There are a number of problems which may
occur over the course of a season due to the behaviour of parents or
players. These include attendance problems; disruptions/misconduct
during practice or games; "overly-helpful" parents; and parents who are
chronic gripers. Difficulties in handling these four problems are why
most coaches to decide to give up coaching, so it is very important to
learn how to deal with them.
Dealing with discipline problems
The first trick in learning to handle
players is to establish your authority early. If players do not get the
idea that you are the "boss", and that you will insist that they follow
your rules, it will be very difficult to control them. Here are some
time-honoured ways to get this message across early.
Tips on Asserting Your
Using "the Voice" and "the Look"
It's important for players to be able to
recognize by your tone of voice and your manner when you intend a
no-nonsense directive, or are drawing a boundary which they try to cross
at their peril. Yelling does not work. Use a firm voice and a firm look,
and DEMAND attention. Make it clear that this is non-negotiable - and
your chances that they will listen increase substantially. Watch for
their reaction, however. It is easy to scare little ones with a tone of
voice which might induce teenagers to slowly think about complying - so
adjust to your audience.
The Art of Refocusing Attention
Sometimes a quick, firm word in passing is
enough to get things back on track without stopping an ongoing activity.
If this doesn't work, don't try to yell or frantically run around to get
the attention of the players. STOP the group, DEMAND that they all stop
talking and look at you, and WAIT until everyone does so before even
trying to start with the substance of your remarks. Using "the Voice",
say something like: "Eyes on me. Now."
If someone starts clowning or chatting in
the background after you start trying to talk substance, STOP! Firmly
re-demand silence before continuing. Keep doing this until they shut up,
even if you spend 20 minutes on a 30 second announcement. Eventually,
the other players will start to tell this player to be quiet, because
they will get bored standing around. When the disruptive one starts to
get negative attention from his peers, the behaviour tends to cease
Choose Your Battles Wisely
Remember that all young kids misbehave at
times. If the child is not normally disruptive or if the disruption is
not serious - and is quickly abandoned with a quiet word from you, there
is no reason to make a big deal over it.
If you are too stern, and use the
proverbial cannon to deal with a small gnat of an offence, this causes
two problems. First, the compliant players will start to fear you - and
will become so upset by any correction from you that they will tend to
freeze up and become afraid to make mistakes for fear of displeasing you
(so they won't learn very well). Secondly, the more spirited or defiant
players will figure out that you have already used up all of your
ammunition on a trivial offence - so they won't see any reason why they
shouldn't commit HUGE offences if the punishment is going to be the same
anyway. As a result, it is not uncommon to find utter chaos when the
coach is not using good judgement on when/how/why/where to punish
How to discipline effectively
When misbehaviour seriously disrupts the
activities of the other players (either because it is persistent minor
stuff or because of one egregious act), the coach needs to use "the
Voice" and "the Look" to stop the behaviour instantly.
It is a good idea to talk in terms of
Rules - because players tend to remember Rules better. So, tell them
that "Hitting a team-mate is against our Rules".
Then, get the offender to tell you WHY
this is against the rules. Forcing the offender to verbalize why other
players might not like to be hit serves two purposes. It shows the other
players that this kid knew better AND it causes the offender to suffer
some humiliation in front of everyone by admitting that he knew better.
Once the player admits that he knew
better, make him apologize. Sure, the apology is likely to be grudging -
and delivered under his breath in the general direction of his belly
button. But, by forcing him to apologize (and making him go sit out
until he does apologize, if he initially refuses) helps to breed good
sportsmanship down the line - and helps him to recognize that other
players have rights too.
Sometimes, of course, a player may not
understand why something is against the Rules. For instance, the little
brother of a HS-level player may have seen lots of slide tackles in
games, and truly may not understand why you got upset when he took out
the ankles of a team-mate with a reckless tackle. In those cases, it is
important to explain why you are upset, and to explain what you want in
What if one team-mate started it, and the
other finished it? Easy. Make them both apologize, then make the
retaliator explain to you how he plans to handle things next time (e.g.,
come to you; use his words instead of his fists; etc.). However, the
instigator should not get off scot-free. Consider giving him an extra
"punishment" for starting things. Often, especially with arch-rivals,
making the instigator say 5 good things about his adversary is quite
effective in healing the wounds all around.
Some Tips on Using "Punishments"
Be careful in using physical activity as
punishment. Especially with younger players, learning to associate
running or exercise with punishment can cause them to resent that
activity when you need them to do this work. Nonetheless, there are
times when a quick set of jumping jacks or push-ups may help to refocus
the player. As long as these are not onerous (no more than 5-10), the
players usually accept the penalty with good humour and no lasting
effects. However, if the player is looking for attention and wanting to
clown around (or wanting to challenge the coach in some fashion), he
will use the penance as an opportunity to have fun at the expense of the
coach. As a result, if the coach already knows that he is dealing with a
defiant player, the best bet may be to tell the player to go sit out
until he can behave.
ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE sanctions is
forcing the misbehaving player to sit out during an activity. Giving a
time-out can often be very effective. Most players want to be with
everyone else - even if they are being disruptive.
Usually, the coach will give the player
the option of returning when the player decides to behave. However, if
the player is refusing to participate in an activity which he doesn't
like, then the better course is to sit the player out for the remainder
of the practice. Otherwise, the coach will send the message to the team
that, if you don't want to do an exercise, just go sit down - and you
won't suffer any penalty. Once the players discover that you don't get
to pick and choose what you do, and you don't get to scrimmage if you
don't work, the incentives will be reduced to seek a time-out simply to
avoid doing work.
Okay, so where should the player be sent
to sit out? The ideal spot for a player to sit out is where you (or some
responsible adult) can keep them in view, but where they are far enough
removed they cannot easily create further distraction for the rest of
the group. Where and how far will depend on the player, the setting, and
the available supervision. (Don't let a buddy join them for company; if
two players must be sent out, send them to opposite ends of the field).
carrots work better!
It's important to not forget to use
carrots as well as sticks. Just as in making corrections, good behaviour
should be praised and rewarded to reinforce behaviours you want at
practices and games. One of the most effective ways to shape up a whole
team that's half-hearted and distracted about whatever subject is the
focus of the day's activities is to make most players' favourite part of
the practice, THE SCRIMMAGE, contingent on the extent they get with the
program. "The sooner we learn to do this, the longer we can scrimmage".
"Full Moon" Days
Sometimes, your players' energy and mood
simply isn't a good match for the well- intended practice plan you
designed. They're hopelessly restless, with unbounded energy. If the
normally cooperative players are exceptionally wild, and none of the
adjustments which you make seem to work, consider simply abandoning the
plan for the day - and playing nothing but games (the winners of the
last game get to pick the next one). As long as the games are
soccer-related, the practice session is probably doing more good than
you realize. The kids are getting lots of touches on the ball; team
morale is soaring because coach is a good guy (and we got a free day);
and coach is able to relax and enjoy watching the players act like a
bunch of puppies. Consider it a vacation to recharge the batteries, and
just have fun.