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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soccer Moms and Dads In Land of Laissez-Faire




From what I understand, American parents yell and cheer so loudly at their children's soccer games that many leagues now have to police the rowdy behavior. That's never been a problem in France, where the loudest noise from the sidelines is often the snapping of cigarette lighters.


As fall approaches, we are readying ourselves for another season of watching French soccer moms and dads do what they do best: stand around, look at their watches and leave for coffee.


That's if they show up. Last fall, I volunteered to drive to the first away game for my son Henry's team. Henry was only 6, so I wanted to be there for his debut. My American friends tell me parental game attendance on their side of the Atlantic runs around 100 percent.


I got a clue that things operated differently here when the coach responded: "Thank goodness you can do it. If there aren't enough cars, we can't go.''


On the appointed Saturday afternoon, I arrived at the gathering place and immediately was entrusted with a carful of first-graders. Some of the parents didn't even ask my name. "This is Pierre; this is Paul. Bye, boys,'' said one dad as he turned over his two sons. I managed to get his cell phone number before he departed. I was glad I had that number; he was nowhere to be seen when we returned four hours later.


As play began, the parents - about one-third of the children appeared to have relatives present - straggled around the sidelines, muttering to each other. I thought one father was going to wax enthusiastic after he called out a soft "Bravo, Jean-Paul!'' when his son made a good kick.


Next time I looked, he was heading away from the field toward a nearby cafe, where a number of like-minded adults were holing up until the afternoon ordeal was over.


This blas? attitude seems fairly widespread.


It's not that the French don't like soccer, or don't care about it, or don't play well. France, as no one here needs to be reminded, won last year's World Cup.


The lack of adult enthusiasm doesn't seem to discourage the children. One thing we notice here: kids playing soccer everywhere, all the time. Last week I drove by a soccer field in the suburbs and a boy was out there, alone, practicing shots on goal.


We see parents playing soccer with their kids, too. Henry's teammate Adrien is often out in the park with his dad, practicing headers or corner kicks.


But that same dad said hardly a word during the game last fall. Maybe he just knows the right time to encourage his son, and at what volume.


Anne Swardson is a correspondent at the Washington Post Paris Bureau. Juliet Butler is on vacation.