How to Motivate Players Who Don't Try
Individual Improvement, Effort and Team Spirit Are Keys to Success
When to Make Rec Soccer More Competitive
A Typical Problem for Rec Coaches
Can a Coach Make Soccer Too Much Fun?
Differences Between U6 Soccer and U8 Soccer
Starting at U8, Keep Score in Games and Have Players EARN Patches
Tell Players ASAP in Front of Teammates When they Earn a Patch
so Everyone Knows What the Coach Wants them to Do
15 Recommendations for U8 Soccer Coach
DON'T base earning a patch on who wins the Practice Games
Base who gets a patch on Individual Improvement, Effort and Team Spirit

Note from David: I think a lot of Rec coaches in soccer and other sports face the problem of a player who just doesn't care. Below is my best advice.

Hi SoccerHelp,

I coach 2 youth Rec soccer teams - an U8 coed rec team and an U4 coed rec team. At this level I am all about making practice and the games fun for the kids so that they have a positive experience and can go to the next level (if they want) but at the same time when I see a kid who is not trying at all season-after-season it is very frustrating.

The kid I'm referring to is on my U8 team and even after 4 seasons isn't trying and isn't improving at all. Everyone loves the patches and we hand them out at the end of the games, but I'm wondering if I am making it too much fun? Otherwise, why would a kid who doesn’t want to play soccer keep playing?

I have not come to the point that I am willing to approach these parents and may never do this but it is very frustrating to have a player who doesn't feel any obligation to try to improve, do his best, or help the team. To make matters worse the child's parents are on the sidelines during games laughing about their child not trying, and acting like it is cute. Any suggestions? It isn't good for the team and I think it sets a bad example for the other kids.

Coach Mike, Premium member


Hi Mike,

First, you sound like a great coach.

I agree with you that kids should spend their time on interests they can be successful in and if it isn't soccer, there are lots of other choices. Also, soccer is a team sport and everyone has an obligation to the team. It sounds like the player you mention just wants to have fun and doesn't want to improve his skills. That didn't matter at U4 or U6, but at U8 he starts to hold back the team and your team will start to lose to other teams, and it will get increasingly worse. Winning isn't everything, but "doing your best to help your team" is important and if a kid doesn't care about the team, that is a problem because it is selfish behavior, especially if he is intentionally goofing around and not trying during games - it sends a bad message and puts the coach in a tough spot. Learning that we have an obligation to our "team" is an important life lesson.

I have 5 ideas:

  1. For your U4s, just keep having fun and don't do the things listed below.
  2. For your U8's, do you play the Premium Practice Games like Dribble Across a Square and Dribble Around Cone & Pass and keep score? Playing those games will develop most players skills without additional practice IF a kid tries. With your U8s, I recommend only playing games in Practice that keep score (like the 2 mentioned). That forces the kids to try or they will lose all the time. By U8 you should bring competition into the practices, and keeping score does that. I would also play Strength on the Ball, Tick Tock, Tap on Top, and others that will help your player's skills.
  3. With U8s, I would stop playing the U6 games that don't keep score and switch to Premium games that DO keep score. That builds in competition, which causes pressure, so kids learn how to play under pressure, and they learn how to play fast like they must in real matches. Also, it gives you a way to measure performance and improvement.
  4. Use the patches with the U8s to reward Individual Improvement and Teamwork and NOT just for showing up, and when a player EARNS a patch, tell them in front of the other players - I see you just placed an order for D patches and Lightning Bolts (which are great to reward Hustle) - that is good. We will also include some free "B" patches (for Bravery) and T patches (for Teamwork and Team Spirit - it sounds like your U8s need that). Stop giving the patches for just showing up and start giving them at Practice and at Games for players doing the things you want them to do, such as being Brave, hustling, Teamwork, Team Spirit (rooting for Teammates), great Defense (fighting for the ball, body-blocking shots, etc.). In Practice, start giving patches to players who EARN the patches based on individual IMPROVEMENT and Teamwork or Team Spirit. You can't go wrong with rewarding Individual Improvement - that way every kid has a chance to EARN a patch and every kid has the chance to improve. At practice, when a player does something to EARN a patch, tell them ASAP in a way that all the other players can hear so they can connect all the players learn how they can earn a patch and that if they do the things you want, then they WILL be rewarded . At games, give the patches at the end of the Game in a Ceremony in front of the players AND the parents (if they can't stay the extra 10 minutes for the Ceremony, they don't get a patch). That way the players AND parents will know the behavior that will EARN a patch (make them start EARNING the patches and let everyone know what it takes to EARN a patch). Every kid can improve and do his or her best and have a good attitude and support the team, so you aren't punishing anyone by taking this approach. I think you need to do this to send a message. Every player needs to understand that starting at U8 they have an obligation to the Team to do their best, and that is all you are asking. I can tell you from experience, that unless you correct this behavior, at a point, your team will start to lose a lot of games and then the parents will get unhappy, even the parents of the kids who don't try - no one likes to lose a lot of games. I can also tell you from experience that telling a player in front of all the other players that he or she has EARNED a patch and what it was earned for is MUCH more effective than telling them privately.
  5. I see you are in a YMCA league - talk to your YMCA about doing what the Brentwood TN YMCA does and having both a Rec league and an Advanced League (it isn't a Travel league, it is just an Advanced league - lots of leagues do this). The Brentwood TN YMCA now has almost 2,000 kids in their program and their player retention is excellent.

Please let me know what you do and how it works. That is how I learn.




Hi David,

Thanks for the timely response and suggestions. Great advice. I totally agree with you about emphasizing that soccer is a team sport and each player has an obligation to the team and if that means working on improving skills then that is what should be accomplished. I agree that winning isn't everything. I use Coach Doug's tips and we don't hand out patches for scoring.

Although we only have one more week of games and we had our last practice this past week (next practice session is the team party) I am definitely going to revisit and rework our team policies and best practice games.

In practice we routinely use games like Win the 50/50 Ball to teach aggressiveness and how to stay with the ball. We keep score and this has helped most of the kids. We will often play this before games so that I can get them ready to get aggressive against the opposing team. I emphasize that they should be just as aggressive with the opposing team as they are with their teammates. They will knock each other down to win the ball in practice but then during a game they sometimes hold back.

I have looked over the Dribble Across a Square and Dribble Around a Cone and Pass Game. I haven't effectively used them because they seem to take time to set up and teach but I am definitely going to go back and review those so that I can use them next season. I will definitely start only using practice games that emphasize competition and encourage competition. I agree that the U6 "fun" games should not be used at the U8 level and as a result no longer use most of them. We still do use "monster kick" competition at the end of a practice session. It helps me to see whose legs are developing and who I will be able to call upon during a game to take free kicks and penalty kicks.

I also totally agree with your suggestion to stop giving out patches to kids for just showing up. Since I started this patch system 9 seasons ago I have always done this. I believe that this is great for U6 and under because we are still in that "fun" stage of learning and developing skills. It makes sense that at this level (U8) more should be expected of the players, especially those players who have been with us for more than 2-3 seasons. I will be changing that next season.

We do make a big deal out of the patches. After every game we go to a designated area, moms hand out snacks and then I hand out patches. I make sure I emphasize each individual's accomplishments and contributions that were made that day in front of all the players and parents. I hope that they leave with a sense of accomplishment. I have seen in the past few seasons a sense of expectation and entitlement to receive a patch or two after every game by both players and parents. I need to re-train our players and parents on what patches really are about at the U8 level of soccer.

Again, thanks for the advice.



Hi Mike,

I think you are on the right track and that you are a good coach and getting better.

I have 10 suggestions for your U8 team:

  1. I would go ahead and tell the U8 parents in an email about the more competitive approach you plan to take next season. If they don't like it, that will give them time to make different plans. Explain that it is time to shift from the "all fun" approach that is great for 4, 5 and 6 year olds to starting to learn real soccer. I'm not sure how to say it best, but you get the idea. That way you won't have it hanging over you all winter.
  2. Very few players practice at home - even on travel teams - it is just hard to get them to. If you have some players who will, you are lucky. If your kids will, check the video clips from SoccerHelp Foot Skills and Soccer Moves Training Program (Motor Memory Training and Aerobic Workout) DVD - players can practice at home in front of the TV and the workouts are only about 10 minutes and you follow along with the instructor to music - it really works.
  3. To improve skills, play the Premium Practice Games and your players will quickly have superior skills.
  4. The absolute best way to teach amazing dribbling is by playing the Dribble Across A Square Game. It is easy to set up (only 4 cones to make a square and only takes about a minute). Use it as a warm-up to start every practice. Play it 3 times (first to 6) with the cones 8 of your steps apart to teach control dribbling and after a few practices you can make the square larger to teach recognition of Open Space and acceleration into Open Space. If your players have trouble remembering their score, that is okay - just play it for 60 seconds and then stop, give tips and play it again. You will be able to tell who is doing the best and who is having problems. Watch Video of a young Rec player who has played the Dribble Across a Square game for 3 seasons effortlessly dribble through 6 defenders at Notice her composure in traffic EVEN when they bump and grab her - How she looks up while dribbling and uses both feet - Her instinctive reactions and ability to split defenders - How she instinctively shields the ball in traffic - and How she sees open space and accelerates into it - all Without hesitation. She learned those skills by playing this Practice Game.
  5. Play Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race a lot - it teaches many things. Set up is easier than the Win the Ball game - it only involves pairing players up into teams and 2 cones per team - set up is about 3 minutes. I promise that within 2 practices you will be VERY glad you play this game. You will see amazing results and by the end of the season your players will probably be the best team in your league. This game teaches players to play fast, and that wins games. It is also a WAY OF THINKING about playing - you want your players to one-touch when they can instead of 2-touching and to be Aggressive Receivers.
  6. Play the Strength On The Ball Game. Set up is easy and you will see results within one practice. Read the Testimonials from coaches at the top of the game directions.
  7. I recommend you play the 3 games listed above at your first practice next season. I promise you will really see the results.
  8. When you play the Games, use the Guided Discovery Method of Teaching. What that means is to let them play SHORT GAMES (e.g., to 6 instead of 10) and at the end of each game, give your players a tip about how they can improve. That way they can immediately see that if they follow your advice they will improve and if they made a mistake in the prior game, it is quickly over and they have a chance to win the next game. You can use the winner of the game as an example. I am going to give you a tip about how to get a better score" or "Let me tell you one thing that Bobby did to win."
  9. Think about having the Mom's give out the snacks AFTER the patch ceremony - that way the kids might listen better. The patch ceremony will probably take 5 to 7 minutes, so they won't be waiting long.
  10. About What a Player Has to Do to Earn a Patch - I would make it clear that all a player has to do to earn a patch is to "Do Their Best and Have Good Team Spirit". That means listening to the coach, hustling ALL the time, having a good attitude and trying ALL the time, and setting a GOOD EXAMPLE for teammates. You are looking for Individual Effort, Individual Improvement and Team Spirit (caring about the team). DON'T base earning a patch on who wins the Practice Games because the same players will win most of the time and most players will never win due to athletic ability. Base who gets a patch on Individual Improvement, Effort and Team Spirit. If you can get every player to improve, your entire team will be better off.

Please let me know how it goes.