Soccer coaching tips to handle disruptive players

It is rare for even professional teams not to have at least one player who has disruptive tendencies. In youth soccer, this form of distracting behaviour can be particularly acute. The following soccer drill tips and tactics will help you tackle the problem.

Avoid long lines in drills

The unwritten Law of Children Waiting in Line says that with more than three players in a line, even the most well-behaved youngster starts to mess around. For a more disruptive child, certainly those with the lowest concentration threshold, this can lead to pushing, shoving and even bullying. It is irresistible. It is also hard to control when you are further up the field watching the action.

Instead, have more than one starting point, so the queues are shorter. Alternatively, have players sit down on the side when a soccer drill is completed, before returning to the queue. Ideally though, the level of activity in your soccer drills should be such that queues rarely form, but this might not always be possible.

Big groups, short chats

When talking to a big group, there is a danger of disruption due to the close proximity of players. The disruptive child will often be at the back. Sit them all down, and bring the worst offenders to the front. Watch out for the players who wander behind you when you are talking. Any group situation must be on your terms. With big groups, anything more than a one-minute chat can be an ideal breeding ground for a disruptive player.

Organisation, action and fun

A well-organised soccer drill session, which means a lot of activity for the players, will reduce the opportunity for disruption. Too many drills, too little time for games, will mean players get bored. And the greater the action, running around, the more likely that players will become tired. A physically tired player will be less likely to muck around – they will be recovering!

Possible causes of disruptive behaviour:

  • Boredom – the drills and training are not challenging enough.

  • Challenged – there are learning difficulties that need to be addressed sensitively.

  • Influenced – the player can be easily goaded or wound up by others.

  • Tired and hungry – players have simply not had enough sleep or food. 

Avoid negative feedback

Instead of criticism, use the “feedback” sandwich instead. Combine positive feedback with corrective feedback will make a player think about the practice or soccer drill, rather than feeling the focus is on his or her behaviour.

If a player can repeat back the instructions, this shows that they understand. The worse thing you can do is use a phrase like “Well, if you had been listening and not mucking around…”. A better approach would be to say: “Good weight on the pass, Johnny, and try to improve your support play by keeping close to the first ball carrier” – this is to a player who was chatting in the line, and didn’t keep up.

Excluding a player

If you have tried all the tactics to keep a player in the drill session, send him away for a short space of time to “cool down”. This should never be an empty threat and be adopted only as a last resort. It should be used very sparingly and if a child has to repeatedly sit out, then you are in a situation which goes beyond normal practice management. In this case refer to your club or school’s policy.

The “sit out” should take place away from the other players' eye line as much as possible, away from equipment, and in a place where you can see them. Bring them back with a quick word from you (which should look at the positives), with a response from them to indicate they understand. Then on with the drill, so a line has been drawn under the incident.

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