Teach your players how to behave

I was watching a state tournament basketball game in which I saw a couple of players on the same team distinguish themselves in very different ways. The first player is considered by many to be a future Division I college player. He is a guard. He can handle the ball well, shoot the three-point shot, attack the basket and finish, and more. The other player has some very good skills too, although the only one he put on display was the ability to behave in a way that I don’t ever want to see from my soccer players.

The word on him was that he is a really good shooter, but that he is also a cry-baby, a hothead, and a whiner. He didn’t disappoint; well, actually he disappointed a lot. My frustrations started with him, but quickly shifted to the adults in his life who have allowed this behaviour to manifest itself. Kids will often rise to the standard set for them, but at the same time they will fall to the level that is allowed of them. While everyone is master of their own actions – and he certainly is his own person – there are parents, coaches, teachers, and other adults in this boy’s life who have allowed him to behave in the manner that he does. And his reaction to situations he didn’t like was animated and inappropriate. Even when the game had finished he had to be pulled away from an official, presumably looking to complain in the same way he had done during the game.

The coach’s role

If the coach doesn’t intervene in situations such as these, the boy will become an embarrassment to the team, the entire athletic programme, and to himself, because one of our most important roles as coaches is teaching kids how to behave properly. What’s worrying is that, more often than not, the coach does see such behaviour as a problem. He or she just chooses to ignore it. He may be afraid of the awkwardness it will create in the team. He may be afraid that the player will quit. He may be afraid of a confrontation with the player’s parents. Whatever the reason, this fear of addressing improper behaviour is doing us all a disservice.


Firstly, how will the player ever learn that his behaviour is improper if such actions are not stopped, addressed and corrected? Secondly, coaches like this do a disservice to the rest of the team, because the other players are learning what is right and wrong based on their leaders’ actions and reactions. If this kind of behaviour is not stopped, these players may believe that it is okay for them to act in the same way. Thirdly, these coaches do a disservice to themselves. They are saying a whole lot about who they are, what they stand for, and what is allowed in their world when they allow kids to behave improperly. And finally, they are doing a disservice to the rest of this kid’s teachers, coaches, employers, and others who will need him to behave in a manner that is deemed appropriate.


Bruce Brown, a former middle school, high school and college coach and athletic director, is the director of Proactive Coaching, an organisation dedicated to instilling character-based concepts and actions in schools, coaches, athletes, and parents. Coach Brown says that with these kinds of athletes, you have to “train ‘em or trade ‘em.” You need to work with them, teach them, praise them, and discipline them. But if they don’t come on board after you have given them your all, you need to cut them loose. It’s sad that so many kids end up this way because nobody stood up and said, “What you’re doing there is unacceptable. Either behave the right way or don’t be a part of this.” Ideally, this direction should start at home, but you can’t guarantee that, so the next place is at youth coaching level.

Sport’s impact

Sport can be one of the greatest things in a kid’s life, but with values that should be taught, demonstrated, practiced, and reinforced all the time. It is a never-ending battle, but it is one of the most worthwhile battles a person will ever wage. So do the right thing, and teach a kid that behaving the right way is the only way. We will all be better for it, and we will all be glad you did. Most importantly, that kid will be grateful for the positive impact you had on his or her life.

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