U12 Soccer - Coaching a Team of Misfits

wilked

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Jul 17, 2005
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I am Assistant Coach for my son's team. I affectionately call his team the Bad News Bears. The team is as if each other club sent 1-2 players they didn't want on the team over, and made a team of those players.

I have no issue with lack of talent and have coached up teams with a talent deficit to be competitive through hustle, teamwork and fundamentals. The problem here is I have the following:

-Two kids who absolutely don't give a single fuck about being out there. Walking the whole time, can't get them to run a lap, don't even try at the lessons, goof off / joke with their pals, don't have any interest in the ball, and generally show zero respect of authority
-One kid who marches to his own beat. Decent player but shit attitude, likely views himself as a cross of Messi/Ronaldo, shows attitude to the coaches
-4-5 players who are generally goofy / not great effort, minimal talent, feed on the above players goofing off, are not bad kids but generally aren't there to work hard
-3-4 players who do the right thing (work hard, help coaches, listen, etc etc)

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Been debating what to do about the three kids... Came up with:
-I could talk to their parents. Especially the first two, try and figure out from them what motivates the child to sign up for soccer when they show no interest during practice. Ask for their feedback / help
-I've tried motivating them individually, but I get nothing back (literally nothing, blank stares, mumbles of 'ok')
-Tried working them a little (have them run a lap with me while I talk about their behavior). Equally ineffective, they end up walking the lap, I get no real feedback from them
-Tried rewarding what little effort I do get, but seems to have no effect

The kid with an attitude, I think he'd do fine on a better team with a bit more discipline. He's frustrated at the overall pathetic-ness of the team and I sort of get it. Him I can handle

Anyway, open for thoughts.

My last thought is to break them into smaller groups. It's tough with just two of us coaches, we could break them into groups of 6 or so but even that is hard to keep them focused. If I could get it into three groups of 4, separate the groups strategically, I think that would be an improvement, but we don't have another coach or anyone close to a volunteer.
 
Apr 24, 2010
1
Many decades ago, when I was a Senior in High School, me and a friend decided to not play Varsity Soccer, and instead elected to coach a group of U12 boys. After the second or third practice, where there wasn't a lot of respect/effort/interest being shown, we had all of the kids sit down, distanced from each other, heads down, and not allowed to talk to each other for the last 5ish minutes of practice. We dismissed them individually, when their parents arrived to pick them up them up. I'm sure that there were some awkward conversations on their rides home. We never had another issue with those kids again, and we all (coaches and players) had a fantastic season.

I would definitely involve the parents, either actively or passively. In this era of how the world works, they have to be part of the solution.
 

SocrManiac

Tommy Seebach’s mustache
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Apr 15, 2006
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Somers, CT
This is why I won’t be couching rec/travel anymore… At some point it became more pain than okeasure

It all comes down to the parents, for multiple reasons. Many of those kids are probably playing because their parents signed them up.

It’s going to start with conversations with the adults. You may need to require that guardians of the problem kids attend practice until behavior improves. If both the parents and players are looking at this as free daycare, the equation will change if that time is snapped back up.

I’ve got two kids this fall that feel their participation goal is to disrupt anything the rest of the team does. They refuse to even be punished, and when sat down will run back out in the field to join drills (often picking up the ball and running off with it). They’re miserable. Short of having their parents there to address higher level, global discipline, I simply don’t have any levers.

In situations like this, I do not support team punishments. The players are unlikely to be able to exert any meaningful pressure on their peers.
 

Omar's Wacky Neighbor

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Jul 14, 2005
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Leaving in a bit to the studio :)
Coaches talk, and coaches remember players/things.

Ask around in other sports about the problem players, see if they acted the same way in those other sports, and see what the coached did to TRY to remedy the situations.

We had an unofficial club in town of coaches (which we later found out extended to several teachers in our grammar school) who had all been confronted by the parents of the same problem player. Needless to say that those parents never volunteered for a dasm thing in town.
 

nayrbrey

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Jul 20, 2005
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That age group is a really tough one maturity wise and it’s when the gap between players starts to get even more noticeable.

I agree with the other comments that it starts with the parents. Talk with them and try to understand the kids motivations will give you something to build on.

Perhaps asking what else the kids like.
I had one kid who never engaged until I found out he liked playing video games so I used that as a bridge to get through to him.

As for practices themselves, how do you structure them? I’ve always done the play-practice-play methodology. Have them do 2v2, 3v3 etc as soon as the kids start showing up. Not sure if that will get them into a soccer mindset right away but at least they are jumping right in. Then when they work on whatever lesson plan you have in mind they might be a little more receptive.

For your one above average player, have him lead some excercises? Say stretching or some of the FIFA11 activities? Maybe if he has a stake in getting the others better his attitude would change for the better.
 

wilked

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Jul 17, 2005
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Good ideas, thanks, appreciated

Ultimately I'm the Assistant and will follow chain of command, look to see what the Head Coach wants to do. She is a bit lenient with a big heart, but she was at her wits end this last practice which is somewhat prompting me into taking action here. My wife advises that 'there are only a couple of week's left' but it's not in my nature to stand by and bear witness to this mess.
 

Archer1979

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Jul 18, 2005
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Right Here
I coached soccer from pre-K up to U12, sometimes head coach, most of the time Asst. Coach.

I've had a smattering of each of the issues you're seeing, but never all at once... so God love you.

Here's what I would do as sometimes you have to motivate each player on an individual level. Divide and conquer.

For

-Two kids who absolutely don't give a single fuck about being out there. Walking the whole time, can't get them to run a lap, don't even try at the lessons, goof off / joke with their pals, don't have any interest in the ball, and generally show zero respect of authority

Separate them from the rest of the herd. If they have no interest in being there, sit them on the bench until they show an interest. If they don't do that, call the parents and have them take them home. Given you only have two weeks left, this might be the last you see of them. If this were earlier, there is a chance that the parents would work on them and you might have seen them a little more pliable.

-One kid who marches to his own beat. Decent player but shit attitude, likely views himself as a cross of Messi/Ronaldo, shows attitude to the coaches
This player probably knows that he is the best on the team and doesn't think the team can survive without him. The problem is that he sees that as your problem and not his. I would have had him run the warm-ups before practice starts... like stretching, etc. Give him some some skin in the game so to speak.

-4-5 players who are generally goofy / not great effort, minimal talent, feed on the above players goofing off, are not bad kids but generally aren't there to work hard
These players are the followers. They'll fall in line with the prevailing mood on the team.

-3-4 players who do the right thing (work hard, help coaches, listen, etc etc)
These are the potential core. Give them some form of reward like help run the warm-ups. Lead the fun runs before practice, etc.

Again, God Bless You. I hope this doesn't put you off from coaching. Of the three sports that I coached, baseball/softball, basketball, and soccer, I liked coaching soccer the best.
 

bigq

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Jul 15, 2005
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I am currently coaching a U11 girls soccer team. There are several girls on the team who are particularly prone to goofing off and disrupting practices. A couple of weeks ago we had a practice where a couple of the girls were a bit too amped up, engaging in rough horseplay, and not listening to the coaches. That evening an email went out to all parents noting that we had a bad practice and some of the girls were being disruptive and not listening to coaches. All parents were asked to speak to their daughters about their behavior and remind them to listen to the coaches and keep their hands to themselves. In that message parents were also notified that if the disruptive behavior continued a coach would reach out to specific parents. The email was worded in a pleasant can you please help manner. Practices have gone much better since then.
 

wilked

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Jul 17, 2005
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Thanks again to the continued advice, appreciated.

Next steps are for me to discuss the above with the head coach. Will need her on board, but I am ready to do something. I felt like shit after the last practice, not what I am seeking here. I'll update with how it all goes and what action, if any, we do collectively (head coach and me)
 

graffam198

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Dec 10, 2007
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I have a slightly different take. This age is my wheelhouse. Wrapping my season with 2011's (U13) and 2014's (U10) and the assistant on a 2012 squad (U12).

For the kids who don't care? Don't force it. Just ignore them. They are doing it for attention. Separate them from the group and let them do their own thing. "You don't want to do the drills? Fine, go over there and do your own thing, you are a distraction". They will get bored pretty quick and want to partake. Never start them. Don't even use them as subs for a game.

Solo player? I set them up for failure. Continually. It takes 9 kids to score a goal, not the single shooter. Good luck. Once they figure out that they can't take everyone they generally come around a bit. More on this kid in a second. (I had a kid with an attitude, now she is my leader).

4-5 goofy kids? Collective punishment. Every time they mess up, don't show effort, whatever, the whole group is doing burpees. The kids begin to self-police. I have had a lot of success with this. Lump the lone star in with this group. BUT, empower him to be the leader. He counts off burpees, laps, whatever. Feeds into his ego but also makes him a part of the equation and team. He is in charge.

Core kids? Make them starters, non-negotiable. Captains. Whatever. Show that that behavior is desired. But they have to take part in the punishment...

Parents will be no help. They will just get defensive. I have one girl who is a trash keeper. Absolutely the worst. And mom doesn't get why she doesn't start. She never comes to practice, when she does show she is lazy and mouthy. Won't go to keeper training. When I tried to talk to mom about it I QUICKLY hit resistance and realized it was a lost cause. She will flush out.

Now, for the goofy kids, is it possible that it is just too complex? One of the things I have witnessed with this age is they are transitioning into young adults and their focus is....lacking. Often times this manifests in that behavior, but it's not really their fault. Their hormones are going wild and they are just generally stupid. Anything complex is too hard and they check out. Try dumbing down the drills to be simple 1v1; 2v1; 2v2 games and forget about passing patters, fancy feet, etc. Anything too prescribed is just too hard to process. If it is simple, they can get creative and find their place.

I am aligned that I will never coach rec again. But it's not because of the kids or the parents. It's because of clubs. And I understand I am part of the problem. All the recruiting and "professional coaching" decimates the rec leagues and leaves you with teams described above. The minute you start getting kids decent a club coach swoops in and blows up 1/2 your team with empty promises and flashy bs.

edit: I think people forget that coaching is like public school. You are coaching to the lowest denominator on the team. So the challenge is creating an environment where all the players can excel and grow, but at the lowest level/capability of the worst kid on the team. Because if they don't have success they will destroy the group (generally). Sometimes you get a kid who knows they aren't good but will still work their butts off, that is a kid you keep above all others. But mostly, it's too hard so they resort to the behaviors above. To make it beneficial for the studs you just set them up for failure. Way overloaded challenges. If everyone is doing 1v1, they do 2 or 3v1. If your goal is speed dribbling, they have to do it with their non-dominant foot, etc.
 

debster812

New Member
Oct 1, 2023
5
High School Players! Juniors and Seniors are likely looking for Community Service Hours, and between U10 and young U14s those kids will look up to the High Schoolers. My son and three of his friends coached a 'misfits' team for 3 years. The younger kids really responded to the high school kids, and by the time the coaches were graduating Seniors, they had a successful and winning season.

My son is now 27, and is coaching for a Club here in Mass, and I'm sure his love of coaching, and aptitude for it, started back in High School.