Take Back The Game May 3 & 4

Over ten years ago, the coaches of San Francisco Youth Soccer (where we got this idea and most of the content for this blog post) voted to have silence on one Saturday per season. They inspired “Take Back the Game” weekend for SFPAL and we’ve been doing it for three years now!

Why Have “Take Back The Game” Weekend?

The coaches recognized that most parents just cheer for the kids and the kids love that cheering. However, the coaches felt that the loss of the cheering as an experiment was worth it to meet the following objectives:

  • To emphasize that the game is about having fun and letting children play;
  • To support coaches who want to give their players a chance to play totally on their own, but are unwilling to do it when the coach standing next to them is providing constant direction;
  • To help the few parents and coaches who feel that they must provide constant direction to the players understand that the kids can play very well on their own with limited instruction.

Many have asked why SFPAL and SF Youth Soccer imposes “Take Back The Game” silence on everyone – why doesn’t the league just deal with the coaches and parents who are the problem?

  • Since SF Youth Soccer started silent Saturdays in 2001, the vast majority of feedback has been positive, so we have decided to practice it on one weekend per season. We’ve heard great things at SFPAL, too!
  • Many coaches are very uncomfortable talking directly to parents about not yelling instruction to kids.
  • We do not have the resources to have staff at every game: each weekend, we conduct hundreds games involving thousands of kids, volunteers, and their families at over a dozen locations.

Let us know what you think of this weekend! We’re eager for your comments and suggestions.


—–Rules For “Take Back The Game” Weekend—–


For spectators:

You are free to chat on the sideline, but tmay not make any comments on the game or direct any comments to players on the field. You may only cheer by clapping.

For coaches:

U12 and Above: You may not provide any direction to players who are on the field. The only thing you may yell out is “Substitution” at the time when it is permitted (your own throw in or either team’s goal kick). At this time you may also direct a player to change position. You may speak quietly to any players who are on the bench.

U10 and U11: You may not provide any direction to players who are on the field. The special rules on substitutions are still applicable. During a substitution, you may also direct a player to change position. You may speak quietly to any players who are on the bench.

U9 and Below: You may provide direction to players only in the case of clear and major errors. An example is a defensive player who has forgotten and moved up to play offense – comment would be “Tommy – remember you are a defender.” Another example would be left vs. right wings. For a player with the ball, direction should be limited to telling the player that they are heading toward the wrong goal. The special rules on substitutions are still applicable. During substitutions you may also direct a player to change position. You may speak quietly to any players who are on the bench.

For players:

This will be a much quieter game! Please speak to your team when you are on the field. Your coach may ask you to have an offensive and defensive player on the field that is coordinating efforts on the field. Players on the field are free to support each other and provide direction to each other. Players on the bench may cheer freely but may not provide instruction to those on the field.

Special for referees:

If spectators and coaches are not following the rules, the referees are to stop the game at the next whistle and speak to the coaches and have them speak to the spectators.

Have fun out there!

That Winless Wondrous Season

What I remember most about that first SFPAL football team was that we had so much fun never winning a game.

Not even one.  We were a perfect 0-8 for 1959.

black and white SFPAL boys football team

1959 Football Team

But we had the greatest home field in the league — situated in the middle of San Francisco Bay on enchanted Treasure Island.  We also had the use of the Naval Base’s spacious swimming pool to sooth our wounds after each loss — which was no mean consideration for a kid from the City, which lacked public pools at the time.  And we had an endless reservoir of great volunteer coaches, all of them from the San Francisco Police Department.

Why even a U.S. Congressman turned out for our games.  He was the brother of our head coach, a huge teddy bear of a guy named Dan Shelley.  A police inspector, as I recall.

Come to think of it, we even had song girls, a spirited group led by the head coach’s daughter, Bonnie.  No matter what the score — and it was often exceptionally lopsided — they cheered us on as though their tonsils and enthusiasm could turn the tide for us just this once.

As with any initial endeavor, the beginnings of SFPAL football were rocky.

I remember reading about the tryouts for that first SFPAL team in a small squib on the San Francisco Chronicle sports page and wondering how I’d fare if I pursued the invitation.  Pretty well as it turned out; that first day, we didn’t have enough players.

illustration of boy kicking and list of names

1959 Football Program

I immediately set out on a personal recruiting spree.  Two of the players I enlisted right away were Pat Kearns, my friend from the Avenues who would later quarterback the Sacred Heart varsity, and Johnny Brandt, a kid I played freelance football  with in Golden Gate Park who would go on to become one of the most respected  police officers in the SFPD.

Bringing John aboard proved exceptionally rewarding for me because as we walked home from the next practice he found a $20 bill.  What a teammate: he spent the whole $20 on the two of us that very afternoon. I remember ingesting a heart attack’s worth of junk food, renting a motor boat on Stowe Lake, and playing lots and lots of pinball machines. And we were only through the first $10.

We also picked up other players along the way.  Our friend Terry Collins, who later served the City in the SFPD for almost three decades, joined the team.  He reported that he had already tried out for one of the elite teams in the Pop Warner League — The Les Vogel Powergliders — and after a quick assessment of his skills, was summarily advised by their coach that he would be a better fit for our club.  Welcome aboard.  Lou Giraudo, the now bakery king of the City who has done so much good in civic and community matters, was recruited by his neighbor in the Richmond District, Mike Hanlon.

Enter the season, and despite our mounting record of ineptitude, I don’t recall any recriminations or bad blood on the team.  What I do remember are little vignettes — maybe some apocryphal — like arriving on the verge of game time after Coach Shelley had picked up a few players who lacked rides, and hitting the siren on his police car on the Bay Bridge so we would make it in time for kickoff.

It was also the most racially diverse team I had yet played on, drawing players from the Avenues, the Fillmore, and what was then described as “the Mission” – basically the rest of San Francisco in those days of less heady real estate prices and proliferation of neighbor hamlets.

The season marched on.

Every week was greeted as another chance for redemption.  The missed blocks and whiffed tackles of the previous Sunday were quickly forgotten as anticipation mounted for our first win.  I credit the coaches for maintaining team morale at a high level because we were all very competitive kids, and it could have easily gone the other way.

As I said there were lots of coaches:  Jack Farnham, Jim Bishop, Gus Morales, Gus Bruneman, and Dan O’Connell are a few of the names I recall.  And I hope to Knute Rockne I got them all right because they were very generous with their time and talent.

I also remember how devoted Dan Shelley was to his guys.   So much so that when the season ended and Dan found out that the vaunted Powergliders were going to host a powerful team from Hawaii in a non-league game, he offered several of our players to them.  He was turned down. Make that 0-9, but thanks, Dan.

Five Players and the Chief With a Photo of the 1959 Team

1959 Football Reunion


Fast forward a few years and many of the players on that first SFPAL team went on to football success. My friend Pat tells me that our teammate Chris Ransom was just voted into the Hall of Fame at Sacred Heart High School and I know that Pat himself played on two championship teams at City College of San Francisco.

But I still recall that first winless wondrous season of SFPAL football team very fondly.

And every so often when I’m driving across the Bay Bridge, I pull off and visit the Bay Area’s most beautiful home field.

I’m guessing that some of the other guys do, too.

Smiling man in glasses and a sweatervest

John Keane, #32 on SFPAL Football Team of 1959

By John Keane, #32 SFPAL Football 1959

Captain David Lazar Asks You To Donate

Captain David Lazar in uniform in front of a flag

Captain David Lazar

Thirty years ago, David Lazar was a San Francisco teen who joined the SFPAL Law Enforcement Cadet program. Today, Captain Lazar is the commanding officer of the SFPD Police Academy, guiding the direction and training for the San Francisco Police Department of the next thirty years.

David Lazar credits the San Francisco Police Activities League for giving him direction, changing his life and pointing him towards a rewarding career.

“I was an only child – a San Francisco latchkey kid –with a single working mom. As a young boy, I played PAL baseball and later joined the SFPAL Law Enforcement Cadets in high school – a decision that changed everything for me. Through SFPAL Cadets I gained new skills and was exposed to opportunities and experiences that I otherwise would not have had if not for SFPAL.”

Help us change the lives of today’s San Francisco youth. Donate to SFPAL now.


Lazar with a group of speakers

Cadets, Executive Director Lorraine Woodruff-Long, and Captain Lazar

The SFPAL Law Enforcement Cadet program offers students age 14 – 20 the opportunity to experience life as a police officer, through community service, leadership, rigorous physical training and year-round internships at stations across the City. Our programs also offer SFPD officers the chance to volunteer with youth and become part of our diverse community.

As Captain Lazar reflects:

“I learned what it means to be of service to my community and to be of service to others. As a SFPAL Cadet, I completed over 1000 hours of community service. Most importantly, being a part of this SFPAL program provided me with adult role models and pointed me to a career in law enforcement.”

Lazar at the front of a classroom

Captain Lazar Speaking to Cadet Candidates

Captain Lazar now gives his volunteer time and leadership to growing and expanding the Cadet program for todays’ youth by serving on the SFPAL Board of Directors:

Captain Lazar holding his young daughter with big smiles

Captain Lazar and His Daughter

“Serving on the SFPAL Board and being a PAL donor is meaningful to me — it is my opportunity to give back to a program that made such a difference in my life. I’ve come full circle as a PAL kid – from being a participant 30 years ago, to serving in the SFPD and am now part of a team preparing our city’s newest police recruits for the 30 years to come.”

Thanks to the dedication of over 800 volunteer coaches and mentors, SFPAL offers soccer, conditioning, basketball, Seahawks football, Junior Giants baseball, cheer/dance and judo programs to 4,000 kids across San Francisco every year in addition to the Cadet program.

SFPAL never turns anyone away for inability to pay—thanks to donors like you.

We provide safe and healthy activities and leadership opportunities for San Francisco youth – but we couldn’t do it without your support. That’s why I’m asking you to make a donation TODAY to help us keep kids engaged through playing, learning and having fun after school, on the weekends, and during the summer break.

Captain Lazar shaking hands with smiling parents

Captain Lazar shaking hands with parents interested in the SFPAL Cadet Program

  • $100 allows us to outfit a new Cadet for the Summer Academy.
  • $250 helps us suit up a football player.
  • $500 helps us train a team of new volunteer mentors.

SFPAL has been serving San Francisco’s kids and supporting sports programs, youth development and public service since 1959. Your help sustains our programs and helps us reach more deserving kids – kids from every school, every neighborhood and every block.

Please take a moment today to give – you can charge your credit card, send a check or call 415-401-4667.

Many thanks from Captain David Lazar — and the kids of San Francisco Police Activities League.


Lorraine Woodruff-Long

Executive Director

P.S. We may call to thank you — but SFPAL never makes phone calls to solicit donations and we never share our mailing list with others.


Soccer Forfeits Done the Right Way

We know that forfeiting a game is disappointing for everyone, which makes it even more important that we do it right. We have to keep SFPAL games safe for the kids. Make sure you know the rules and respect the call of the referee.

Here are a few reminders:

  • Coach Passes: No PAL-stickered CYSA coaching pass? It’s an automatic forfeit. If there isn’t a CYSA coach for that team, the team does not play; no exceptions.
  • Player Passes: Missing a CYSA pass for a player? That player does not play. If a coach forgets all their passes, it’s an automatic forfeit.
  • Minimum Team Players: U8-U11 = 5 players, U12-U14 = 7 players. Teams cannot combine or have someone “guest play” for the game, even if they have a CYSA pass from another team. The referee can delay the game up to 10 minutes while they wait for players to arrive, but you can’t change these rules.
  • No Friendly Games: Once the referee calls the game forfeit, they must walk off the field. They cannot officiate a friendly game.

Why? We must protect the kids. For insurance and liability reasons we only can play official games with the kids on the right teams, with the right coaches, and everyone has to have their passes.

Have questions? Let us know! We want soccer to be a fun, rewarding, and safe experience for everyone involved.