I’ve been thinking a lot recently about maintaining perspective as a soccer parent as my city, Richmond, VA and home club, the Richmond Strikers, is hosting the 4 weekend Jefferson Cup Tournament. This weekend is the Girls Showcase, and my daughter, a sophomore in high school finds herself right in the middle of the college recruiting process. While in one sense I understand that the next 6 games she plays at the Jefferson Cup Showcase and the Phoenix ECNL National Event a couple of weeks from now will have a real impact on her future as a player, I also want to be sure I maintain my perspective and Level-Headed Soccer Parent mindset.
That’s hard to do.
It’s hard to maintain your perspective as a soccer parent when you are consistently met with marketing messages that are designed to encourage you to think about the soccer future of your child as U.S. Soccer and the ECNL are in the middle of what feels like a fierce battle for the playing time of our children.
U.S. Soccer is launching a Development Academy for girls this fall, after having one for the boys for the past 10 years. The launch of the Development Academy (DA) means that parents now must choose the playing environment of their elite player. Are you going to leave the ECNL, which has undoubtedly proven itself as the top league for girls, and move to the new Development Academy in the fall?
The marketing forces of both the DA and the ECNL are in high gear.
The U.S. Soccer DA has been marketing their league as the path to the National Team. In their December 23, 2016 press release they say that the purpose of the DA is to “develop world class players that have the potential to contribute to the Women’s National team.” April Heinrichs, U.S. Soccer’s Women’s Technical Director, in a panel at the NSCAA Convention in January stated:
If your child wants to be on the National Team, they need to be playing in the DA.”
The ECNL, in competition with the DA, has been marketing their league as a path to playing soccer in college. In their March 16 press release The ECNL: The Proven Path to College, the commissioner of the ECNL, Jen Winnagle states
The ECNL provides a development environment where players can showcase their talent in front of hundreds of college scouts in the most professional atmosphere in the country…. In modern soccer, no youth platform has sent more players to college, had more alums earn collegiate honors, and had more impact on the collegiate game.”
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I appreciate the growth we have seen in the youth game these past 10 years since the boy’s DA and later the ECNL was initially launched. I love that my daughter can challenge herself, compete and learn in an environment that focuses on player development.
I don’t however, appreciate the feeling I have when it appears the powers at be are taking hostage of my child’s dream and telling her she needs to play in one place or the other for that dream to become a reality.
To the ECNL’s credit, I must add, they also have strong messages in leadership and empowerment via their groundbreaking “Amazing Young Women” campaign and their “Unshakable Spotlight.”
I am a Level-Headed Soccer Parent and I want to make my decisions about my child based on my Soccer Parenting Values, not based on my emotions. There are 6 Soccer Parenting Value Statements that must guide parents in their actions and decisions.
The Soccer Parenting Values are Active Health, Coach Integrity, Life Lessons, Soccer Knowledge, Love of the Game and Balanced Outlook. (Download the Complete Value Statements Here)
I want my decision about where my child will play to be based on the Soccer Parenting Value Statement of Coach Integrity:
“We acknowledge the positive impact a coach can make on a child’s life, and we commit to holding coaches to a high standard of integrity, professionalism and compassion so our children feel optimistic about their potential, even in the face of defeat.”
I will make the decision about where my daughter plays based on the quality of the coach who will be working with her, not the level of soccer coaching license they have, or their record in developing world class players. Instead, I will choose her environment based on the coach’s ability to positively impact the life of my daughter, to uniquely connect with her and help her understand all she is capable of on the field – and in life.
I want my decision about where my child will play to be based on the Soccer Parenting Value Statement of Balanced Outlook: “We seek to use a clear perspective when making soccer choices for our children, ensuring the decisions are in the best interest of the child’s long-term happiness, contentment and positive attitude.”
I will make the decision about where my child plays based on perspective, knowing the actual chance of my child being on the national team is much less than .01% and so while I need to support her dreams, I must not be sidetracked by her dreams to the point that it affects her positive attitude and long-term happiness.
I want my decision about where my child will play to be based on the Soccer Parenting Value Statement of Love of the Game: “We acknowledge that every child has varying levels of athletic potential and we seek to establish an environment where ALL children can play youth soccer because they LOVE TO PLAY, not because they want a college scholarship or a professional contract.”
If U.S Soccer is focusing on being a path for my child to the National Team and if the ECNL is focusing on being a path for my child to play in college, who is focusing on being a path for my child to develop a love for the game?
Love of the game is the message I will give my daughter today as she steps onto the field in front of more than 100 college coaches at the Jefferson Cup Showcase. I will tell her to walk onto the field and pause for a moment and find a deep joy in the chance she has to experience the game in a competitive environment and encourage her to not focus on her dream of playing in college, but instead focus on the thrill of competition and how deeply she loves the game.
When parents lose their perspective is when so many of the negative issues with youth soccer occur.
When parents lose perspective they focus too much on winning instead of development, they have their child specialize in soccer too early resulting in burn out or over-use injuries, they have poor behavior on the sidelines and they put too much pressure on their child.
I want our soccer leadership to be guiding me when it comes to having perspective as a soccer parent, not facilitating the loss of perspective with their marketing messages as they fight over the playing time of my child.
When we are instead inundated with marketing messages of Love of the Game, Balanced Outlook, and Coach Integrity we will no doubt be on the path towards developing world class players – and people.
As a parent of an U16 ECNL player, I feel the USSF is doing nothing more than creating a power grab here! Where have they been concerning girls development? No where, thats where. This is a total joke, just like the USSF. How has that boys DA program worked out for them………Men’s soccer is still a joke in the world, and that DA hasn’t produced anything for the MNT in the decade plus of its existence. The ECNL has accomplished what it was meant to do, prepare girls for the college game, and might I add, the WNT. My daughter decided to stay in the ECNL, because the competition is the highest, and she wants to play with her classmates in high school. The USSF doesn’t give a crap about our daughters.
Agree 100%. I am the parent of a U15 ECNL player and this is so frustrating.
I couldnt agree more. The focus needs to be on college; which in this day and age the girls far outpace their male counterparts in scholastic achievement and college preparation.
More importantly is the fact that ECNL girls are able to play for their high school if they so desire. This is not the case with the DA. Taking that away from them is something that they will never be able to get back.
Lastly, both the DA and ECNL are for profit businesses. Don’t think for a minute they exist for philanthropic reasons. And like any business their motive is financial profit in order to continue their existence.
Hi,Ecnl is strong just like Da academy.If Da doesn’t want the kids to play high school it is because high school for some of them it is not organized soccer and have a teacher or sometime janitor coaching the team? Is it what you want for your kids? Someone who doesn’t know better then them? Ecnl doesn’t let there team play in National cup or playing in league like ” CRL california regional league beginning at 13 ..” Where it is coach buy top license coach ? Something is wrong somewhere..
I believe the DA walked back on the high school thing. To stay competitive with ECNL…NOT because its the right thing to do.
The problem is that money is what drives youth sports today, and selling pathway to a dream is a key way to do it. Look how many “ID” camp emails you and your child gets. These are major revenue makers for the colleges. Many college coaches are also involved at the club level helping to sell the college dream for the clubs. Driving the sport further away from the days when HS sports which were accessible to kids of all income level were the pathway to college sports. Only It was not presented that way back then. You played HS sports as achievement in of its self, and for the few with even more talent went on to play college. Today it is still only a few, just they now they have to pay a lot more and give up a lot of the true values sports has to offer to get it.
COLLEGE ID CAMPS – Yes, the ID camps create a revenue. However, they also charge to reduce the amount of players that could possible attend; narrowing it down to those who may have a more serious intent to attend that school. ID camps are also a far better way for a coach to see a more in depth look at the player. Watching a player for a few minutes in a game doesn’t always provide a college with a good look at the player. Not all college ID camps do a good job either, they can be poorly run and provide no value for the players money. This avenue could also provide the player a true look at the coach and school they are wanting to look at. If the college does a poor/good job then this could speak loudly to prospective students athletes.
In the Southern Region, most top teams went with DA. The ECNL girls today will be September’s DA team. My concern is the competition level next year for ECNL. Could be an expensive rec team.
I dare to say if there is a Mia Hamm caliber player on the pitch playing, it would be the country’s loss if she’s over looked simply because she’s not playing DA.
I doubt if a good coach will do that.
“I want my decision about where my child plays……”
How about letting them make their own decisions on where they play?
Yes, you are definitely not the first person who has commented about my semantics via social media or here….I understand and you are definitely right. I should have said “I want to empower my child to make her decision about where she plays as I am guided by the Soccer Parenting Value Statement of…..” That was a bit wordy – but your point is definitely a good one!
If your child does not “love the game”, and he/she is playing in DA or ECNL, they aren’t playing for themselves. They are playing for the parents and coaches that convinced them the NEED to be in one of the two leagues. If my U16 player didn’t “love the game”, she wouldn’t play for either of these leagues.
I received a great article from an old soccer friend today, Dr. Bill Steffen, about Burnout and it sort of applies to this comment and of “love the game”….here’s the link:
This is an excerpt from the article that I think is really interesting:
Another factor that can contribute to burnout is the nature of an athlete’s motivation. Youths in our culture typically get involved with sports for intrinsic reasons like having fun, learning new skills, getting exercise and making new friends (e.g., Ewing & Seefeldt, 1989). Intrinsic motivation has been linked to superior athletic performance, including the peak performance state known as flow (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). However, what tends to happen as athletes advance through levels of competition is that their motivation shifts toward extrinsic rewards such as trophies, scholarships, money, celebrity or approval. Participation stops being only about the joy of partaking in the sport itself and becomes more about what can be obtained through the sport, a change that often brings a ton of added pressure with it. Athletes can sometimes end up feeling controlled by the very rewards they are pursuing, which may undermine their raw desire to participate in their sport and create a sense of being trapped, potentially fueling burnout (Weinberg & Gould, 2011).
I find it fairly amusing that the parent of a child playing in the ECNL system is lamenting anything to do with either the opportunities that your child has or the money involved. I live in an area of the country where there are no ECNL teams within a 3 hour drive. Our kids don’t have the option of playing ECNL OR in the Development Academy. We regularly get turned down for tournaments like Jeff Cup, despite also regularly beating teams that DO get in (including 4 different teams that made this year’s field) and performing well when we do (3rd place at Disney). We literally have 4-6 division 1 prospects and at least 10 that could play D2, but they struggle to get seen in some events due to coaches only paying attention if the event has an ECNL next to it. The entire youth structure in this country is HEAVILY flawed, up to and including the idiotic age group change that US Soccer forced on everybody this year.
In other words, I’m sorry, but I’m finding it hard to feel too terribly bad for someone that has always had the deck stacked firmly in your favor.
My daughter played soccer from the time she was 5 until now ~ her sophomore year at University. She played club, middle school, high school and ODP. Never ECNL. She is a keeper and was actively recruited for D1 schools. As were 10 of the girls on her team. They are scattered about in their college years but all owe their success to great club teams, not the ECNL. State Cups, Disney Showcase and CASL were her show grounds.
My Daughter is in a similar situation. She is a U15, starts for her HS team and has shown well at several College ID camps, oftentimes as the only kid her age there. Due to logistics (& politics) she currently plays neither ODP or ECNL. (Eric I feel your pain)As one of the other persons on Linkedin noted, once you are ‘on’ one of those teams they will seldom cut an established player…period. The way try-outs are set-up they are even geared towards maintaining the status quo. However, when she shows up at camps they always assume she does and she has always shown well against older, more experienced players.
That being said, she already has received several great evals from colleges, has had several schools come to see her (specifically) play and has a couple of schools actively keeping track of her schedule and what she is doing (one is a D1 school). She has already changed her tune in regards to ‘having to play D1’ as some of the colleges she has visited that she liked the best, are not D1. In my eyes, you have to help your child market themselves, and you only need ONE program that is a good fit – personally, for you. None of the ‘organizations’ really care a whit about your child, truth be told.
US Soccer has realized that they need to be directly involved in the youth development process at the grassroots club level. I’ve been directly involved with the boys Academy for 10 years now. It is by far the best thing that has ever happened to youth soccer in the United States. US Soccer needs to get their finger on the pulse of girls soccer now. DA is US Soccer’s attempt to get more involved at the grassroots level. We need US Soccer involved in the development of our girls from a grassroots level in the United States. Overtime the Development Academy will serve as a pathway to college and the national team.
The DA is the best thing that has happen to soccer? The boys DA hasn’t produce anything for our national team. Men’s soccer in the US is a joke. The DA is not about getting involved at the grassroots, it is about control, nothing more. The ECNL has produced much more successful players in college and for the National team, than the boys DA.
Amen to all you’ve said Skye! We have a daughter who went through the ECNL program because we had it available in our backyard and she was able to play at that level, and is now playing college soccer. We also have a niece who never did ECNL or DA, because it didn’t make sense for her family, and has also just committed to play at the same Big 10 University. The truth is when they play for true love of the game and in whatever league that is the best decision for your family, they end up exactly where they’re meant to be – which translates to dreams realized and for all the right reasons!! Thank you for your insight and reminder to not get distracted by all the cultural noise so their journey can be one of joy and passion, not misery and pressure.
Amen Deanne! Exactly and well said!
Thanks, Deanne – and well said!
Hey guys there are more pathways in soccer than you think and as a soccer Dad after reading your responses, I just wanted you all to know that there are numerous pathways to soccer than you might know. All of you guy are right, but then almost of you guys are wrong. So instead of taking an “us versus them” disposition, it’s time for U.S. Soccer to Standardize the game and open up player pathways that work together for the good of our children.
Basically all of us have failed to standardize (give them a system along with the tools to measure progress and technical ability) soccer so many parents are frustrated and at times deceived or at least feel like they are deceived. I can say a lot about being a “Cash Cow”. In this post, I hear lots of parents and even previous player parents saying “I” “I” “I want”. So then I ask, what does your children want when balanced against their needs and technical skills?
I have listened and observed nothing, but total chaos and for years, so I sat down and filtered out all the noise to develop the solution for all concerned and other interested believers in the Beautiful Game, so I got involved; opened an industry related company and have started to spend my days as a determined parent who loves soccer giving and sharing with you all the total TRUTH.
So please step back and take a deep breath and everything will be ok. We in soccer have done a very poor job of being professionals and even just wise parents explaining to one another just how we are to communicate and /or even develop a congruent message of love and fitness balanced with academics and many wonderful pathways or even overseeing the Standardization of Soccer. This alone will settle all issues.
I am not a Coach nor have I ever played soccer as it was not an option way back then – LOL! Guys, water will run around, through and/or even over an obstacle until it figures out the best or more open route or pathway to where it wants to go which I the end represents SUCCESS. So relax and filter out the noise.
For example, my daughter played REC the year before her club started ECNL and it was a disaster mixed with high drama in the form of consistent undertones/complaints of socio-economic discrimination by many parents and racial bias. This was due to access to soccer issues for minorities and chaos as in the middle of it all as my family just loved the game. We were trying to figure out how our poor family which was coming behind my having life threatening medical issues could afford to be involved in advanced soccer. This I mind you all occurred after my successful recovery after being given just 30 days to live. Of you, this alone, placed soccer in a whole different place and perspective for me and our children. You see Club soccer heard about our plight and gave our children scholarships to play. So, I know he value of Club Soccer.
But then a funny thing happened. My daughter came home and said that she was done with elite and that she just wanted to play REC. We were shocked. She was bigger. She was faster! But she was the new player and she felt like she did not fit in. Spectators were amazed at her speed and athleticism, but her teammates could not perform to her expectations and to her they were whinny little rich girls. That was a disaster so after the first half she moved back to REC and played mixed with boys as she had always done.
I said all of that because, wanted you all to know that Elite is not for every child and mainly that it is not the only route to a Soccer Scholarship. You see my daughter also played high school soccer. She was also an outstanding Left Outside Back and still is. Because of her reputation and prowess each time she asked to play Forward, she was placed in Left Outside Back. They won some games and lost some games, but the thing is the Coaches and the system was absolutely killing her love of the game. All the talk and chaos was negative and a huge distraction. Plus when she played Forward, she scored then immediately was placed back in the rear and we all now disliked the system that we were beginning to perceive as “Not Fair”. But as parents we always tried to stay out of it ALL as we have FAITH! So we remained silent, watched and learned. Hence I am writing you today to say it’s about the child.
So after much debate, we pulled both of our children from Elite and placed them in REC. My daughter only then as a High School Junior received an opportunity to play Forward in REC Soccer for the first time and I have to say that her Coach actually listened. That was her saving Grace! But we still never interfered. At every ID Camp, they placed her in Defense even when she requested to play up top. Except for REC, and that one Coach, she never had a chance to consistently play in the position that she was passionate about and I have footage of her playing forward, scoring a goal, then being placed right back as a Defender. She hated Elite and she hated High School Soccer. She wanted to be a forward and she needed to be taught technical skills needed to be a forward and she received absolutely nothing. So just like many of you have done, I hired a Coach at $50 per hour even when I could not afford it.
She we simply helped her place a huge chip on her shoulder so that she would be passionate about one thing: the utter and complete beat down of any Forward or player that crossed her path and she did that quite well. She then was discovered by FAU (D-1) at an ID Camp while playing against the U-16 National Club Elite Champs who moved up and became ECNL players the very next year. Her exact words to me were, “I would rather cut my throat than to ever play with those cry babies ever again so let them bring their titles with them and watch me beat them down!” She kept her word and when she made Elite, she absolutely turned it down and financially it was much easier on our family. We as parents wanted her to play ELITE/ECNL, but she wanted different!
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, she was injured. So now we were faced with injuries and figuring out how to get our child, who now refused to play Advanced Soccer to college on a scholarship. And to complicate things, she was attending the 5th ranked high school in all of the U.S. at the time with a GPA of 2.8 as a sophomore. So, she asked that we pull her as during her years of growing into a woman; she started having Migraines and they were so bad that she had 30 Medical visits and one EMT call to her school as a sophomore. So we voluntarily moved her to her local home school. Next, we heard of this concept called College ID Camps. We then knew the path that we needed to take. When she could, we traveled to College ID Camps and developed strong relationships with Coaches while getting opportunities to meet other parents and see college programs and school campuses that we otherwise would have never seen as parents of a club player.
To top it all off, you would think that our child earned a scholarship while playing in camp. Well, that was not the case. While playing in camp, she was injured, but mainly could not attend the important ones due to her medical conditions. IN fact, she received invitations and many personal to almost every major D-1 program that saw her footage. And by that point in time, she was simply afraid to even test out her ankle. But she still received over 100 offers and scholarships. Well how did that happen? We simply got online; paid a monthly fee in the end and used recruiting services as we prepared her video and profile. That’s right, I did this for my daughter myself and we worked as a team t reach out to 100s of schools.
Guys it is a learning game and I just wanted you to realize that there is no one path is for every child. Our daughter at age 16 was allowed to travel to the USVI in order to try-out for the USVI National Team where she played with U.S. college and other International players. I personally spoke with the Coach and although she was recovering from the same ankle injury agreed to send her to meet them anyway and especially after telling them of her story and situation when it came to her passion; being a potential Super Star Striker and never being allowed to even play Striker. So after her arrival, the next day I receive a phone call and the Coach is very excited as she tells me that the U.S. Coaches are crazy as she could not believe that our daughter had not played that Up Top position. She told me that she was absolutely on their team. Hence no more ECNL or DA Needed. All she has to now do is play in a Friendly against the U.S. National Team and score as couple of goals and I believe that just may get their attention. But then, did she get into college? Absolutely! She played and without injury to her ankle.
In fact her two (2) ankle injuries turned out to be huge blessings, because her now national Coach dared her to even touch a soccer ball for three (3) months or she was off the team. Wow and to think, her High School Team had just made State for the second time in School History. State was not an option; Elite was no longer an option and her High School days were done.
SO after being ill and changing schools she got better. She then increased her GPA to a 3.2 her junior year and sat from November through April of her Senior year. That’s right no soccer, no camps and no showcases, but she then increased her GPA to a 3.5 and her ankles healed. The longer she sat the better things got and just as she was freaking out, then out of nowhere the Head Coach from Westminster College wrote and made her an offer. Then a month later, she received 5 additional D-1 offers from schools who wrote and practically begged her to sigh and many said that they did not need to see her play in person. She also received a couple of tough decline emails. They loved her Athleticism and speed, toughness, but felt that she not a fit for their teams as they had finished recruiting and did not need Defenders. Well thank you club for that gift.
Well one D-1 Coach lit her passion when she told our daughter that if she accepted her offer, she would absolutely play Forward and that she would make sure that she received the attention and training needed to be a Forward. Of course out daughter accepted that offer and played D-1 Soccer as a Forward and did not even play Defender once her freshman year. Our daughter in the end skipped an opportunity for a personal try-out at Loyola and Texas Southern just so that she could fulfill and quench her passion.
So all I can say is please be honest with where your children are as players and please help them navigate the shark infested recruiting waters and filter out the noise, because in the end, it’s about the needs of the child. Once I saw her play D-1 Soccer against players in the SWAC and Atlantic Sun Conferences I never need to ever see her play again. Now she is playing because of her love of he game and get this – she is NOW considering the switch to Defender and Mid in order to help her team as she has formed a strong bond with her teammates. She plays for South Carolina State and her Coach is Head of the South Carolina ODP Program. Get it? Plus they will be joining the Atlantic Sun Conference next year!
You see there is more than one path. There really are multiple pathways. All you have to do is figure out which one is the best for your child’s situation. Now, at age 13 my Son went to his first College ID Camp,. At age 13, my daughter never knew of the existence of such a thing. As of today and at age 14, a D-1 Coach and a D-2 Coach knows him by name and face and he has seen both campuses and played in front of both staffs. He is attending a High School for Advanced Academic Studies and just made JV Soccer as a freshman. He will be playing Advanced Club Soccer this spring.
A couple additional points… US Soccer could not continue to justify why they only supported a boys DA without also providing a girls DA. With the rise in awareness of equality (inequality) in womens sports, something had to change. Also you had ECNL constantly marketing how many of their players fill our current national teams. There was continual info put in the face of US Soccer that a completely separate entity (on the backs of parents) were in charge of the development and pipeline of USGNT/YNT players. US Soccer does not want to defer the power created by the lure of national team exposure to US Club or honestly to anyone else. Where US Soccer may misstep is the dismissive tone toward high school and college play. Even die hard players/parents know national team play is a pipe dream, honestly most D1 players I know dont even mention or think about it. These players want college exposure first and foremost. Most ECNL juniors we know that will be seniors in the fall will not be making the move to the DA if they have an ECNL option.
Funny… I was just saying today that these players are working their butts off in order to get better. They put 100% of their trust in their parents, coaches, club and US Soccer to do what’s best for them. I think in many cases it’s misplaced trust.
Parents talk about having fun, while talking about scholarship money.
Clubs and coaches talk about development, but then make decisions that benefit the growth of the club over player development.
and… finally… US Soccer is making decisions that will improve their chances of winning a World Cup. I feel so sorry for these players who are caught in the middle of this tug of war. Which is why in my opinion so many quit in their teenage years because they finally can step back and see the mixed messages and motivations.
Absolutely great article! I’ll be linking to it on my blog as well. The more parent that read this the better. Keep up the great work!
I read this article on our Club’s website. This article should be a must read for all players and coaches. We have always guided our child by the principles listed in this article. This is the first time that I’ve ever seen them in print. I will pass this article on to the coaches and players that I know.
Great job Mrs. Skye Eddy Bruce.
Thank you for writing it.
PS: We play the Jefferson Cup every year. Our team’s a Premier team not an ECNL team although her old club will be ECNL this year. The DOC said there was a spot for our daughter on their ECNL team, but it’s just to long of a drive. I hope your daughter gets offers from the colleges she has been researching. Our daughter committed young and she is extremely happy with her choice and so are we. We are just waiting for signing day this year. Best of luck.
US Soccer federation is nothing but a bunch of egotistical maniacs that dont care about kids, just about winning games.
As a proud parent of a motivated freshman U16 daughter, we are excited for our child to play on her HS team. No program is worth taking that away in our book. We are also against the grain for playing on Sunday’s because of our Church obligations (the Chick-Fil-A mindset), so we continue to find Rec programs that have great coaching. This week, our daughter is playing at an elite camp at Virginia Tech, and is definitely holding her own against other “travel” girls, so yes, it CAN be done…enjoying the sport, removing the stress, having the skill growth, and balancing education with sports. We feel very lucky…
Question-my son plays for an academy. He got recruited for & tried out for Red Bull’s feeder team. He didn’t make it in May. Since August/start of year the coach has hardly played him & treats my son like dirt. We know coach knows he tried out. What kid wouldn’t? Is there a way to get out of the DA Academy contract. How do you get the card back so he can go play somewhere else. We saw this treatment of children in prior years. Never believed it would happen to us. Any advice? Greatly appreciated.