Using Conditioning as a Punishment is a Net Negative

Coaches have used running as a punishment for athletes since the beginning of time. It is a quick and often reactive response from coaches when they don’t like what they see. Whether it be a lack of effort in practice, or a weak performance in a game, sending the team to the line for suicides or poles is a general go to. However, the negative impact these punishments have on athlete’s perspective of conditioning may be more lasting in their minds than the message a coach is trying to send. If you are at a loss for ways to get improved effort from your athletes, and don’t want to negate the value of conditioning, here are three short-term solutions to resolving the issue.

Alternatives to using running as a punishment for athletes

  1. Position rotation
    If your shortstop is repeatedly throwing the ball away, or your point guard is turning the ball over too much in practice, yelling at the player or forcing them to run is never going to fix their problem. Furthermore, any drastic or isolating decisions made by you could derail their confidence and set them on a crash course for failure. The reality of the situation, however, is that the little things have to be taken care of for the team to win. Rotating players into new positions might open the door to a number of positives for the team and the individuals who have been struggling. You could identify unknown strengths in different players, or you may motivate them to regain your trust and their original position. This is essentially the same as a time-out for a little kid, and can very well reset the way your athletes are going about things.
  2. Skill challenges
    If drills in practice are sloppy and there seems to be no benefit in continuing, drop everything and move onto something more simple. Let’s use a baseball example. The drill at hand is 27 outs, and the team has thrown the ball away so many times that there is no conclusion in sight. Your plan for the day has been derailed, and it is at the fault of your team. Make that clear by stopping practice, and forming a competition of a simpler, monotonous drill that focuses on the team’s inability to throw the ball to a target. Being creative in making the “punishment” for these moments is the challenge, but it can be as simple as altering the conditioning you had planned for the end of practice. Offer the winning team a lesser amount of sprints—or whatever is planned for the day—so that there is an incentive for your players to do well, but no real punishment for those that lose. This approach, of course, only works if you have an organized practice plan.
  3. Appoint a team captain
    This is more of a long-game approach, but will pay dividends for you as a coach. Find your most trustworthy athlete and assign them the responsibility of team captain. This will move the pressure of resolving issues in practice and games off of your shoulders, and more so onto that of your players. The sooner that players can assume accountability for their own effort—and that of their peers— the better chance they have at advancing their athletic career. It is so easy to wear the care out of your athlete’s ears by proclaiming your frustrations as a coach. If you can identify a leader on the team, however, those frustrations will have a new place to come from. Hearing it from teammates always means more than it does when it comes from coach. Building a culture is challenging, but it is key to a team’s success.

Using running as a punishment is not only boring and predictable, it is a net negative for the training and general health of your players. By using alternative, creative solutions to address the issue of poor performance or effort, you can inspire more positive change within your athletes.

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