Blog by Julio Zárate, President, Pachuca FC USA
Let’s talk about a hypothetical player – let’s call him Rico—a new player, who joins your team. You begin to hear your players complain about Rico. You also have observed some challenges with Rico. He has amazing moments at times, but at others, you wonder why:
- You can’t seem to communicate with him during practice or games
- He constantly has problems with his teammates and coaches, and you know that your player has the potential to become your best player, but his ability to concentrate is shaky
- He can’t sit still
- His attention span is short while you are instructing the team
- He’s a bit disorganized and does not follow instructions
- Even if you see him trying hard to do it, your fantastic player does not remember details of your instructions
And because he can’t focus on the play of the game and seems to have a short temper, he may make a mistake on the pitch due to not being able to control his impulses. What do you do?
Cut him from the team, so, you can have harmony in your team?
Players with attention deficit – hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are usually misunderstood as a player because coaches do not recognize the ADHD player symptoms. Coaches mentally label them as “trouble” and tend to punish them by making them run more laps, sit more on the bench, or work with a lower level group because they can’t handle their hyperactivity. The parents may know the diagnosis for their child, but almost never communicate it to the coach because they are afraid of being stereotyped or stigmatized or they fear that the coach will not want to have them join the team.
Concentrating, sitting still, paying attention, staying organized, following instructions, remembering details, controlling impulses. That should raise a red flag for you as a coach that you need to take a different approach!
In this case, it should not be a surprise that Rico may have ADHD and not have been diagnosed. Complete diagnosis must be made by a specially trained medical professional, typically a specialist such as psychiatrist or neurologist. It is important to communicate with the parents because ADHD can also lead to depression if the child is always pushed away or rejected. Players need help and support in order to feel like they belong to something and to be proud of their accomplishments.
Under the American’s with Disabilities Act, and another law, known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, ADHD is considered a disability in the United States.
Soccer as a sport offers lots of social interaction, physical fitness, as well as a mental challenge, like a puzzle, to solve. Soccer will help Rico with his ADHD, reward him with a sense of camaraderie and bonding with his teammates, improve his social skills and help him grow out of extreme shyness or isolation. By playing and mastering soccer, Rico can gain a sense of accomplishment and learn how to better manage his disability with demonstrated successes and contributions to the team.
HOW CAN SOCCER HELP KIDS WITH ADHD?
Sports, in this case soccer, should be a part of every kid’s life, and there is no reason for an player with ADHD should not be able to enjoy and succeed in soccer at a higher level.
I have been coaching for over 40 years, and in all of my time, I have had experience with a few ADHD players that played at both the Regional and National level. They are usually kids, as young as seven years old, that join the teams. At practice, they are usually great, fast, aggressive, show good technique and command of the field. Most of the time at tryouts, their skills are easy to spot and coaches are eager to make them part of the team/club. But these players usually have an irregular season, sometimes they have solid games, and in others they make the rookie mistakes, which in turn makes them more insecure and irritable during practices and matches. I try to identify that moment and then I usually take them out of the practice and or match, giving them time to relax, calm down, and regroup. If we leave him on the field, he will continue making even greater mistakes and eventually get a red card and or verbally confront teammates, opponents, or coaches. If not managed well, eventually coaches and clubs tend to release them, claiming that the player has no potential or that they do not have the knowledge or patience to train him into becoming a great player.
HELPING KIDS WITH ADHD
The goal is to have a learning environment that is helpful for the team and for ADHD player. To do this, I recommend:
- Break practice into segments of short periods of time.
- Avoid players standing in lines, waiting to do drills – keep the kids learning and touching the ball, not just standing. Players will not misbehave if they remain active.
- Engage and be open in communication with parents about progress.
- Be prepared for other parents’ resentment.
- Keep practice busy and fun, in small groups, always under adult supervision.
- Keep your practice structured.
- Praise the player as much as you can, providing positive feedback on their accomplishments
- DO NOT engage in a debate with the player.
- Avoid isolated negative comments.
- Be fair with all players and understand individual needs. The better we perform as coaches, the less problems we will have.
- Provide positive feedback in front of the team.
- When improvement is needed, remind them of what they did great and how they can make it even better next time.
- Make direct eye contact when you are talking with your players.
- Make sure players understand your instructions — ask them to repeat it to you.
- Keep the team interested at practice.
- Be prepared for the player to make mistakes, remember this is a normal process of learning.
- Enjoy your practice, as a coach.
- Emphasize fitness… A tired player will not misbehave.
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