Adrift after the tournament, aftershocks of the F-bomb I dropped still reverberating, I stumbled onto a path toward recovery from choaching (cheering + coaching). A seemingly desperate measure that has helped me through these desperate times: Silent Soccer.
As Stefan Fatsis describes it in Slate magazine, Silent Soccer is a movement that dates back to the turn of the century and has become an annual tradition in many leagues where neither parents nor coaches speak, “forcing adults to conform to an extreme behavior for one weekend … to get them to tone it down on all the other weekends, to give more agency to and reduce pressure on their children.”
Learning about Silent Soccer was like heading the black hexagon of a freshly inflated size 5 ball off my temple (8 PSI; headers, mind you, are illegal in MYSL games until players are 12 years old) and seeing straight for the first time.
Time, then, to speak out about shutting up. In the spirit of solidarity and seeking support, I emailed the team parents to propose we try Silent Soccer at one of the season’s last few games. I insisted that, despite the deafening irony, I was not being facetious. I was as sincere as I am fond of the word facetious for using every vowel in alphabetical order — and sometimes ly.
Their silence spoke volumes. So, I decided to go choach turkey, even if I had to go it alone.
I have been silent for three soccer games now, and each game gets a little easier. Sure, it’s awkward at times. Approximately all the times. My bellowing baritone and gelatinous gesticulations usually go hand in hand, so I look like Dr. Strangelove trying to keep my voice and arm down when the ball ricochets off an opposing player out of bounds near the parent (nut-free) peanut gallery.
And sure, I’d like to think I could stop after just one dose of “De-FENCE” or limit myself to a celebratory cheer after Judah scores one of his Peleseque goals. But I know better. I almost relapsed when the other team’s goalie clearly clearly (clearly) stepped out of the box, ball in hand, and the ref didn’t notice. Would our kids’ — they’re 9 by the way — free kick have been worth sliding down the slippery slope back to vociferous verbal volleys and accompanying almost-aneurysms? That’s even clearer (if that’s even possible) than the goalie stepping over the line.
While I don’t yet have a statistically significant data set to run a regression analysis, anecdotal evidence suggests there is no correlation/causation between my raucous rhetoric and the outcome of these high-stakes games.
I can make sure Judah’s uniform is clean — with a couple extra sheets of fabric softener for intimidation — his water bottle is full and his bladder is empty. I can slather sunscreen, even on the parts of his legs that will be covered by shin guards. I can quarter oranges until there are no oranges left to quarter.
But I can’t stop Eric Lloyd from scoring the go-ahead goal at the homecoming game during Lahser’s championship season. I can’t keep Josh Lefkowitz from languishing on stage in Anything Goes waiting for me to say, “Billy, where the devil’s my passport?” Or defend Shataan from our fellow second graders. I can’t keep Blake O’Neill from fumbling that punt. Or get 80,000 more people to show up Nov. 8. Or save Cecil. I will never win the Canton Cup, though I might re-injure my ACL tripping over Judah’s trophy in the dark.
It’s his game to play, his assists to make, his goals to pursue, his lines to cross, his friends to defend, his head to use (once he’s 12) and if the most I can offer is soccer’s sacred space and the sound of silence, then come to his next game — you’ll hear it loud and clear.