70 percent of Club Website members have shown their support for Lancashire FA’s Silent Weekend, in which parents and coaches were asked to refrain from shouting out at players during matches
Take a stroll across your local playing fields on a weekend morning and the chances are you’ll hear the familiar sound of kids football.
That is, you’ll hear a load of adults shouting. Encouraging, coaching, praising, instructing, directing, sometimes complaining. It is predominantly well-intentioned, but it is shouting all the same.
That wasn’t the case in Lancashire earlier this month as thousands of teams from across the county took part in youth football’s first ever Silent Weekend. The difference was stark.
“It was almost surreal,” said Neil Yates, County Welfare Officer at Lancashire FA and the man behind the Silent Weekend. “I stopped at a venue with 15 games going on and all you could hear was applause and children shouting. You couldn’t hear an adult voice.”
Yates first thought of the Silent Weekend idea after an under-9s game last autumn, where he witnessed an eight-year-old boy being reduced to a near-quivering wreck by a group of parents on the touchline.
“They weren’t being abusive,” said Yates. “They were just being excessively vocal, bellowing instructions at the kids like they might do at a professional game and, when the lad had to take a throw-in next to them, you could see he was visibily intimidated. His bottom lip was trembling.”
People love to shout at football. Whether at a stadium, playing for the local pub team or even watching on the TV, shouting is part of our football culture. At least our adult football culture.
Yates is keen to draw a clear distinction between this culture and that of youth football, where the aim should be to create an environment for children to learn and to enjoy their sport.
“We shouldn’t have children who can’t enjoy the game because of the conduct of adults. This problem is unique to football, so I thought we should draw attention to it.”
And draw attention to it he has. Every youth league in Lancashire signed up to the Silent Weekend along with over 200 clubs, which meant around 2,000 teams playing under the Silent Weekend umbrella on the weekend of 8-9 March.
The initiative received national newspaper and television coverage, while the feedback from their own members has surpassed expectations. Yates had hoped to receive 100 feedback forms from those players, coaches, parents and referees involved in the Silent Weekend, but they received well over 1,300.
A full report will be published within the next fortnight, but the initial feedback has been positive.
Not surprisingly, children enjoyed the experience more than adults. A number of coaches reported frustration that they couldn’t direct the play, but Yates believes that these frustrations may reflect a need to appraise their coaching style.
“Some coaches feel the need to commentate on a game, but nobody learns or performs well under constant instruction and constant pressure.”
“We should be creating an environment where children can learn, be independent, solve their own problems and use their own initiative without adults screaming and shouting, with often conflicting instructions.”
“We need to address the issue at source and not just put a sticking plaster on it, so we decided to create something totally different for one weekend, to create a period of reflection where people can look individually and collectively at adult behaviour in youth football.
“If we can change people’s mindsets and change the way they approach football, then the Silent Weekend will have been a success.”
Club Website members have shown their support for the Silent Weekend, with seven out of 10 in favour of the trial. Over 2,000 people responded to a Club Website poll on the initiative and, of those, 42% said it was a ‘great idea’, with a further 28% saying it was ‘worth a try’. 30% of people polled thought the trial was a ‘bad idea’.
Alan Greenwood, Secretary of the Accrington & District Junior Football League, one of the 19 participating leagues, said the weekend was “a huge success” and a “refreshing change”.
The word is spreading. Leagues from around the country have been in touch with Lancashire FA to find out how they can setup a Silent Weekend of their own. Other County FAs have acknowledged the initiative and it has received a positive reception at the FA’s Wembley headquarters.
An FA spokesperson said: “We encourage counties, leagues and clubs to be innovative in their approach to positively changing attitudes and behaviour in grassroots football.
The example of the Silent Weekend run by Lancashire County FA is exactly the sort of initiative that we are keen to hear more of.”
Nick Levett, the FA’s National Development Manager for Youth Football, also commended the work of Yates and his colleagues.
“Fantastic work by @LancashireFA for their work in promoting the silent weekend,” Levett tweeted. “Allowing children to learn to play the game & have fun with their mates in a positive environment that allows decision making is essential.
“We cannot allow youth football to became ‘Playstation for Adults’! They can’t simply move them around a pitch by telling them what to do!”
Levett has spent the last four years working on a number of significant changes to the structure of youth football, including an increase in small-sided football with age-appropriate pitch and team sizes, along with a more flexible approach to competition for kids of primary school age.
Yates believes that the changes have laid the foundations for a brighter future for youth football, but to really build on them requires the right attitude from everyone involved in the game.
“We’ve worked wonders on the pitch, in terms of the structure of kids’ football and learning things. We’ve just got to get it right off the pitch now. Those structural changes will not give us what we want unless we have these changes in attitude as well,” he said.
“The vast majority of adults in youth football anywhere in this country behave perfectly well all the time. It’s just getting into the heads of some of the others that we need. The most important people are those who run the clubs, as they create a culture that embeds itself in the coaching and the parents as well.”
Yates doesn’t expect parents and coaches to keep quiet every weekend, but he does want to challenge them to think about their own behaviour at matches and reflect on how they can change that for the benefit of the most important people there – the children.
“We’re challenging coaches to trust their players more, be a bit quieter and shout only when they need to, rather than habitually commentating. We’re challenging parents to leave the coaching to the coaches and just encourage both teams.
“We need to remember this is children’s football, not adult football. The Silent Weekend has finished but if we don’t learn anything from it, it has been a waste of time.”