Silent Soccer

When I played soccer in high school the father of our team’s striker was famous for berating the referee.

“You turkey,” was the memorable line he used to call out from the stands. He was ejected from one particularly tense game.

He stood out for his colorful language, but there were plenty of others who screamed at the ref and some who yelled at kids.

It happened in both team sports I played, soccer and baseball.

It was the 1970s and early 1980s and the spirit of the era was captured in the movie Bad News Bears, in which Walter Matthau plays an alcoholic and profane coach.

I had forgotten about that world until my son enrolled in a youth soccer program for Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

I learned the game has changed considerably since I played 35 years ago. First of all there’s a huge split that didn’t exist between the star players on the “traveling team” and the rec league.

Every parent wants their kid on the traveling team until they are selected and then they have to drive them all over the tri-state area. It ruins your life.

On the other hand the lack of competitiveness in the local league would give Walter Matthau chest pain.

No one keeps score. Coaches pull the best players to avoid running up the goals. Of course, everyone gets a trophy.

The change is perhaps best represented by “silent soccer.”

If you don’t have kids of a certain age or live in a certain part of the country you may not be familiar with the concept.

In silent soccer, coaches and parents are asked to refrain from speaking. No coaching or cheering. It goes without saying there’s no jeering.

According to the league, “silent soccer is really about letting the kids play their way, instead of making them play the way we want.”

A friend from Texas said she had to look up the term when I inquired if they played silent soccer in the Lone Star state. It doesn’t fit with the state’s Friday Night Lights image, she said.

Another friend from Spain — home to Barca, the the world’s most famous soccer team, — shook his head sadly when asked about his view on silent soccer. “This would not happen in Spain,” he noted.

If you google Silent Soccer there are a handful of articles and descriptions from the league. But its origins remains elusive.

In my experience silent soccer isn’t about letting the kids “play their way.” The kids hardly notice the change at all.

Silent Soccer falls hardest on the parents, most of whom are unable to restrain themselves. They continue to bark out commands and cheer each goal.

It may be the rule, they seem to be thinking, but the rules are for turkeys.

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