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Responsible Sports: Dealing with disrespectful players at practice

LM_ATE_imageLast month, a Responsible Sports Parent wrote to our panel of experts to ask: "I coach a soccer team made up of 13 and 14 year old girls. I have a couple of players that are ‘bratty.’ They want to do what they want; they roll their eyes when being coached or whistle when the coach is talking to them. Should I give in to them or kick them off the team?"
Thomas, a challenged coach.
 
We asked two of our experts to weigh in. Sam Snow, Director of Coaching at US Youth Soccer, had this to say:
 
On a number of different levels, the early teens are a challenging age group to coach. It is a normal part of this age to test and push the limits of those with authority over them – parents, teachers and yes, soccer coaches too. Nevertheless, when it comes to team behavior coaches should follow this saying, "The standards you get are the standards you set.
 
In this instance I would not go to either extreme of giving in to them or cutting them from the team. The next time one of them behaves inappropriately in front of the team, coaches or team manager, then immediately pull that player aside individually and address the matter directly. The head coach must make it clear to the player what behaviors are unacceptable in the culture of the team. Do not punish the player at this time. Be matter of fact in the tone you take and with your body language. Your goal here is twofold. First, you must begin to modify the player(s) behavior; and secondly, you want to keep the player(s) in the team. If the player(s) act out again during that training session or match, then remind the player of what had just been discussed. Be consistent in your expectations of the players. But don’t harp on it either. Don’t take the misbehavior personally—it is kids testing limits. That testing is sometimes a youngster’s way of finding out if this adult authority figure really does care about them.

If the inappropriate behavior continues after a week or two of the coach addressing it directly with the player, then ask the parents to be involved in the next discussion with the player. Ask the parents to support mature behavior by their child so that it benefits the team, respects the staff and aids in the growth of the player.
 
If the behavior still does not improve, involve the club director of coaching and/or the club president in the discussion with the player and parents. After that step is taken and if the misbehavior continues then, the club makes the decision to release the player from the club. This is the final step and hopefully all options have been exhausted before dropping a youth player. Our overarching goal in all of youth soccer must be to keep kids in the game for a lifetime.
 
I think another analysis of the inappropriate behavior should be reflection by the coach on the training methods being used. The seed of the problem could be poor coaching and/or management of the training environment. Sometimes young players act out when the coach fails to avoid the three L’s: lines, laps and lectures. Coaches should avoid these actions during a training session. When these actions are present in a training session it is not only inefficient use of training time, but it is also boring. The kids came to training to play soccer. They did not show up to stand with the coach and talk about soccer, stand in a long line waiting to kick the ball one time and then go to the back of the line or to run laps around the field. They came to training to PLAY soccer! When coaches move away from drills in training sessions and instead use game-like activities then the players are fully engaged physically and mentally. The challenges of game-like activities and the problem solving situations they present are not only fun, but they help players develop to a higher level of soccer. Take it a step further and have the players who have been acting out to be the leaders in some of the activities. Ask them questions during the training session that cause them to think deeply about the game, give them leadership responsibilities and challenge the limits of their talents. When the abilities of these players are met with an appropriate soccer challenge then it is likely that the misbehavior will disappear.
 
A coach can tell the difference between a drill and an activity by using the activity checklist. Whenever you put together a lesson plan for a training session ask yourself these questions:
- Are the activities fun?
- Are the activities organized?
- Are the players involved in the activities?
- Is creativity and decision making being used?
- Are the spaces used appropriate?
- Is the coach’s feedback appropriate? Are there implications for the game?
 
Soccer is easy to teach to children because many of them already know a good deal about it and many simply enjoy the sport. Simple principles, professional organization, appropriate incentives and unlimited encouragement—-any coach worth the name can hardly fail. Even more important, he or she will gain enormous gratification from the pleasure and satisfaction gained by the children."
 
And Tina Syer, Chief Impact Officer from Positive Coaching Alliance answered:
 
I hear you that coaching teenagers is not always easy! The good news is that I don’t think you have to make a choice between giving in to them or kicking them off the team.
 
Although it may sound counterintuitive, I’d try giving these misbehaving players more responsibility at practice. Ask them to run a drill or to demonstrate. By putting players in charge, they often feel more invested in the drill going well, so they put in more effort and focus better.
 
If this does not work, and they are still acting out, I’d ask them to sit on the bench until they feel they are ready to re-join the team with the right attitude. I might also do this in the middle of a scrimmage (or drill they really like). If they come back and are still acting out, then I’d sit them down again and tell them I’ll let them know when they can re-enter practice.
 
After letting them sit for a while, I would calmly talk with them about whether or not they feel they’re ready to take part in practice in a way that will benefit our team. Ideally, you do this in a way that is very low profile (so perhaps your assistant coach is still running the practice, and you can talk one-on-one with the player).
 
Many athletes who are acting out at practice are doing this to get attention (even if it is negative attention), so do your best to address these players in a calm way that does not inadvertently reinforce their behavior. The silver lining to this situation is that turning around players like these and getting them to be positive, contributing members of your team will feel like a tremendous coaching accomplishment!
 
Do you have a youth soccer question you’d like to pose to our panel of experts? Visit us online and ask your question today!  We regularly post answers on ResposibleSports.com and each month we’ll feature one question here at US Youth Soccer.

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