Suzanne Tobias

Silence along soccer sidelines not quite golden

Pulling into a Wichita soccer complex for my son's double-header last weekend, I saw a handmade sign on the gate:

"SILENT SATURDAY," it said in colorful stenciled letters. "Shhhhhhh!"

Hmmm. I didn't like the sound of that.

Being new to the world of soccer-momhood — and not realizing I am supposed to check the league website for the newsletter — I didn't know what Silent Saturday meant. So I grabbed my husband's phone and went online to find out.

Here's what I learned:

Silent Saturday is a day on which youth coaches are asked not to coach. Parents are asked not to cheer or to guide their children in any way. There's no shouting, no yelling, no whooping or hollering. No "Kick it out of there!" or "Way to go, Gabe!" Only clapping. Like golf.

With silent sidelines, kids don't feel so much pressure, the theory goes. They are free to just play and have fun.

The event started more than a decade ago when the leaders of an Ohio girls soccer league, fed up with increasingly "engaged" (read: annoying) moms and dads, issued a one-day ban on all coaching, including from parents. Since then, soccer leagues across the country have tried it out.

Now it was my turn.

My husband smiled as I related the rules of Silent Saturday. No cheering? No shouting? No celebrating goals by dancing around my lawn chair? And Jack's team had a double-header? Randy knew this could kill me.

Here's the thing: I'm not negative. I don't threaten coaches or swear at officials or boo the opposing team. When Jack started playing soccer last fall I knew next to nothing about the game — still don't, in fact — so I mostly just yell vague affirmations like "All the way!" or "Let's go, Lasers!"

But I'm vocal. I'm expressive. Good plays make me happy, and I share that joy with everyone within shouting distance of Field 7E. It's liberating, having spent the past several years supporting my daughter's more quiet pursuits: ballet and violin.

I understand Silent Saturday, and I support the concept. I just had a really hard time complying.

Whenever the ball got close to either goal, I squirmed in my chair. I grunted. I mouthed "No!" or "Yessss!" or mumbled under my breath. I pointed and pantomimed.

A mom to my left, obviously struggling in silence as much as I, wanted to urge one of our players to move down the sideline to field a throw-in. She pointed at the boy and then motioned both arms downfield, as if directing a plane into a terminal. All she lacked were the headphones and orange sticks.

A dad to my right preferred civil disobedience, so every few minutes he'd punctuate the eerie silence with a loud, "Keep going, E!" Then he'd shrug apologetically.

After the game I asked Jack, 10, what he thought of the quiet or if he even noticed.

"It was OK," he said. "But weird." He seemed more concerned with his minor injury — a hard kick to the kneecap — and the fact that his team lost both games.

"So you won't mind," I continued, "if I go back to cheering?"

"No," he said. "I like it."

That's all I needed to hear.