- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

It's time for soccer moms and dads, including myself, to take a deep breath, sit back, cheer the whole team and just let the kids have fun.

In America's win-at-all-costs sports environment, where some parents see their sons and daughters as the next Mia Hamm or Landon Donovan, kids are quitting the game early, young referees are fleeing and parents are coming to blows on the sidelines. I've seen it all as I've ferried my four kids to their games the last 10 years.

In order to bring a little civility back to the soccer sidelines, an experiment called "Silent Sidelines" is being used around the nation.

Last weekend spectators at youth games were asked in advance not to make loud comments that can be heard by the players and the referees. Coaches are advised to refrain from shouting instructions to their players. The effort is an attempt to curb abusive coaches and parents and let the players communicate with one another on the field.

Two weeks ago, the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County (SAC/HC) issued a "Silent Sidelines" edict for all its 150 weekend games.

"The idea is to create an awareness." said Jim Carlan, SAC/HC's chief operating officer. "Some parents are yelling out instructions which are confusing the children. We want the coaches to instruct and the parents to cheer. Also, the attrition rate of referees is 50 percent. The reason for that is they get people hollering at them."

My daughter, who plays in SAC, liked the quiet weekend. She said the players could actually hear themselves talking to one another on the field. One parent was thankful that she didn't have to listen to the coach screaming at the kids.

Carlan says most parents and coaches are well behaved, but "2 percent" are the ones causing problems, such as intimidating referees who are as young as 13.

Although the "Silent Sidelines" weekend did create a "sterile" and "antiseptic environment," it had an impact, according to Carlan.

"Based on feedback, it worked," he said. "Last weekend the noise level was definitely down."

From my observation, some coaches give too much instruction from the sideline. Arguably, youngsters in America need a little more input because the soccer culture here is still in its infancy. In Europe, the game is everywhere. Young players are immersed in the game and instinctively know the basics. When I was growing up in England, there were few organized games, coaches merely picked the teams and parents rarely turned up to watch. If you had talent, teams would come looking for you, and it didn't cost a penny.

The youth game in America is very different. Sadly, in some quarters it has become too political, too high-pressured and much too expensive. I was a little naive when I got my kids involved. I thought paying $175 for my son to play on a travel team was a bit steep, but I signed the check. I didn't realize that was just to cover the fee for a preseason tournament. The real cost to play on the travel team was hundreds more.

I'm not one for stirring up class warfare, but money is definitely a factor in what teams kids get to play on these days. Even some high school coaches will pick only players who have attended [and paid for] soccer camps they are affiliated with.

But there is much good news.

I see parents now on the sidelines discussing the offside law and commenting on World Cup games. I see young referees standing their ground in the face of abuse. And I see coaches calling out encouragement and praise. After all, folks, it's just a game.

MLS playoffs Major League Soccer's playoffs continue this weekend. The Los Angeles Galaxy play host to the Colorado Rapids today, and the Columbus Crew visit the New England Revolution tomorrow.

The Revolution reached the semifinals for the first time in franchise history. Former D.C. United midfielder Brian Kamler and University of Maryland star Taylor Twellman had two goals each for New England in the quarterfinal victory over Chicago.

Corner kicks Washington Freedom stars Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Siri Mullinix were named to the U.S. women's national team's 18-player roster for tomorrow's game against Italy in the U.S. Women's Cup at Cary, N.C. Hamm earned two goals and an assist in the team's 5-1 win over Russia in the opening game of the Cup on Sunday. On Wednesday the Americans beat Australia 4-0.

Local news Maryland (8-2) takes on ACC defending champion North Carolina (6-3) at College Park in a crucial conference game tonight at 7. Former U.S. women's national team star Shannon Higgins-Cirovski will be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., Oct.14. Higgins-Cirovski coaches the women's team at Maryland.

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