Aggressive Soccer Play No. 2
How to Teach Timid Soccer Players to be Brave

"Before we started soccer practice, I went and got 5 Bravery soccer patches out of my bag, held them up in the air and told my team, if I see brave play, I was going to pass them out to that player. And boy did this change some behavior. The coolest thing was, I gave out three patches for bravery and when I did, I stopped practice right when it happened and had the kid come up to me and I explained what she did and why she was receiving the patch. One girl held onto her patch the rest of practice in her hand, she didn't want to let it go. But back to the coolest thing about it, the three patches I gave out were to three of my most timid players (significant breakthrough)." Coach Aaron

Why the word "Brave" is better than "Tough" or "Aggressive" -- We have been told by many coaches that "Brave" is a much better word to motivate players than "Tough" or "Aggressive". A lot of parents don't like the idea of a coach encouraging their kid to be "tough" or "aggressive", but everyone wants to be "Brave". Brave is a lot more positive word. Also, think about what the words convey - Heroes are Brave and the word "Brave" conveys an image of a hero. But "tough" conveys an image of a fighter or a villain. You will get better results using the word "Brave". We are coming out with a special "B" for Bravery patch.

Hi SoccerHelp,

My son, who is a great dribbler and shooter and tons of speed, is VERY timid when it comes to contact. Hurts him when trying to win a ball and I can't put him on defense at all. I would love to hear any suggestions you have so that next season I can work on that with him.

I was assistant coach this season and found this site just a few weeks ago, but next season I plan on being head coach for my U10 and U7 boys teams. Can't wait to try some of the things listed here. This year, both of my boys (U10 and U6) only did scrimmage every practice. I didn't mind as much in U10, but really didn't like it in U6. In U6, it's the same thing, the aggressive kids are all over the ball, the shy kids can go a whole hour and never touch the ball. Drove me crazy. I have to step up and be head coach to make sure my kids, especially the youngest, gets some real time with the ball and has fun. He didn't have any fun this season.

Coach Bill

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Hi Bill,

I think you will be a great coach. You're observant, analytical, open to better ideas, and want your players to learn.

My ideas are based on my personal experiences and feedback from hundreds of Rec and travel coaches.

You're exactly correct -- scrimmaging is a bad, ineffective way to practice at any age. The players don't get enough touches on the ball, they repeat the same mistakes, they don't learn much new, the timid kids don't improve and players aren't as excited when they play a "real" game (at least mine weren't). Try SoccerHelp Practice Games for practice.

Teaching timid players to be braver is tough. I only had luck with one approach. Here's the only approach I know that works:

Really encourage and reward bravery and improvement (i.e., tougher play). DON'T focus on criticism or embarrassing the timid players -- instead, encourage and reward the brave players and the timid players when they do something brave. Praise brave behavior during practice, during games, at half-time and at the end of games. Let your praise be so everyone hears it and name the player you are praising. Try to get the attention of the player you are praising when the bravery occurred or soon after so they get immediate positive reinforcement. Say their name first to get their attention and say things like: "John, way to go, you're brave". "Bill, that was really brave." "Mark, way to fight for the ball." "Sam, way to block that shot - you're really brave." When a kid does something brave tell him at half time or after the game in front of everyone something like: "You are SO brave." Or, "I'm really proud of you, you're really brave." At halftime or after the game, when everyone is listening say things like "I'm so proud of you guys, you were really brave today and played hard." I think the word "brave" may get a better response than the word "tough" and it's good to use the same word to avoid confusion. Everyone wants to be "brave" -- it's a positive word -- whereas "tough" doesn't sound so positive.

By stating your expectations in a positive, presumptive way, I think your kids will start to believe they ARE brave and start to play to meet your expectations. It's a positive, supportive, encouraging approach that is consistent with the SoccerHelp Philosophy. If you follow this approach it will work and you will be proud you have taken a positive approach, and the players and parents will think you're a great coach. I had to learn this by trial and error - you can avoid my mistakes and have faster success than I did.

You want bravery to become a quality your players take pride in. You want them to always be brave and to do their best and give their all.

For years I looked for a way to motivate my players. Finally, I saw some small iron-on patches at the soccer store. They were 55 cents each. I bought them and started giving them for practice attendance and to reward brave play. I knew I couldn't turn a non-athlete into a great athlete, but I thought I might be able to get my players to come to practice and to hustle more and to be braver, and it worked. I would give a red/white patch for brave play -- it was like a badge of honor and had to be earned. The boys started calling them "Blood patches" because if they got hurt trying to win the ball or attacking or blocking a shot with their body they got one. They were proud to earn a Blood Patch.

There is also a SoccerHelp Premium Practice Game you might try with your U-11 team: the name is "Defend the Goal and Clear" game. If your team does well with it, check "Chip Shots/Brave Defenders". I played that game starting at U-12 and it helped. Kids will be braver if they see their teammates being brave.

Also, try the "Shoulder Tackle and Strength on the Ball Game".

Try to change the thinking of your players so brave behavior is the standard and they are proud of being brave and playing tough and doing their best. Your son has great potential, but he will play better, have more fun and get more satisfaction if he learns to be braver.

Please let us know how this works.

David at Soccerhelp

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