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Silence may be golden but cheering the first-time ref is a real game-changer


If you know what the score is at your five-year-old’s soccer match, chances are you’re missing the best part, writes Rebecca Levingston

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Should I have said something?

I was standing on the sideline at Saturday morning soccer a few weeks ago.

The opposing team was coached by a burly bloke, with a big voice.

“Stop talking,” was one of the phrases he bellowed repeatedly. He was yelling at five year-olds.

He probably meant well, but it just felt, well, mean.

Little kids were running around on a grassy field with a ball that came up to their kneecaps. At any given time, one of the players was doing a cartwheel and most parents were pointing in the direction of the goals reminding their budding Beckham which end they were supposed to be running towards. Welcome to under six soccer.

It’s fun and cute and occasionally there’s someone who’s just a bit too intense. I wonder if, when I yelled out “Keep talking,” the other coach realised I was trying to even the scoreline from the sideline.

Honestly, if a group of giddy kids in oversized uniforms sometimes focus more on a butterfly than the ball, does it really matter? Perhaps I’m not competitive enough. Goals aren’t always scored in the nets.

Across the club on another field there’s a teenage girl who’s just made her refereeing debut. At full-time the coach of the Under Tens calls out “Three cheers for the first-time ref!” The players yell rah, rah, rah and the crowd on the sideline breaks into spontaneous applause.

I love those moments. Take note at the next State of Origin game when the crowd is asked to acknowledge the referees and see what kind of respect they get. When does that change occur?

On another team, a coach I was chatting to told me he’s feeling the pressure because parents are timing the period their children are on the field. He’s a volunteer, like most of the people at weekend sport and is worried about parents who think their MVP isn’t getting enough game time. Wonder how much time those same parents spend in the back yard with their superstar?

Last weekend at another club, Silent Saturday was again embraced. It’s a concept that was introduced a couple of years ago. The premise is simple … stay silent to show respect to match officials then let the players learn and enjoy the game. Clapping is encouraged.

Here’s how one club summarised the silence:
The main purpose of Silent Saturday is to let kids play and have fun without worrying about how their performance is affecting the adults on the sidelines. This also applies to our referees and game leaders who can make decisions without worrying about verbal questioning from parents and spectators.

Makes sense, but it’s a bit sad isn’t it.

The Changing the Game Project has been working for years to encourage kids sport to be “play” focussed. It’s also noted that one of the main reasons young teenagers quit sport is the ride home after the game. Tense conversations with parents involve judgement and harsh words. That’s a loss no matter who’s side you’re on.

Of course weekend sport is filled with moments of jubilation and generosity. The dad who cuts the oranges every week. The grandmother who’s thrilled to see her little one run out. Teammates celebrating when goals are scored. Family cheer squads riding the highs and lows of a tough game. Throw in coffee and community and you’ve got a lovely start to your Saturday.

A couple of weeks ago my eldest son hurt his ankle a few minutes into the game. He hobbled off and we peeled off his sweaty socks and shin guards to inspect the damage. Bit swollen, pride wounded.

I gave him a cuddle and suddenly a fellow parent popped up and asked if she could help. She was a nurse and gently checked the movement of his foot. I didn’t realise it immediately but she’d dispatched her own son to go and get ice from the clubhouse.

As I wiped away my boy’s tears, I welled up too. Such kindness took me by surprise. Then came the cherry on top. A little girl appeared with a lollipop in her hand and held it out to my injured son.

“Here you go,” she said holding out the sweet.



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