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Dealing with Challenging Behaviour - By Lee Garlick


We’ve all had that one child who we are convinced was put on this planet to single handedly extract every ounce of enjoyment for coaching we once had. In fact, you can probably picture their “butter wouldn’t melt” face staring down at you now as you read this blog! Well, dealing with challenging behaviour is a key trait for any coach working with players of any age or ability, take for example Mario Balotelli, a notorious talent with challenging behaviour.

Now by no means do I claim to provide the key to transforming Mr Balotelli into a saint, however hopefully by the end of this blog you may have a few tips which could help handle your 7 year old Mario who is solely responsible for those few extra grey hairs!

Firstly, we have to ask ourselves why such players may act the way they do within our coaching sessions. Apart from a possible medical condition (which may I add is no excuse for us not to implement strategies to combat) the answer I’m about to give may offend some – it’s your fault! Why do I say this? Well from my experience children may “play up” or “cause trouble” (or whatever you may refer to it as) due to a number of reasons.

The first – boredom! Keeping players engaged is crucial. Make sure your sessions are fun and linked as closely to the game as possible, after all the players love the game, that’s why they joined a team. The game involves competition, goals, interaction, winning and losing, so try to include as many of these in your sessions as possible.

Secondly, the difficulty of the session can often be the factor which flicks the “devil child” switch. If your practices are too easy or hard, then attention will inevitably be lost. Imagine your players are in a pool of water, the right level of difficulty which will maintain focus should be that which enables them to stay afloat, but with a bit of a struggle yet plenty of chance to succeed. If your challenge is too hard, they drown, too easy, they don’t have to try to stay afloat. Getting the right level and of difficulty, and incorporating fun, will have your players stay on task for much longer.

Another factor which is common in young players is the need for attention. Children love to be valued and to feel important. That one child who is constantly bouncing the ball during your Mourinho team talk is probably doing so in an attempt to gain your attention. The key here is to ignore behaviours which you do not want to give value to, i.e the bouncing of the ball. If you tell little Johnny to stop bouncing the ball, you have in fact given him what he desired – your attention. In turn, Johnny will continue to use this as a method of getting your attention in future. If we as coaches praise the behaviours we want to see more of, (and in addition ensure Johnny hears/see’s this) we can over time encourage Johnny to adopt these behaviours as a way of seeking attention.

An example of this is to ignore and allow Johnny to bounce the ball during your team talk (bear with me on this one) and openly praise Timmy for his excellent listening skills – “Timmy I am really impressed with how you used your listening skills then. That is just what it takes to be an excellent player because you have concentrated really hard on our team plan – well done!”

It may become apparent that a player or players may show challenging behaviour at certain times within your sessions. This may be at the start of the session, after a long day of sitting still at school with all sorts of rules and shackles placed upon them. A good way to combat this is to a. have arrival activities organised for your players, and b. give responsibility to your challenging player. For example, use a white board and draw a simple arrival activity for your players, for example 1v1’s, or a fun SSG which the players can jump straight into on arrival. On your white board write “Coach of the day – Johnny” and explain to Johnny that for the first 15 minutes of your session he is the coach and you are his assistance.

Discuss how he is responsible for the setup and running of the arrival activity, and that you are there to help him should he need it. Having trust in Johnny, along with giving him specific tasks will prevent him from having time to “play up”. Be sure to follow this up with praise for all of the good traits Johnny displayed during his time as the coach, and do this in front of the group or ask the group to share their thoughts on what a great job Johnny did.

Ultimately, we must remember that kids are kids, and that they are still growing to understand themselves and the world we live in. We as coaches are in a privileged position to help shape their future and teach them positive behaviours, but just like anything it will take time, and it will go wrong, but hopefully using some of the tips in this blog, your life as a coach may be more empowering and dare I say it enjoyable along the way!

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