Youth soccer games across the state have had a different sound this month.
There’s been less yelling at players and referees by spectators as a result of the S.C. Youth Soccer Association’s first Silent September initiative.
“There might be an occasional cheer or a groan, but the constant, ‘Jimmy, do this, pass the ball, blah blah blah’ is hopefully much less than it has been historically,” said league Rules and Compliance Chairman Burns Davison.
“Of course, there are always some parents that think it’s their right to yell at people across the soccer field.”
So far, the policy has been met with support from most of the more than 10,000 families statewide with children playing in one of the 50-plus leagues that are part of SCYSA. The rule does not apply to teams that are not affiliated with SCYSA, typically recreational teams for younger players.
Sept. 16 was the first full weekend the policy was in place because games were canceled Sept. 9 due to Tropical Storm Irma.
“We have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from nearly everyone, including one of our club executive directors who initially was very against the whole concept,” said Davison, a referee for more than 40 years. “That’s not to say that some people haven’t groused about it, but we’ve had less than 25 emails complaining about it.”
The policy came about because the S.C. Referee Association was having a problem retaining referees. Only 35 percent of first-year referees return, and those who don't say the biggest reason is abuse from parents and fans, according to state Referee Administrator Kenneth Ayers.
“We did this because we saw an uptick this last spring in inappropriate adult behavior on soccer sidelines,” Davison said. “It was a way to take leadership and work on changing the culture of the soccer sideline in South Carolina.”
In July, the league made national headlines when word got out about a new policy that would allow “no cheering, no jeering” in September at SCYSA-sponsored league games at all levels.
In the days that followed, the league issued a clarification, saying that when the policy was posted, “the guidelines for implementation had not been fully developed."
“People were taking our policy statement too literally,” Davison said. “When you have a policy statement, you want to use strong words and get people’s attention. Who knew that somebody would be drilling down into our website and come across this ... before we had a chance to promulgate our implementation rules?”
The updated policy bans “verbal cheering” when the ball is in play but allows it during dead ball situations.
It allows clapping, foot stomping, cowbells, thunder sticks, vuvuzelas and other manual noisemakers, but bans artificial or electronic noisemakers, musical instruments, drums and whistles.
Spectator behavior is the responsibility of the coaches, team managers and clubs.
Anyone who breaks the rules is asked to leave the game immediately, with repeat offenders facing more severe sanction possibilities.
Davison said league officials started seeing changes in behavior on the sidelines after the policy was announced.
“I noticed a change in August just as a result of the dialogue and bringing attention to it,” Davison said. “I don’t know if it was parents who didn’t realize what it was before so they’ve changed their behavior ... or maybe they didn’t want to be called out as being that parent by some of their peers.”
The rule officially lasts until Sept. 30, but Davison said he hopes the behavior will continue longer.
“We’re not naive enough to think we did this for September, we’re good to go,” he said. “This is the beginning of a dialogue. I am hopefully optimistic that we'll be transitioning into having set a new experience for people that the players like, the parents like and the coaches like."