Primary school teacher's have one of the biggest challenges in the classroom - how to hold a child's attention in a group setting. With multiple distractions, different maturity levels and attention spans, managing a group can be a difficult task. Coaches face similar challenges, especially at the youngest age groups. But in order to produce an effective session, player and group management is crucial to providing an environment where players have the opportunity to learn.
It's All About Attention
Coaches would love to have 14 players' attention at all times. However, it's your attention that the players crave. Young players want your attention! They want to be seen and they want to be given your focus (some more than others). It's important to have this in the back of your mind - especially when players are messing around. It's not necessarily because they're badly behaved but because they want some attention.
So if a player is acting up in order to get your attention - should you give it to them? I would argue that it's important to give your attention to those that are giving you the desired outcome. If a player is quiet, making eye contact and listening - that's the player that deserves your praise and attention.
After a couple of times, other players will start to catch on and notice that the well behaved players are the one's that get the attention and will try to do the same (tried and tested, though not fool proof). If individuals are still playing up, try using THE LOOK. Giving the player a stare let's them know that their behaviour is inappropriate while not necessarily highlighting the undesired behaviour to the group. If you have to come back to the player again, try giving them a thumbs up or nod to acknowledge them.
Sitting players out or removing them from the group is a solution I've seen and tried myself but rarely helps to change the behaviour. Instead, perhaps the coach needs to look to themselves and figure out if they're contributing to the problem.
No Lines, No Laps, No Lectures
While there are plenty of excuses that coaches can use in order to deflect, sometimes players are acting up as a result of something that the coach is doing. The classic words to live by as a coach are "no lines, no laps, no lectures". If you can avoid these three pitfalls you can avoid players standing around or becoming bored and having their minds wander off. It's in these moments that misbehaviour can really show. As coaches, it's our role to keep the players engaged throughout. In order to cut down on these unwanted moments and increase engagement, consider the following:
- Have activities and games ready to go when practice begins or as players are arriving. Try juggling/ skills challenges, soccer tennis or maybe even let them drop straight into a game (there is no better way to get players turning up on time for future sessions if they know they get to play straight away).
- Avoid the lines - set up a second or third activity in order to keep more players on the ball and less players stood around.
- Transition between activities quickly - have everything set up before they get there. *The best coaches I've seen remove one setup and have the next activity appear because it's already set up underneath cones or nearby (Inception level coaching!)
- Drinks breaks - have players collect the balls in one area, set a time limit on drinks breaks and have an activity ready when they get back.
Hold Players Accountable
While the coach can affect the behaviours by focusing on praising those behaving well and tweaking their sessions, it's also important to set out the expectation's for each session. Let the players know at the start of the season what's expected of them and hold them accountable (also give them some input if possible - this will help with buy in). Here are a few ways you can hold players accountable to the standards set:
- First player set up and listening get's to demonstrate.
- Player's with the best behaviour, effort and application may get rewarded with the captain's arm band.
- First team set up in a formation gets to take kickoff for both halves!
- Pause mid sentence if interrupted. Don't continue until players are listening again (don't forget - no lectures though)
Ultimately, if standards are set, the session flows and you can manage the remaining players then the coaching and practicing can take centre stage. The best coaches are the ones that have player and group management nailed down so that there are no distractions and players are able to fully focus on enjoying themselves and hopefully reach their learning outcomes or master that new skill.