A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Ask The Experts
No laps, lines or lectures
Q: I have a few kids on my 10u soccer team who do not pay attention when I am giving out instructions or teaching them something. How do I motivate them without sending them for laps or other discouraging things like that? I remember having to run laps when I was a kid and it always seemed like I was being punished and it started to turn me away from the sport. Is there a better way to motivate my players?
A: First, thank you for not sending them for laps! There is no place in youth sports for exercise as punishment. We want kids to associate exercise and physical activity with healthy play and fun. Making it punitive definitely sends the wrong message, and may leave a lifelong bad aftertaste, as you have observed.
Your dilemma, player inattention, is a challenge all coaches of young children face at one time or another. Kids come to the field ready to blow off steam, so being “forced” to stop and listen is hard for them. Coaches can help by keeping instructions short and to the point.
Coaching educators advise: No laps. No lines. No lectures.
If you tend to be long-winded, have an assistant videotape a session for you to self-assess. Effective coaches keep practice lively and verbal instruction to a minimum.
Here are some approaches I have seen hold kids’ attention:
Use questions in your teaching. “Do you think that will work?” “How would you do this?”
Vary your delivery in volume and voice.
Be organized and clear in your communication.
Watch your timing. Start with a scrimmage, and instruct after. Kids listen better if they’re a bit pooped and have come in for a water break.
Diagram in miniature-motion. Have the players be your “dry erase board.” In a small space, move the ball between players as you describe what you want to teach.
Catch them being good. Praise skills and behavior you want to encourage. Start your talk with “good things” from the last game and you’ll have them hooked.
Caution: Beware of giving extra attention to the kids who are acting out. Time given to misbehavior is time taken away from those who are listening and want to learn. If you reward what you want to see, you’re likely to get more of it from all your players. Be sure and acknowledge positive progress with the players who struggle with this to help them succeed.
Use these tips and insight from a long-time coach to help make your T-ball practices fun, productive and memorable for your players.
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