Rowdy groups…a survivor’s guide!

We have all been to a session that makes our lives a living hell. A group or club that you dread facing all week. That one child who has an ability to ruin a class at will. 

It’s difficult to keep motivation, but there is nowhere to hide. Throwing the towel in, or feeling sorry for yourself, will only make things worse!

Let’s make one thing clear. I’m certainly not speaking from a viewpoint that I have mastered this – i still try, try and fail regularly. But each year in the job you learn, reflect, improve, and succeed in the most challenging environments more often.

Below are a few thoughts and skills, accumulated through hundreds of hours of tough sessions.


Barely any child is genuinely malicious when they act up. Any one act of defiance or silliness, could be explained by a number of reasons. These vary from child to child.

Most commonly, an “I don’t want to be here”, attitude is more accurately, “I don’t think I’m any good”. In this situation, only constant encouragement, and positive reinforcement will turn them around. Latch onto any moment they have made good contact with the ball/bowled properly/done well to stop or catch.

You will make progress, and then suffer setbacks. The temptation to give up and start messing around will always be there (it’s easier to give up!).But these children are well worth persevering with. Years later they might surprise you.

Children think they’re invincible. Any major accident only happens to other children, not them. If a bat swings 2 inches from another child’s head, they think they’re in control…’s still fine. Obviously this attitude will lead to a nasty surprise in the future.

And you don’t want it to be on your watch!! Sometimes personal experience is useful here. Tell the group about the worst accidents you have seen first hand, or that you have had to deal with.

For me, it was calling an ambulance for a 11 year old – one of my most upsetting days in coaching. When i re-tell this story, i still get emotional. This can be a powerful lesson for a young group, and hit a safety message home. For 10 minutes at least!!



**None of the following come with a cast iron guarantee. But here are some ways of communicating that might get your group – or a trouble maker – back towards the right track!**

The “guilt trip” – often useful for when one boy/girl is talking during an explanation, and also if someone is abusing equipment.

Example phrase: “do you know i had to pay £___ for these bats myself?!”

Example phrase: “do you think it’s fair that everyone has to wait for you?”

It doesn’t always work. But this way of phrasing can get the message across, more effectively than a generic, “stop talking”, or , “keep quiet”, for example.

“Can we have a chat please?” – in fact this technique often works best when you stay calm and measured, as a child will fear the worst, then be surprised that you are not losing your temper.

Make it personal – explain concisely why you find their act frustrating, or how disappointed you are when your session is disrupted. The best way of getting a genuine, personal apology as well… contrast to the “head down, eyes down” token “sorry”.

Mention specifics – if a boy/girl has just earned time out of the session, describe the exact act you have just scene back to them. Of course, they will most often try to wriggle off the hook, most commonly by arguing that, “____ said that….”. Just refocus back to the specific incident you saw. All you can do is try and make the child take personal responsibility for their actions.

This is VITAL when you are talking to parents as well. Avoid the vague descriptions of behavior….it always gets you into a deeper hole, as you have to justify your actions.

Give them “a way back in”- A reminder that, “you can always come to me if someone is bothering you”, or, “you’re a good boy/girl, but this (incident, or rude behavior) keeps happening and it HAS TO stop.

It is ESSENTIAL that you demonstrate beyond doubt that you don’t actively hold a grudge for an individual. That means (as hard as it to put irritation to one side), for every new session, always having a relatively clean slate for players.

Today is a new day, and represents a fresh start. Very few children should be condemned, or excluded permanently. In 8 years in schools (over 1500 sessions to date!!), I have had to recommend this for 4 children in total. There is nearly always an endearing moment, or some quality to work with.

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