The most important thing we need to do as coaches is identify why the children we are coaching are participating in the first place.
Although I am competitive and love soccer and treat it as my profession, my players might not care that much about the sport. They might just enjoy it as one of several activities.
And even though another coach is volunteering for a recreational team and sees it as one of several fun activities and does not take the game seriously, her players might have the desire to play “seriously” and long-term.
In either case, it is the coach’s obligation to serve each player individually in a way that helps him/her strive for and achieve what they want out of the experience.
The one thing coaches can do - regardless of the wide-range of mentalities of the kids on their team - is push each player to be the best they can be. They can teach players how to strive for personal excellence and to expand their limits. This does not mean you have to run drills, do fitness, and act like a Hollywood-portrayed coach. That is pushing kids to be something they don’t want to be.
Instead, push them to be the best they can be in an appropriate, fun way.
For instance, a group of 7-year-olds who might not take the game “seriously” (yet) ought to play games like “Sharks and Minnows.” This might seem like just a silly tag game - which it is - but it is also an opportunity for each player to grow. By focusing on how each player can improve his/her personal performance within the game - and keeping it focused on the game, which means “shark” and “minnows” and “sea shells,” instead of “defender” and “dribbling” and “soccer balls” - the coach can help each player discover how to improve.
By keeping it fun, interesting, and possible to improve, coaches can empower players to strive to be their best, regardless of the level of their personal interest in the sport.
This keeps kids playing the game at one level or another (and possibly continuing to play throughout adulthood), which is important for the growth (and improvement) of the sport. Furthermore, even though a child does not take the game “seriously,” if he enjoys it and sees himself improving at it, he just might change his mind and decide he wants to pursue the game at a higher level.
Push kids to be the best they can be, not something they don’t want to be.