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October 8, 2012 • Coaching

Selling athletes short with running as punishment

What are two of the top complaints about teenagers today? Their command of the English language is suspect, at best, and they’re becoming overweight and lazier by the day. So, why are teachers continuing to punish out-of-line students by forcing them to mindlessly write sentences while their coaching counterparts use lap running as an accepted form of discipline?

As a writer who is a long-distance runner, I deplore both forms of punishment and see them as a lazy way for teachers and coaches to feel like they are addressing a problem, when in reality, they’re making it worse.

The teacher who forces a student to write, “I will not speak until called upon in class,” over and over again in a notebook or on a board begins the conditioning process of pushing the student to hate writing. Why is a teenager going to want to write when it’s so closely associated with a punishment?

The same goes for coaches. As our teenagers grow, gain weight and become sedentary during life after high school, one of the most basic forms of exercise (running) is seen as a negative rather than a positive. Down the road, when this teenager becomes an obese person in his or her mid-20s, is it realistic this person is going to want to use running as an exercise after it’s been engrained as a punishment?

In Des Moines, Iowa, the topic of using running as a punishment is being debated right now. The state board of education considers running a “corporal punishment,” which is illegal in Iowa. I’m not at the point where I’m calling for a legal end to mindless running as a discipline, but I expect more from our coaches.

The Iowa case stems from a football coach requiring a sophomore to run sprints and laps in response to that player making derogatory comments about the varsity team. Instead of running without purpose, I’d suggest the coach could have asked the player to address the varsity team face-to-face and offer an explanation for his actions. To look into the eyes of a group of people you just offended is a more “real life” response than simply having the player complete a task having nothing to do with the issue at hand.

A few years ago, we polled our Winning Hoops’ readers about whether they use running as a punishment. The majority of coaches say they are moving away from this form of discipline. Sure, sprinting still is used but it’s incorporated more into the framework of the team. Players actually grow and learn when they are forced into executing a full-court, full-speed drill a number of times rather than doing a bunch of “up-and-backs,” “suicides” or “lines.”

Coaches, you need to control your team members and discipline is critical. But, consider the long-term ramifications of your short-term actions. Are you to blame for America’s problem with obesity? Of course not. But, if you’re going to make your athletes run as a discipline, at least do it with purpose. Incorporate your sport-specific skill work into it instead of taking the easy way out and having your team members do laps as you sit idly by.


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