Coaching Youth Athletes with Attitude Problems

Believe it or not, kids are not always the best listeners. We will pause for a moment so you can collect yourself after this revelation. They don’t always show up to practice with energy, nor do they always behave like we’d like them to. Rather than immediately going the route of getting upset, the onus is on youth coaches and parents of youth athletes to help these kids move past whatever difficulties they may be facing.

Today’s world is hard on our young people. Kids are smothered with homework and are growing up faster than ever in today’s environment of endless information access. As adults, it is our responsibility to understand why youth athletes are having trouble, working together to identify the problem, and coming up with a plan to improve the situation moving forward.

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Does Your Youth Athlete Really Have an Attitude Problem?

Step one in dealing with a young athlete is determining the problem. Some kids may come off sultry or disobedient, but things aren’t always so simple. There are a number of reasons why a youth athlete might be acting out, including but not limited to:

Learning disabilities and/or autism - children are often unable to communicate their frustrations. This causes some kids with learning disabilities or other issues such as autism to lash out because they do not know what to do with their emotions. If you suspect this may be the case, work with parents or with a professional to help develop a plan for the child.

Psychological issues - anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychological issues are quite common, even in young children. Again, coaches should speak to parents if you suspect a child may be struggling.

Physical ailments - going along with the above mental struggles, some children may be dealing with an injury, illness, or even hunger. This can be an uncomfortable subject to deal with as a coach of young athletes, but it is important to consider as a possibility.

Kids being kids - at the end of the day, sometimes kids really do have an attitude problem without any overt reason. As we will discuss below, working with parents is always advisable to keep a consistent message.

Coaches and Parents Work Together

As a coach, you are an important authority figure in a young person’s life. You also only spend a few hours per week with your youth athletes. Even if you believe your player(s) are having a “sports related” issue, it is important to contact parents about what has been going on and what you plan to do about it.

Of course, there is a fine line. If a young player says a PG-13 word or doesn’t listen to a coach’s instructions for 20 seconds - is that worth contacting parents? Probably not. If a player hits a teammate with malicious intent? Absolutely, parents need to be involved. However, working with parents isn’t just about keeping them informed - it is also about helping a young person get the help and attention they need.

This is why we recommend working with parents and explaining the lessons you are teaching young athletes. When coaches and parents are on the same page, kids are receiving the same message at home as they are on the field or on the court. When the message is consistent, reasonable, and goal-oriented, kids tend to listen.

Disciplining Young Athletes in Practices and Games

Everybody is human. Coaches have bad days just like anyone else. Sometimes when a youth athlete gets out of line it is tempting to lash out and let them hear about it. Disciplining youth athletes is one of the hardest parts of the job. Here are some tips to effectively discipline young players without crossing the line:

  • Establish clear expectations - first and foremost, youth athletes should understand what is expected of them so that they know when they have crossed the line.

  • Separate performance from behavior - kids sometimes can lump together all “negative” things into one category. In their minds, they may see a strikeout as being a similar infraction to yelling at a coach. Speak to kids to let them know that making a mistake is perfectly fine. Acting in a disruptive manner is not.

  • Use negative and positive reinforcement appropriately - negative reinforcement gets, well, a negative connotation. The fact of the matter is, there have to be consequences for certain actions. Use positive reinforcement when possible to reward positive behavior. When doling out negative reinforcement, this is another opportunity to speak with parents and get their input.

  • Keep things in perspective - children and adults are both susceptible to losing their cool now and again. When that happens, it can feel like the world is coming to an end. It isn’t. Let your players know that they may be disciplined for now, but that with improved behavior they can get right back to normal in no time.

Help Young Athletes Improve their Game with Hustle Training

Pittsburgh-based Hustle Training is a growing startup created for the sports-driven players and coaches out there looking to up their game and maximize performance potential. Their website coupled with the mobile app makes it easy for players to improve their fundamentals and move on to master advanced techniques by providing crafted workouts and drills created by college coaches, professional players, and expert trainers.