How to deal with players who won’t listen!

How do you deal with players who don’t listen at practice and games?

First, it is important to tailor your practice to your players’ ages. If the player or players in question are under eight years old, they are probably just exhibiting personality tendencies common to that age group: short attention spans, high energy, sociability, an inability to understand certain detail-oriented explanations, etc. It has been shown that it is fairly unproductive to attempt to teach players under eight years old the technicalities of soccer such as corner kicks, goalkeeping skills, throw-ins, etc. At this level, the kids just want to have fun and get touches on the ball. This is why small-sided soccer is so important at this level. Playing with less players on the field results in more children getting touches on the ball, and consequently, more learning and more development.

For players eight and up who have been playing soccer for at least one previous season and who should be accustomed to how a soccer practice is “run,” discipline problems can be treated as such. Unfortunately, these discipline problems can run the gamut from not listening to being disrespectful to other players and coaches. Try not to be too hard on the player who won’t listen to you—after all, these kids have been “listening” in some form or other to an adult all day at school, a place that is filled with lines and lectures, two non-kid friendly items.

At soccer practice, out in the fresh air, the kids may feel compelled to just run around and burn excess energy, which is OK to an extent, but can become detrimental when its affecting your ability as a coach to teach the other players important soccer concepts.

  • Remember that you are the coach, not a “buddy.” Some people have the ability to pal around and still inspire unconditional respect from their players. Some do not. If you are in the latter category, it is important to have respect first. Be nice, always, and do not lecture, but be firm.
  • Do not tolerate rude or disrespectful behaviour. This should result in a “time-out” for the player who is acting up. Be sure to judge each situation in a new light. Some players don’t mean to be rude—they just weren’t paying attention at the time. Only consciously punish consciously rude behaviour. Be aware that some medical conditions can cause children to behave in seemingly disruptive ways.
  • Send a letter home to parents describing your coaching philosophy—what you expect from your players and what they should expect from you. Explain that the first “incident” will result in a physical activity such as “knee-jumps” (he stands still & jumps, raising his knees to waist height—quick and less disruptive than laps), second in a time out, third in sitting out practice and a letter home, fourth in asking parents to attend practice, etc., at your discretion. Examples of proper soccer practice behaviour:
  • Everyone must follow all directions given by the coaches & assistant coaches
  • Everyone must do their best
  • When coaches talk players must be still and listen
  • Everyone to be a good sport whether we win or lose (this includes parents)
  • No swearing or name-calling
  • Disruptive or disrespectful behaviour will not be tolerated
  • Keep your hands to yourself
  • Do not kick your ball in the air unless coach tells you to do so
  • Buy a whistle & use it to get attention!

The most important thing to remember when dealing with ANY players under 13 years of age is that they are at practice mainly to have fun and play the game of soccer—which, finally, is just a game. Taking the game too seriously, or making practice too much like school, will result in your players becoming uninterested in the game.

A good idea is to schedule an “energy burn” session into your practice. Think of how you feel sitting in your office all day long on a beautiful spring day. These kids feel this sensation 10x more than you do-— humans are simply not designed to sit inside all day. Your players have their whole lives to sit at desks and listen to other people. Playing soccer, going for a run, playing golf or tennis—- these are the ways that we all use our physical energy that sits dormant for most of the day.

Let your kids “go” for a majority of practice in the form of a keep-away game or cone drills. Explain the drills briefly, and then let them run around and play. Players do NOT learn by listening to a coach lecture. In fact this is the best way to make sure the kids tune out and do NOT listen. Let them dribble, shoot, pass, and run to their heart’s content, and they may feel more compelled to pickup the soccer ball on their own at home and do just that.