If you've coached long enough, you've had THAT team. The one that can't seem to focus, with 12 attention spans seemingly going 12 ways at once. 

When you do, it's natural to feel like there aren't a lot of good options. Ignoring it is no fun for you or for them, eventually, because they're not going to learn or end up playing very well. Getting mad or being the disciplinarian can be worse - at lease someone was having fun before the yelling started. 

One proven solution we've tried that works: the Team Challenge. First, start the season by explaining that once every week, you're going to take 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the last practice of the week to do a Team Challenge. If they get pass the challenge, they get a Challenge Point. If they accumulate enough points, they will the Challenge Prize. It doesn't have to be a big deal - an ice cream outing, team headbands, something like that. 

The next step is the Challenges themselves. The key part here is to make them the most fun part of the practice. Use your imagination. Challenges we've done have included:

  • The Chain Challenge: The entire team holds hands in a circle and, as a group, must move around a cone and back in a certain amount of time while passing the ball inside the circle. The ball must keep moving and if the ball goes out of the circle, the entire circle has to move to retrieve it. (Advanced teams can juggle instead of pass.)
  • The Corner Kick Challenge: Place two Pugg goals, one near the back post, one at the far corner of the 6 yard box. Your players have a certain amount of time to get a certain number of balls into the targets in 2 bounces or less.
  • The BU Challenge: A crowd-pleaser. We euphemistically call this the "Boston University" Challenge but it really stands for "Butts Up." Coaches stand in the corners of the goal, face the net and bend forward. Players have a certain amount of time to hit a certain number of "targets" from outside the 18 yard box. Move the players as far back as necessary so it doesn't hurt too much.

Why it works: Trust us, the Challenge will become the most anticipated part of the practice week. By saying it must be earned, you can use it as motivation to stay focused, work hard, etc.

When things start getting unfocused, we'll say something like "What's this?" and make a motion with your hands like a bird flying. "What?" "That's your Challenge flying away if we don't get our focus back." After a while, all you'll have to do is the hand gesture to get your team back on track.

The other great thing about team challenges is how they build team chemistry. Your girls will cheer each other on and bask in collective achievement when the conquer a challenge, and that cohesion will also help encourage focus and hard work.

So go ahead, give it a try and tell us in the comments section how things worked out ...