It’s not uncommon to see impassioned parents get a little out of control at their child’s sporting event. And since 60% of kids who play organized sports in the U.S. do so outside of school, that’s a lot of games to attend. But the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association has an official (and curiously baseball-like) warning for parents who get out of hand with their cheering and jeering: three strikes and you’re out.
That’s right. The state is trying to make soccer civilized again. Starting this September — which they’ve dubbed “Silent September” — parents in the bleachers are no longer allowed to heckle, scream, yell, or cheer. They’ll receive two warnings before being kicked out of the game.
It may seem harsh, but members of the association feel that drastic times call for drastic measures. They say there have been far too many instances of grown adult spectators taking anger out on referees, many of whom are under the age of 17.
Burns Davison, the association’s Rules and Compliance Chair, told CNN, “I have witnessed parents yelling things directly at children on the other team or yelling things directly at a referee who might be 14, 15 or 16, who they themselves are just learning how to referee.”
State referee administrator Kenneth Ayers also told CNN that this past April, the mother of a player assaulted a 16-year-old referee during a game. She ran onto the field and shoved the teenager in response to a foul call on her child.
Although nearly 30,000 children play soccer in South Carolina these days, the number of referees isn’t growing in kind. According to referees who have quit, the biggest reason for their departure is heckling and other spectator incidents.
The drastic change isn’t meant to discourage parental support but rather is an effort to keep both adult and youth referees safe and improve the overall spirit of the game. Referees have said they won’t kick parents out for congratulating their children on a job well done. Still, a lot of parents are angry about the new rules. Many of them argue that jeers are just part of the sport.
But the state’s association disagrees and says that even if “Silent September” doesn’t continue into the rest of the fall, something needs to be done.
Bob Correia, a 30-year soccer referee veteran, told CNN, “I think it’s a good start to show parents that we’re there for the kids. We’re not there for the parents.”
South Carolina referees are hopeful that soccer parents will pipe down and learn how to support their kids without verbally or physically attacking others in the process. While the method may not be long-lasting, it seems like a good way to turn the focus back on sportsmanship. After all, winning isn’t everything.