Exercise as Punishment

One practice of coaches that continues to astound me is the use of exercise as punishment. I can’t say I haven’t been guilty of this in the past, but thankfully I graduated high school and got smarter.

Think about it this way – would it make sense for a teacher to punish their class by bombarding them with homework for doing poorly on a test? Or would they probably be better off figuring out why they did poorly and attempting to correct it?

Some will argue that by utilizing punishment, the athlete will be focused on not screwing up, and therefore do better. This is wrong on many levels, but the simplest of which is that the mind simply doesn’t deal well with negatives. Telling yourself to NOT think of something is the surest way for it to appear. Don’t think about a pink elephant. What happened? I think I know.

This doesn’t mean a coach can never be negative, but realize that positive coaching cues are sure to have a greater impact. Saying “do this,” instead of “don’t do this,” will have a much different outcome.

Others will argue for the “mental toughness” ingrained from such training. The question must be asked, however, are you truly instilling mental toughness? Or allowing them to demonstrate their ability to endure an ass kicking? Additionally, what impact is the lactic training (as this is what most punishment consists of) having on the physiology of the athlete? It’s not positive.

This is especially common among youth coaches. Again, the question must be asked – what is the benefit of having a champion 10 year old? There are a select few sports in which high sport results at a young age are a requirement. Other than female gymnastics, diving, and perhaps a few others, there is no correlation to sporting success later in life. In fact, it’s more likely that those athletes with greater genetic gifts will be more successful early in their sporting life. And going back to the concept of lactic loading, it becomes even more detrimental to young and developing athletes.

Long story short – utilize the training time wisely. All coaches will lament their lack of time available to work on all the things they want to, and yet unnecessarily spend at least part of it performing things which, at best, have no relevance to sport success, and at worst, are detrimental and possibly contribute to injury. If the question becomes how best to eliminate mistakes, the answer may lie in removal or decrease in playing time, or at the very least, discussion with the athlete themselves on how to fix the issues.