Monday, April 14, 2014
Each year, I try to touch on some of the great soccer books I’ve come across. Being inspired by the words and stories of players, coaches and parents can be just the boost young players and their families need to make a renewed investment in playing. The soccer-based book and magazine library is huge, not only because the sport has a world-wide audience, but because it is rising in popularity in America. These volumes generate suitable gifts, books to read aloud before bedtime, opportunities to motivate your young player, educational sources, and just good reading. I’ll divide this list up for readers under 6, aged 6-12, teens and adults.
Young girls know the “Maisy” series, a colorful set of stories starring a mouse and her friends. On May 14 a new book comes out titled, “Maisy Plays Soccer,” by Lucy Cousins. This can be a read-aloud book or a first reader. “My First Soccer Game: A Fold-out Book,” by Capucilli and Jensen, is a photography book with big 18x18-inch fold-out pages featuring detailed photos of various exercises and team tactics for new youth players. It’s a great book for beginners to be able to visualize all that gibberish they hear at practice! If kids want to learn about the history of the game and the records produced over the years, "Cool Soccer Facts” by Abby Czeskleba dishes up the info. For kids who may not be great players yet, but have the imagination and drive to try for the stars, “Soccer Crazy” is for them. Colin McNaughton wrote the book in 1978 but recently revised it to address some of the recent advances in the sport. The School Library Review listed this as a top read.
When kids get going in the sport and begin to move up the soccer experience ladder, they face plenty of changes. Games move from 4 vs. 4 to 8 vs. 8 to finally 11 vs. 11, and each step has its own set of rules and learning curves. So, before they become teens they have to adjust to all the growth in their team size, ability and rules, not to mention dealing with their own growth spurts or slow development — making each step a challenge. These are really formative years in acquiring the skills and maturity to shift into high school soccer. There are plenty of books to help with that transition, which also have tremendous formats. Giving a broad perspective on youth development, “Kids Book of Soccer: Skills, Strategies, and the Rules of the Game,” by Brooks Clark, can be read by most kids 9 and older, and can be shared by parents with younger kids. It breaks down the sport into its important aspects and the changes the game goes through as kids get older. If you know DK Eyewitness books, you know how beautifully designed they are with sharp photos, lots of facts and special information. “Soccer,” by Hugh Hornby, was revised for the 2010 World Cup and may have a new revision for this summer’s contest. This is a book kids can return to time and time again with fresh eyes and new discoveries. Speaking of the World Cup, watching the event together as a family can strengthen a passion for the game and provide your child with the validation of his sports choice. “The Official 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Kids’ Handbook” provides lots of information on the teams and players participating, as well as the brackets, participating countries’ details, rules and facilities. The book can serve as a resource to answer questions during the competitions and to get kids involved in the excitement the world experiences every four years. US Youth Soccer publishes FUEL magazine for youth players with lots of great articles. You can get it digitally or you can order a box of at least 120 issues for $50 to distribute amongst your club. The magazine covers health, training, adventures and player biographies. Boys really enjoy Matt Christopher books, including “Soccer Scoop,” “Soccer Hero,” and “Soccer Duel.” Girls would enjoy Jake Maddox books, including “Soccer Surprise” and “Soccer Show-off.” He also has soccer books for boys. A rich resource book for tweens will be coming out May 27 titled “National Geographic Kids Everything Soccer,” by Blake Hoena, which has all the great behind-the-scenes photos that National Geographic is famous for.
Once kids hit their teens and more importantly high school, they not only can get a bit jaded by soccer stories, but also have limited time to sit and read anything other than assigned material. So whatever you choose for them has to be really engaging. I think the best product is Four Four Two magazine out of the UK. This and World Soccer are the two most widely read and respected soccer publications on the market. When I gave this to my sons for a Christmas gift, it was nearly as well-received as if I had given them a car (I did say “nearly”). It comes out monthly, weighs about 2 pounds, and therefore is chockfull of information. It does have an English bias, but still covers the world of soccer, including some MLS news. One of the big factors separating great players from good players isn’t necessarily athleticism but the mental game. Older players recognize that mental edge in their favorite stars. Therefore, “Soccer Tough: Simple Football Psychology Techniques to Improve Your Game,” by Dan Abrahams, should be one of the books passionate older youth players would appreciate. A great resource book for players to learn about the game is “World Soccer Records 2014” by Keir Radnadge. This book puts the game into perspective, showing players how powerful and amazing soccer can be and where they should be aiming to improve their skills. Upping their game means being a great defender or striker. To that end, “44 Secrets for Great Soccer Goal Scoring Skills,” by Mirsad Hasic; “The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper,” by Mulqueen and Woitalla; and “Master the Game: Soccer Defender,” by Broadbent and Allen, along with “Conditioning for Soccer,” by Raymond Verheijen, are good reads to give them a fitness edge. Coaches will tell you that many soccer games are won not by the most skilled team, but by the fittest.
I just picked up Pele’s newest book, “Why Soccer Matters,” which he wrote to celebrate the sport and the return of the World Cup to Brazil after more than 60 years. I’ve not read much of it, but it is definitely inspiring — making it appropriate for adults and older players. We are all getting better informed about how soccer is played even though many of us don’t come from a soccer background of playing and watching the game. So it can be embarrassing if parents on the sidelines don’t know the rules, which “Official Soccer Rules Illustrated,” by Stanley Lover, helps improve. One of our main jobs as a parent is to provide snacks for our kids after practices and games, so learning how to find nutritious, inexpensive and delicious treats, which also avoid common kids’ allergies, can be daunting. “Food Guide for Soccer: Tips and Recipes from the Pros,” by Averbuch and Clark, details not only healthy snacks but ways of making sure our kids eat healthy all the time. The book focuses especially on developing steady energy throughout the day by utilizing the right foods. As parents, we always dream of our kids playing college soccer. Remember to be careful what you wish for since the NCAA really limits the number of full-ride scholarships in soccer, meaning most, if not all players, earn only a small percentage of the total cost of attending a college in the form of an athletic scholarship, as these are spread out over the entire team. Players and parents should focus more on the experience than the funds. Several good books help with the process. “Get Recruited to Play Women’s College Soccer,” by Lucia Bucklin, was published in late December 2013, so it is up to date enough to offer good advice. There is no specific book out there for men’s college soccer recruiting but there is a recent book on athletic recruiting, “Get Recruited to Play College Athletics,” by S. Farrell, which is two years old. Remember too that there are other college organizations out there besides the NCAA. Learning from someone who has been there, done that can make the entire process of being a soccer parent not only more enjoyable but also more informed. Dan Woog has had a front seat to youth soccer for years both with recreational and select teams. He has been a coach, a spectator, a state hall of fame inductee, and an important voice for youth players as a writer. His book, “We Kick Balls: True Stories from the Youth Soccer Wars,” touches on both humorous and serious issues affecting youth players on and off the field, including the thornier ones such as drugs, bullying, prejudice and sexual orientation. The book may have some uncomfortable sections, but as parents we can’t live in the world with blinders on avoiding these truths. I recommend it as a significant eye witness account of the life our kids have chosen.
The old caveat of “Reading is Fundamental” holds true in all of our lives, even in our soccer lives. Hopefully some of these texts can be not only useful but also enlightening. As we encourage our kids to pursue their dreams and to enjoy the journey, we should also be sharing in that adventure both as supporters and as resources. I challenge parents to share with one another any books or magazines they have found worthwhile. As we join together we become a reading soccer village that raises our children.