Why I No Longer Use Punishment Runs With My Athletes

There are better ways for a coach to get his message across to athletes who don't meet a program's standards.

Inevitably, athletes will mess up.

The standard will not be upheld.

They will have a bad day and a bad attitude and say or do something they should not.

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Inevitably, athletes will mess up.

The standard will not be upheld.

They will have a bad day and a bad attitude and say or do something they should not.

They will be late or oversleep.

What happens then?

If you have played organized sports or coached organized sports for any length of time, you have either been on the giving or receiving end of some kind of punishment. 99% of the time, the punishment is justified, and the athlete deserves to be reprimanded in some way.

The question is, how?

Since time immemorial, the answer has been...RUN!

Now, I did my fair share of punishment running as an athlete, and I've doled out my fair share of punishment running as coach.

However, as I've grown as a coach and honed my philosophy for training athletes, I have decided to never use running (or anything that can be used as training) as punishment.

Here's why I believe you should join me on that!

First and foremost, we want to maximize the performance potential of our athletes. When we run them into the ground, regardless of the reason, that potential decreases. We create undesirable stress on their bodies and nervous systems.

Punishment running is often done before or after a practice or workout and is performed in addition to the physical demands of those activities. This creates an increased need for recovery, and often sets the athlete behind for that entire week (and potentially beyond).

If you plan on an athlete being at their peak on game day, running them into the ground a few days earlier really isn't smart.

Secondly, physical activity as a punishment creates a negative association with training. This creates several issues.

In the immediate sense, it makes the athlete less inclined to train with maximum intent. They associate the training with punishment.

In the long term, physical activity associated with punishment means that the athlete is less likely to continue to train and live an active lifestyle once their sport days are over.

I'm a living testament to that. I absolutely abhor running or doing any type of training that could be considered "cardio." I love to lift, but I absolutely hate to run. I have had to incorporate swimming and tabata circuits into my training when I want an aerobic-centered training component.

Lastly, it can create an at-odds relationship between the coach and the player.

Physical punishment is often doled out on a situational basis and is not constant across a program. This can create a feeling of "the coach is out to get me" for the athlete. This is especially true if the Friday Night Superstar is given a different type of punishment than the third-string guy when both are guilty of the same infraction. When the Superstar is only given a lap around the field for skipping class, the third-string kid shouldn't be log-rolling till the cows come home.

Also, removing punishment runs from your coaching arsenal can help you re-consider what sort of things actually deserve punishment.

Not everything requires a a punishment. I've heard instances lately of kickers being punished for missing kicks. How is that going to make them any more accurate? Wouldn't it make more sense to have them work on kicking?

Another example I heard recently was making a young lady run foul poles for popping balls up during BP instead of hitting line drives or hard grounders. How in the world does running address the issues in her swing? It makes no sense and is just plain lazy on the part of the coach.

Not everything should be a punishable offense. Missing a kick or hitting a pop-up shouldn't be a violation of your program's standards! The kid certainly didn't want to do that.

However, there are certainly infractions which deserve punishment.

How do we handle the inevitable discipline issues that come up? What are acceptable punishments if running is out the window?

Great question.

One option is simply not to play them. How long you decide to do this is dependent on the situation and what you believe needs to be done to create a change in the athlete's attitude and actions.

If you're sitting them for an entire game, don't let them come to the game wearing street clothes so it looks like they're just injured. I believe they should be fully dressed with their helmet on. That way, when people ask them why they didn't play, they have to take ownership of violating the standard.

Some people don't like game suspensions. They feel that it only has an effect on the kids who actually play, and I completely understand that. They also feel that sitting someone who violates the standard can cause the rest of the team and staff to suffer by potentially increasing the risk of a loss. I get that, too. At the end of the day, you need to think about your program's values and come to your own decision.

I've also seen some great ideas on punishments that have nothing to do with games or practice. Some of the better ones include community service or service around school. This could be picking up trash on the weekend, coming in on a Saturday to help do laundry from the game the night before, cleaning the locker room, helping in the library, or any other type of service-based activity around campus. This allows the athlete to compete while repaying the school/team/community for their indiscretion.

Another option I've seen is to work with content area teachers (Math, English, Science and Social Studies) to have them come up with an extra assignment that has to be completed. It won't be for a grade in the class, but will be required as recompense for violating the standards of the program.

There are plenty of creative ways we can choose to discipline our athletes without resorting to physical punishment. Relying only on physical punishment is not only negligent, but it's often just plain lazy on the part of the coach. There are better ways to influence both short- and long-term change in an athlete.

I also believe that if you're incredibly clear and consistent about what constitutes a violation of team standards, the need for punishment will be greatly reduced.

The first thing is to establish clear standards in your program. Define what those standards are exactly. Leave nothing ambiguous or unclear.

Once the standards are clearly defined, communicate them to everyone involved in your program. That includes administration, teachers, athletes, assistant coaches, athletic trainers and parents. Have a pledge sheet that the athletes and their parents sign that serves as written consent that they understand and agree to abide by the standards you have set for your program. This eliminates the "Well he didn't know" excuse.

After establishing your standards, decide what the consequence for violating those standards should be. Once those consequences are established, be consistent!

Lack of consistency is a quiet killer in so many athletic programs across the country. It doesn't matter who violates the standards, the consequences must be consistent. The moment you break your consistency, the entire framework falls apart. Set your standards. Set your consequences. Communicate them to everyone. Be consistent. That's really it. It's really that simple.

But what if the athlete refuses the consequence?

Also a simple answer. They don't have to play the sport.

To my knowledge, nowhere in the United States is being a member of a sports team a graduation requirement

There are empty seats in the classroom for them if they choose to not abide by the standards.

This is why having everything clearly defined and written out is vital. If that athlete and his or her parents sign a form stating their understanding of and agreement to abide by the standards and consequences, you have ammunition when you have to meet with parents and administrators in the event that a dismissal from the team is required.

Define your standards. Define the consequences. Communicate them explicitly. Be Consistent!

Photo Credit: Fertnig/iStock

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Topics: MENTAL TOUGHNESS | YOUTH SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS | COLLEGE SPORTS