Players who are a ‘nightmare’ at training

For the umpteenth time this week I was reminded how coaching is so much more than I ever thought it was when I first started. I would say one of the big changes in me since I began coaching is that I no longer assume every player who shows up for a session is ready, prepared and totally focused on improving as there is nothing going on in their life that is more important.

I can remember the first program that really opened my eyes to this. I was running an after school football program at an after school centre. I had been doing this for about 6 months and it was going fine. I used to start each session with a game so the players could run around after being cooped up all day.

One week a new 10/11 year old boy joined the group. I found out later he wasn’t new but hadn’t been allowed to join in the football program because of bad behaviour for 6 weeks. Within 3 mins he had kicked out at two different players and wrestled a player to the ground in a headlock for blocking his shot at goal. I took him to the side for a chat and he swore at me repeatedly so he ended up getting sent back inside to the centre. First week he lasted less than 5 minutes.

This formed a fairly regular pattern over the next few months. Some weeks he managed to stay out the whole time but that was only with me being very flexible with his behaviour and some weeks no matter how flexible I was I felt I couldn’t allow him to participate. Eventually he did stay out more often than not but you always knew he was there. I was really pleased with myself thinking I was responsible for ‘disciplining him’ and getting something out of a real ‘nightmare kid’.

About 18 months later after the boy stopped coming to the after school centre altogether I found something out that completely changed the way I felt. I met the boy at his school when I went to put on a few sessions and spoke to his Teacher about how he was almost unrecognisable from the boy I remembered. He was still a ‘bit of a lad’ but completely non-disruptive and to be honest if he hadn’t come up to me to say hello I don’t think I would have known it was him.

I was given the full story at lunch time. The reason he was at the after school program in the first place was because his Dad’s girlfriend didn’t want to be in the same house with him alone. Although she was home he had to go to the after school program and wait to get picked up by his Dad from work. The school noticed a change in him as soon as his Dad and the girlfriend split up and since his Dad has a new job so he doesn’t have to go to the after school centre at all he is a different person altogether.

I know I would have behaved differently if I had known or even considered his situation. If I thought about why he was behaving like that instead of just thinking he was a ‘nightmare’. When he got angry like he did I would have looked for other ways for him to be involved instead of just thinking he has to go as he is deliberately being a pain. The thing that struck me was that clearly if I met him 2 years later I would never think of him as a ‘nightmare’ and only for situations completely out of his control did I ever think otherwise.

This made me realise that I can’t assume that every young player comes to a training session, like I did, with nothing more on their mind than what’s for dinner and what position they will play for Liverpool when they grow up.

I won’t go into details of what has happened recently but a situation has arisen were the behaviour of a young player at my club is being questioned. The people who are coming to me are seeing the behaviour and suggesting how they would deal with it if it was their child which really when you think about it makes little sense. If we understand that all the parents have different jobs, interests, incomes, lifestyles or marital status then why do we assume that all the children have the same life as each other?

The point of this blog is that every player is experiencing life differently and some may come to training with plenty more on their mind than you or I could imagine. I am not saying we should be social workers but is it better to try to understand why the behaviour might be happening rather than simply deal with the behaviour assuming it is because the kid is a ‘nightmare’ and doing it deliberately like I did.

As always I need to hear other Coach’s’ opinions because we all want to coach our players in the best possible manner.

Thank you to everyone who contacts me and leaves messages on the blog it is really appreciated.

Look forward to hearing from you

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Till next time


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