A couple of weeks ago I got a call from BBC Radio Berkshire asking if I could appear to talk about the Lancashire FA’s ‘Silent Weekend’ initiative at youth matches. The session was planned for Saturday morning at 10.30 but unfortunately, I had an early mid-day kick-off, so I had to decline. I listened in the car as I travelled to the match and nothing appeared so perhaps they couldn’t find anyone else who had any idea what it was all about. The first thing I would have said is that ‘silent weekends’ is nothing new. In Holland they have for some years had one Sunday a moth declared as Silent Sunday and I know it has also been tried in America. So what is it all about? The problem that it is trying to improve, is the behaviour of parents at youth matches, often aimed at their own children. I remember when I started refereeing school representative games; a young goalkeeper fumbled the ball, dropping it over the goal line for a corner. A couple standing behind the goal shouted ‘why did you do that’. ‘Probably,’ I said, ‘because he’s only 11 years old’. ‘He’s only 10 actually,’ they said. It turned out they were his parents. ‘So why do you expect him to be perfect’. I asked and I like to think they saw the point. Many parents don’t however and some of the language is often ripe ignoring the fact that it is children they are shouting at. Young players have been reduced to tears and there is a concern that it leads some to give up playing. Whilst in America I caught a television programme on this very type of behaviour, which it was claimed was forcing boys to give the game up at the age of thirteen. One youngster interviewed had taken up skateboarding ‘because my dad knows nothing about it,’ he said. This, of course, is another of the problems. Nearly every dad (and some mums) think they know better than the coach and shout out instructions to their own child often contradictory to what the coach has told them No wonder the players get mixed up.
Coaches are also included in the Lancashire FA initiative, when they are also asked to refrain from any shouting or direct communication with the players during the match. Just let the boys or girls get on with enjoying the game. I went to watch one new referee who was taking a girls game. One of the coaches shouted at one of his young players accusing her of being lazy and calling her other names. Quite frankly, had I been that young girl, I wouldn’t have turned up for next week’s match.
It is not only the players who are likely to get called names and under the Silent Weekend code of practice, parents and coaches have to agree to refrain from ‘advising’ or questioning referees. Only this last weekend I heard of a coach locally who rushed on to the pitch after an tackle, shouting at the fourteen year old referee demanding that he must ‘book’ the opposing player. When mentoring young referees I have on more than one occasion spoken to parents and coaches reminding them that here is a young referee, perhaps on his first match, learning the game .What do they expect for their junior matches, a Premier League referee?
All the youth leagues and some 200 clubs in Lancashire have signed up for ‘silent weekends’ and although they are required to refrain from shouting, the Code of Practice wants them to applaud both teams. I have a feeling they will find that a little encouragement, will do far more good than a load of criticism.