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Children are encouraged to participate in sport because physical activity and play can be a great outlet to help the body get out excess energy and release endorphins.  Children will test, explore their environment, and act impulsively sometimes but as a coach it’s important to be able to recognize when there is a problem more significant than normal development.

If you have a challenging child on your team, there are few methods a coach can implement.

1. If you see the child do something well, reinforce the behaviour with praise.  Remember that children will want attention regardless if it is positive or negative.  It may not be easy to ignore troublesome behaviour, especially if it affects others on the team, so use that time as an opportunity to address the child calmly and help them to work through the problem.  It’s important to recognize what caused the behaviour so you can be aware of what the child is experiencing.  On the other hand, if the child is too upset it’s sometimes best to have them sit and watch the practice for a while until you and they feel like they can join in again.

2. Watch for potential warning signs.  Certain behaviours or actions can be indicators for depression, anxiety, bullying, or problems at home.  Children want to be heard, so take the time to listen and understand where they are coming from.  If a child’s behaviour concerns you, don’t hesitate to talk to the child or the parents about what you’ve observed. 

3. Provide structure, consistent limits and set firm guidelines of what you expect.  Children need repetition and consistency, so ensure your practices are planned ahead of time to avoid surprises.  Unstructured practices have a likelihood of increased disruptions and negative behaviour since children like push the limits of what they can get away with.  Keep clear and calm communication between you and your team, keeping in mind that shouting is not always an effective method.  For example, shouting at a child who may suffer from anxiety could have harmful effects on their self-esteem and their ability to play well.

4.  Focus on a child’s strengths.  This is a great way to build up self-confidence and promote positive interactions within your team.

5. Encourage your team to have fun.  Many children put pressure on themselves or get pressure from parents to succeed in sports and this stress can push a child to act out.  Incorporate some games into the practice to get your kids engaged and happy to be out on the field.

A well-rounded coach will be the one who is in tune with the needs of the individuals within the team and can create a structured, positive environment for children to play and learn.

References from the SIRC Collection: 

1. Beyer R, Flores M, Vargas-Tonsing T. Coaches’ Attitudes Towards Youth Sport Participants with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. International Journal Of Sports Science & Coaching. December 2008;3(4):555-563.
2. Curley J. Coaching a Swimmer with Attention Deficit Disorder and/or Auditory Processing Disorder. World Clinic Series. January 2008;40:465-477.
3. Flores M, Beyer R, Vargas T. Attitudes Toward Preparing Youth Sport Coaches to Work With Athletes with Hidden Disabilities. Palaestra. January 2012;26(1):5-6.
4. Grzegorek W. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in athletes?. Coaching Volleyball. December 1997;:18-19.
5. Hardy C. More than just burning energy. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. December 1993;15(4):470.
6. Heil J, Hartman D, Robinson G, Teegarden L. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in athletes. Olympic Coach. Spring 2002;12(2):5-7.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.