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Parents clap instead of vocalizing, during a little league game in Aurora, Ont., July 27, 2011. The idea that coaches and parents should only be allowed to clap, known as quiet games, has been adopted for the season by the league. The move is an attempt to muzzle unruly and loud parents and coaches yelling at referees and players from the sidelines (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. MOCZULSKI)
Parents clap instead of vocalizing, during a little league game in Aurora, Ont., July 27, 2011. The idea that coaches and parents should only be allowed to clap, known as quiet games, has been adopted for the season by the league. The move is an attempt to muzzle unruly and loud parents and coaches yelling at referees and players from the sidelines (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. MOCZULSKI)

Globe editorial

Amid the parental rabble, in praise of silent soccer Add to ...

Sometimes parents are better seen than heard, as anyone who has ever stood on the sidelines at a youth soccer game can attest. Bad sportsmanship seems more likely to involve the adults beside the field than the children on it. Shouting at referees, cheering wildly even when scores are run up to 10-0, 15-0 or 20-0 - even when the losing side has too few players to field a full squad - these are not unheard-of events. And why would coaches allow their teams to run up such demoralizingly lopsided scores? Welcome to the not always wonderful world of youth sport.

But now silent soccer has come to Canada, after being adopted as an annual event in, of all places, the boisterous United States. Last week, parents and coaches of players in the Aurora Youth Soccer house league north of Toronto were barred from bellowing instructions or imprecations from the sidelines; the parents were permitted only to clap, the coaches to give instructions from the bench.

Could we put in a plug for a week of silent hockey?

The idea is not really to deprive parents or coaches of their freedom of speech. It's to stimulate some thought about how adults can play a positive role. (It's hard to think while shrieking.) And perhaps to show that young people can still have a good time and figure out when to run or kick or tie their shoelaces without their every move being subject to attempts at choreography from the sidelines.

Organized sports are not always a force for good in young people's lives. That is the thesis of a recent report on "the power of soccer for youth development," written by Jean Côté of the Queen's University kinesiology school. They can be good or bad, depending, in part, on how the adults behave. Young people may feel excessive pressure to win, see themselves as weak players, feel unattached to their teams and vulnerable when with their teammates. "Many sport programs designed to foster positive youth development are in fact doing just the opposite," says a 2005 study co-authored by Professor Côté.

He appears to be a heretic in the church of organized youth sport, this Prof. Côté. Of coaches, he writes that their most important job "is to keep soccer enjoyable for all athletes." To put this heresy in another way: "The best indicator of an adequate role played by adults in an organized soccer program is the enjoyment that the players experience."

The obligatory silence is a useful reminder that children's sports, institutionalized though they have become, still belong to the children.

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