How to Handle a Difficult Athlete

I’ve had my share of coaching difficult athletes, and I’ve learned that, a lot of times, it has nothing to do with you as the coach. 

One of the biggest behaviors associated with a ‘difficult’ athlete is defiance towards instructions.

When dealing with an athlete who’s defiant against the training you’re trying to do, you need to remind them why you’re there, remind them of their goals, and be adamant on sticking with the plan for their session. 

Once I had an athlete mumble during a session, “This is why I would rather drive the ball (than shoot).” I had him do layups at that time, based on what he was expressing to me. He soon changed his focus, recognizing how important shooting was.  I then expressed to him why it’s important to focus on working on the quick release as planned, and that arguing will only delay the process. 

Another common behavior is aggression. I usually deal with these issues by expressing to my student/athletes that I understand their frustration. Jokes sometimes work here, along with encouraging them by showing them how hard they are working and that turnovers during sessions mean that they are working hard.  Inform them that they are doing well, but don’t take it personally.

Let them know that frustration is ok and point out to them how to refocus that attention. 

I usually make them laugh by smiling and giving them examples of funny things that happen through frustration. It’s important to also remind them that frustration like this cannot occur in the game, because they would be at risk of penalty from the referee.

One of the things that I like to do as a coach is encourage hard work. Depending on the behavior(s), I add humor with a touch of severity; “are we working hard?”  “Ok, let’s focus.”  

Sometimes a quick water break might do the trick. The key is to NOT take behaviors personal. 

Taking behaviors personally is a waste of energy and will not make a session successful for you or your student/athlete.

Put the ball back in their laps so to speak; remind them of why they’re there and help them to refocus through encouraging them and building their confidence.  If you do this, sessions will become easier. 

The fact of the matter is: if you can’t relate to your student/athlete, you won’t get far with regard to behaviors.  Remember that every background is not the same, therefore the way most deal with frustrations can and always will be different from the way/s you’ve dealt with them.  Be patient and understanding and you will have success in your sessions.  

Coach K.

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