When regular discipline doesn’t work

In addition to normal disruptions which can arise from high spirits or simply being a child, there will be times when unruly behaviour is a symptom of further problems. So, if the tips given in ‘management and discipline’ don’t work, it is time to try to figure out the root cause of the problem.

Disciplinary problems arise for a lot of different reasons, such as: the work is too easy or too hard; the work is boring (too much repetition or too much standing around); the partners are not helping with the work (perhaps because they are too unskilled or disruptive themselves); the player wants attention from team-mates or the coach; the player is vying with the coach for control/leadership of the group; the player doesn’t like a partner or wants a different partner, and is using disruption to try to force a change; or the player wants to get kicked out of practice for some reason (perhaps a parent likes soccer, but he doesn’t, or the player wants to punish the parent by getting himself tossed out). Sometimes, the only thing wrong is that there is a full moon – and everyone is a bit rowdy.

So, the first thing that you need to do is to look around and see if you can figure out what is causing the problems. If everybody is acting up, the odds are good that there is something wrong with the drill (it is too easy or too boring in some way). If this is the problem, then adjust the drill or make it into a contest, and your problems are likely to be solved.

If just one group is having problems, look to see why. Often, you may have partners who don’t match well in terms of skill level, or who have some innate rivalry, or who are such good buddies that they want to play when together. Be sure to watch for a minute to see if you can figure out what the problem is, then make needed adjustments. Often, this will mean that you need to switch partners.

If you switch partners, and the same problems arise between one player and his new partner (while the old partner is doing just fine), you have identified a likely problem child. However, you still may not know why the problem is arising – and may need to observe further or talk to the player to see what is going on.

Often, your best bet will be to call this player over to one side, while asking your assistant to take over. If you are alone, put the new partner in another group while you talk to the problem child. A simple inquiry about “what seems to be the problem” often will prompt an answer which gives you some clues. A happy grin, and a response of “just playing”, may need nothing more than a reminder to settle down (with a reminder that he will need to sit until he is ready to work if he keeps this up). A sullen response of “this is boring” needs closer analysis (as this term may mean that the work is too hard and the player is too proud to admit it, or it can mean that the player really is bored silly). Cures for these types of problems can be found in the “How to Teach” section. A baffled look (or inability to keep looking at the coach while talking), especially when coupled with constant fidgeting, may indicate problems with ADHD – or a player who needs more explanation than normal for some other reason (such as a learning disability). Usually, this requires some discussion with the parents to find out the source of the problem. Some information on dealing with the special needs of ADHD children is included below.

On occasion, the coach will be met with a defiant stare – which almost always means real trouble ahead. Often, the player is challenging you for control of the team – and is using the disruptions to provoke you. Sometimes, these players try to hide their true agenda with passive-aggression (by slowly and maliciously complying with the strict letter of any request while obviously refusing to get with the program).

These types of defiant players will require some special handling, as they often are among the better players on the team and are eager to show their superiority. Sometimes, these kids truly believe that they are God’s gift to the world, and entitled to special treatment. Often, however, these kids have perfectionist parents who are never satisfied with the child’s performance, and the child is venting his frustration at the coach or team-mates.
Special Issues In Handling Defiant Players

As noted previously, some players want to try to see if they can take over the team from the coach – and will push every button in an effort to get the coach to do what they want – instead of allowing the coach to do what he wants. These little characters can be devious, and the worst are the ones who use passive-aggressive behaviour to show you that you cannot boss them around (moving at the speed of molasses, and making faces behind your back).

What many coaches do not realize is that, to this brand of player, it is a “win” any time that the coach has to interrupt the presentation; any time that any other player looks at them; any time that the coach gets mad or upset; or any other time that they can behave in a defiant way and get away with it. Thus, the trick is to refuse to let them “win” – and to do it in a way that they get no feeling whatsoever that you are bothered by their behaviour.

For example, if a player is deliberately “dogging it”, the easiest way to deal with this behaviour is to tell him that you are sure that he must be sick because he is moving so slowly – then force him to go sit down for the rest of practice. Don’t give in and allow him to come back.

If the player refuses to do the drill correctly (e.g., when the ball comes to him, it seems to always go flying off at top speed – requiring a slow amble to go get it), calmly send the partner off to work with another group – on the grounds that it is clear that Johnny needs major work on his footskills before he will be able to do what everyone else is doing. Then, put Johnny off by himself to do juggling, or to pass against a wall, or whatever. Once again, don’t allow him to come back to the group – at least unless he comes to you to offer a surrender (as in “I really do know how, I was just screwing off, can I come back”). And, make sure that he understands that it must be a full surrender – or he will be sent off again to do individual work (maybe for 2-3 practices).

If the player is openly defiant, calmly explain that it is YOUR team and, if he wants to be on YOUR team, he needs to plan on doing things YOUR way. Then, send him off to think about his decision. Whatever you do – especially if he is a star – do NOT tolerate this behaviour. If he gets the belief that he is so wonderful that you will do anything to keep him, you will have no control over him – and little control over the others (as they will start to mimic his behaviour).

If you stay calm, and get creative in tailoring your “punishment” to fit the “crime”, you often can win these players over. They frequently can be natural leaders, and can become very valuable if their talents are properly channelled. So, as soon as they start to surrender, it can be a good idea to try to figure out some way that you can allow them to get favourable attention/praise from you (in other words, set them up to really please you). One way is to recruit them to help a particular player to learn to do something which they are especially good at. This allows them to feel important, while helping the coach and the other player, so everyone wins. Often, this is the first step in harnessing their leadership talents.

But, don’t be afraid to call the parents if you are unable to get the player to behave. Sometimes there is something going on at home (such as a divorce) which is causing the child to act out. Sometimes the child may have emotional problems which need attention, or will have a learning disability (like ADHD). And, sometimes, it will be obvious from talking with the parents that their little darling can do no wrong in their eyes – in which case, the coach may face similar problems to those in the section dealing with attendance (and likely will need to take a similar approach).