Tuesday, March 5, 2019

You Say Your Players Aren't Listening? You Might Not Like This.

Coaches are always asking about discipline and remedies for when their youth players aren't
listening.  The question is usually asked with the mindset that the players are to blame.

Before I answer, I take a deep breath, assess how much I value that coach's friendship, predict possible reactions, then deliver my answer in my usual pleasant and positive disposition: 95% of the time it's YOU.  Maybe 96%.

OK, let me rephrase that in a more productive tone and manner.

I offer this one bit of advice that I find helpful: blame the players LAST. This forces you to examine as many possibilities as possible and forces you to reflect on your session. (This is a good time for an "It's not you, it's me" reference)

There is no real structure or order here, so just read 😊 It's just a list of things that come to mind that grew from years of occasionally taking my lumps, trying to figure it out myself and speaking to more experienced people along my journey.  Hopefully at least one of the points helps you.

Caution: some of the items might be difficult for you to accept.
  • Is your session interesting? Enjoyable? (Sorry, legitimate question)
  • How are your public speaking skills? Body language?
  • If what you're saying is not interesting, saying it louder does not make it more interesting 😊
  • Is your choice of words age appropriate? Do they understand what you're saying?
  • Are you focused? (Kids know if you're distracted)
  • If an activity is not working, be ready to adjust your organization, explanation and demonstration.  List possible adjustments in advance so you can act quickly. If they don't succeed or understand, you will lose your audience quickly.
  • Are your coaching moments brief or do you go into an Abraham Lincoln length speech every time?
  • Put your coffee and cell phone down during training.
  • If most of your players don't understand what you're saying, they are not the problem.
  • Did you have a written plan or are you winging it? (Kids know this too)
  • Are you credible in the eyes of your players? (You don't need to be Roberto Mancini to be credible.  A solid plan and focus will help with this) 
  • Are you talking too much or addressing topics that do not interest players at your team's particular age/level at that point in your season?
  • Is your activity too difficult or too easy for your group?
  • What time of day is it? Is it very hot or very cold?  Is it very windy? How deep into your session are you? 
  • Can your players hear you?
  • When you address your players, ensure they can all see you, and vice verse.
  • If it's morning or evening, ensure your group is not facing the sun and having to squint while looking at you.
  • Eye contact is HUGE.
  • Assume a logical coaching position so you can observe, move in and out of the activity and address the group.
  • You only get so many words per session ... spend them wisely.
  • Did you just interrupt a fun and productive activity for the sake of talking?  Do you like it when somebody interrupts your fun to say something useless? I didn't think so.
  • Don't schedule training for the last and first day of school.  Trust me. 
  • Are there distractions around your environment? Highway? Railway tracks? Airport? Other teams? (I am thinking about airplanes and Wildwood Park in Malton, ON as I write this.)
  • If you are indoor, how many coaches, parents, whistles, etc are making noise?
  • Are your players too familiar with you? An occasional guest coach might help.
  • Are you addressing all learning styles so all players can all follow your lead and stay engaged?
  • Are you prepared for players who need a specific teaching strategy to keep them on task and not become a distraction?
  • If you do have one player who likes to distract others, stand closest to them when addressing the group. It's an old teacher trick that is simple and effective.
  • Don't always dig in your heels.  If it's just not your night, don't be afraid to set up the goals and let them play. Nobody ever got worse at soccer by playing more soccer.
  • Be careful about entering the world of punishment as a strategy to encourage kids to listen. This is a a topic in itself.
  • Spare yourself and others stories of how focused your generation was when you were young... because you weren't 😇
"Blame the players LAST"
If you had a frustrating session take time to properly and honestly reflect on yourself, your plan, your delivery, organization, environment, etc. The beginning of your remedy should come from this process.

Most of all, think about what causes you to be inattentive at times and take that into consideration when planning your sessions. It's no different than your players. You get tired, hungry, distracted, you're not interested, it's 4pm on Day 3 of a conference, etc.  Even being at work and getting paid to listen does not make those factors go away. The coaching education courses I deliver for Ontario Soccer were all restructured in 2011 to address the characteristics of the adult learner. Nobody is immune.

The non-technical part of coaching takes time and experience.  Every coach has had moments where their audience lost interest at one point or another.

On the wrong day with the right players, an out-of-focus group could turn into a battle of wills that you could end up losing.  Be ready to adjust, keep doing what works and learn from your mistakes.

P.S.  When I wrote "let me rephrase that" early in this article it reminded me of one of my favourite Star Trek scenes.  We all know it's never a bad time for Star Trek.

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