Coaches will have some very interesting stories at the end of this season, and many of them will involve encounters with players. All the unique personalities that may be part of the team can’t be covered, but there are some tips for dealing with some common player personalities that require a unique approach. In general, remember to have fun, and try to enjoy the differences among the children. Avoid the tendency to make a kid run or do push-ups for not fitting the typical player model. This may work in the military, but it is not a great solution for youth soccer. Besides, practice sessions would be boring if all the children were exactly the same!
- Shy Sammy Sammy probably does not want to participate in some of the drills or interact much with the other players. No problem; just let him work things out at his own pace. There is no need to force him to participate or make him run laps for not following directions. Ask Sammy and his parents what would help him feel more comfortable. Sammy may not be able to identify anything that will help, and if he cannot, allow him to sit on the side (where you can see him), and tell him to join the team when he is ready. Sammy probably needs to feel out the situation before playing. Meet his needs, and put the time into the players who are ready to play.
- Chatty Cathy Cathy has something to say all the time. She won’t be quiet during practice time, so channel her energy in another fashion. It is important to get players to communicate on the field. See if she can communicate, productively, to her teammates. For example, she can tell them, "Good job," or give instructions about who to pass to or when to shoot. Respect her energy; find ways to use it to the team’s advantage.
- Wimpy Wally Wally wants to play soccer! He can’t wait for practice. He has his socks and shin guards on at 4:00 even though soccer doesn’t start until 5:30, but when it comes time to actually run around on the field and risk falling down, getting dirty, or bumping into someone, he is not interested. Wally is not ready to risk hurting himself, so he will not put himself in that situation. This is a challenging player to coach in a game that involves contact. Let him participate on his own terms, and avoid drawing attention to his wimpy outbreaks. Instead, cheer and praise him when he does take a risk-any risk. If he fails, tell him, "Good work!" for trying the activity. When he plays hard, give him a high five . . . but not too hard!
- Helpful Henry If there were a pitcher’s helper in soccer, it would be Henry. He wants to be right by the coach’s side, assisting them with everything they do. The coach could shoo him away as if he were a sand gnat buzzing around an ear, or he could think, Perfect. I need an assistant coach to help with the little things, and allow him to help. He can pick up the balls, lay down cones, fill the cups, or get the pinnies when more are needed. Keep him busy, and he will be a happy camper.
- Misfit Maggie Poor Maggie doesn’t seem to fit in on the team. She probably feels like this in most situations. It may be because she acts differently or even looks different from the other kids on the team. Regardless of her soccer skills, work to include her, and model the way the kids should treat her. If there is a player who is nice to everyone, ask this player to befriend her. Peer pressure can work negatively and positively, so take advantage of it. This is also a good argument for not letting players pick their partners during partner activities. Isolating Maggie can be avoided by rotating partners and placing her with teammates who will accept her. Also, focus on what she does bring to the team instead of what she lacks. When she does something helpful or good, be sure to point it out to the team so they begin to appreciate her.
- Out-of-Shape Oscar Unfortunately, many kids do not get regular physical activity, and their fitness levels are poor. It would be easy to put Oscar on the sideline or make him run laps by himself, but neither will help him progress athletically. Ideally, you want to help him improve his fitness level and feel good about physical activity. His next coach will thank you. Avoid highlighting his weaknesses, and focus on his strengths. Does he want to be the goalkeeper? Can he take the goal kicks because of his strength? Even if Oscar is just a nice kid, that is still a plus. Allow him to participate as he feels comfortable, but also get him to push himself a little more each practice. Set goals with him. For example, at the beginning of the season he may be able to play for only 10 minutes without needing a break. Challenge him to increase that time to 15 minutes in two weeks. Set a goal that you know he can achieve, so that when he does he’ll be motivated to keep improving.
- Tattletale Tina Tina is the team police officer. She is going to keep track of all the misbehaviors of her team members. This behavior will need to be addressed early in the season. Tell her that her feedback is appreciated, but she only needs to mention the other players’ behavior when someone might get hurt. Another approach is to inform her that she can talk about someone else’s behavior only twice at each practice, and once the two times are up, she cannot mention any more situations. Hopefully she will then want to use her two times wisely, so she will spend her time processing whether she will mention it. If she persists in reporting about other players, ask her to tell about the good things that happen.
Keep in mind that nicknames are a fun way for kids to feel special. The general rule is to catch them being good, thereby reinforcing when they do things well, rather than spend time telling them to behave or punishing them. Coaches won’t win many points with the kids or their parents if they actually call Terry "Temper Tantrum Terry." So if a goofy nickname is assigned to a challenging personality, just make sure to use good judgment when deciding whether it is a nickname to use with the kids or just one to laugh about on your own to keep you sane.
This is an excerpt from Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Soccer.