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.

Coaching players with ADHD

How to coach soccer to children with ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) is a type of disability which apparently involves some mis-wiring of the brain or the hormonal systems in the body.

As a result of the disorder, children tend to be markedly inattentive and often are hyperactive (sometimes to the point of being almost frantic in their movements). The disorder usually is treated by administration of stimulants (such as amphetamines) – which have the unusual effect of slowing these children down (while the rest of the population would be highly-stimulated by these same drugs).

This disorder is NOT the fault of the parents. It does NOT mean that the child lacks discipline (either by the coach or by his parents). What it DOES mean is that, just like a child with diabetes or the player with asthma, this player needs to take certain drugs to be able to function normally.

While these players can create some headaches and frustrations until the coach learns the proper way to handle their particular problems (and gives the parents enough feedback to adjust dosages, if necessary, to handle disruptions at practice), most of these children can do just fine in soccer. In fact, because of their high energy levels, these players often make terrific little players once their energy can be harnessed.

To be able to harness their energies, the coach needs some more information about the disorder. Characteristics of ADHD/ADD arise in early childhood, often before seven years of age, for most individuals. Boys are about three times more likely than girls to have symptoms of ADHD/ADD. Individuals with ADHD/ADD may know what to do but do not consistently do what they know because of their inability to efficiently stop and think prior to responding, regardless of the setting or task (in other words, they tend to be very impulsive – and to act without thinking). This can result in serious social problems, impairment of relationships, and/or lack of success. Doing things without thinking about the consequences can put them in dangerous situations (as they might run into traffic without looking, or climb the tree while the coach’s back is turned). Thus, coaches of children with ADHD must be vigilant in keeping an eye on these charges, especially when they are fairly young.

The official definition of ADHD can be found at the CHADD website (an organization for children and adults with attention deficit disorder). Children may have attention deficits (i.e., be impulsive and unable to focus) without being hyperactive – or they also can display the additional frenetic hyperactivity which is commonly associated with the disorder.

ADHD should be diagnosed by a physician or qualified mental health professional. It is not uncommon that children are suspected of having the disorder, when they simply are “full of life”. Therefore, most coaches will not be able to diagnose the disorder. Nonetheless, if the player appears to be demonstrating many characteristics of an ADHD child, the coach may wish to quietly and confidentially approach the parents to report his observations – and ask for assistance and advice on the best way to deal with the child.

What We Need To Know About ADD

It has been estimated that six to ten percent of all children (17% to 35% of adopted children) display an attention deficit difference. These ADD children are prone to learning difficulties, have problems developing good social skills, suffer from an inability to pay attention and are extremely likely to harbor unrecognized frustration and anxiety. They may endure quietly, in silence, or if also beset by hyperactivity, may assertively, or even aggressively, seek attention. ADDers, who often “wear their feelings on their sleeve,” may deal with their extreme sensitivity by acting out combatively (Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD), or by turning in upon themselves and displaying depression. Many suffer from impulsivity, frequently speaking out of turn or acting intrusively without thinking.

ADD is a brain-based imbalance of neurotransmitters which can show up on PET (Positron Emissions Tomography) scans and other recently developed methods for studying the brain. It is genetically linked and usually runs in families. It is often accompanied by allergies. Some ADDers require medication to deal with the overwhelming stimuli of their environment.

ADD without hyperactivity-referred to medically as ADHD: Predominately Inattentive Type-rarely presents overt behavior problems at school or in soccer. In fact, these children often quietly remain undiagnosed. They are, however, prone to depression, anxiety, alcohol/drug abuse and solitary behavior. Often they prefer individual activities (swimming, tennis, horseback riding, computer games, reading, music, etc.) over team sports (soccer, football, basketball, etc.) which may provide too much stimuli for them to assimilate comfortably. When bombarded with sensory input-for example, a coach or parent shouting encouragement or instructions-these children will withdraw. ADD without hyperactivity often remains undiscovered until puberty and sometimes until adulthood.

ADHD or ADD with Hyperactivity-medically referred to as ADHD: Predominately Hyperactive/Impulsive Type (or, if inattention is also a major problem, ADHD: Combined Type)-is most commonly treated with Ritalin. If given too high a dose of this drug, a normally hyperactive child may exhibit “spacey”, almost catatonic behavior. On too low a dose, he or she may show no reduction in hyperactivity and inattention at all. Parents may, or may not, appreciate feedback on their child’s reaction to medication.

Physicians advise some parents to medicate their children while at school, not to increase the amount they learn-studies show that the use of Ritalin does not increase academic achievement over the long run-but rather to help their child relate positively to the school environment. A child who is disliked by his peers or by school personnel will develop a poor self-concept and make few, if any, friends. The difficult task of learning good social skills now becomes impossible because no one wants to be around the child. Parents need to be advised if this circumstance carries over to soccer practice.

An ADHD child should expect to benefit from the social interaction at games and soccer practice. If the child finds the experience frustrating or humiliating, the parent needs to be informed. An ADHD child is already at risk for developing anti-social behaviors and poor self-esteem without being forced to participate in a competitive after-school activity which is counter to his or her best interests. If the parents’ well-meaning attempt to give their child a weekend “drug holiday” makes the child an insufferable, ineffective teammate at the game on Saturday, the “drug holiday” may best wait for summer vacation when stress levels on the child are usually greatly reduced.

Ritalin may ease an ADHD soccer player’s struggles in dealing with the competitive environment of youth sports. An ADHD player can become a team captain or star goalkeeper if parents and the physician persevere in their search for the proper dosage of medication for the child.

Medications other than Ritalin are available if it cannot be properly dosed. A competent child psychiatrist who works regularly with ADD can mix and match various drugs that can impact the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. These medications can help an ADHD child learn to begin controlling impulsivity and inattention and should help the child make better decisions in social situations. If that is not happening, the dosage or the medication needs to be changed.

Helping the ADD Player Maintain Focus

A learning environment that is helpful for an ADD child will benefit all children. And everything espoused in USYSA coaching clinics to help young players develop their skills will help an ADD player stay actively involved in soccer practice. The better we perform as coaches, the fewer problems ADD players will have.

An ADD child will misbehave while waiting in line, but a good coach will avoid asking his players to stand in line. We learn by touching the ball, not standing in line. Soccer, after all, is not a static game. Movement should be praised, and ADD kids are experts at moving.

Since we learn by touching the ball, each player should have a ball. Keep instructions and corrections short. Use “coaching points” and catch phrases. Repeat them often and with enthusiasm.

Avoid negative feedback. We know that corrective feedback and positive feedback produce better results, simultaneously improving skills and building confidence.

Remember to use that “feedback sandwich.”

Positive feedback can be given in front of the group, but corrective feedback directed at an individual player should be given privately. Always make direct eye contact when speaking to your players. Ask players to repeat back your instructions to be sure they understand what you are asking for.

Boredom inhibits learning. Frustration and anxiety inhibit learning. Break tasks down into small steps so that all players can master each step, but be sure the challenge is great enough to keep your players interested. Success breeds success.

Mistakes happen. They are a natural part of the learning process. View them as growth opportunities. Be respectful and forgiving of yourself, your players and the referees.

Disorganized practices invite misbehavior. Plan a fun practice with instructive games.

Have fun yourself!

Fitness and fun are not mutually exclusive. Start your practice with a warm-up game of tag. Always give your hyperactive players a chance to be “It,” though not to the exclusion of everyone else. The work rate for “It” is significantly greater than for the other players, and a fatigued player absolutely will not misbehave! He or she will not have the energy for acting up. It beats running humiliating laps.

Become a student of the game. Take more coaching clinics. Attend upper level matches. Watch videos. Try playing. The passion you display for the game is contagious and an ADD player who is passionate about the game will give you 110%. Always!

There is no quick fix for ADD, just like there is no quick fix for poor teaching or poor coaching. By sharing a copy of this article with team parents at the start of each season, maybe we can begin to help ADD children reach their full potential with and without the ball, instead of simply remaining confounded by their behavior.

Attendance problems

The best time to deal with attendance issues is at the pre-season meeting.

Remember, soccer is a team sport. As a result, it creates huge problems for the coach and the team if the players don’t show up for games – as the absence of sufficient players spoils the game for everyone (and may even cause a game to be forfeited). Likewise, because many skills in soccer build on skills which were learned earlier, it can create a nightmare for the coach if a player consistently misses steps in the instruction – because the coach either has to make special effort to try to help the player to catch up; simply have the player sit out until he can find time to help him; or let the player flounder (which then disrupts the learning of his partner). Similarly, if the player is chronically late to practice, this leaves the coach with the same 3 bad choices (let the child sit; let him flounder; or try to juggle things so that he hold an extra parallel practice for the latecomer).

So, use this meeting to make clear what your expectations are on attendance. Talk about the importance of making a commitment – and keeping a commitment. Explain that you do not want to be the only adult who keeps their commitments and that, just as you won’t skip practices or skip games, you don’t expect the parents to allow their players to skip practices or games. Ask if everyone is willing to make a firm commitment to come to all of the practices and all of the games, unless there is some true emergency or illness. Hand out player agreements in which the player promises in writing to come to practices and games, and to work hard. Make a production out of this – and explain why you are doing so. Why is it important to address attendance problems early? The answer is easy. If you don’t push hard for good attendance, the kids who will end up leaving your team are the reliable ones (because they will be sick of playing on a team where nobody shows up – and where the practices are no fun, because coach is always distracted by trying to bring others up to speed or the team-mates cannot do the drills because they have missed so much work).

Furthermore, if the other parents/players see that Johnny is never coming to practices and not showing up for games (and coach doesn’t act like this is a problem), some others will be tempted to start doing the same thing. So, if you allow parents and players to believe that you don’t care if they show up and will accept any old excuse, your team is likely to be filled with players who show up when they feel like it – and whose skills (and win/loss record) reflect their lackadaisical approach. If one or two parents do not want to make this commitment, offer to try to move them to another team. And, if half or more of the parents do not want to make the same commitment to the team which you are, you need to consider whether it is worthwhile to bother with this group (because the chances are good that even the committed players won’t bother coming by the end of the season, as it is not much fun to play or practice with people who show up so seldom that they may not even know your name). You can flatter yourself that you can make the practices so much fun that the kids will want to be there. However, the kids don’t drive. Thus, if the parents view you as a glorified unpaid babysitter to use whenever it is convenient, or as a way-stop in a whirlwind tour of every extra-curricular activity in the universe, the pleas to return to practice will fall on deaf ears anyway.

Despite having this discussion at the outset, you may run into some problems with attendance by some players. Here are some things to do which may help you to nip these problems in the bud.

Always take attendance at practice. If anyone is tardy, note this as well.

Make a big deal out of any absence or tardiness. Tell the player that he was missed. Keep him late to go over anything that he missed (or ask for him to come early). Call the parents at home to ask why. Remind them that you need him at practice.

When a player is tardy, don’t allow him to join the group immediately. Put him to work on doing warmups or fast-footwork drills. Then, hold him out of the scrimmage at the end of practice to do special work. Make sure that he understands that the reason that he is not scrimmaging is because he showed up late.

If the player is late more a few times, talk to the parent and find out why. Suggest other transportation options. Suggest a carpool. But, make sure that the parent understands what happens to YOUR schedule when the player is late – as it is very unfair to expect you to run parallel practices or to disrupt others.

Take attendance at each game, and give a star (or small treat) to anyone who made all of the practices for the week on time and who showed up for the game on time (give a reduced award to the ones who were tardy). Allocate any extra time to those with perfect attendance. If your best efforts at persuasion do not work, then your primary objectives are: trying to get the other parents/players not to follow in the path of the irresponsible parent; and, if you cannot cut the child at the end of the season, trying to convince his parents to take him to another team.

Some coaches try to achieve these objectives by benching the absent player. However, this option often is not available to Rec coaches (because Club rules may require the coach to play a player for one-half game if he shows up, even if the child never comes to practice). Besides, if the team has to play short if the player is benched, it is difficult to do this without upsetting the other parents.

Even where benching is possible, it may be very hard to punish the child (who doesn’t drive) for the irresponsible behaviour of the parents. The child often looks so miserable that other parents and players will feel sorry for him (which can cause a backlash). Likewise, angry confrontations with the parents whenever they show up do little good (as this scares all of the other kids; tend to upsets the other parents (who won’t really understand what has gone on before or why you are so upset with this group of parents); and tend to affect how the coach comes across in the practices and games (because an irritated coach usually lacks a sense of humour and doesn’t seem to be having a good time)).

So, what can you do? First, talk to the Club and make sure that they know that you could use an extra player. Often, where a team is having to play short, the Club will bend the rules on signups and allow the other players to find a classmate to come to the team late. If you can get a replacement, it may be easier to diplomatically offer to let the other child drop off so that his parents won’t be bothered by having to bring him when it obviously is so much of a burden.

In most cases, you also will want to hold a team meeting to talk about how to handle the attendance problems (in order to place the spotlight on the problem and bring any complaints or problems out into the open). Some coaches are afraid to hold meetings to discuss attendance problems – because they fear that the irresponsible parents will claim that it is the coach’s fault that the child doesn’t come to practice. However, if someone is going to make these claims, there is a good chance that they already are doing it behind the back of the coach anyway – so it makes sense to get these complaints out in the open where the coach has some chance of giving a rebuttal to the back-biting.

Remember that, if the majority are not happy with your coaching, this is something that you need to know (as either you are wasting your time or you haven’t done a good sales job on your philosophy on player development). Quite often, parents with little involvement in team activities will blame the coach when what they really mean is “we don’t like the win/loss record” or “my child should be playing more”. This is why it is a good idea to address your definition of “winning” and your philosophies on playing time at the Preseason meeting – and to continue to give regular updates to the parents on the progress of the children, so that they will realize that the players actually are learning new skills in practice, which will help to improve their win/loss record over time.

Also understand that, to some parents, the only thing that matters is that their child is on a “winning” team (even as a bench-sitter). There also are parents who truly believe that they are entitled to drop in and out of any activity without penalty, and it is your job to be an unpaid babysitter for times when it is convenient for them to drop the child off. If most of the parents do not agree with your coaching philosophies, then you are the wrong leader for this particular group – even though you are a good person and may be a terrific coach. If you are the wrong person for the job which is being offered, then you need to know this – or you will be beating your head against the wall in frustration.

In most cases, the vast majority of parents have no interest in coaching; are very grateful that you are doing the job; and will be supportive once they understand the problems which you face when players are tardy or absent. Often, they can help to bring pressure to bear on the Club to provide another player to your team and/or help to locate an extra player. If this isn’t possible, they may be able to help you to talk the Club into disbanding your team and placing the responsible kids on other teams. So, the chances are good that you will manage to work things out in a manner which suits the majority. However, if you are offered a job by the majority which you just don’t want, don’t be afraid to turn it down

Allocating playing time

be fairThis is a subject many youth football coaches often struggle with. The head coach is either a win-at-all-costs coach who cares little about getting all the kids in the game or he’s a guy that lets the soccer mom Nazi parents pressure him into playing all the kids the same amount.

I don’t think either approach is right. This is youth football, if a player comes to practice, pays attention and does his best, he should get some playing time in every game regardless of what the score is. However playing all the kids the same amount, makes no sense to me either. If Tommy comes to all the practices, pays attention to the coaches and tries his best, and Joey misses practice, is inattentive and rarely tries very hard, the two should not play the same amount of time. What message do you send to Tommy?: That excelling is not rewarded. What message does Joey get?: That slacking off has zero consequences. In this example, neither player is being done any favours, they are both being set up to fail in life, thanks to the soccer mom Nazis.

I’ve coached in youth football leagues that had minimum play rules and those that didn’t. The minimum play rule is set to require coaches to play kids a certain amount in every game. As a youth football coach I have always had a minimum play standard, whether there was a rule or not. I’m a firm believer in getting kids into the game regardless of their ability. Now we are going to play to win, as I have both an offence and defence that can accommodate the minimum play player and not significantly impact the scheme in a negative way. But the weaker kids are going to get in and I strategically sub from the opening gun.

The way we address this with the parents and players is through a mandatory parents meeting the first day of practice. We let the parents know that each player will play X plays per week if they attend practice, listen to the coaches and hustle in football practice. But we also stress that just like in life, we will reward those that are paying better attention, playing harder and excelling, by playing them more than those that do not. We also stress previous years statistics that show we play our kids more than any other youth football team in our league and that we spread the scoring around quite a bit as well. We also stress the playing time will vary based on the game, and the players effort for the week and some weeks they will play more than others. But everyone knows they will always get the minimum standard we set, regardless of the score and that our best players will start.

I let the parents know this policy is not negotiable and if they feel uncomfortable with it that there is nothing wrong with that, but maybe we aren’t the right “fit” for their child. I always have pieces of paper in my pocket with the names and phone numbers of competing youth football programs in my pocket. I let the parents know if they are looking for better “fit” options, to come and get the phone numbers of other programs from me before football practice starts.

Coaching youth football well means setting proper expectations with your coaches, parents and players. Don’t be ambiguous, don’t surprise anyone week three of your season with your playing time policy. Let the parents know how it will be day one. That way the parents have no legs to stand on if they decide to stay. It will make your life SO MUCH EASIER getting it out of the way right in this fashion right off the bat. It’s kind of like taking that band-aid off in one quick swipe. It’s always much less painful doing it that way.