More than 20 years ago, the frustrated admin of a girl’s soccer league put the muzzle on adult coaches and parents — and kids have loved Silent Saturday ever since
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In 1999, the administrator of a girls’ soccer league in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, concocted a plan to neutralize the rowdy sidelines — a one-day speaking ban for all adults. He called it Silent Sunday, and since its inception, leagues across the country have adopted it.
Whether Sunday or Saturday, the rules are the same. The kids play. The coaches watch. The parents applaud. Adult vocalizing of any kind is forbidden. Without their coaches and parents in their ear, the players communicate with each other. Their voices are supportive, enthusiastic and creative. It’s an eerie sensation. Fields normally thrumming with oral adrenaline are becalmed; only the chirping of little voices and occasional fits of clapping disturb the peace. It’s like watching a game on television with the volume dialed down to a whisper.
Silent Saturday has been a yearly fixture in AYSO Region 69 in Los Angeles for almost two decades. At the end of the game, we canvass the kids and every year the response is overwhelmingly the same: “It was so much fun.” “We loved it.” “Why can’t we have Silent Saturday every week?” Good question. It’s the closest our overly-organized, hyper-regimented sports universe comes to old school recreation, which, sans adult interference, fosters fun, growth and innovation. A kid, a ball, a team and a goal, with the decision making and problem solving left to the players. What could be more empowering than that?
Adult reactions, however, range from anxiety to disgust. One aggrieved dad whined that it was his constitutional right to yell at his kid. Another lodged his protest by facing his lawn chair toward the parking lot. Some coaches worried that their players would be lost without a constant barrage of instruction.
Our response — get over it. It’s about the kids, not about you. It’s one game, a single hour out of the entire season. What’s the worst that can happen? Perhaps the kids will play badly…and lose. So what? One rabidly antagonistic Silent Saturday coach grudgingly admitted, “I hated every minute of it. But my kids never played better.”
It’s unfortunate that Silent Saturday comes around so infrequently. Enabling kids on the field to make their own decisions, recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and experiment with modes of communication and conflict resolution, imbues them with confidence in dealing with their life at home, in school and in the world.
Excerpted from What Size Balls Do I Need: A Road Map for Survival in the Dizzying World of Youth Sports by Steve Morris.