietly watch the sun set as the sky changed colors. I even saw a few heart clouds!
I hope I’ve inspired a few folks with Meggie’s story to make their homes safer by securing their furniture and TV’s.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
I never did. Until I became one.
Do you have any idea what a grassroots advocate does? I didn't. Honestly, I'm pretty sure I've made it up as I go along. At least for my cause. Maybe that's what all advocates do.
Now, in my 11th year as a child safety and tip-over prevention advocate, I can tell you, it's not a job description most people would covet. It's not something the average person would say they want to be when they grow up. Who wants a job where you earn $0 and spend your own money and free time to sustain your cause?
I guess that's why most of us who do this sort of work have suffered some sort of tragedy or crisis in our lives before we ventured down this road. It's more of a calling, a choice born of love, grief, and a passionate desire to help others, than it is a career choice.
As most of you know, it took my daughter's tragic death to send me down this path. It's not a path I ever would have chosen to go down. Yet, here I am. Juggling advocacy and all that goes with it with full time parenting, being a ballroom dancing wife with a tremendously supportive husband, working part time, and holding several teaching positions. I really never imagined when I began Meghan's Hope it would be what it has become, or how incredibly challenging and difficult it is to get what seems to be such a simple message, out there.
Now, I can't imagine not doing it. I have a much bigger vision for it yet I now know how difficult, time consuming, and expensive it will be to accomplish the goals I've set for my awareness campaign.
I'd estimate I spend an average 6-10 hours a week on Meghan's Hope. Sometimes less, sometimes more. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it means that after working a "real" job and taking care of my family, instead of watching a TV show, reading a book, or perhaps just doing whatever it is most people do with their evenings and weekends, I choose to devote a good deal of my "free" time to raising awareness about the dangers of furniture and TV tip-over. I choose to try to educate people how they can make their homes and their kids safer. I try to save lives.
Time is but one of the costs of being a grassroots advocate. There are dollar costs, too. It costs me several hundreds of dollars every year to print brochures, business cards, posters, exhibiting supplies, and for web site fees. If I am exhibiting or presenting at a conference, that adds exhibiting fees and/or conference registrations, travel, sometimes hotel reservations, food, and so forth, and that sends costs into the thousands of dollars. The time spent creating and editing those documents, power point presentations and related materials, and corresponding with others adds up to weeks every year. Then if I add in the blogging and writing I do or time spent granting interviews or pursuing them, along with teaching and preparing for those classes, well, it's a time consuming passion. It also costs time to prepare, travel, to present, and to network.
It's rare to receive payment for anything I write or for speaking, or even getting waived conference fees, even at large national conferences, when doing this kind of work. I still have to pay to attend the conference I've been invited to speak at the vast majority of the time. Not having non-profit status can hurt me sometimes, especially when exhibiting, although most venues will grant me the discounts they give non-profits if I ask and explain what I do. Even local safety fairs often charge a fee to have a table at the fair!
I bet you are wondering why Meghan's Hope is not a non-profit. It was, initially. The funds that were donated did help to offset the costs of running the organization, but even then, it wasn't enough to cover all of them and certainly did not pay me for the hours I put into it every day. Unfortunately, I needed to have a job that provided an income to support my family, especially once I was a single mom again.
The reality is that with a legal organization comes requirements, and those are a lot harder to keep up with in a small organization like mine than you would think. Especially when the BOD is composed at least in part, of family members or friends, which many of these educational and advocacy ventures are. In theory, it sounds great, in reality, it can be an incredible challenge.
It's tremendously difficult to find BOD members who are willing to be active and involved consistently and can all attend meetings regularly. They need to be as passionate as you are. There were many after Meg died who wanted to help, but they quickly faded away. People are busy with their own lives and as I've previously stated, this is a time consuming effort. You need officers who are responsible and take their role seriously. You need enough people to do the fundraising and work that your mission outlines. You must file taxes and annual reports, you must track income and expenses. It's too much for one person, legally it can't be one person, and it's difficult to find enough people to fill all those roles and devote the time and energy to it that the organization needs to be successful. Especially since they are volunteers. I've sat on several boards over the years, they are time consuming, especially for those who lead busy lives, which most of us do.
It's great for larger charity organizations, but for education and awareness, it's a challenge. Especially when you do not have the time to devote to it, and honestly, it is a full time job if you want it to really succeed. The greatest benefit of a non-profit is the ability to fund-raise and provide those who donate to your cause a tax deduction. I found that those who donated to Meghan's Hope really did not care about the tax deduction, they donated because they wanted to help the cause. I feel the same way when I donate to a cause. I have never once donated to any organization or cause thinking, "I need to do this for the tax deduction."
I found I could just as easily do most of what I'd like to do without non-profit status. With social media the way it is today, that is certainly a lot easier than it was to reach large amounts of people quickly. I still offer classes, speak, and exhibit when I can. I'm sure there are events I'd love to attend that I just don't even know about. If you know of one, let me know!
That said, I was surprised to find out how much of a challenge it is to partner with other organizations when you are not a non-profit. Especially with larger non-profits or big National organizations. It's been frustrating that in some cases, a beautiful partnership was jeopardized because Meghan's Hope is not a 501 C3 non-profit organization!
Advocacy is not for everyone, especially the grassroots parent advocacy I do. I do not have non-profit status. I do not have a Board of Directors. I do not have anyone donating time or money to my cause. I have no one helping me. It's just me. I'm a one mama organization. It's been that way for 8 years.
I incur all the expenses. I put in all the time, often early in the morning and late at night or on weekends. I am the only one who has to drop everything (and do so willingly) and clear my often very busy schedule when the opportunity for a TV or news media interview presents itself.
I am the one who teaches and markets the classes, keeps up with the latest information and resources, maintains the Facebook page and website, and answers all the messages I receive (and there are several every single day). I am the one who needs to seek information that I can share so that others can learn what they need to know to keep their kids safe. I do it very willingly, because I believe in it and because I can't imagine not doing it. I have to do it.
People think I must have help or I must be getting donations because Meghan's Hope must be a non-profit. Nope. Hell, it's like pulling teeth trying to get some of my friends and family to share Meghan's story, website, and Facebook page most of the time, let alone complete strangers who don't have a personal connection to me and have no idea of what our family has been through!
With regard to TV and news interviews... I've done several over the years. This post was actually inspired by one I did yesterday. A friend said, "Oh, that's so exciting. I know someone famous!" I know she meant it partially in jest and it was a sort of backwards compliment, but I did not want this "fame." It's not really exciting, it's actually quite stressful. Not the talking part, the rest of it.
Let me tell you a few things I've learned about TV interviews... It's NOT glamorous. It's not easy. It can be crazy time consuming (a 15 minute TV interview can take 2 hours by the time they set everything up, do the interview, and take it down). It usually needs to be done NOW or at least today, so you have little notice and either you answer the phone when they call and agree to do it or they ask someone else (the "scoop" is still very important). If your house is a disaster and they will arrive in an hour, good luck with that! It can be invasive in terms of time and personal space as they are often done in your home. They are usually requested with a mere few hours of lead time, maybe a day if you are fortunate. Today's news is forgotten tomorrow. Sadly, because of what I do, I'm usually only newsworthy if another tragic death has occurred. The news media definitely subscribes to the concept of Carpe Diem!
You can certainly say yes or no to things or refuse to answer questions, but they often decide where the interview will take place within your home due to lighting and other factors. Much to my dismay, my kitchen is usually used.
I've done interviews with local cable TV stations, local network television stations, national news programs like Inside Edition, the CBS Morning Show and NBC's Today show. Sometimes they contact me. Sometimes, I write to or call them to suggest a story. Sometimes I get to suggest questions or get a list of questions that will be asked ahead of time, but that's rare. Despite all the time and effort of the interview, not all of them actually make it to air. Some other story can easily knock mine out of the rotation. Maybe what I said was not what they were looking for. Maybe the audio or video was bad. Maybe someone else they interviewed for the same story was "better" in some way. I never know why the ones that don't air, don't. Just try to get a producer or journalist to answer your email or calls when they have no vested interest in you or your story anymore.
None of them ever show all or the key sound bytes I'd like them to. I'm not always as articulate as I'd like to be. Okay, I'm never as articulate as I'd like to be. I've learned the hard way that I need to be careful with what I say, how I say it, and think about how my words could be used out of context. Most media outlets have a "slant" for their story. Once that camera is rolling or I start speaking, it's all fair game for their story. I've learned to ask what their "angle" is. It helps. If they are truthful.
Often, the person doing the interview with me has very little information about why they are even here to interview me. Those with young children, especially young daughters, are often thrown for an emotional loop when I tell them the story. Some moved to tears - men and women alike, and both veteran and green journalists and TV personalities. Many don't know what to ask unless they are familiar with the story, and I'm shocked at how few of the journalists do the research ahead of time even though when I have the opportunity, I send them links to all sorts of valuable information about Meghan's Hope and tip-overs.
Thus, I have to answer the questions to give the information I want the world to hear based on their vague or leading questions that are going down a path different than the one I want to go down. Sometimes they don't ask questions that even allow for that to make any sense! It's all easier said than done when a 10-20 minute taped interview ends up being 15-30 seconds of spliced tape on a show, sometimes taken out of context or without hearing the complete sentence, question, or response. I've even been blindsided by my husband's 911 call in a story, and the producers did not even think to warn us they were using it in the story! This was shortly after Meghan died and it was a HUGE trigger!
Interviews with newspapers or magazines are easier. They are usually scheduled and over the phone. We often exchange information and links via email prior. These journalists have usually done their homework, already know the story, have seen the Website and Facebook page, and know about what I do, but they also have a 'slant' and you need to know what it is if possible. They often have more time to write their story, whereas TV media is pushing to meet a deadline for the next major newscast.
I have no say in how any of the media outlets will use the information I provide, and it's sometimes misquoted in print media or used piecemeal, in a way that is not what I intended or in the order that I said it, but it's closer to the information I want to convey and more of what I say is often conveyed in print media than it is in TV media.
Then there are the articles and stories I write. Those I have complete control over content-wise. Of course, I have no control over who reads them or agrees to print them and it's much harder for me to reach the same audience as a story in a major newspaper or magazine or on a network TV news station does.
It all takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money. Yet I love it. I love Meghan. I do it out of love. I do it so no other parent ever knows my pain. I do it so no other child every has to die the way Meghan did.
I get no reward, other than the messages from parents who thank me for waking them up to this danger and saving their child from Meghan's fate.
That makes it all worth it. THAT is why I do it.
Meghan's Story is saving lives. Yet its not saving enough of them, because 71 children every single day are still injured by a fallen piece of furniture, TV, or an appliance and every 2 weeks a child loses their life to a tip-over accident. Until those numbers are zero, Meghan's Hope must continue. Her hope is to see a day when children are no longer injured or dying from these easily preventable accidents. We're getting closer, but we still have a long, long, way to go.
All in all, I'd say the grassroots movement has been successful for me. It takes a passionate and determined person, with a relatively strong backbone (never read the comments!) It takes someone who has the know-how to figure out how to build a website (that took a long time!) or find someone who can, to develop and design and print marketing supplies. Someone who is willing and able to talk about her tragedy and deal with the people who can't cope with the story even when they are the members of the news media interviewing you! Someone who can educate, explain, and reach people on a personal level.
Someone who cares.
It's a love story.
So that's what it's like to be a parent advocate. At least today.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
The Soccer Mom's Survival Guide: What no one tells you but you need to know if your child plays soccer at any level!
It seems as good a time as any to write this post (which could turn into a novel) as my gift to soccer parents who might be, like I was, clueless. I had NO IDEA how big, how political, how competitive (not just for the kids, but the freakin' parents!), how expensive, and how all encompassing time consuming, as in sacrifice your weeknights and weekends for soccer season, this game can be.
Wherever you are in the soccer "pyramid", it is my hope something here helps you. I sure wish I had this information years ago! Read on to get the low down on try-outs. What to ask and when to ask it!
When my eldest son first wanted to play soccer, I was all for it. He was six years old, full of energy, and it seemed a good channel for that energy. The benefits of playing a team sport go beyond the physical and I wanted to foster both physical activity and being a team player.
For several years they played town soccer. They were adorable in their too long T-shirts that looked like mini dresses and they wore them proudly. The commitment was two nights a week in the fall for an hour. The first half hour was "practice" and the second half hour was a "game." It was fun to watch. The kids for the most part loved it. The parents were proud and happy their kids were active and happy.
There is soccer beyond town rec?!
Turns out this is rare in coaches. In their U 11 season, they were undefeated and won their league championship. To top it off, they won it by playing solid futbol and being overwhelmingly nice boys. They didn't play "dirty", they played the game with their hearts and their heads and their feet. They were passionate for the game, and it showed.
About the time my youngest started with that coach and new team, my older son took a few years off. He had been a field player and was good at it but he did not have a passion for it. He came back to it 3 years ago, as a goalkeeper (a position he had also played before), seeing the level of coaching and level of play his brother was getting. It reignited his desire to play.
Wait, what? How did we go from a non-competitive, friendly level of play, to highly competitive and tremendously expensive club teams that include crazy amounts of travel, high team fees, crazy expensive uniforms, tremendous costs for equipment that gets worn out (or lost) quickly, and hours and hours of driving to/from practices and games. Most every night and every weekend sacrificed to soccer. For a full 9 months out of the year!
And thus, I decided to write this guide.
The alphabet soup of soccer
So here goes:Soccer mom (and dad) 101
Starter soccer is typically the local town soccer team. It typically begins at age 5 or kindergarten. It's meant to be an introduction to soccer, what the basics are (kick the ball from one net to the other and try to get it in the net), and a fun way to exercise. Most of the coaches are simply parent volunteers, many with little or no personal soccer experience.
The cost of starter or town soccer is usually less than $100 and includes a uniform of a T-shirt and maybe socks and shorts. You are responsible for purchasing all other equipment including cleats, extra socks, shorts, shin guards, and any other equipment your player wants or needs. Most of the time it's a 2 or 3 evening a week commitment for an hour that includes a half hour of practice and then mini "games". Most towns play either in spring or fall, but some play both seasons.
Club or travel soccer can mean a bunch of different things.
Club soccer fees vary tremendously. My boys have played on a local club team (surrounding 5 or 6 towns) that cost a mere $150 for a season (included shorts, game shirt, and socks) as well as larger clubs affiliated with European teams or with highly experienced and credentialed coaches that cost upwards of $3000/year not counting uniforms and additional equipment like cleats and goalkeeper gloves which add up over the course of the 9-12 month season. Yes, that's right, it's now nearly year round for most of these clubs!
Club soccer can offer tremendous opportunity for good coaching, a higher level of competition, true player development (but that is not universal and really depends on the coach and philosophy of the club), and access to resources you might not get elsewhere, especially if you don't know to look or ask for them.
Club soccer is tryout based. Most coaches are looking for three things: general fitness, skill level within the position you play or want to play, and coachability.
Most club teams play 9 months a year, competing in the fall and spring seasons, with winter training or futsal leagues (indoor soccer on a hardwood floor) and this is variable depending on the team and what facilities are available. Your kids will play in all kinds of weather. Hot, cold, rainy, snowy, brutally cold and freezing wind. The only thing that will usually cancel a practice or game is thunder and lightning or a full out blizzard. My kids have had outside practices through the winter in New England, with snow on the ground (they plow turf fields and have lights) and wind chills in the single digits as coaches threw ice melt on the sidelines and parents sat in their cars.
Tournaments are fun, but they usually are multi-day events with more than one game per day, several hours apart. You basically can expect to spend the day (and weekend) wherever the tournament is. Bring appropriate clothing, blankets or rain gear, your camera, snacks and drinks, and a camp chair. Some people bring coolers and some form of shade. Many teams make a day of it setting up a pop up canopy, creating a pot luck sign up, and making it a fun day for all the teams playing for that club that day. The kids not playing at any given time will watch the other games to support their club mates and perhaps observe a different level of play.
For the younger age groups, club tournaments are fun and offer different competition than they might normally get during their regular games. There is usually a playoff for the final four in each age group with a trophy/cup for the team that wins the tournament for each age group and medals for the players. No longer does everyone get a trophy. In club oriented play, only the best team at the end of the tournament or end of the season gets the medal or trophy. As it should be.
For the U 16 age groups and above, the tournaments are called college showcases. Instead of playing for medals and trophies, they play with the hopes one of the many college soccer coaches in attendance see them play and approach them about potentially playing for their school in college. It's tremendously competitive, but a great way to be seen my multiple college coaches in one place. I'll talk more about the college ID process a bit later.
While club soccer can be fiercely competitive, not all clubs are. You need to do your homework and try out for several before making a choice. There are many things you need to take into consideration when deciding which team to play for, I will address these later.
School based soccer
Most of the time, playing for your school does not start until middle school. High school play can vary tremendously depending on the skill of the players any given year and the coaching. Typically there are 3 levels of high school teams, Freshman, Junior Varsity, and Varsity. It is try out based and like club teams, a focus on fitness as much as raw skill in the position you play matters.
For the teams that require try outs, typically any higher level club team (elite, premier, championship are suffixes that give you a clue), they are usually held right after the spring season ends. That usually means the first week or two in June. Sometimes, these try outs conflict with practices, especially for Academy level teams or those in playoffs, as they tend to go later in June.
Try outs require you to do your homework, BEFORE JUNE if possible, to find out what clubs you and your child are interested in, where they are, what the level of play is like, and where there games are played. Knowing this before you go to a try out helps you eliminate teams that are not compatible with your child's ability, time, or geographic area.
You can search for youth soccer, elite soccer, club soccer, or some other similar terms to try to find out about the teams in your area if you don't know the names of the club teams. Most every club has a website. You can also ask around. Although to be honest, some parents don't share what teams their kids are trying out for, even with their good soccer mom friends, especially at higher levels, because the competition is so fierce, they want to give their child a better chance.
Around here, most of the club teams hold 2-3 nights of try outs and encourage kids to come to more than one to allow for the coaches to get a good look at them. Some clubs, especially the higher level teams, may only hold one night of try outs. Most of the try outs are the same length as a typical practice would be and may vary by the age of the group. Most are 90 minutes for the club teams.
The most annoying thing is that the clubs all also typically have their try outs the same week! This makes it really difficult to try out for more than 2 teams!
Once the try out is complete, you wait. The coach will usually meet with parents briefly at the end of try outs to notify you of when and how those who have been selected will be informed of their offer to join the team. The next 24-48 hours can be stressful for some parents and players, especially if they are really invested in playing for a particular team. Most offers will come within a day or two of the tryout. You may also get a callback instead of an offer. This is a good thing, for it means your child is on the "bubble" and they are still considering them, but want a second look, and may be deciding between your child and another player for the same position.
If your child plays midfield, and the coach needs a defender or forward and thinks your child would do well in that position, that may be their intent with an offer to play. If you don't ask specifically, you may not know that and your child may be disappointed that they were not selected to play the position they thought they were. Not all kids care about their position, but many do, and not all coaches assign positions to the kids. Some prefer to move them around so they become more well-rounded players or to figure out who plays best in what position as they develop. My boys have both played several positions throughout their soccer careers, both settling into a favorite and best position around U 12/13 after several years of play.
One thing you typically won't find out about is cost until you get the contract offer. These are typically contracted positions. Once you sign up, you've agreed to pay the full amount. If you sign up and end up hating the team and want to leave, you can, but you don't get any money back (save for maybe a season ending injury early on). They can also be expensive, costing thousands of dollars per season for club tuition alone!
The clubs usually want a response and an immediate down payment if you accept the offer and within 24-48 hours of the offer being given. If you do not respond or wait too long, they can, and may offer the spot to someone else while you are "thinking about it". Their goal is to fill their roster and get parents/players to commit quickly, before they have time to talk themselves out of it or sign on with another team. If you don't hear back from them for 3 or 4 days, your child was probably not their first choice, but their first choice said no. That is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of.
Most clubs offer a payment plan for tuition, but it's usually front loaded so the first payments are higher and the entire season is typically paid for by December for a season that lasts August to June. Some clubs offer scholarships or monthly payments over the entire season, but you should ask about it as early as possible. The process may take longer for discounts and scholarships, and you still have to make a decision on a team to play for now, often before you receive word on the scholarship being granted.
Aside from being armed with all the above information, there are many questions you should consider asking in order to be fully informed about what you are getting into. Especially if this is your first experience with a large club organization. There can be a lot of surprises, more so for parents, so it's best to understand what you are actually signing up for. The commitment, politics, and expense involved really demands you ask questions. I wish I knew these things years ago.
Questions to ask BEFORE you sign that contract, or maybe even try out!
Knowing what questions to ask before you agree to have your child play for any team, can help minimize surprises and help you make a decision that is practical in every way.
- How often are the practices?
- When are the practices? Time of day?
- Where are the practices?
- How long do practices last?
- Are practices mandatory? Is there a penalty for missing a practice?
- What league does this team play in? If you can, check the stats for the team at the league website.
- What is this team's win-loss record? This may or may not be important to you but a team that plays at the highest level and loses most of their games will move down a level next season. Likewise, a team that does really well may move up a division next season. Coaches don't usually share this information, especially the moving down part! This impacts the level of competition the team will face.
- Where are the games played? How far/long will I need to travel?
- What is the cost to play for the year and what does it include?
- For far away games (out of state), will there be a team bus or will I have to drive (or fly)?
- What other costs might I expect to incur (tournaments, hotels when travelling, travel expenses, etc.)
- Is transportation provided for travel out of state/distant games, or is the parent responsible for that?
- What day are the games on? Will it change at all or are they all on the same day of the week?
- Is the cost of the uniform included in tuition? If not, what is the cost? (many kits as they are called can cost several hundred dollars and the entire kit is required to be purchased). What # jersey will my child have? (this is typically assigned by the coach, be sure you know before you order the uniform!)
- What can I expect this to cost me? Is there a payment plan? What if I decide the fit is not right or my child gets injured, is there a refund policy?
- Will my child play every game? How much game time can I reasonably expect them to see?
- Is my child able to play any other sport or for any other soccer team?
- What position will my child play?
- What is the experience of the coaches? Are they certified? How long have they coached this age group/level?
- Did they play soccer and at what level?
- Are the coaches CPR and First Aid certified or is there a trainer at all the games and practices? Is there an AED in the coach's possession, at the practice fields, and at all game locations? If not, are you willing to work toward getting one?
- What education and support is available for players and parents?
- What is a typical practice like? (foot skills, drills, fitness/strengthening, scrimmages, psychology)
- What is the coaching style?
- How many coaches/assistant coaches are there? Are they both/all at every practice and game? If not, what can I expect?
- Do you assign "homework"?
- Do the coaches coach any other teams? (college, other age groups)
- How early do players need to arrive before a game for warm up typically? (some say 15 min, some say an hour! This will factor into your time commitment.)
- What is your policy on parents vocalizing during the games? (shouting, coaching from sidelines, saying your child's name in praise or instruction, etc)
- How many teams play in this club and at what levels?
- Is there an opportunity for moving to a higher or lower level team if my child shows they would be better suited to those teams? Can it happen mid-season or do they need to wait until try out time?
- Do you provide player evaluations? When? Is any feedback given to the player and parent on a regular basis?
- When are try outs and where?
- If my child can only make one try out, is that going to hurt their chances?
- My child wants to play for their school team or another recreational team, is that problem?
Uniforms may or may not be included in the club tuition and depending on the required "kit", uniforms can cost anywhere from $200-500 per season. Many clubs use the same kit for 2 years, then the uniform styles or colors change and everyone must buy a new kit.
What's in a uniform kit?
What is required will depend on the club. Many of the clubs are affiliated with European or MLS teams, so the uniforms often bear the name or emblem of the parent or affiliate club. There is some debate, but this likely increases cost. The uniforms are also typically well made tech material by either Nike or Adidas. Whichever it is, many clubs forbid wearing anything on the field that is made by any other manufacturer. So if your club is affiliated with Nike and you have Adidas shorts, socks, hats, whatever, you cannot wear them on the field. I am currently in the middle of a switch from a team that used Nike to one that uses Adidas. Thankfully, my son is also in a huge growth spurt, so much of his Nike gear he will outgrow by the fall season!
Speaking of growing, when ordering your kit, plan for growth! Buy it for the end of the season! What fits them well in the fall may be waaaaay too small by spring! You've got 9 months to play!
A typical mandatory uniform kit contains the following items and all items have the team logo on them Jerseys have your child's number on the back:
- Practice uniform (shirt, shorts, socks)
- Home uniform (shirt, shorts, socks of one particular color)
- Away uniform (shirt, shorts, socks of a different color)
- Warm up gear (warm up pants and jacket)
- Cleats (expect to purchase at least 2 pair per season, plus indoor or futsal shoes for winter)
- Shin guards
- Soccer ball
- Goalkeeper gloves if your child is a keeper. Expect to purchase a pair at least every season. They are not cheap!
- Winter hats and field gloves for outdoor play in cool and cold weather
- Extra socks
- Extra practice shorts unless you want to do laundry every day
- Under layer for cooler weather. Check with your team on what color is required (usually black or white)
- Compression or sport underwear
- Sport goggles if needed and your child does not wear contacts
- Water bottle
Other Elite Clubs to be aware of
The Academy system in the U.S. is overseen by U.S. Soccer. There are very specific rules that the teams must adhere to with regard to their rosters, their practice time and methods, and game time and play. The focus is on more practice and skill development and fewer but highly competitive games.
These are among the most elite players and there are not Academy programs in every state. Academy is geared toward the U16 and U18 groups. Pre-Academy is U-11 to U14/15 as a development program to groom younger players for the Academy teams.
Olympic Development Program (ODP)
ODP is also overseen by U.S. soccer. This is a great player development program and that is the focus - player development. There are friendly games that are played with other ODP teams, but it is not a competitive league in terms of games.
Kids develop their skills in soccer throughout their years of play. Some will peak at U 10 or 12 with others not fully developing and playing at their peak until U 16 or 17. The reality is, the better the coaching, and the more coachable and dedicated the player to skill development and practice, the better the player will develop. Of course some raw skill is needed, but that is not enough.
Finding out about ODP try outs in your area requires you to do your homework. You are most likely to find it by searching for your state's youth soccer organization or simply doing a search for ODP or Olympic Development Program for soccer. Here, try outs are in the late summer or late fall (depends on when the training is to begin).
The practices are once a week for 2-3.5 hours and focus on foot skills, fitness, drills, and scrimmages. The most wonderful part about ODP that it really fosters players taking responsibility for their preparation and their play.
ODP leads to a regional development camp at the end of the season where players scrimmage against other local ODP teams (Northeast, Southeast, etc.) and the National coaches observe and I.D. the best of the best to join the regional teams. The regional teams feed the National Team. Last year, I believe there were two players out of the several ODP teams in MA (over 100 players) that were invited to regional team.
NPL stands for the National Premier League. It's on par with the Academy system as it's National and highly competitive with only the most elite and skilled of players typically making the cut for the team.
So much more...