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Just Call Them Soccer Mums

Parents and coaches of players in one AYSO region are not allowed to speak during this weekend's games.

October 09, 2005|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

Coach Bob Miret is clearly not designed to stay quiet. He has too many directives to dispense.

But coaches and parents of a youth soccer league in Glendale and La Crescenta have been told that during this weekend's games, they can't make a peep.

Fifteen minutes into a morning match Saturday at the Glendale Sports Complex, Miret's lips were sealed but his body language was louder than anything he could have shouted.

He threw his arms in the air when a defender didn't clear the ball fast enough. He bit his nails as he anticipated a drive up-field. He swung his body forward when one of his charges made a run at the goal. And when his team scored, he clapped, the only noise the special rules allowed him to make.

"It's surreal. It's such a challenge for me to keep my mouth shut," Miret, 52, told a reporter. His gestures had made him look like an amped-up mime.

Coaches, parents and all other spectators at Region 88 American Youth Soccer Assn. games were told to stay hushed this weekend as part of a growing etiquette experiment that muzzles feisty adults and empowers children to play their sports with minimal interference.

That means they could mumble, but only beneath their breath. They could express enthusiasm, but only with applause. And when their children scored goals, they could jump for joy but not cheer.

For many of the grown-ups, so-called Silent Soccer is a struggle.

"I should just sit in the car," said Mary Hannessian, barely watching her 12-year-old daughter from the sidelines. "I don't want to watch if I can't shout. It's like going to a bar and someone saying to you, 'You can't have a drink.' "

Also known as Silent Saturdays or Silent Sundays, the idea has been gaining steam since the late 1990s, mostly in the nation's burgeoning youth soccer leagues. This is believed to be the first time a Los Angeles-area AYSO league has tried it.

"We're giving the kids a chance to play the game. We're letting them do it their own way," said Aldo Mascheroni, commissioner of the Region 88 AYSO, adding that if this weekend is a success, the league may try it again.

League officials wanted to have fun with the special weekend. They suggested that teams bring lollipops or suckers to the game to help keep people from talking. One team brought inflatable "thunder sticks" to bash together in place of cheering.

Parents were supposed to police themselves. And after only a few games, the Glendale Sports Complex's serenity had more in common with a tennis match than a clash of soccer teams.

"I can hear the kids playing," said Mary Natalizio, enjoying her 13-year-old son's team, the Sponges, score a 5-3 victory. "But it's hard to focus. I don't know much about the game. I usually listen to the coaches and other parents."

The Sponges' goalie, Justin Pomar, wouldn't mind having Silent Soccer every weekend.

"It's easier to concentrate," said Pomar, 13. "Sometimes I get annoyed when I thought I did something good and they [the adults] say I did it wrong."

But Natalizio's son Joseph, like some other children, wasn't entirely sold on Silent Soccer.

"It was hard," he said while resting on the sideline. "We didn't have any direction. I think I nearly slipped because of that. The parents weren't shouting as much, but I don't think it made a difference."

No one seemed to be having a harder time trying to stifle noise than Kim Espe, watching her 12-year-old, Lindsey. Her husband had suggested duct-taping her mouth shut before the game. Lindsey had made a discreet sign that said, "Orange," for her mother to flash when she didn't think her daughter was hustling enough. But they forgot to take it out of the car.

"This is going to be hard," Espe said moments before the first whistle.

When the referee approached the center to start the game, Espe blurted, "Hey Jules! How are you?"

"Shhhhhh," he responded.

The whistle blew and Espe started pacing back and forth, swallowing her words and swiping her sneakers against the ground like a thoroughbred ready to break the gates. But she couldn't take it.

"Whoooo! Great kick, Rachel. Go, go, go," she said, under her breath.

Three minutes later, her daughter's team, the Vicious Vampires, scored against the Iron Maidens.

"I'll give $100 for the team party right now if I can scream because they scored a goal," she said to the other parents.

When it was over, her team had won and Espe was ready to explode. "Good job," she said, hugging her daughter.

"We won, but we probably could have scored more" with audible words of encouragement, Lindsey said.

Espe turned to the other parents and said, "Ah-ha, that was awful. I've got all this stuff trapped inside me. I've got to go home and yell."

Jacqueline Baker, an almost equally animated Vicious Vampire mother next to Espe, said the game felt more like a practice than a competition.

"It's 100% torture for the parents," Baker said. "I was so frustrated. I probably cursed 15 times to myself."

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