Influencing Others about Punishments

How do I counter claims from traditionalists who believe punishment is mandatory? They believe that if a coach does not punish, a coach doesn’t have any discipline.


Standards must be kept. However, I focus on the positive and use contingencies—rather than focusing on punishments, which are negative.

As a former athletic director of a large urban high school, here is how I approached it: It is a privilege to be on an athletic team. Membership on a team can be one of the greatest experiences a young person can have.

Second point to students: This is a team endeavor. The team comes first. Therefore, only those things that add to the team’s best interests are allowed.

Here is the kicker and what a contingency looks like: You may continue to participate if you. . . . (to be completed).

Traditional thinking imposes punishments. Contingencies, in contrast, focus on the positive and put the responsibility on the youth.

If a person does not live up to the contingency, the follow-up action begins. It is not the action but rather the positive, internally motivational approach that is critical.

Note also that with a contingency the responsibility is on the youngster. With punishment, the responsibility is on the enforcer.

Now, if the problem has to do with regular physical education classes, rather than athletics, we are in a different situation.

First, the curriculum needs to be looked at, viz., are athletics the focus or physical education the focus? Although not mutually exclusive, they are not synonymous.

If a student refuses to dress or participate, the student has a very personal reason for it. Forcing obedience will not be successful with a person whose personal feelings and beliefs are more important than a teacher’s request. In such cases, a student will choose defiance.

Using reflective questions and then empowering and encouraging will go further than forcing obedience.

Finally, you have a personal and professional decision to make. You know from your experience how to build youth. Let your fellow coaches get on your train. Don’t leave yours to join them.