U8 Soccer - first time head coach and a challenging player

SocrManiac

Tommy Seebach’s mustache
SoSH Member
Apr 15, 2006
7,188
Somers, CT
My town had a coaching shortage this spring. While I’ve been assisting most of my son’s teams, this is my first dive into being responsible for the entire group. Prior to this I’ve coached middle, high school, and college goalkeepers.

So far, everything is going well, but I have one player I can’t figure out. He’s 7, but he reminds me of my son’s behavior much younger.

It started with little things. I had the kids doing a group drill. He stopped and ran over to tell me he’s an expert on dinosaurs. I was totally unprepared for that. I like to kneel down to get to eye level, so I did and told him that’s cool, but I want him to focus on soccer with us and we can talk dinosaurs outside of our team time. Later on in practice, I explained a drill to the team and asked for questions. He raised his hand. “My dad yelled at my mom for getting the wrong kind of coffee.”

Okay.

About 45 seconds into our scrimmage, he breaks down in an epic meltdown, crying madly. “When do I get to score a goal?”

Again, down to eye level. I explained that soccer is a team sport, but our opponents want to stop us from scoring as much as we want to score. I told him that our time in practice was to work on the skills that would help us score goals and get our teammates to score, too. No effect, just howling, screaming, and crying. I should mention his father was there the entire time. I told him I wanted him to score a goal but we’d have to work together to make it happen. I couldn’t promise we’d all score goals, but we would give it our best effort. Sometimes the best things in soccer are helping our teammates, stealing the ball, stopping a goal, etc. He kept sobbing but at least ran around with his teammates.

Next practice, more of the same. I had the kids lined up with partners to learn throw ins. He explodes in tears. “I wanted to be the first one to try a throw in!” Down to eye level… “We’re taking turns, it’s your turn, why don’t you try one?”

Corner kicks, I at least anticipated he’d want to be the first one, so I took him to the corner, gave him the ball, and told him to kick it to a teammate. He did, the teammate scored. Kid starts howling. “I wanted to score the goal!”

This is it. This is the cadence. I spent entirely too much time with him. I’m trying not to overtly cater, attempting to put things in context, but man, I’m running out of ideas. It’s not fair to his teammates, either, because I’m clearly giving the kid special treatment.

His dad has been watching every move, every word, but hasn’t offered anything at all. This is unknown territory for me. I see it as my job to expose the kids to the game, teach them some basic skills, help them understand sportsmanship and being on a team, and teach them how to be coached. I already have the other kids “identified” somewhat and know how I want to approach the three groups (love soccer, there to try soccer, and soccer being used as daycare). I can deal with all of that. This one, though… I’m two practices in. Is it out of bounds to consider a chat with his dad? Do I let it play out further? Is this just normal 7 year old behavior? I just have no clue where to go with it.
 

Gdiguy

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
5,764
San Diego, CA
Are you solo or do you have an assistant coach?

I'll admit even in the 4-5 year old range, I struggle with this - and I had a period the last cycle where I just decided I was ok with one kid standing in the goal during the 'game' portion because otherwise I wasn't helping any other kid

(also it's infuriating to have a parent like this - I'm curious about other thoughts because I absolutely don't think a nice 'hey, I'm pretty swamped out here so if you want to help out with your kid when he's struggling that would be great!' chat is a bad idea (regardless of whether it's normal behavior or not), so I think a nice offer is good on the off chance that it's just a parent who's super reticent to step on your toes as coach or something, but I suspect it's more a parent using you as an hour of daycare)
 

trotsplits

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SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
660
I would talk to his dad and get some advice on how to reach the kid. Be diplomatic, but you have to bring this kid in a little before he blows up every practice. Also recruit the dad to give some coaching to the kid for the post-practice car ride. The dad not reacting while observing isn't a problem yet IMO because parents shouldn't be coaching from the sideline - that's your job. There's time to fix this, but you'll need to get ahead of it.
 

Dummy Hoy

Angry Pissbum
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Jul 22, 2006
7,919
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I would talk to his dad and get some advice on how to reach the kid. Be diplomatic, but you have to bring this kid in a little before he blows up every practice. Also recruit the dad to give some coaching to the kid for the post-practice car ride. The dad not reacting while observing isn't a problem yet IMO because parents shouldn't be coaching from the sideline - that's your job. There's time to fix this, but you'll need to get ahead of it.
Was writing a reply to the OP when this came up. Basically hits the nail on the head.
 

SocrManiac

Tommy Seebach’s mustache
SoSH Member
Apr 15, 2006
7,188
Somers, CT
Appreciate the feedback. I think I’ve been looking for permission to talk to the dad and that seems to be the consensus.

I do have an assistant coach. He’s a calm, quiet presence where my energy is a little more frenetic. One of the moms has also volunteered to help. She has two girls and is incredibly empathic. I am going to put him in their group at our game Saturday (they split our team in half so the kids get more time). It almost feels like a cop out, but I’d like to see if he responds better to their styles. If he’s the same for them, it’s clearly not an issue of our approach and I’ll feel more confident in talking to the dad. If he engages productively with them it at least gives me a direction I can take with my own coaching.
 

Awesome Fossum

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Jul 20, 2005
3,102
Austin, TX
I think if you're framing it as "I want your kid to have a great experience, and it doesn't seem like what I'm doing is terribly effective, do you have any ideas?" it doesn't have to be a confrontational or even awkward conversation with the father. People love being asked for their feedback.
 

BroodsSexton

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Feb 4, 2006
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I think you also probably have to be a bit realistic in your expectations. U8, you’re still at the age where parents are signing the kids up for activities to see what they like, or just to get them involved with something, and you are bound to have a kid that is picking daisies or just doesn’t want to be there. It’s not fun but it comes with the territory. You’re managing those kids as best you can, as they will always be part of the bargain.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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Jul 2, 2006
21,448
Philadelphia
Appreciate the feedback. I think I’ve been looking for permission to talk to the dad and that seems to be the consensus.

I do have an assistant coach. He’s a calm, quiet presence where my energy is a little more frenetic. One of the moms has also volunteered to help. She has two girls and is incredibly empathic. I am going to put him in their group at our game Saturday (they split our team in half so the kids get more time). It almost feels like a cop out, but I’d like to see if he responds better to their styles. If he’s the same for them, it’s clearly not an issue of our approach and I’ll feel more confident in talking to the dad. If he engages productively with them it at least gives me a direction I can take with my own coaching.
I think you're doing all the right things given the circumstances.

I would just prepare yourself for the strong possibility none of it is going to work. This kid's problems likely start at home, with the way he is parented and (seemingly from the coffee comment) maybe some very upsetting other home dynamics. If those kinds of forces are at work, as a coach seeing the kid twice a week for an hour you could be spitting into a hurricane in terms of changing his behavior.
 

BigJimEd

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SoSH Member
Jan 4, 2002
3,980
I think if you're framing it as "I want your kid to have a great experience, and it doesn't seem like what I'm doing is terribly effective, do you have any ideas?" it doesn't have to be a confrontational or even awkward conversation with the father. People love being asked for their feedback.
Yes, if the kid continues to have struggles Saturday then reach out to one of his parents. Doesn't need to be a big deal. They might be hesitant to reach out and step on your coaching toes.


I'd be extremely hesitant to make any judgements about the child's home life or how he is parented.
 

OCST

Sunny von Bulow
SoSH Member
Jan 10, 2004
22,993
The 718
My town had a coaching shortage this spring. While I’ve been assisting most of my son’s teams, this is my first dive into being responsible for the entire group. Prior to this I’ve coached middle, high school, and college goalkeepers.

So far, everything is going well, but I have one player I can’t figure out. He’s 7, but he reminds me of my son’s behavior much younger.

It started with little things. I had the kids doing a group drill. He stopped and ran over to tell me he’s an expert on dinosaurs. I was totally unprepared for that. I like to kneel down to get to eye level, so I did and told him that’s cool, but I want him to focus on soccer with us and we can talk dinosaurs outside of our team time. Later on in practice, I explained a drill to the team and asked for questions. He raised his hand. “My dad yelled at my mom for getting the wrong kind of coffee.”

Okay.

About 45 seconds into our scrimmage, he breaks down in an epic meltdown, crying madly. “When do I get to score a goal?”

Again, down to eye level. I explained that soccer is a team sport, but our opponents want to stop us from scoring as much as we want to score. I told him that our time in practice was to work on the skills that would help us score goals and get our teammates to score, too. No effect, just howling, screaming, and crying. I should mention his father was there the entire time. I told him I wanted him to score a goal but we’d have to work together to make it happen. I couldn’t promise we’d all score goals, but we would give it our best effort. Sometimes the best things in soccer are helping our teammates, stealing the ball, stopping a goal, etc. He kept sobbing but at least ran around with his teammates.

Next practice, more of the same. I had the kids lined up with partners to learn throw ins. He explodes in tears. “I wanted to be the first one to try a throw in!” Down to eye level… “We’re taking turns, it’s your turn, why don’t you try one?”

Corner kicks, I at least anticipated he’d want to be the first one, so I took him to the corner, gave him the ball, and told him to kick it to a teammate. He did, the teammate scored. Kid starts howling. “I wanted to score the goal!”

This is it. This is the cadence. I spent entirely too much time with him. I’m trying not to overtly cater, attempting to put things in context, but man, I’m running out of ideas. It’s not fair to his teammates, either, because I’m clearly giving the kid special treatment.

His dad has been watching every move, every word, but hasn’t offered anything at all. This is unknown territory for me. I see it as my job to expose the kids to the game, teach them some basic skills, help them understand sportsmanship and being on a team, and teach them how to be coached. I already have the other kids “identified” somewhat and know how I want to approach the three groups (love soccer, there to try soccer, and soccer being used as daycare). I can deal with all of that. This one, though… I’m two practices in. Is it out of bounds to consider a chat with his dad? Do I let it play out further? Is this just normal 7 year old behavior? I just have no clue where to go with it.
Richarlison? Is that you? :)
 

graffam198

dog lover
SoSH Member
Dec 10, 2007
1,381
Reno, NV
My town had a coaching shortage this spring. While I’ve been assisting most of my son’s teams, this is my first dive into being responsible for the entire group. Prior to this I’ve coached middle, high school, and college goalkeepers.

So far, everything is going well, but I have one player I can’t figure out. He’s 7, but he reminds me of my son’s behavior much younger.

It started with little things. I had the kids doing a group drill. He stopped and ran over to tell me he’s an expert on dinosaurs. I was totally unprepared for that. I like to kneel down to get to eye level, so I did and told him that’s cool, but I want him to focus on soccer with us and we can talk dinosaurs outside of our team time. Later on in practice, I explained a drill to the team and asked for questions. He raised his hand. “My dad yelled at my mom for getting the wrong kind of coffee.”
Mr. Maniac,

First, I hope you figured out the 7 yo. I know this thread is 4 months old, and spring season is over...but fall ball is here, now! I wanted to highlight this. I have a girl on my u13 club team. All the girls are upper class, lily white kids from whole family units (mostly, more on that later). This girl is in the right zip code, but dad made some pretty bad choices. Pretty sure he is in prison at the moment. Mom is not in the picture (lives with grandma), Hispanic. I highlight this to show how DIFFERENT she feels compared to the other girls and some of the past trauma she has gone through. Now, these girls have been playing for like 5 years together and they all LOVE one another. But my outlier KNOWS she is different. Physically, mentally, home life, it's all different from her peers. At times she 100% does a version of what your 7yo was doing. It's a cry for attention and validation. Which is crushing. My approach is to lead with empathy, kid gloves, and a ton of slack. As she has matured, she has developed a sense of security on the pitch that I don't think she gets anywhere else. For the most part she isn't disruptive, but when she needs a little extra attention, I redirect to an activity I know she can excel at in front of her peers and that's really all she needs to reset.

I said mostly above. I have another set of twins who fit the majority mold, but parents went through a NASTY divorce. Same thing, except their acting out is to shut down and quit. One I figured out, but the other I am still struggling with how to motivate when she goes into that space. Best I can do is empathize, try to connect (What's your favorite dinosaur, how would that dino kick the ball? Do you know that dino's love sharing?), and ultimately, just tell her she's cool by me and let her get over it.

Any update on how it shook out so we could learn from it?

Now it's my turn!

My 2014 team, U9 this year, is 12 dang kids strong.7v7. WTH are you people doing w/a roster that big?! my 2011 team has 14, and are playing 11v11 soccer...

Any pro tips on minimizing chaos? Maximizing skills for those that are ahead of their peers?

Break it down. 4 kids are flat out studs. 2 played up 2 years last year and excelled. Just destroyed. Didn't want to keep doing club though, too much time, wanted to just have fun. Awesome for me. The other 2 have older siblings, get the sport, big, naturally talented. These kids are easy. They just want to stomp. Do anything I need.

5 girls. Brand new to the sport. Never touched a ball in their life. Not sure they even know how to run. For Serious. Put them to the side for a minute

3 are what I would call "try-hards". They do their work. They have fun. They are terrible. But I love their little attitudes and their smiles are infectious.

Where I struggle is how do I pair these kids up? Club side of me wants to take the 4 studs, put them to the side, have them do more advanced drills. Part of me wants them mixing it up w/the 5 that have never played to "show" but I don't want to crush their spirits. I mean, one of my 8 year olds is pushing 4'6", 100lbs, just as yoked as an 8 yo girl can be. When she wants to score, she will score. She cannot be stopped.

I've coached a ton of teams at this point. 18? 22? I don't even know. I'm great at fun, my club team got second in the region last year, and I've never had a quitter. But I have always run a SKINNY roster to maximize playing time and minimize name memorization. I am struggling to provide any semblance of instruction with a group that big and that young. Tell me your secrets.
 

SocrManiac

Tommy Seebach’s mustache
SoSH Member
Apr 15, 2006
7,188
Somers, CT
Honestly, I taped up the windows and hoped the hurricane didn’t blow the house down.

I talked to his dad, who was sympathetic but also bluntly honest about his expectations. He knew his kid was a nightmare, but was pawning him off for an hour of peace. I tried to minimize disruptions for the rest of the kids and give the kid as much of a positive experience as possible. I don’t think either worked. It was a bit of a stain on what was otherwise a fantastic experience with the rest of the kids.

My sorting of the kids mirrors your own. You see my groupings upthread, which are similar in scope if not name to yours.

Two hours ago, I wrote my welcome email to my fall team. I laid out my goals for the season (they’re U8, not U9, but not far off): learn the rules, learn some skills, learn how to be great teammates, and have fun. I then run everything off those goals. Three of the four really aren’t dependent on ability.

It’s easy enough to pair or group the kids according to skill for various drills. I think the parents even appreciate it. The key is to have a few drills that develop ancillary skills that aren’t necessarily soccer-focused. Agility stuff, for example, will even the playing field a bit. If the kids are all working together on an obstacle course (maybe with a couple of ball stations here and there), you can put the team up against a clock. If they beat a target time, the coaches do a lap (or other “punishment”). If they don’t beat it, they do the work. Stuff like that.

Where you can give the advanced instruction is often in the controlled scrimmages. Give each kid something specific to their level that they can work on. I had my superstar doing Cruyff turns, a tireless, fast kid running the sideline as an outlet, a scrappy kid tasked with stealing the ball whenever it was in his half, etc. They pick up on what the others are doing and tended to normalize to a level by the end of the season. At least, the kids that wanted to be there did.

As for names… I give my kids name tags for the first few weeks. I absolutely suck at faces and names.

I wish I could show off the end of the season team pictures. You would be able to identify the kids based on their faces alone. The “soccer as daycare” kids wouldn’t even face the damn camera. They were absolutely perfect shots to sum things up.
 

graffam198

dog lover
SoSH Member
Dec 10, 2007
1,381
Reno, NV
This pretty well mirrors my approach, I appreciate the secondary opinion there. My foundational belief? Core Programming? Ethos? is athletes first, soccer players second. There are many practices where we don't even touch the ball (early season) for more than 15% of the session. "First to the ball wins it all!"

Do you guys do the build out line in your district? Lord I hate that thing. I don't even understand it. Arbitrary point of offsides and "safe space" for the goalie for a throw. Spend two years getting used to it, then bam, 9v9, no build out line, offsides for realzies now!