Behavior Problems (Part 2)

By Dave Simeone

You must acknowledge that young players have feelings. In fact, while we would like to see them develop and improve they must learn to enjoy the game. They have a genuine need for attention and inappropriate behavior is their way of soliciting attention. If, in fact, you as an adult have difficulty acknowledging your own anger or frustration, how can you recognize and acknowledge these feelings in others? Most adults use methods that deal with behavior and discipline that are reactive versus proactive. This causes coaches to sometimes overlook how a youngster feels about their comments on the youngster’s behavior.

In identifying behavioral problems, parcelling out “punishment” is risky. Consequences must be meaningful to young players, but cannot be confused with punishment. The difference is the factor of respect for young players versus making them feel demeaned.

The real gift exhibited by competent youth coaches is to manage people / players effectively. There are several factors associated with effective management of players relating to behavior:

1. Management of Time

2. Management of Environment

3. Effective Communication

The availability of time is limited when working with young players. Practices are usually scheduled twice weekly, anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and a half in duration.

This places a high priority on effective teaching / coaching.

The time youngsters spend with the youth coach is minuscule in comparison with the time they spend away from soccer, with family, in school or in other activities.

The environment for youth players is a key ingredient.

Creating the appropriate games, activities and conditions directly influence management of players and acceptable behavior. Typically, youth coaches attempt to arrange and manage players by over-organizing them. They place them in lines, with unrealistic absolutes, that do not allow them to move and play. It’s great for adults since it resembles the adult perspective of discipline and order. Soccer is a dynamic game; one that exhibits and includes movement of the ball and players. The organization of “play” has direct bearing on boredom versus stimulation as well as interest and learning.

It’s simple: there are no lines in “the game”, let there be no lines at practice. The advertisement for the Sega computerized game product which emulates NFL football says it best: if it’s in “the game” (The NFL), then it’s in “the game” (Sega). In one sense, those coaches who insist on over-organizing the environment are contributing to their own woes!

Effective communication has everything to do with all avenues to offer information. This includes body language, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, eye contact and quality of content. Very simply, is the information useable in improving the player’s enjoyment, development or performance? Emotional outbursts, yelling and screaming either at parents, referees opposing coaches or PLAYERS is really unacceptable. It’s a tremendous sign of intolerance and a great indication of a lack of the necessary qualities to be an effective coach. The game, at all levels, must be the teacher and meet the needs of players. Youngsters learn more from their experiences in the game than from the coach. That’s why the role of the coach is to create the appropriate conditions and let youngsters play!
What youth coaches must ascertain is the distinction between a discipline problem, or poor behavior as a result of unsuitable management. The nature of youngsters is to run, jump, be inattentive (from an adult’s perspective!), change their focus at a moments notice or gaze expertly off into the sky at a far away plane. If they are uninterested in the activities, it may be a problem of management. They come to soccer to be challenged and invigorated as well as to play, make mistakes and learn. A phenomenal aspect of “play” is that the problems, challenges disappointments or rewards resemble and parallel life experiences. Learning for youngsters between the ages of 5 and 12 is a leisure activity that is accomplished through play. Remember…PLAY is a key part of PLAYER DEVELOPMENT!

Dave Simeone brings nearly thirty years of coaching and managing experience combined from youth, college, Olympic Development, U.S. National Teams and the National Coaching Schools. Simeone earned his “A” license and National Youth License from U.S. Soccer and the National Diploma from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. His website, Soccer Development Strategies is a valuable resource for coaches