Coaching Socially Challenged Athletes

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An interesting phenomenon of today’s youth is that they are more immature than past generations. This is not a knock on today’s young people; it is a fact that has been confirmed by research from psychologists and sociologists. This phenomenon increases the probability of having socially challenged players on sports teams. As a coach, it is important to be prepared to coach athletes who are socially challenged. Socially challenged athletes often have difficulties “fitting in” on the team, often shy away from volunteering for drills and appear happy to sit out during games (often sitting on the far end of the bench). Moreover, socially challenged athletes may exhibit the following behavior:

  • Not talk with other players.
  • Not cooperate in small group drills.
  • Have tantrums (At any age).
  • Act aggressively towards other players.
  • Quit playing.
  • Not show up for games or practices.
  • Talk back to you or otherwise be disruptive.

Here are some tips on how to encourage active participation amongst all your players including those that may be struggling with socialization problems. Please note, these tips are not meant to treat serious social problems; if you believe that a player has a serious problem seek the advice of a professional trained to handle adolescent developmental issues (e.g. psychologist).

  • Avoid cliques on your team by encouraging players to interact with different players during drills.
  • Don’t tease, make fun of, haze, or otherwise belittle ANY player.
  • Remember, coaching is teaching. Take every opportunity to teach your players social skills. Examples: Extend a hand to help a fallen player. Require players to say, please and thank you when appropriate. Require players to share-whatever. Require and teach togetherness and cooperation.
  • Team meetings, team banquets, meetings are all great opportunities to teach the players the above social skills.
  • Communicate with parents. If you observe a particular social problem in a player, mention it to the parents—they will want the player to improve because you pointed this out and they value the sport participation.
  • Don’t overemphasize winning.
  • Focus on how players can improve when they make mistakes, not on yelling or belittling players.
  • Smile and be a MODEL OF SOCIAL SKILLS. Treat players with respect, politeness, and good social skills.
  • Emphasize how much fun sports are to play.
  • Encourage players to offer their opinion.
  • Make yourself available before and after practice.
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