Shhhh. Mum'll be the word at next weekend's youth soccer games in and around Columbia.
The Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County has declared Saturday and next Sunday its first silent weekend for recreation-level games involving about 4,300 players.
That means for parents, other fans and coaches, no yelling, cheering, griping at officials, or giving instructions from the sidelines is allowed. Players can talk as needed during the game. SAC/HC's travel teams and clinics are not included.
"The idea is to let the kids just enjoy playing and the game," said Jim Carlan, SAC/HC's chief operating officer. "It's something we want to try, and we'll be surveying the players and coaches to see what their response is."
Silent days, sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation, have been tried elsewhere in the last few years, including in the Baltimore-Washington area, with positive effects.
"The intent is not to do this every week but to get people to think about what's going on and then tone it down," Carlan said.
The push for the weekend trial, he said, came from SAC/HC referees, whose coordinator wants to protect them from harassment by parents and coaches. Many rec-level officials are teen-agers as young as 13, just starting out in officiating.
"We're essentially concerned about the attrition rate for referees," Carlan said. "We're losing a large number each year, and many of the young ones, especially, aren't ready to take the grief that's being handed out by people who should know better."
Craig Proffen, SAC/HC's referee coordinator and a club member and coach for 15 years, said that statewide, about half of new officials quit last year after one season.
"There are a number of reasons, among them parents and coaches who just don't understand the rules," Proffen said, adding that parents of under-8 players are generally the most vocal of all. "It's just not fun for the officials. Everyone on the sidelines, it seems sometimes, is a critic."