Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Spot signs of bullying

David ClarkeThere is no place for bullying anywhere in life. If you are aware of bullying in your team you must address it immediately because of the wide ranging consequences for the individual and the team.

  • You should have a bullying policy at your club, but it is even better to deal with the problem before it starts.
  • Be aware that bullying can have small beginnings, so stamp out any minor indiscretions immediately.
  • Be a presence in places where groups can gather. Listen as you walk around.
  • Reassurance from a child can be quick, but don’t take a simple answer that the player is okay to mean that he is not under pressure.
  • Victims of bullying are often “easy” targets. In other words they have weaknesses which can be easily exploited, such as weight, lack of skills or communication problems. Don’t put them in compromising positions in training.

Recognise the signs

A bullied player’s behaviour changes especially if they become withdrawn or reluctant. They might stop coming to training for no reason or start making excuses not to train or play.

You might notice that they have stopped taking part in the banter with other players or has become the butt of their jokes. It might just be that they are left out and not passed the ball during games and exercises.

Don’t brush it to one side, it could be your child it is happening to. If you do recognise the signs make sure you either inform your club’s welfare officer or deal with it yourself by talking to the team as a whole rather than identifying individuals that may make the bullying worse.


Let the players speak

davidscwnewI work at a number of clubs coaching kids of all ages, as well as running my own team. One of the interesting things that I notice is the differing attitudes shown by head coaches towards the way the players behave. I’m not talking about disruptive behaviour here, it’s more the receptive behaviour.

As an example, let me tell you about an incident last week when I was coaching a team of talented Under-12s for the first time. The head coach and parents were interested to see what I was going to do with the players – I’m sure you’ve experienced the same scrutiny. I ran a session on passing and movement, calling the players over at regular intervals to talk to them about what we were doing and why.

The boys were very on the ball, answered the questions well and really got into the spirit, even if there was a certain ‘we know what we’re doing’ bravado towards what they saw as the new coach. In essence, they were out to impress.

At the end of the session we wrapped up and I went over to talk to the head coach. He was suitably pleased with how things had gone but he raised a couple of objections.

“Why didn’t you get the players to sit up straight and focus on you when you gave the talks throughout the session,” he asked? “There was a point when they were all shouting out their ideas – how could that work?” Well I’m not one for enforcing that style of receptive behaviour from my players. I want them to be comfortable; and as I had just run a fairly fast session I allowed them to lay on the grass rather than sit up straight. After all, this wasn’t a maths lesson!

And if players shout out ideas, great. I want them to express themselves; I want them to feel they can say what they want, when they want. I prefer this more casual style of sitting around and discussing the session rather than me being the teacher and them the obedient pupils. I want a relaxed atmosphere where every single player feels comfortable in that situation and wants to speak up about what we are doing.

I have no problem if the head coach would rather see players sitting neatly in rows all cross legged with straight backs – that’s how he gets his ideas across to his players and if that works for him that’s fine. But always remember, if you start with rules about sitting up straight and only speaking when spoken to, you may not get out of your players what they really want to say.