Thursday, October 18, 2012

Exercise as Punishment

Hard work is fun and should never be considered a punishment!

The article below is an example of why it is so hard to be a teacher or coach these days. First, I have to say that I have never used physical activity  as a punishment. I am of the opinion that physcial exercise is a good thing and it is a privilege to do it. As a young athlete I came up through a system where our scholastic coaches routinely prescribed extra sprints, grass drills, pushups,..etc. for whatever problems or shortcomings that we may have had, both performance or behavior wise. That was just the way it was done. Running sprints until someone dropped or threw up their lunch was the accepted way to keep us in line. As a freshman at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, our coaches used the same strategy. I remember one game in particular where our coaches thought we underperformed and we ran countless sprints immediately after the game while our coach swore at us the whole time. It wasn't until I got to BYU and played under Coach LaVell Edwards, that I found out that there was another approach to get results and excellence. Coach Edwards always stuck to his predetermined schedule, regardless of the outcome of the games. We ran as much as was necessary for conditioning and exercise was never used as punishment. When we had a good day, he didn't get too excited, just said "good job" and we got ready for the next test. If we performed poorly, he said "you didn't play very well today, we will do better next time." and we stuck to our routine. Things worked out pretty well and today Coach Edwards has a stadium with his name on it. When I began coaching I determined that I liked the BYU style the best. As a professional physical educator I didn't want to kids to grow up hating and fearing exercise. Over the years I have never used physical activity as punishment. I didn't want them to finish their careers and vow to never run another sprint or do another pushup. We worked hard and conditioning was painful at times, but I always told the players why we were doing it and promised that it would make them better. We stuck to our planned progressive routine and didn't add additional work for mistakes or poor performance. In fact, I chose to do the opposite. The ultimate form of discipline was to send a player to the shower. If someone wasn't focused or was underperforming, we sent them to the locker room. Working out with the team was a privilege. Exercise is good, not a punishment.
Once I had an assistant coach who still thought the only effective way to correct players was to run extra sprints. One day while I was away from practice he had the players run everytime he wasn't satisfied with their performance. All that he accomplished was to lose their trust and respect.
So, when I read the article below, my first reaction is that it is stupid and ineffective to have a student run in order to correct a non running related problem. If a player fumbles I would have them do more ball handling drills rather than run laps. If a player has a bad attitude, I would send them home until their attitude was adjusted. However, having said that, I think labeling physical activity as "corporal punishment" has it's own set of issues. I could never support that. Micro regulating the things teacher and coaches can or can't do turns the system upside down and puts the kids in  charge. In the long run this is a dangerous and slippery slope as the coach points out at the end of the article. Players need discipline and coaches need to be in charge, but a good coach will find better ways to discipline than mindless running or exercise purely for the sake of pain.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The practice of coaches using extra running to punish players for bad behavior and poor performance is getting new scrutiny in Iowa following a school district report about a Des Moines football coach accused of violating corporal punishment policies by making a student sprint and take laps.

The report released Thursday examined the suspended high school coach's actions, the Des Moines Register reported. The sophomore player was being punished for making derogatory comments about the varsity squad.

The Des Moines schools' investigation determined that the Lincoln High School player ran at least 20 hill sprints, completed 20 up-and-down drills, lapped the practice field twice and then went on to run more hill sprints. All of the activity was done in 25 to 30 minutes, and an athletic trainer said the student was not given a water break.

Corporal punishment is illegal in Iowa schools and is defined as physical force or physical contact made with the intent to harm or cause pain. That law provides a specific exemption for "reasonable requests or requirements of a student engaged in activities associated with physical education class or extracurricular athletics."

Thomas Mayes, an attorney for the Iowa Department of Education, believes that running or extra conditioning could be considered corporal punishment under the law, but said "there is no bright line that can be drawn between what is reasonable and unreasonable."

"There is a difference between girls' sports and boys' sports, between first grade (physical education) and high school P.E. and recreational athletes versus world-class athletes," Mayes said.

Some Iowa athletic officials contacted by the newspaper said making players run extra for punishment may soon be a thing of the past.

Tom Wilson, activities director at Dowling Catholic High School, agreed that times have changed, but called the issue is "a slippery slope."

"If they start disallowing any form of discipline in this way, I think youth sports are in trouble," Wilson said.

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