This is a topic that doesn’t seem to be discussed all that much these days. And yet, it’s an issue that continues to be a real concern for coaches, athletic directors, parents, and of course the athletes.
I’m talking about the art of disciplining athletes, especially HS and travel team athletes.
What do you do if you’re a parent…or if you’re the coach…of an athlete who does something that he or she shouldn’t have done? How do you dole out a punishment? How do you even figure out the right punishment?
More importantly, how do you teach the youngster a sense of right from wrong – so that he or she doesn’t make the same mistake again. And ideally, their teammates will learn from the mistakes of their peer.
Now, I know we live in a high-tech, app-driven world these days, and our kids are all about embracing the latest technology and adopting new trends in sports. And imposing discipline is most definitely Old School.
But unfortunately, as the Parent or the Coach, you have to lay down the law AND enforce the punishment. It’s not easy and it’s not fun. But it’s important to teach life-long lessons that go far beyond the playing fields.
The problem is – -discipline and subsequent punishments are often complicated. That is:
If you punish your star player before a big game, and decide to bench him…..is that fair to the rest of the kids on the team who desperately need him to help win? Should that even be a consideration?
What about using alternative punishments? That is…okay, I’m not going to bench you or suspend you…but you will have to perform community service…or run extra laps….or something else as your punishment. But you can still play in the big game.
Does that kind of alternative punishment have the right and desired impact….or is it missing the mark?
There were a number of excellent calls this AM. Several of them made it clear that the coach has to be consistent and strong in meting out tough punishments. If a kid violates the team’s or school’s rules, and the right punishment is to be benched, then the coach needs to do that even if it means missing the biggest game of the year.
One coach related the story that he found an alternative punishment for one of his star players just so the kid wouldn’t miss the big game…and the move totally backfired. The kid had missed practice before a big game due to a senior prom a few days earlier. The coach said he learned the hard way from not sticking to his guns. The following year, not one but 8 of his players blew off practice before a big game, claiming they were still exhausted from prom night a few nights earlier.
As I discussed this coaching nightmare with this caller, I also heard from Coach Tom. Tom is from North Arlington, NJ, who is a loyal listener and always has great insights, and he made it clear that coaches have to be consistent with their decisions, they need to run big punishments in advance with the AD so that the AD is not caught off-guard, and that the coach needs to have the courage to follow through. I couldn’t agree more.
HERE’S A TYPICAL CASE….
Now, there are lots and lots of examples to choose from, but I was recently made aware of a situation that occurred this past March. According to a variety of police reports, the New Canaan HS baseball team decided to have a beer party a few days before their season opened.
Of course, buying alcohol in CT is illegal unless you’re 21, and even though the beer was served in one of the player’s homes….well, that doesn’t make this any better. In addition, there were other disturbing events that occurred at that party. But I just want to focus on what happened to the baseball players.
Once the police arrived on the scene, the party of course was broken up. And the young man, an 18-year-old, who had purchased the beers for his buddies and had the party in his home, well, he and his Dad were charged.
But here’s the part I don’t get: Although it was pretty clear what had happened at this get-together, and that a number of varsity ballplayers were drinking, nothing happened to them in terms of immediate punishment. I’m guessing that the New Canaan parents said that since the party had become a police investigation, there was no need to discipline the kids. And of course, nothing happened until very late in the baseball season, so the kids just practiced and played.
That is, they simply played the season with no suspensions or benching.
Yes, in late May, as the team was in the playoffs, it was then decided that the kid who had bought the book and hosted the party would be suspended for the rest of the season. But from what I can tell – and I could be wrong – but no punishment such as a suspension or benching was handed down to the players.
All that happened at the end of the season was the kids and their parents agreed to participate in some sort of training sessions of the perils of alcohol.
At the other end of the spectrum, one caller. Jason Beim, chimed in and said that former NFL player Keyshawn Johnson had instituted his own kind of discipline on his own son, Keyshawn Jr, who is a freshman on the University of Nebraska football team. When the older Johnson heard that his kid had stashed marijuana in his dorm room, Keyshawn didn’t wait for the college or the football coach to hand out discipline: Keyshawn jumped in himself and yanked his kid out of school for the fall semester. The irate father imposed his own parental punishment.
Sounds harsh? Perhaps. After all, kids make mistakes. We all know that. But kudos to Keyshawn Johnson for laying the law down on his son.
These days, I wonder how many other sports parents would have done the same thing?