Wednesday, July 25, 2012

One Bad Apple—Coaching the "Problem Child" in Youth Sports

   Sometimes you are confronted with an older child or teenager whose behavior consistently disrupts your practices. This child may talk while you’re talking, mock other players (or you), execute drills half-heartedly, or constantly joke around. This type of behavior is often contagious and can ruin your practices. You may only have one practice per week, so maximizing your use of practice time to instruct and develop your players is critical.

So how do you handle this situation?

Carrot or Stick?

Let’s first consider your youth sports environment and the available options. In a participation-oriented youth sports program, you are often assigned players and have no control over their selection. You are also typically required to provide each player with a minimal, if not equal, amount of playing time. You cannot “cut” or “sit” a player. Your options to reprimand player misbehavior are mainly limited to raising your voice, reasoning, and possibly leveraging some peer pressure by having your entire team engage in a less-desirable activity (e.g., drill, sprints, etc.).

If the above conditions describe your youth sports program, understand that your ability to effectively coach and develop your players is largely dependent on an implied contract between you and your players. If written down, a condensed version might read as follows:

“As your coach I promise to instruct each of you on how best to play and enjoy this sport, including developing your individual skills and understanding of teamwork and team play. My primary goal is to teach you. I am not your babysitter. For your part, I expect that you are playing this sport because you want to do so. You want to learn new skills, increase your knowledge on how to better play this game, and have fun in the process. You understand that you are participating in a team sport and that you have a responsibility not only to yourself, but also your teammates and coaches. You will respect your teammates and coaches by attending practices and games whenever possible. You promise to conduct yourself in a manner that does not disrupt team activities or otherwise hurt the development of other players on your team.”

Try to communicate these principles to your team and problem child. You may get good results, depending on the child’s nature. Other players on the team may help support you by following these principles. When a single player misbehaves in practice, having the entire team run a few sprints or Suicides can often get everyone's attention and help restore order.

You will also benefit in these situations from having an assistant coach. When the player misbehaves, you have a second set of eyes and voice. Your assistant can pull the player aside and either talk with him or do some other activity separate from the team. You will isolate the problem and can still effectively instruct your other players.

Of course, you have more options in a competitive youth sports program. As mentioned above, you can reward good behavior with more playing time. "Select teams" are just that—you have control over which players are selected to play on your team. And in some cases, you can more strenuously discipline your kids.

Provide Emotional Leadership

In any youth sports program, competitive or not, it's important that you provide emotional leadership. Sometimes, you need to shepherd your kids to where you want them to go. Setting a crisp pace in your practice activities and avoiding downtime will help keep everyone engaged. Preparation is an important part of running these types of practices.

In my experience, middle school boys are typically the most disruptive and difficult to deal with. But at any age, there are groups of kids who listen and learn, and others that try your patience. You will eventually coach a team that includes a mix of players and personalities that will frustrate you and prevent you from accomplishing your teaching goals. Do your best. On every team, there are individual kids who will benefit from your instruction.

Do you have any tips on how coaches in youth sports programs can deal with problem kids?

Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book:
The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the best youth sports experience for your child (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)

Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved


Epic Sports said...

Be proactive and focus on preventing problems before they arise. At the beginning of the season create a type written set of rules and expectations and have each parent and player sign them after you go over it aloud as a group. Include potential consequences if the rules are violated or behavioral expectations are not met. More suggestions in this article:

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