On most Saturdays, the soccer fields are filled with lots of noise from parents cheering and guiding to the coaches directing and managing plays. However on Saturday, March 24, the fields were silent. They were silent that is, except for the sound of the players playing their own game of soccer.
The first and foremost goal of "Silent Saturday" was to do something different, fun and engaging for all.
“We want to engage our kids, engage our parents, and do something different,” Kesha Prokes from Dacula Soccer Club said. “Another reason for this program was just for the kids to have fun. Silent Saturday is just one of several different things that we wanted to do as a fun club event. The Dacula Soccer Club has grown exponentially in the last four to five years, and we have managed, even in the down economy, to maintain our membership.
Another important goal the Dacula Soccer Club promotes with Silent Saturday is focusing on the development of their players.
“This is a fun way to access their development, and see how the kids are doing,” Prokes explained. “If a coach is not able to tell the kids what to do, what plays to call, how to throw it in, the kids have to do it. This is a great developmental opportunity for the kids to see ‘What do I need to work on more?’ or ‘Yeah, I have got it.’ At the end of the day, it is all about the development of the kids.”
The program was also a great learning opportunity for the Dacula Soccer Club’s young referees. The vast majority of the refs are under the age of 18, and they also play for the club.
“We are trying to train referees as well,” Prokes explained. “Referees are historically not the favorites on the soccer field. So we want to make sure that they are able to develop, and we want to give them a chance to develop their skills in as supportive an environment as possible.”
There have been some negative comments floating around online, so it is important that everyone understands these three main purposes for why the club wanted to try Silent Saturday.
“We have gotten some feedback from parents who felt and have had some strong opinions even to the point of ‘You are forcing me to not cheer for my child',” Prokes said. “We do take all of these feelings into consideration when we are trying to do something new. So this is why we wanted to make sure the message as to why we were doing this was clear.”
There was a lot of research that went into the decision to bring Silent Saturday to the Dacula Soccer Club fields.
“In my research, I found that the program originated at a youth soccer association in Ohio with the intent to address overheated passions on the sidelines from parents,” Prokes explained. “But, what they really wanted to do was to just give the game back to the kids. They wanted to bring back the focus on them, and let this game truly be about the kids. The idea was to let the parents sit back and quietly try to enjoy the game. What I found in my research was that the benefits actually overshadowed the original intent, and the response from the kids was that they loved it. They said that they could actually hear themselves and could hear their teammates. They felt more a part of the game itself because they were the ones making the decisions about what plays they were going to run. Because of these great results, this program has just taken off and has been used by many different sports over the last 10 years.”
To even further the program, the Dacula Soccer Club made this a spirit event as well. Teams were encouraged to take plenty of pictures of their sideline in ‘silent’ action and send them into the club. There will be four team winners who will receive a Stars and Strikes family fun pack for the entire team and the coach could win an Adidas spirit wear package.
“We are doing a spirit contest as a part of Silent Saturday too,” Prokes said. “We want everyone to get their fan face on, get their shirts, their towels, pom poms, and everything that you would normally have at a traditional American football game or basketball game and cheer your team and child, just do it on nonverbally.”
As with any new program, there are challenges and benefits to review. For the kid’s there were a few minor challenges to overcome.
“Most of the kids are just saying ‘Well that is weird',” Prokes said. “For the kids they don’t do anything different, they just keep doing what they have been doing, and they are in charge.”
“I think it was good because we got to coach ourselves, we were the coaches,” Dacula Soccer player Olivia Hagan said with a smile after her game.
For the parents, there were lots of challenges. “It was very strange, and it was hard for me not to cheer,” Dacula Soccer Club parent Karla Martin said.
“With the parents, we want them to know that this is not a punishment or a restricting of the way soccer fans should be,” Prokes said. “It is really just a fun different activity. It is just something else to try that has seen some extra benefits, and we can all learn from this experience.”
Silent Saturday was a bit of a challenge for the coaches as well. “The biggest challenge is that you get so use to coaching and telling them were to be, it was hard to turn that off because you are invested in their development as a player,” Dacula Soccer Club coach Ryan Harris said. “I can think of a few times where it was hard not being able to help them when I saw them out of position, but it really was not that often.”
While many of the parents still have their concerns about having to stay silent, many parents and coaches also saw what a great benefit it was -- not for them, but for their kids.
“I have two players in the program myself,” Prokes said. “Honestly I think one of the greatest benefits that I can see is the ability to sit back relax and just watch. Watch the kids play knowing that they are in full control, see them take ownership, believe in themselves, and believe in their teammates.”
“They really worked well together and got to talk it out and make decisions on their own,” soccer mom Martin said.
“It showed them how to communicate, and it gave them the confidence that they could do this and play the game without coaches and parent yelling instructions out all the time,” Harris said. “For me it showed me their areas of weakness and strengths, and I can see where I need to help them. As a result I will probably not be as vocal of a coach. I know that they are leaning and do not need me to point out every little thing. I think I will a more effective coach as a result.”
And finally the kids, after all what this club and the Silent Saturday program is really all about is the development of young soccer players. So what did they get out of all of this?
“The greatest benefit is for the kids,” Prokes said. “What a sense of accomplishment they can get just knowing that they played that game and they played it talking to each other and communicating with each other, and coaching each other. They did not have to worry; they did not have to stress out about making a bad move and whether or not there was going to be a groan from the sidelines if a shot was missed. They do not even have to think about it, they just get to play. I think this is ultimately the biggest benefit for both the kids and parents.”
Dacula Soccer player Ansley Maddox sums it all up with a smile after her game. “I think it was kind of cool because we did not have any coaches coaching us and we could talk to each other, and we did pretty good.”
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