Pushy parents sidelined by Mississauga club’s silent soccer matches
August 12, 2011
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It was Andrew Diminutto’s best game of the season.
He didn’t score in his team’s 4-0 win. In fact, he did little that stood out among the other 11- and 12-year-old players on the soccer field.
But he was at peace. Peace and quiet.
Welcome to the Week of Silence at North Mississauga Soccer Club, the 3,500-strong association’s experiment in restraint by those on the sidelines.
Clapping, cheering and the occasional word of encouragement are all okay. But the all-too-familiar refrains of “Get him!” “Run!” and “No no no!” from coaches and parents are offside.
Consider Diminutto a fan of the idea.
“When we scored it felt like we hadn’t done anything. They (parents) yelled but not as loudly,” Diminutto, 12, admits. “But you could concentrate more, too, because they weren’t always yelling at you to go after it.
“That gets confusing.”
Some youth soccer associations in the United States have embraced various forms of silent soccer, from a few minutes each game to an entire match at least once a season.
Now the quiet is spreading north of the border. In July, Aurora Youth Soccer Club had a week of silence at more than 100 games, “to provide the players with a chance to play soccer without constant instruction and noise from the sidelines,” official David Hilgendorff explains on the group’s website.
At North Mississauga, the catalyst was an ugly incident at an Under-8 girls’ game earlier this season. Parents from one team repeatedly taunted a player on the other team, including branding her a “loser.”
The girl and one of her teammates were so fearful of playing another match against that team, they sent an email to club president Trevor Bertrand saying they would quit rather than have to take to the field.
“That really touched me,” said Bertrand, who has coached with the club for more than 15 years. “It was obvious we had to do something.”
So, he sent a couple of the association’s board members to talk to parents from both teams about proper behaviour before the rematch, looked at the positive experience of silent weeks elsewhere and decided to give it a try across the entire club’s 220 teams for this week’s games.
So-called Guidelines for Success, which were sent to parents and coaches and posted on the club’s website, ask spectators to be calm, talk only to those around them, not instruct players and only clap encouragement.
Coaches were asked to stay silent except for quiet instruction before and after the game, at halftime or when players are on the sidelines.
Both parents and coaches were asked to not criticize referees, who are very often teenagers only several years older than the kids they oversee.
“If we can create awareness, then I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” said Bertrand, who hopes to expand the project to one week a month next season. “The game is about the kids, not the parents.
“We want to get the message across that it’s great to cheer your kids, encourage them, applaud them. But you have to let them play.”
A tour of the club’s fields this week made clear it’s far from silent.
At a game for children ages 3 and 4, where the post-game snack is a bigger hit than soccer, there was the typical prodding of parents to get their kids involved and one mother who snapped at her son to “get your fingers out of your mouth.” Along the sideline of an Under-12 match, one father reacted to the edict by noting he does shout instructions from the sidelines and then yelling at his team to “move up.”
But many agreed that it was much quieter than normal. Most liked it.
“It’s a wake-up call and I think parents need to hear it,” said John Cardoso, who has two sons, ages 10 and 12, playing for the club. “It’s a message that should extend across all sports — parents are cheerleaders, not coaches.”
Cardoso said his younger son quit playing for a season two years ago after shouting from the sidelines in Under-8 all-stars “completely turned him off.”
“Sometimes parents need to be quiet, when we want to focus,” said big brother Noah Cardoso, 12, adding he found that easier to do in this week’s game.
Coach Jeffrey Valcius, 19, said his Under-12 team played “calmer and more relaxed.” Before the game, he, like other coaches, spoke to parents about staying silent and noticed he didn’t hear shouting from across the field.
But parent Linda Jurkovic found it “far too quiet” at a girls’ Under-10 game, which saw her daughter, Anamarija, score her first two goals of the season.
“Fans are there to cheer their teams on,” said Jurkovic while watching the more vocal Under-12 game of her son, Stipe. “That’s what fans do in all sports.
“We’re here to encourage them and sometimes they need that extra push.”