In practice, no one pays the slightest bit of attention to slogans on a banner once the game has kicked off. I've refereed at numerous clubs where well-meaning words hanging from the fence or in the locker room have been ignored and contravened across the full 90 minutes. No one stopped a rough game and pointed to banner No. 1, for example, to make the plea for sanity, calm and sporting values.
Like all team sports, soccer takes place in a vacuum of adrenalin far removed from rational thought. The main obstacle between players and violence is a set of arbitrary rules, enforced by the referees. Fun, fair play and respect are merely sporting ideals we claim to favor while in a state of emotional sobriety, far from the field of play.
When the game starts, however, we want to win. Coaches will not be telling their players in the pre-game huddle to respect their opponents and the referee. They will be vociferously evoking the hackneyed language of war -- the fight, the battle, the struggle, giving your all, your 100%, and "not leaving anything out on the field" (whatever that means). Ask them about fairness towards the opponent and the referee, and they reply, Yes, that's important too. Only, it won't be in the top ten coaching points on their tactics board.
My own view is that the focus on winning in sports is to miss the point of taking part at all. I know that I'm in the minority, and I'm not righteous or naive enough to think that telling my players I don't care about the result is necessarily the right approach. That's why I think slogans about respect and fair play are largely a waste of time. It's also why I prefer banner No. 4.
The slogan 'Instead of moaning, get involved' is the perfect counter to all those who stand on the touchline aiming loud criticism at the players, the coaches or the referee. For example, when refereeing, I'm prone to taking vocal parents to one side at halftime and asking them if they are qualified referees. If they are (which is extremely rare), I appeal to their solidarity and ask them to stop attacking a colleague. If they're not, I suggest that someone with their obvious expertise should immediately enroll on the next refereeing course and get out on the field to officiate. We always need new recruits. (They won't do it, but they will shut up).
It's the same when coaching. If parents are unhappy with some aspect of the way that you're running a team, invite them to participate. If they're critical of your tactics, suggest they take the coaching badge. If they reject that idea, you win anyway -- they've forfeited the right to complain. If they feel that their child's not being integrated into the team, invite them to plan an outing, coordinate the car pool, or organize a fund-raiser. There's certain to be something they can do that will not only take the weight off your shoulders, but strengthen the team too.
Only myself and one other coach voted for banner No. 4. The others thought it was too negative. I will report back later this year on whether or not the chosen slogans (Nos 1, 2 and 3 were the most popular) help to improve behavior at our club.
(Ian Plenderleith is a European-based soccer writer. His latest book, "The Quiet Fan," is available here. His previous book, "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League," is available here.)