Soccer's a Kick for Family Fitness

Summer Olympics Highlights the Excitement



In many other countries, soccer is known as football, or even “the beautiful game,” because the grace and style of play is often considered as important as the final score. While less popular than other professional sports in this country, soccer’s suitability and benefits for today’s children have spawned its own American subculture.

 

With the 2012 Summer Olympic Games underway from July 27 through August 12, in London, many soccer moms and dads will be watching live or recorded matches with their children gathered around the TV. Among the 28 national male and female teams competing internationally, the U.S. women’s team brings special excitement as the defending Olympic champions in their division. Their shared enthusiasm is sure to inspire some family soccer ball kick-around action in the yard or a local park.

Soccer is an ideal physical outlet for boys and girls because it’s considerably less violent than football; provides a great cardio workout; builds thought processes in employing strategies; instills teamwork, camaraderie and sportsmanship; and can facilitate meeting youngsters of various backgrounds. It also provides an easy and enjoyable way for parents to get some exercise while bonding with their children.

US Youth Soccer, as part of the U.S. Soccer Federation, the national governing body, involves 3 million-plus youngsters ages 5 through 19 in soccer leagues, camps and local programs annually. Its yearly Youth Soccer Month, in September, will feature many community events, tips and discussions.

Susan Boyd, of Mequon, Wisconsin, spent 15 years taking two of her sons to and from practices and matches from junior games all the way through high school teams.

“Every time they play is a highlight for me,” she says. “Win, lose or draw, they have such a passion for the game. You all get caught up in the power of the play and the magic of the moment.”

The number of youth soccer players in the United States has doubled since 1990, to more than 4 million players.
~U.S. Soccer Federation


A part-time writing instructor at Carroll University, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Boyd has been posting weekly parental advice blogs on USYouthSoccer.org for four years. One suggests that if field conditions are damp, parents should bring gallon-size baggies to protect the car’s floor from the mud of soccer shoes, plus a change of clothes for the players. In another, she asks parents “not to be snooty or pompous” if their child’s team is better than the opposition and to “have more patience with referees that don’t meet your standard of perfection in calls.”

Because soccer calls for nearconstant movement—running with or toward the ball or walking into a better position on the field—it’s an effective antidote to childhood obesity. The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (Fitness.gov) suggests that children get one hour or more a day in either moderate or vigorous aerobic physical activity. For adults, the recommendation is at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. Playing or practicing soccer skills definitely meets the criteria.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics Association (HealthyChildren.org) cited soccer as a way for children to be physically active while they learn teamwork and sportsmanship. It also noted that the most common player injuries are minor sprains and strains, followed by bruises. Boyd advises, “Most of these require rest, ice, compression and elevation for the injured area, and a week away from the sport. Don’t rush children back onto the field; think long-term.”

Current and longtime U.S. national Olympic team member Christie Rampone, of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, notes that because soccer doesn’t involve the hands, “Youngsters get used to using other, different muscle groups, allowing for optimal strength and coordination.” She suggests that parents have children also note some non-action elements of the sport, such as the communication occurring on the soccer field.

Even when people in the stands are loudly shouting encouragement, players are talking with each other and using body language to enhance their team play. “Point out to kids the positive emotions and energy expressed when things don’t go well. Even though the game can be frustrating at times, learn from how the players stay poised and focused throughout the match.”


For more information, also visit USSoccer.com and nbcOlympics.com.

Randy Kambic, who played soccer in school, is a freelance writer and editor in Estero, FL, and a copyeditor for Natural Awakenings.

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