Dealing With Disrespectful Players At Practice

May 21, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

Last month, a Responsible Sports Parent wrote to our panel of experts to ask:“I coach a softball team made up of 13 and 14 year old girls. I have a couple of players that are ‘bratty.’They want to do what they want; they roll their eyes when being coached or whistle when the coach is talking to them. Should I give in to them or kick them off the team?”

Thomas, a challenged coach.

We asked two of our experts to weigh in. Stacey Nuveman Deniz - Three-time Olympian, Assistant Coach for USA Softball Women's National Team, had this to say:

“Before you dismiss a player from your team due to a poor attitude, I think it is important that you address this issue not only with the player or players who are in question, but also the rest of the team. I would suggest taking the player(s) aside and having a very "firm but fair" discussion about why you do not appreciate their attitude and that you will not allow that type of poor sportsmanship on your team. Possibly issue a warning, that if their attitude and respect for the coaching staff does not improve, it will be time for them to find another team. Give them a chance to clean up their act, and if they do not, explain that they were given a chance to participate respectfully and maturely, and they have lost the privilege of being on the team. These are the tough decisions coaches at every level have to make, and I wish you the best of luck with your situation!”

And Tina Syer, Chief Impact Officer from Positive Coaching Alliance answered:

I hear you that coaching teenagers is not always easy! The good news is that I don’t think you have to make a choice between giving in to them or kicking them off the team.

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, I’d try giving these misbehaving players more responsibility at practice. Ask them to run a drill or to demonstrate. By putting players in charge, they often feel more invested in the drill going well, so they put in more effort and focus better.

If this does not work, and they are still acting out, I’d ask them to sit on the bench until they feel they are ready to re-join the team with the right attitude. I might also do this in the middle of a scrimmage (or drill they really like). If they come back and are still acting out, then I’d sit them down again and tell them I’ll let them know when they can re-enter practice.

After letting them sit for a while, I would calmly talk with them about whether or not they feel they’re ready to take part in practice in a way that will benefit our team. Ideally, you do this in a way that is very low profile (so perhaps your assistant coach is still running the practice, and you can talk one-on-one with the player).

Many athletes who are acting out at practice are doing this to get attention (even if it is negative attention), so do your best to address these players in a calm way that does not inadvertently reinforce their behavior. The silver lining to this situation is that turning around players like these and getting them to be positive, contributing members of your team will feel like a tremendous coaching accomplishment!

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