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I can’t control the kids

I can coach but can’t control the kids!

Having the skills to coach five-year-olds is one thing but controlling them at rugby practice or during a game on Saturday is another.

Bad behaviour often stems from several sources so let’s get this right from the start – there is no silver bullet, but you can put some things in place that set the environment up, so you at the very least, can survive!

Try not to REACT!

The mistake most coaches make is responding to the misbehaviour. I would suggest telling them about your structures and required behaviours during a calm moment. This works a lot better than saying, “Johnny, don’t stick mud on Amy’s head – that’s not nice!” What works better is saying, “Johnny, I told you before to not annoy others in the team.”

Stay as positive as you can!

It’s an old tactic but it is one of the best. If you see a child misbehaving – walk over to someone doing something good and praise that child up – even over do it! Dreading the inevitable naughty behaviour and showdowns you'd face that day at rugby is not a great way to start – most kids are good, right?

Be a role model.

You might have to change your own bad behaviour as you could be modelling the very thing you want to curb in your players. Trying not to yell at the kids could be a good example of this. One minute you are yelling at the players to stop this and stop that and then you turn around and tell a player not to make so much noise.

Discipline time!

Kids usually act up for a reason!

As a coach you should be good enough to work out what caused your player to misbehave, and then give them a fair consequence. This will help them give the punishment context, feel accepted and understood, even as they are being disciplined. For example, if you see a child push another child, was it because the other child started it or something else? Find out and match the punishment! Sitting them out of a whole game or making them run 5km is probably not the answer here. (Please see end of article for some consequences).

The success of all this is dependent on having the patience to implement it.

Consistency is king!

You need to be consistent, make your expectations clear, and avoid your own explosions.

I like a rule of thumb approach. Whining kid gets ignored; physical damage gets time out; good behaviour gets team rewards; and loud noises go last!


I know that reasoning is the buzz word of the 21st century. Talking to your child about all the elements of bad behaviour and how this made the other children feel doesn’t work with 5-year-olds, plus, you have these kids for an hour tops – you don’t have time for all that!

Again, use a simple phrase like, “You get this because of that”. They might not at first get it, but if you keep saying it, it will work.

Create new habits to undo the old ones.

We get told a lot to make rugby practices fun and enjoyable. Lots of games and letting the kids experiment and play is what it’s all about. This is true, but it must come about with structure.

Simple procedures work, like when you blow your whistle, all balls are placed between their legs, so they aren’t playing with them and being distracted. Walk the children around your boundaries; when you raise your hand, there is not talking; when someone is in time out they have an exact space to think things through; etc.

Kids will resist change in very unpleasant ways, but you must let them know you won't back down.

Big breath!

We were all 5-years-old and we were all brought up differently – but we don’t need to stress in what can be one of the most rewarding jobs in a sporting environment – a child’s rugby coach. Take a big breath, look for the kid who has mud in between their big smile, who has their arm around another player, and who has just jumped for joy as they scored their first try.

Consequence tips.

  • End their time at practice early if misbehaving.
  • Don’t let them play with the ball if they stole it from another child
  • They leave the game if they physically hurt another child.
  • If they didn’t pick up the cones after being told to they have just chosen to lose the privilege of playing with them.
  • Don’t use timeout to humiliate or punish. Use it to let them think about their actions. By the way, timeout should last no longer than one minute for each year of the child’s age.
  • Privileges that can be taken away include playing with friends, using the rugby ball or games that ALL the kids like playing.
  • For a younger child, get down to their level when you speak to them.
  • Don’t be their friend – they have heaps of these – you are the adult in charge!
  • Distract them by saying they oversee making sure the cones are stacked so no colour is the same in a pile. These silly jobs get them away from the task they are disrupting.