Is there room for values in youth sport?


Guest Blog


Fortius Training

I am a member of numerous coaching groups on Facebook. For a while I’ve been contemplating writing a piece on whether there is any room for values in grassroots sport, when I stumbled upon this post in a forum (copied with author’s permission)…

“Yesterday my U16s played a league match. 15 minutes in one of my players and their players tackle each other and fall to the ground. After a few seconds of play stopping, the opposition play two footed my player in the chest. Violent conduct and unprovoked so naturally I was waiting for a red card. 

 Referee gave a yellow and explained it was for the two footed kick to the chest. I was baffled by this decision. In the country I work in, when a player gets a yellow card, he is removed from the pitch for 5 minutes (they must play with 10 men for 5 minutes). Their coach was in agreement with me that it should have been red and was quite horribly violent. 

 But after the 5 minutes the same player rejoined the pitch after his 5 minute “sin bin”. My question is… As a coach of that player, would you allow him to continue the game? Or would you substitute him for another player? (We are under the assumption that any other referee would have given a red for something quite obvious).”

Now I’m sure for any of us coaching at any level of sport, we have seen a disciplinary decision that has baffled us due to its leniency. But the writer here asks some very provoking questions which really have the same underlying theme – does the grassroots coach have a responsibility to impose a form of discipline upon the player?

My answer would be “definitely!” I’ll explain why

1)It’s a disservice to the individual

Just as we plan a development pathway for technical skill and physical development, so we must plan a pathway for attitude and character. To sum this up nicely here is a quote from someone who can say it better:


You see the issue lies not only in the actions we see in the immediate context. Yes, a poor tackle such as that above can have a negative effect on the opposition player’s wellbeing. This is unacceptable. However, what is more worrying is the establishing of such negative behaviour as a habit in the lives of one of your athletes. Too often we as coaches excuse poor behaviour and resulting discipline as “out of our jurisdiction”. This happens even more frequently if the player happens to be one of our better athletes. But what if this athlete doesn’t make it in sport, what about their future influence and contribution as a member of society?

As Ghandi said these actions can create habits, values and ultimately your future. If you fail to address these issues as a developmental stage, these WILL have a knock on effect later in an athlete’s career (if they make it) and personal life. It may cost a suspension, a scholarship or even a pro contract. If you think I’m being extreme, have a look at the NFL suspension list for 2015, it makes for interesting reading: violating the PED policy, violating the substance abuse policy, role in a DUI/hit and run/vandalism, violating the personal conduct policy, the list goes on and on.

Keep in mind, these are the guys that made it. The 1%. How many failed to make it due to their discipline on or off the pitch? It’s impossible to know. To fail to act upon a disciplinary issue is to fail your athlete. As the great coach John Wooden said, “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”

2)It’s a disservice to the team

To lose a player for a 5 minute sin bin, a match or a series of matches is costly to a team. It requires greater effort on the part of those behind to continue to perform at the same level with 1 player less. If your athletes cannot keep their cool when their is little at stake, do not expect them to be level headed when the pressure comes. This might cost you a goal, a match, a cup or a championship. But at some point it will cost you and your team. Better to act early to teach a player a valuable lesson than to wait for the lesson to arrive. Again, in the words of Wooden, “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.”

3) it’s a disservice to the club

Let’s face it, everyone knows “that” team in their league that plays ugly. Whether it’s being overly physical, retaliating to opposition, or abusing/intimidating the officials, that team has a reputation for a reason and usually the coach is a protagonist. Although the behaviour may be exclusive to that particular side, it’s a bad representation for the club too. There will be parents and athletes who will opt to join other clubs to avoid being part of that behaviour, or exposing their children to it. Ultimately it may cost the club in their ability to recruit new players, staff and sponsors.

4)It’s a disservice to the sport

If you fail to act at the developmental level and one of these badly behaved players becomes professional, they have become an ambassador for your sport and that is bad news. As a case study, look at the career of soccer player Luis Suarez:

  1.    1    Intentionally  hand balling on the goal line to prevent Ghana scoring (2010 World Cup quarter final, red card)
  2.    2    Biting Otman Bakkal in a match for Ajax vs PSV Eindhoven (2010, 7 match ban)
  3.    3    Racially abusing Patrice Evra in a match for Liverpool against Manchester United (2011, 8 match ban £40k fine)
  4.    4    Biting Branislav Ivanovic in a match for Liverpool against Chelsea (2013, 10 match ban, undisclosed fine)
  5.    5    Biting Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup Group match for Uruguay against Italy (2014, worldwide ban from all football activities for 4 months, 9 match international ban, £66k fine)

It’s impossible to say how many people saw Luis Suarez bite someone. I mean for starters which person! But he has also done it at 2 world cups and 1 premier league match. It’s also impossible to measure his impact on parents who may have pointed their children into other sports as a result of seeing this behaviour, or his influence on young players as a potential role model. But needless to say, it probably isn’t good, and this is just one player in one sport! What about Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds or John Terry?

I hope you can see the far reaching and negative consequences of failing to challenge poor behaviour from your athletes. In part 2 of this article, I will share with you some great tools and strategies that I have come across to help instil great values in your athletes.

A Huge thank you Fortius Training and founder Rob Anderson

Rob Anderson

For more information and invaluable resources check out “Fortius Training”


3 thoughts on “Is there room for values in youth sport?

  1. Thanks for the article. Coaches must intervene and apply consequences for poor behaviour. To ignore is to condone. Coaches also need to be proactive in preventing such poor behaviour in the first place through such things as codes of conduct and role modelling good behaviour themselves. A young athlete’s conduct will reflect directly on their coach so not only can poor behaviour damage the reputation of the athlete, it can harm the reputation of the coach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Darren,
      Thanks for the comment! Looks like we seem to be enjoying each other’s articles! I absolutely agree. We do our athletes a real disservice by ignoring poor behaviour. They will encounter consequences at some point, if we do not correct them early on, the consequences may be much more harsh and long lasting. Surely no good coach wants that for their athlete?


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