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Coach, Leader

Combating Lack of Focus and Effort in Youth Sports Practices

"I am an assistant coach for my son's 2nd-grade soccer team.  There are 12 kids and this is our second year playing together.  We have about 2-4 kids of the 12 who are great listeners, always hustle and are generally great teammates.  The others fall somewhere in between or at the other end of the spectrum in terms of listening skills, effort and focus.  Common issues at practice include: pulling and throwing clumps of grass, spitting water during breaks, talking while the coaches are talking, and wrestling/tackling other players.  It's tough to get much accomplished when so much time has to be spent on dealing with these behaviors.  Do you have any advice on how to keep kids' attention without adding a bunch of rules that take the fun out of practice?"

responses from several PCA staff And trainers, Who Also Coach youth sports

Several PCA staff and trainers took the time to respond to this question, as it is a common issue for all youth sports coaches, especially for younger age groups. You can read some of their suggestions for handling lack of focus below:

  • Implement a captain's policy based on three components of their performance at practice: effort, listening and being a good teammate.  At the end of practice select 2 players to be captains for the next game. They get to wear armbands indicating they are captains, meet the referee before the game and lead the team cheer. This can provide motivation to keep inappropriate behaviors in check during practice.
  • Keep the kids engaged and moving at all times. This means no long lines.  Break drills into multiple activities so that no more than 3-4 players are waiting in line. 
  • Incorporate drills while standing in line for any length of time.  In hockey practice, for instance, have them see how long they can stand on one skate, see if they can stickhandle the puck bath and forth 10 times while standing still, or have them complete "X" number of jumping jacks.
  • Give 30-second water breaks after each activity to allow time to regroup and refocus.
  • Do quick check-ins throughout practice to keep everyone on track and focused on their progress.
  • Ensure that the field, rink, pool, etc. is sized appropriately for your age group.  If you only have access to a large field, for instance, consider marking it off into a smaller space that is manageable for the age group.
  • Add familiar games such as hot potato to keep things moving.  This keeps the ball moving instead of allowing a player to interrupt the flow and hold onto the ball too long.
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