Setting clear boundaries and expectations, communicating a learning objective and preparing arrival activities are other pieces of best practice encouraged by Roberts.
“Take the Saturday morning coaching scenario: when the players arrive the session theme should be written on a whiteboard, the practice area should be marked and the footballs ready. When the kids start arriving they can go straight into the first activity.
“During that time they can be chatting away about what they’ve been doing at school and all the stuff the coach doesn’t really want to listen to. By building this into the routine you’re recognising they are social animals and they need to do that – this is especially true of the younger players in grassroots,” he adds.
“Traditionally, there are coaches who want to stand there and give out the orders and they expect kids to listen to them and not to bounce the footballs. But it’s unrealistic to expect the players to turn up and just be ready to listen to the coach.”
There is also support for the kids when it comes to pushing boundaries.
“The kids will test you and I’m going to be their advocate here: I think they’re entitled to test you. If you think about all the other adults in their life, they’ve probably said ‘you’re not having that’ and then given it to them. So, why should they trust this adult when they say ‘this is the boundary’ when everybody else has been negotiable?’”
Setting expectations and sticking to boundaries are fundamental. Doing so consistently is even more important.
“The kids need to know what the boundaries are from the start. By sticking to the rules and the boundaries we’re being fair to the kids. If we bend the rules for one or two kids, we’re also setting up problems with the copycat kids who are waiting to see what game we play,” explains Roberts.
“If they see the coach bending the rules they’ll join in with the bad behaviour. Alternatively, if they see that the coach means what they say – they won’t,” he adds.
Managing the difficult emotions that accompany such decisions is all part of taking responsibility as adults, explains Roberts.
“When we talk about behaviour management, I’m less interested in the players’ behaviour and more interested in our behaviour as adults – because we can’t control the children. The minute I, as the coach, get frustrated, agitated and angry, you have to ask ‘who is in control of the behaviour here?’
“What we have to acknowledge from the start is that you can’t change the players’ behaviour. The only person’s behaviour you can control is your own.”
This article was first published in The Boot Room magazine in February 2017.