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Mindless Coaching

Sounds a bit harsh, right? 


Consider having a conversation with your buddies about how your high school basketball coach used to make the team run at the end of every practice for each turnover during the scrimmage. Then, in the next breath, you talk about how different kids are now. Do you think kids nowadays respond the same way you did? Does an apple taste like an orange?


So, if you're a high school or college coach and you have the players for a full season, every day, for a few years, maybe you could change the culture back to the way it was when you were a kid. Then you'll probably lose your job at the end of the season. 


If you're a youth coach and have 2 practices per week lasting 90 minutes, how much time do you want to spend punishing kids with suicides?


Let's take a look at a few mindles coaching practices.


Running as Punishment


Core Issue

The core issue is that administering or withdrawing

physical activity as punishment is inappropriate

and constitutes an unsound education practice.

Exercise used as punishment is considered a form

of corporal punishment in many states (e.g.,

California, Massachusetts, Hawaii).  Corporal

punishment in schools is defined as “physical pain

inflicted on the body of a child as a penalty for disapproved behavior” (National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in School, 2006) and is illegal in 29 states.  Furthermore, many national professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of State Boards of Education, have advocated for bans on corporal punishment.  State boards of education in Hawaii and California prohibit withholding physical activity or using it as punishment.

The absence of support for using physical activity as

punishment renders its use by a teacher or coach indefensible,

from a legal liability standpoint. 



Unsound Behavior-Management Practice

While some people apparently believe that physical activity used as punishment and/or as a behavior-management tool is effective, behavioral experts perceive this practice as a “quick fix” that actually might discourage the behavior it is intended to elicit.  Using negative consequences to alter behavior suppresses the undesirable behavior only while the threat of punishment is present; it does not teach self-discipline or address the actual behavior problem.  Therefore, student behavior patterns are not changed.
At times, it’s appropriate to remove a student briefly from a physical education lesson, recreational play, athletic practice or game to stop an undesirable behavior.  For example, it’s appropriate to remove a student who is behaving in a manner that is unsafe.  Teachers should devote that time to allowing the child or youth a moment to cool down, reflect upon his or her actions, and communicate with leaders as to why he or she was removed.  Once the student understands and conveys appropriate behaviors, he or she should return to the activity.  However, any prolonged withdrawal of physical activity (e.g., holding a child back from recess or physical education as a consequence of classroom behavior) is both inappropriate and unsound for the same reasons mentioned above.



National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) Position Statement

“While some people believe that physical activity used as punishment and/or a behavior management tool is effective, experts perceive this as a ‘quick fix’ that actually might discourage the behavior it is intended to elicit. Using negative consequences to alter behavior suppresses the undesirable behavior only while the threat of punishment is present; it doesn’t teach self-discipline or address the actual behavior problem.”


National Association of Youth Sports (NAYS) Position Statement

Using running, or any physical activity, as a punishment is never appropriate in youth sports. Using running as punishment for children should be prohibited for the following reasons:


Negative associations with running: To use running as a punishment is a guaranteed way for a child to view it negatively, when it is a healthy activity that should be associated with fun. Promoting running and exercise as fun and beneficial should be the mission of all adults in youth sports, particularly since it plays an important role in many sports for conditioning purposes to help them perform at their best. Using running as punishment is counterproductive to that mission.


Health risks: Forcing an impressionable young child to run against their will can be physically dangerous. Medical conditions related to muscle fatigue, exhaustion or heat effects can be a potential risk when a child is forced to run beyond what is typically required in practice. When a child is running in a fun, stress-free environment it is more likely that the youngster will recognize his or her physical limits. When a child is forced to run as punishment they may push themselves past their endurance level out of fear of receiving additional punishment.


Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) Position Statement

One of the ultimate ironies of sports occurs when coaches discipline “lazy” players by making them run. Why is that ironic? Because it is lazy coaching. If your players need conditioning, help them get it. If your players need discipline, help them get that. But don’t fall back on running as discipline.


There at least two reasons:

1) Your players will come to despise running and other forms of conditioning because it feels like punishment. You want them to love running so that they will want to run and become the best-conditioned athletes possible.

2) You are abandoning an opportunity to teach life lessons about discipline, which is best done by talking about the subject and setting an example by exercising the discipline necessary to coach well.


For example, let’s say that in an intra-squad scrimmage your players have trouble passing or receiving on the run. Don’t default to punishing them with extra running. Instead, recognize the problem as one of conditioning and/or insufficient practice at these skills.



Address both issues at once by interrupting the scrimmage and instead of ordering laps in the name of “discipline” conduct a drill that demands running, passing and receiving. This way, their skills and conditioning both improve. Your drill could include a competitive element, such as splitting the team in half and seeing who can complete the most passes on the run in a given time period.


That helps avoid resentment that comes from mindless, endless laps and makes the practice fun so that players will want to continue acquiring the skills and conditioning they need. And you demonstrate creativity and discipline in your problem-solving.


You then can explain to your players after the drill that instead of knee-jerk reactions, creativity and true discipline are better approaches to problem-solving in sports and in life.


Mindless Act

Offense has a turnover during a team drill. The coach blows the whistle and puts all the players on the baseline. They run 4 suicides while the coach informs the team why they're running. 


Alternatives to Physical Activity as Punishment

Successful teachers and coaches create positive learning environments without using physical activity as punishment.  Managing and motivating children and youths involve developing an effective preventive-management system; no one, simple solution works for all.  Prevention is the key.  The following list offers actions that are suitable alternatives to using physical activity as punishment:


  • Include students in establishing expectations and outcomes early in the year, and review those expectations and outcomes frequently. 

  • Include students in meaningful discussions about goals and how to reach them. 

  • Be consistent with enforcing behavioral expectations within the learning environment. 

  • Practice and reward compliance with rules and outcomes.   

  • Offer positive feedback and catch students doing things right. 

  • Don’t reinforce negative behavior by drawing attention to it.  

  • Hold students accountable for misbehavior. 

  • Develop efficient routines that keep students involved in learning tasks. 

  • Wait for students to be attentive before providing directions.





Focus on Cardio with a Couple Practices per Week

Think back to those high school basketball days of 2 or 3 straight weeks of that fun game. No, not basketball. I mean the game called, "let's see how creative the coach can get today." That game consisted of suicides (long and short version), champions, roadrunners, or whatever horrible names they had. 



The intent was for your coach to have the best conditioned team in the league who could dominate the 4th quarter and the end of the season. News flash - every coach said that. 


The catch is, the high school coach used Monday through Friday to do it - and sometimes Saturday. 


As youth coaches, with 2-3 practices per week to do it, and often only 2-3 weeks of practice before games begin, conditioning should be incorporated into the drills (ex. full court layup drills, practicing deep passing routes, etc).



Most cardio programs require 3-5 days of exercise and approximately 25-45 minutes per day to truly see much improvement. Not to mention the conditioning must be sustained throughout the season and what youth coach wants to sacrifice instructional time in mid-season to implement cardio? 


In youth sports you don't have 3-5 days of practice nor 25-45 minutes per practice to get a full cardio program completed. Additionally, the team likely only has 2-3 weeks of practice before the season begins. Not enough time for a cardio plan. 



Mindless Act

Coaches spend a portion of their practice time running sprints. The coach thinks this will be beneficial for the athletes. 



Better Act

Use drills to form fitness in your youth players. Run full court layup drills or 3-on-2 fast break drills. Have full-field dribbling drills with a defender trying to get in front of the ball in soccer. In baseball and softball, have the players race around the bases (start a player at home and another at second base). Use drills as simple cardio. 





Yelling at the Players







Running as Punishment.jpg

From a coach’s standpoint, time spent on physical activity used as punishment is time that could be spent on instructing athletes, constructively developing their fitness levels or other positive learning experiences.

Shape America Position Statement:

Using Physical Activity as Punishment

Come on, tough guy. Control your emotions and help the kid, talk to the kid, teach the kid. Unless your goal is to hurt the kid and make sure he plays for someone else next season, if you don't turn him away from the game. 

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