As soccer coaches, we all know how good it feels to coach the fun children. They listen to you, participate in drills, enjoy the game of soccer, and affect their teammates in a positive way. We all equally know the frustration of trying to coach the problem player. This is the player who is always acting up, distracting the team, not listening, doesnít care about doing the drills, complains about playing time, criticizes his/her teammates, or even worse, is sullen, withdrawn, and completely disinterested. This player can take all the fun out of coaching a youth soccer team and ruin a season.

Since every team I have coached has had at least one player who fits this category, itís important to learn how to reach the problem player, both for the coach and the player. It can be incredibly rewarding to reach a player like this, and see them become involved by the end of a season. The value to the child needs no explanation.

To understand the problem player and how to reach them as a coach, you need to understand the child’s behavior. You don’t need to be a psychologist. You need to not take personally the behaviors of the problem player. These children are not necessarily lazy, spoiled, or unmotivated. They are often playing for the wrong reasons like my mom and dad made me, my dad loves soccer, or some other reason that has nothing to do with the love of the game. As a result, many are playing because they are forced to do it and are angry. Some may want to be taking karate, golf or some other activity. Their behavior reflects their lack of choice.

Their anger may be even deeper than being forced to play the wrong sport. You may be dealing with an angry child who feels misunderstood, pressured to succeed, or coping with denial of the impact of unresolved problems between their mothers and fathers. In almost all cases, the child will be unaware of the fact that they are angry and not realize the difficulty others are having in relating to them. They see it as a continuous pattern of mistreatment by all people who are supposed to care. You, the coach, can become the next authority figure who is letting them down.

Anger is not the only explanation for problem behavior on the field. Fear or sadness can cause the same withdrawal and failure to engage in the fun of the sport. The fearful or depressed child may appear agitated, excessively talkative, disruptive or attention seeking. A child who is under pressure to match the success of others in the family will have performance anxiety. This fear will be even greater in the family who are high achievers and deny that there is unusual pressure in the system. This child is not only frightened but riddled with self-doubt about believing in what they see. They will take this fear and doubt with them onto the field.


Teach the love of the game.

Don’t expect children to love soccer. Teach them why you love the game. Expose them to the history, what others have gained from it. Share your stories about what it has given to you or other players. I used beanie babies with an U-10 girls team. They would bring them to practice and share them with the other girls. They would put one on top of the goal before the game to help the goalie.

Make practice fun.

Reward kids for doing drills. Take them out for ice cream after practice. Play music during the drills. Donít worry about the distraction. They will work harder if entertained.

Never raise your voice.

Be a cheerleader, not a dictator. They know you are in charge. You donít have to prove it to them.

Let them be distracted on the sideline.

Let children be children if they arenít in the game. Don’t worry if they seem uninterested in the flow of the game.

Don’t coach players on the field.

If you yell during the game, children will learn to stop listening to themselves and wait till you scream instructions to them. They will play more scared and half-heartedly. Save your coaching for when they come off the field.