Leader, Coach, Parent

Connecting with An Athlete Experiencing Behavioral Challenges

"I am coaching my son's 10U baseball team. A player on the team has some pretty serious behavioral issues, including throwing fits, pouting, and not following instructions.

We've had repeated issues with this kid and I've spent a great deal of time talking with the parents, but to no avail. The parents continue to brush it off as normal 10-year-old behavior and don't support us in our efforts to modify his behavior and/or hold him accountable. One of our coaches has been with him for 4 years now, and this coach insists that the kid is no longer with us or the coach will step aside. This coach is our team administrator and puts in countless hours to do all the behind-the-scenes work. While I fully appreciate the coach's stance, I'm finding it incredibly difficult to give up on the kid.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how much of an impact we can have in our limited time with him if the parents aren't willing to recognize any issues. There are obviously many more details to consider, but I'm consumed with making the right decision going forward. Help?"

PCA Response by former Lead Trainer, Joe Terrasi

Thank you for reaching out to the Positive Coaching Alliance Team! I want to recognize that this sounds like a very challenging situation for you, your team, and coaching staff and I appreciate you reaching out to help remedy the situation rather than giving up. Ultimately, the effort you are putting in can have the positive impact that this athlete may need. 

I see that you’ve mentioned you’ve tried working with the athlete’s parents to no avail. I’d suggest starting a conversation with your athlete - whether before, during, or after practice. Seek to understand what is going on for him. His behavior tells a story - what is that story? Kids don’t show up to sports practices with the intention of disrupting them - they show up bringing the weight of their daily experiences and that may affect them.

Approach this conversation with a calm tone and positive body language. Listen to understand the athlete’s perspective, validate what he is feeling, and let him know that you are there for him. From this place of understanding, you may be better equipped to prevent these behavioral challenges by identifying any unmet needs he may have, and/or working with the athlete to create expectations and accountability measures. In doing so, you may be able to help the athlete identify their emotions and how to better work with them. 

This approach is not easy and will not necessarily be effective immediately. As you approach this athlete with empathy, you are beginning to build a relationship based in understanding and care - and that takes time, effort, and intentionality.

As far as an approach to his parents, I’d suggest keeping them in the loop about how you are working with their son. At PCA, our model for the sport parent is called the Second-Goal Parent® - their goal being to support their athlete in benefiting from the life skills that can be learned through sports. With this model in mind, let them know what measures you are putting in place to prevent behavioral challenges (i.e. if the athlete is acting out when they feel like a drill is too easy, adding a layer to increase the difficulty for them and to keep them engaged) and what expectations and accountability measures you and the athlete have agreed upon (i.e. if the athlete quits a drill, he will take a deep breath and stand off to the side for a few minutes before rejoining the team). As Second-Goal Parents, ask for their support in these measures going forward. 

Thank you again for your question. For additional resources on behavior guidance, check out “Positive Behavior Guidance: Prevention”, “Positive Behavior Guidance: Responsive Intervention” and “Addressing a Players’ BASE Needs”. You can also learn more about the Second-Goal Parent® here. We greatly appreciate your commitment to young people and know that this effort will be remembered by your athletes.

Our Ask PCA service has answered hundreds of questions over the years. Most come from coaches and parents trying to serve youth as well as possible, but not always knowing how.

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