Image: Hampshire FA
As the youngsters (10U-16U) of Hampshire FA raced up and down the pitch during a recent match weekend, the sounds of the beautiful game seemed to resonate more than usual – from the satisfying thud of a solid strike to the slap of a keeper’s gloves deflecting it away.
But maybe more conspicuous were the things that weren’t heard.
No parents shouting (encouragement or otherwise).
No coaches barking instructions to players (or unsolicited advice to officials).
A smattering of polite applause would break out along the sidelines occasionally, but that’s about it. Otherwise, the sounds of soccer were joined only by the typical din of chirps, cheers, and chatter produced by kids enjoying a game.
So, what exactly was going on here?
As it turns out, the reason for the unusually laid-back atmosphere was an awareness effort called Silent Weekend. As part of the initiative, spectators and coaches were handed a code of conduct that, according to the English soccer organization’s official statement, aimed to:
“…provoke thought and discussion regarding the current match day environment in youth football, underline the importance of the The FA’s Respect programme and how everyone involved in the game plays a significant role in implementing this.”
The FA’s Respect Program kicked off in 2008-09 with an objective to recruit and retain referees at every level and stem the tide of abusive behavior shown towards referees and players by coaches, spectators, and other athletes. A series of ads featuring tough guy English actor Ray Winstone (The Departed) aired in support of the program, putting a fine point on the need for such an initiative.
Among other things, Silent Weekend’s list of do’s and don’ts included guidelines prohibiting spectators from shouting or having loud discussions (applause was OK) and coaches from roaming past their designated coaching areas. Coaches were also instructed not to communicate with referees and save instructions for players to pre-match and half-time huddles.
Spectators and coaches of Hampshire FA youth soccer leagues were handed this sheet of paper upon arriving at matches during the weekend of March 5th and 6th, 2016.
All youth leagues in Hampshire were given an option to join the initiative, with Hampshire FA officials reiterating it was only a pilot, and that they had “no intention of enforcing silence at all games across the county.” Silent Weekend, they assured, was a “one-off event designed to encourage self-reflection, and hopefully in some cases, a change of attitude.”
Hampshire FA’s efforts came on the heels of reports from Surrey – a Greater London county located about 45 miles away – that a youth soccer parent threatened to stab a referee while another headbutted a volunteer linesman.
And in the city of Leicester, a youth soccer team recently appeared in court, accused of attacking a linesman for a controversial offside call that resulted in a post-match brawl.
Hampshire FA’s Silent Weekend is not the first, however. The idea orignated in 2014, when Lancashire FA welfare officer Neil Yates oversaw the inaugural event for their youth leagues. Other associations in the UK have followed suit since then.
"Parents don't shout out at their child's school play, gala or piano recital, but they seem to think it is all right to do so at a football match," he told the BBC at the time.
Yates says that aside from creating a less intimidating environment, a certain confidence is built in those players who now have to figure things out for themselves while players and coaches remain silent.
“That’s the way they are going to learn. We have to trust in their own abilities and make them more independent and decisive.”
Hampshire FA is currently collecting feedback from its Silent Weekend which will then be reviewed with help from Southampton Solent University before the findings are released in an official report to the public.