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News - Details

Apathy and Fear as the Teaching Tool: Where Will It End?

By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association

I consider myself to be a huge supporter of parent education and believe that parent behavior at games and in sport in general is one of the main reasons that we are losing so many players from the game at 13 years of age. I also believe that if we get the message right parents listen and adjust their behavior. This is why I created the parent education Brainshark at

With more than 10,500 views, we are starting to get the message out and with support from both the NSCAA and US Youth Soccer, the message is going far beyond the boundaries of Eastern New York. In certain clubs and leagues within the state, I have also used this platform to hold Parent Education nights dedicated to helping parents understand the issues that are facing youth sport.

In addition to all above, I consider myself to be a developmental coach. One who understands that at key ages although you play to win, development and players mastering the skills and tactics of the game must take a priority. I talk at length when teaching courses about the importance of the Socratic approach, guided discovery and how good coaches allow players to make decisions and create answers for themselves. Indeed I preach against joy stick coaching and orders screamed on from the sideline. I also constantly preach about no laps, no lines, no lectures and therefore no drills. Ultimately on courses, we talk about the balance a good coach has between player-directed time and coach-directed time, most coaches leave courses carefully changing their drill-centered practices where kids stand out and seldom get to think, to ones where they only use the command and direct approach to speed up organization of their sessions.

When I get asked about how to motivate players I stress the following

  • Make it fun
  • Make it full of mixed ability tasks so all are challenged
  • Use activities that let players think and that look like the game
  • Be prepared at times to be the energizer bunny and lead kids to high activity
  • Use pinnies and such as rewards to help incentivize players
  • Use competition to help challenge players to compete at high levels
  • Build relationships with players based on respect and honesty – “ I work hard to plan and design sessions therefore it is only fair you work hard at practice”
  • I stress the importance of team and players respecting their teammates and the importance of each player working to be the most coachable player at practice - the player who most helps create an environment where players can learn.


When asked about how to deal with discipline problems. I talk about no laps, no humiliation and no screaming. Rather truthful conversation about how kids come to practice to learn and not be disturbed by foolish behavior. Ultimately as a last recourse I talk about inviting parents to watch sessions (and ,by the way, none have ever accepted the invitation) and building small grids where kids who simply can’t cooperate that practice get to sit and watch the others play.

Any teacher or coach reading this and more importantly any parent is probably thinking what about the fear - what about using fear as the teaching tool. The clip from all the Hollywood movies where the coach rants and screams with the threat of running or humiliation to get his players to high levels of motivation. The parent who yells without thinking, "If you do that you will be grounded for life...”

Don’t get me wrong! I have taught in some of the toughest schools in London and fully understand the approach. I have within the four walls of a school in England certainly had to use fear as the teaching tool as most teachers have.

The difference is for a youth coach, unlike a school teacher, kids choose to be at soccer and therefore you would suspect that they would choose to try and help the learning environment.

I read an interesting article in the NSCAA Soccer Journal by Jay Martin (Vol. 60 No. 3) where he writes about increasing levels of apathy displayed by the players in his club. I hate to admit it but I believe Jay has it right.

I see sessions with players of all age and levels of ability led by some really good and highly-qualified coaches where one or a number of players are simply not trying. I listen to story after story from professional trainers all with the same theme: Way too many players show apathy and don’t seem to care, they miss games and practices for any reason and the importance of team and responsibly seems to be getting lost.

As someone who believes passionately in the no fear, developmentally-appropriate approach to coaching and has further talked frequently and loudly about the car ride home, I have great concerns about the growing culture within youth sports where kids pretend to try. I have pondered the reasons and asked others for the reasons they see. The most significant contributing factors that I have uncovered so far are

Multisport fatigue-The emotional and physical stress that participating in four team sports a week with more than 50 combined competitive games a season is enormous and leads to players unable to motivate themselves to train or play with maximum effort.

Privilege-Too many of our youth players feel like they are untouchable and if questioned on behavior or effort ,know that mom or dad regardless of the truth of the situation, will come crashing in to support their child. I would ask all parents reading this to think about the last time they considered that their kid may be just that a kid, they learn, they make mistakes, they behave badly, they act the fool and through it all they just want to know the boundaries. They need to know what is acceptable and what they can get away with and where mom, dad, teacher and coach will draw the line. We have eroded the line completely

Parent's Rose Colored Glasses-Far too many parents have rose colored glasses where their kid is great at all, makes no mistakes, their effort is always maximum and they do no wrong. Time to take the glasses off they in no way help your child grow.

Electronic-Induced Daze-More difficult to prove until we get more research into this but the endless hours of time spent in front of a computer screen, iPad, x-box and smart phone I believe is slowly eradicating the spirit of adventure and physical play that exits within every child.


Unfortunately, I see why the above are leading to more coaches reverting to using fear as the teaching tool within the beautiful game. Although I understand why I suggest that the short term success this may bring will lead to long term heartache and pain. Avoid if you can.

A good friend of mine asked I write about hope––to set the record straight every time I write about such topics they are inspired by the hope that we can listen, educate and change the things I discuss.