5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Players

Use these ideas to help man­age play­ers who chal­lenge your team culture. 

5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Players

Use these ideas to help man­age play­ers who chal­lenge your team culture. 

Most ath­letes do their best to avoid being dis­rup­tive, but every coach has encoun­tered their fair share of chal­leng­ing play­ers. Next time this hap­pens, con­sid­er using these tips to improve the situation.

Make sure everyone on the team is engaged

Kids, par­tic­u­lar­ly younger ones, have a lot of ener­gy and short atten­tion spans. Keep your prac­tices active and get every play­er involved. When run­ning drills, aim to pair or group togeth­er play­ers of sim­i­lar skill lev­els. Every play­er will feel chal­lenged, but not intimidated.

Also con­sid­er includ­ing small group work in your prac­tices. This can bring shy play­ers out of their shell while ensur­ing dis­rup­tive play­ers are kept busy.

Every player is unique — your behavior expectations shouldn’t be 

Getting to know your play­ers is an impor­tant part of coach­ing. Everyone has dif­fer­ent on-field and off-field strengths, moti­va­tions and unique per­son­al­i­ties. But when it comes to behav­ior, your expec­ta­tions should be stan­dard across the board. 

You have to be con­sis­tent in your mes­sag­ing. If that is your core prin­ci­ple, your core val­ue, then every­thing has to be in align­ment with that,” Gabe Infante, head foot­ball coach at St. Joseph Prep (Pa.), said. I think it’s very easy some­times to lose focus. Sometimes you become emo­tion­al about things and you lose the con­sis­ten­cy of the mes­sage. It takes practice.” 

It’s no secret good play­ers some­times feel like they can get away with sub­par behav­ior because of their skill. At the same time, weak­er play­ers may take a lazier approach because they don’t feel like they’re con­tribut­ing. It’s impor­tant every­one on the team under­stands how you expect them to behave. Be con­sis­tent, no mat­ter who breaks the rules.

Reward good behavior with positive reinforcement

When play­ers act out, it’s often because they want atten­tion. So the best option might not be to call them out for it or make them run laps. Instead, pull them aside and have a one-on-one con­ver­sa­tion to address their behav­ior. They won’t be the focus of atten­tion, but you’re still address­ing the situation.

You’ll also want to avoid only scold­ing play­ers, unless they’re putting them­selves or oth­ers at risk. Try pair­ing com­pli­ments with con­struc­tive crit­i­cism. Encouragement is often more effec­tive than dol­ing out punishment. 

A lot of young peo­ple can be resis­tant to coach­ing. They mis­take coach­ing for crit­i­cism when in real­i­ty what the coach is try­ing to do is just help them get bet­ter. It’s real­ly a part­ner­ship between the coach and the play­er,” Shaka Smart, head bas­ket­ball coach at the University of Texas, said. Punishment has its place, just be sure play­ers under­stand exact­ly what they did wrong so they know how to avoid it in the future.

We’re the first time that a par­ent hears that their son isn’t good enough. How you deliv­er that and how you han­dle your play­ers and how you devel­op respect and trust with your play­ers is where it all starts.” Gabe Infante, head football coach at St. Joseph Prep (Pa.)

Don’t forget about the parents 

Make sure your play­ers’ par­ents under­stand the rules and expec­ta­tions you have for the team. While par­ents can help keep their kids in line, you might find dif­fi­cult par­ents just as com­mon as dif­fi­cult players. 

Kids pick up a lot from the adults in their lives, so encour­age the par­ents on your side­line to be good sports. Don’t be afraid to tact­ful­ly tell them if their behav­ior is a neg­a­tive influ­ence on your team. A coach’s job, in my opin­ion, is very much the same as that of a par­ent — to pre­pare your chil­dren to live life with­out you,” Infante said. 

The oth­er key to strong par­ent-coach rela­tion­ships is open lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Set ground rules such as wait 24 hours after a con­test to talk to me about it,’ but let them know you’re avail­able to address their concerns.

Keep your cool even when you’re frustrated

Staying calm is eas­i­er said than done, but it can go a long way when it comes to deal­ing with dif­fi­cult play­ers. You’ll be able to make bet­ter deci­sions on behalf of your whole team.

Try to under­stand why the chal­leng­ing play­ers on your squad might be act­ing out with­out let­ting them monop­o­lize your time. Listen to their con­cerns and con­sid­er the chal­lenges they may be fac­ing at home or at school. You may not be able to fix their prob­lems, but they’ll appre­ci­ate your effort to meet them halfway. 

And when it’s time to focus on the team, they’ll be ready. We had a team meet­ing in the lock­er room and I said, Guys, from this point for­ward we clear the mech­a­nism,’” Steve Specht, head foot­ball coach at St. Xavier (Ohio), said. 

I don’t want to wor­ry about what your grade in biol­o­gy is or the issues you’re hav­ing with your girl­friend or any prob­lems. When we set foot on this field, for two hours we clear the mech­a­nism and we have fun.”

Want more tips on how to ensure play­ers buy in to your coach­ing phi­los­o­phy? Check out our com­pre­hen­sive guide to reach­ing full pro­gram align­ment