Behaviour Management Tips for Coaching Young Athletes
A good coach will structure and control a session quite closely, yet do so in a fun, enjoyable and warm emotional environment. Effective coaches develop and maintain behaviour management systems that prevent disturbances, allowing them to focus on the teaching of skills.
What Causes Misbehaviour?
Coaches are often unaware that their instruction, presentation and organizational styles can create behaviour problems.
The most frequently cited problem when organizing sporting activities for children is their lack of concentration and attention.
This may be a reflection of the instructor’s inability to maintain interest due to:
- Boring activities which lack sufficient challenge
- Long-winded instructions
- Activities continuing for lengthy periods
- Children waiting too long for their turn
- A poorly planned and organized session
Another major cause of behaviour problems is the child who is simply trying to draw attention to themselves.
Maintaining Positive Behaviour
The easiest way to deal with any behavioural problems is to take measures in an attempt to prevent them from happening at all!
The first step is to establish clearly what is expected in the way of behaviour and that any misbehaviour will be unacceptable and attract consequences. Most children can understand consequences. Consequences are: if you do this, then this will happen. (“If you don’t follow my instructions, then I will send you over there to sit next to the orange witches hat.”)
The second step is to ensure that your session is fun, exciting, challenging, is well-organised and promotes maximum participation in an attempt to prevent any problems.
The third step is to use positive interactions with the participants to support their good behaviour. E.g. Complimenting the group for organising themselves quickly; positively reinforce a participant who is paying attention.
See How to Win Young Athletes Over in the First 5 Minutes for more ideas on preventing misbehaviour.
Dealing with Misbehaviour
It is important to stop disruptive behaviour quickly before it spreads and interferes with a session. When disruptive behaviour does occur, coaches should have a plan for dealing with it effectively. The aim is to stop inappropriate behaviour with as little influence on the flow of the session as possible. With experience, coaches learn to use the appropriate techniques according to the circumstances. To get you started:
Ignore Misbehaviour When Possible
This may seem strange and feel awkward to some, but in cases of mild misbehaviour that does not disrupt your session, rather than create a negative atmosphere by continually nagging and chiding participants, ignore the misbehaviour and continue. Keep an eye on it, but let it go.
The following circumstances are examples of situations where ignoring inappropriate behaviour may be appropriate:
- You notice a child looking off into the distance and not listening
- Two children are whispering during your instruction
- One child is a little slow in reacting to your command
NOTE: It is important that the ignored behaviour is only mild, does not disrupt the session and the coach is in control. If the misbehaviour continues or becomes worse, intervention will be required.
Use Positive Interactions to Decrease Misbehaviour
It has already been discussed that positive interactions can be used in preventing misbehaviour. They are also effective in dealing with misbehaviour, particularly with younger children. For example, when you notice a child behaving inappropriately, clearly, publicly and positively interact with a child who is behaving appropriately.
e.g. Two participants are talking to each other during your instruction and distracting several others around them. You quickly notice that a group, sitting at the front, is listening to you attentively and you say (so that everyone can hear): “Well done to those people sitting in front of me. You’re listening very well”. The two talkers stop immediately.
Use Effective Verbal Reprimmands
An effective verbal reprimand should be:
- Firm (i.e. it is clear to the offender that you mean it. Use eye contact and even try moving closer.)
Good reprimands are not rough, harsh or a put-down.
Try this script:
Situation: Chris is trying to push in line
Coach: “Chris, what are you doing?” (said firmly).
Chris looks sheepish; caught in the act.
Coach: “Should you be doing that?”
Chris shakes his head.
Coach: “So why are you doing that?”
Shrug of the shoulders.
Coach: “Go to the end of the line. If I see you pushing like that again, I will send you over there to sit next to that marker and you will miss out on some of our games.”
Apply Consequences to Misbehaviour
Once you have said that you will apply consequences to a misbehaviour, FOLLOW THROUGH. Do not continually threaten to apply consequences next time, then next time, then next time . . . One of the most effective consequences for young people is removing them from the activity or giving them time out.
Time outs should be applied with increasing severity if misbehaviour continues i.e. The first time out should be short e.g. 2-5mins. Further misbehaviour may draw a time out of 5-10mins. A third occasion of misbehaviour may lead to exclusion from the remainder of the session.
In summary, when dealing with misbehaviour:
- Remain calm and objective
- Be firm
- Keep a cool head
- Apply consequences to disruptive behaviour
- Give any more than one warning of consequences
- Raise your voice unless absolutely necessary
- Be rough or harsh
- Issue threats
- Be-little participants
I would love to hear from you!
What are your favourite strategies for managing the behaviour of young athletes? What has worked for you? What are your success stories? Can you add anything to what I have listed? You can let me know by leaving a reply/comment or by using the contact details below.
Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Anchor or via email.