Dealing with challenging players within your sessions can be a one of the biggest challenges as a coach. Not only can they effect the learning for themselves as well as other children, they also can make you want to throw your session plan away.

When defining how you want the environment to look, I would encourage you as a coach to outline a players code of conduct. This is a process that you should involve both parents and players in, highlighting what behaviour is acceptable whilst the children are in your environment. Once defined, this will enable you to make it clear on what the non-negotiables are and what the ramifications are if these are broken. To assist here’s some advice on what this could look like to support you on the topic of dealing with challenging players:

Safety, Learning & Respect

Firstly, children want attention and acknowledgement from their coach. If a child has done something well, most want to be praised and acknowledged. This also works for when children haven’t done something well or misbehaved, some also want that same attention from their coach. So how do you work through this maze of what and when to highlight good or bad behaviour?

When looking at children and how they are behaving Safety, Learning & Respect is a great start. As a framework, this provides you with a very simple approach on what behaviour needs to be dealt with. If a child effects either their own or another child’s Safety, Learning or Respect then this is what needs to be dealt with. These three words are critical in defining and developing a safe learning environment.

What happens is their behaviour doesn’t effect one of these?

Simple. Let it go. If you end up dealing with every piece of behaviour and interaction between children and others you simply will be dealing with behaviour all the time. Some behaviours don’t need to be dealt with, like when a children is playing with the grass when you’re talking or a debate over who’s captain. These are all opportunities for children to learn how to interact with others, if you intervene you could be impacting on children developing essential social skills.

Know your players…

I recently had a visit from an individual who worked in South Africa in Cape Town and he spoke of the work he is doing within his community. In his time, one of the most powerful pieces of work that they have implemented is providing a home visit to the players family home. Now, whilst this may be a safeguarding and logistical challenge here what he finds and takes from these are so powerful. In one instance, he spoke of an individual who was lazy in his training sessions, only to find out that he had been up since 4am by the time he had got to training and had been working for his Dad day in day out most days of the week.

This got me thinking… how well do I actually know my players? Whilst we can’t tolerate bad behaviour in sessions, understanding the reasons why a child might be behaving badly may help with you understanding the best way of dealing with it.So a challenge to you as a coach… know your players! Do they have any learning difficulties? Or any additional needs? Has there been anything happening at home which is impacting on their behaviour? If you do find anything out that needs highlighting, make sure that you involve your safeguarding officer!

Celebrating the Extraordinary

When looking at your interactions with your players, this can be essential with dealing with behaviour. To support with this, consider this process below:
Observe the behaviour that is taking place and decide whether you will…

Ignore (if it hasn’t effected Safety, Learning or Respect or is what is expected of them)

Acknowledge (this could be thumbs up or a smile, but you may want to acknowledge something the player has done that you want them to know that you’ve seen or like what they’ve tried)

Praise (this should be used specifically to the individual or group when you feel they’ve tried something you or they have been working on)

Celebrate (Is it out of the ordinary? Not expected? Make sure you celebrate their achievement, effort or behaviour)

Through following this process you will become more consistent with your interactions as a coach. Ultimately, if a child is working hard and that’s a non negotiable or an expectation, this may be something you wish to ignore, but you may look at that same child and feel that they have worked sufficiently harder than previously and decide upon acknowledging, praising or celebrating their effort.

In addition, make your interactions personal. “Great effort” or “Chris, brilliant working back”. Which one has more of an impact? Don’t underestimate the language and the way that you communicate to your players. Making your interactions personal and specific can not only maximise the impact it has on that individual, but also effect others in the group that also are seeking that praise or acknowledgment from the coach.


Dealing with challenging players behaviour can be challenging! But what a challenge it is…

In order to create a positive learning environment, make sure you spending your time and interactions with those that are behaving in the right way. Of course there will be times you’ll need to step in and deal with behaviour, but consider how you may use the Safety, Learning and Respect to decide what behaviour needs to be dealt with. Defining this should incorporate the Player, Parent and Coach as highlighted in one of my previous blogs.

If the behaviour continues to effect the SLR, then this will need to be dealt with. At this point, it may be the case of sitting down with the parents and checking everything is okay with the child? Is there anything happening away from your environment that may be resulting in this behaviour? By making them aware, it means collectively you can work together to get them back on track.

Want to know how you interact with your players? Why not ask a friend or a coach to make a note on what interactions you give and who with in a training session or a match day… These results may highlight some strengths and areas to improve in how you communicate with your children within your group.

Are your challenging players being challenged? See my previous blog –
This may give you some ideas on how to stretch and challenge those players so they don’t become bored or disinterested with that you’ve been working on.

Another blog that may interest you relates to this piece from WWPIS:

I hope the next time you come across an issue with a player that these tips on dealing with challenging players comes in handy!