A soccer coach writes that the team he's had
for several years isn't showing up for training but players come to
matches. Here's the brief e-mail...
Question for you about my U-15 girls
soccer team. Our team is anything but disciplined. For 3 yrs we have
moved up with very little discipline. Is it too late, do we need
discipline, or should we just try to get a happy medium? I feel our team
could be so much better if the players would have discipline. The
players rarely try in practice but show up for games. What do you think?
In practice, the problem you are observing is the area that is most
troublesome for both of us and for most other coaches of players in the
transitional years, leaving U14 and heading into U15 and U16. There's a
big difference between how kids feel about soccer in elementary school and
middle school, and how they feel about it during the early high school
Here are a few ideas about the situation and some options you could
consider to try to make improvements. There's no way to know which of
these apply to your situation, so maybe you can just pick the ideas that
you find relevant.
Why Discipline and Participation
1. Coach's uncritical and unrealistic vision of who the players
are, who owns the team, and the nature of players' motivation. It
is easy to be overly sentimental and uncritical of a younger team of kids
that you have worked with for several years. The coach may come to look on
the team as his or her own team. This may seem only natural and reflect
the coach's care for each of the players and dedication to the coach's
vision of the team's future. Unfortunately, this isn't what the soccer
team or players need to be most successful, and sets the stage for decay.
First, the soccer team doesn't belong to the coach. Instead, the players
and parents have their own agendas and have different expectations about
the team. In many cases, it is likely that the players and parents have
less confidence in the coach or team than does the coach, and the team may
not be very important to some. In any case, having a sentimental or overly
optimistic view of the players and team prospects is the root cause of
most of the rest of the problems listed below.
Sentimentality or a misplaced sense of ownership can lead the coach to
excuse, rather than fix, poor skills and game habits, or to settle for
less than the best each player can give. Lack of critical vision leads to
inconsistent expectations, slack practices, low intensity, lazy practice
participation, lowered morale, less effective player development, and
frustratingly inconsistent match results.
The hardest thing for any coach is to realize that player's and parents
aren't the coach's "friends", that the coach does not own the team, and
that the coach is responsible for the technical, tactical, physical, and
mental development of the team. This has to include not only setting
demanding goals and creating challenging training, but also doing critical
assessment of players abilities and potentials, and planning to replace
players who are not committed and making good progress in developing their
Lack of critical vision and sentimentality is the most common problem for
parent coaches, and the biggest differentiate between the results obtained
by parent coaches and those obtained by hired trainers who have no kids on
the team. This difference also gives rise to the feeling among parents
that hired trainers are too cutthroat in recruiting and replacing players.
Sometimes true, sometimes sour grapes, but either way, this is the
greatest differentiation, much more of a factor than coaching ability and
experience in many cases.
2. Inconsistency in setting, communicating, and enforcing
reasonable team rules. Inconsistency in rules and enforcement
kills morale and angers parents and players on either side of any problem
or incident. If the rules go out and then change, or are not followed,
parents and players question the coach's seriousness. Team rules that have
clear line-of-sight traceability to the development, management, or safety
of the team and its players. All the parents and players have to
understand the rules and purposes they serve.
3. Failure to set, refresh, communicate, and work toward very
demanding expectations. For success, players have to more
concerned about meeting the coach's expectations and the expectations of
other team players than anything else. If challenging expectations are not
in place, the kids fall back on other concerns, like impressing other
kids. If the other kids are slackers, then being cool can involve slacking
off, making fun of the coach, or skipping practice. All the parents and
players have to understand the expectations.
4. Delivery of training that lacks focus, flow, vigorous
competition, and intensity. Lack of competition in practice that
meets or exceeds competition in matches makes practices boring and
pointless, and does not improve the team.
5. Use of training that has no pace or that is crowded with line
drills. Kids enjoy action and learn by doing. Boring practices
have a lot of players standing around watching or listening. Boring
practices repel players and kill team motivation.
6. Being the parent of a player on the team. Having a
player on the team is a serious challenge for most coaches. It can be
done, but if things are going well, it is one of the most important issues
to review. In some cases, the parent coach is a lot more enthusiastic and
committed than the player - a disconnect.
7. Retaining lazy players, or players with bad attitudes or lack
of true belief in the team. Laziness and bad attitudes can spread
like cancer through the players and parents.
8. Giving playing time to kids who don't come to training or who
don't train hard, just because they are "friends" or kids who've been with
the team a long time. This not only rewards bad behaviour so that
it becomes permanent, but it de-motivates other players who had good
attitudes and work hard.
9. Failure to observe and correct player behaviour immediately
during training. This reinforces bad behaviour, and gives players
the impression that you either are not paying attention, don't care, or
are over your head and don't know the difference. Either way, it gives
players the understanding that training is not important.
Salvaging the Situation
1. Get another coach. If you have been coaching the team
for several years, and particularly if you have a child on the team, it
may well be best to pass the team on to another coach with successful
experience in the age range of the team. The most demanding transition
years are the U14 through U16. The new coach can set more demanding
expectations, run off the players with bad attitudes because they aren't
"friends", bring in true believers, and set a higher level of intensity
and competitiveness in training.
2. Change your view of the team. Start thinking about the
team as a temporary assignment, not a hobby or social activity. Look on
your players as patients, and yourself as the medical doctor or physical
therapist. Some of your patients will recover and move on, some will have
a more limited but useful recovery, and some will may not survive. You can
hope for their survival, but avoid getting emotionally involved. You have
to stay professional. You have a short term job to shape up the team, it's
not forever. What's your plan? What does the team need? Which players need
to be replaced? Step back and realize that most of the players have some
doubts about your ability, and many have other priorities. Rank the
players, on paper, as to attitude, ability, and willingness to work. Make
a list of whiners, slackers, and players with bad attitudes that need to
leave the team. (It only takes one bad apple to ruin your team.
3. Set, communicate, and enforce some reasonable team rules.
Make sure these connect to the goals of the team. Start with "no whining".
Be consistent about sticking to the rules. This is a good time to explain
that practice attendance, enthusiastic attitudes, and hard work in
training are required to get playing time beyond the minimum required by
the league or club rules.
4. Set, communicate, and work toward demanding and challenging
expectations for the players and the team. Find out who's up for
a challenge, and who was just on the team as legacy players from the days
when the team was a social club at U10.
5. Make practices competitive and challenging. Build
practices that are focused, simple, and very challenging. Spend more time
preparing training, make practices simpler, Instead of a lame passing
drill, put in an opponent and challenge the passers to beat the opponent.
Instead of skills in open space with no pressure, restrict the space and
add an opponent as soon as possible. Make most warm-up, training, and
fitness activities competitive.
6. Train from play. Train from play as much as possible,
and avoid excessive use of drills. Instead of a shooting drill from a
line, play 1v1 or 2v2 to small goals. After a brief warm-up at the
beginning of practice, put the team into a 6v6 to goals with keepers, and
then start coaching during the game, stopping play to make your points and
to credit good play. This involves nearly all the players, keeps up the
work rate, and makes practice more competitive.
7. Solve your kid issues. If your child is on the team,
get input from other coaches, your coaching director, and other players
and parents to form a more realistic understanding of your player and how
your player interacts with the team, positively or negatively. Fix
problems you find.
8. Get rid of lazy players with bad attitudes. No amount
of good coaching and team building can fully overcome the negative impact
of whiners and kids or families that aren't up for the challenge. Let them
move on to some other team or activity where they will be happy. Get input
from your coaching directors, from other players, from parents, and find
out what's really going on. Be more observant and take note of how the
players are interacting, look at body shape and eye contact, enthusiasm,
and verbal support from the team. Get to know who is really committed. If
you have a great player with a terrible player, and you can't get the
family squared away, let the player and the family move on. Don't hang on
hoping for improvement that never comes, you'll just put yourself and the
team through hell. Hardworking players with good attitudes, and their
parents, will become angry with you and disillusioned with the team if you
don't have the courage to dismiss bad apples and problem parents.
9. Reward commitment, hard work, and good attitudes with more
playing time. Your team attitude will improve tremendously as
soon as you start giving less playing time to kids with bad attitudes or
those who don't show up for training. At the same time, you'll get some
parent anger from the family of the "star" player who doesn't come to
practice or who slacks off and shows attitude.
10. Be more observant in training. Get rid of
sentimentality and emotion, and start looking critically at what players
are actually doing in practice. Don't let screwing around go on at all.
Demand performance and good behaviour. If there's a problem kid, send the
player home for the day and deal with it later. Know your training by
heart so your head and eyes won't be glued to a practice plan. Keep your
eyes on the players, and listen to what they are saying. Is it positive,
competitive, and enthusiastic? Are the kids supporting each other or
"ragging" on each other? Are you allowing whining to go on? Cut it off
immediately. After practice, take out a roster list and grade each
player's practice performance, including attitude and enthusiasm.