Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Discipline vs. Punishment

Posted by admin January - 21 - 2020 - Tuesday

Today’s title created an “interesting” discussion that I had with a coach over the week-end. First off, is there a difference between the two? (The answer is a definite YES!) and when, if ever, are both needed when dealing with your team.

Discipline is an over-arching term which can (and does… occasionally) encompass punishment. But, in its broadest sense, discipline is defined as “training.” Those of you who know the Bible, the New Testament talks about Jesus’ disciples. See the close connection of the two words? A disciple is someone who’d best be described as a “follower.” Someone who is seeking knowledge, wisdom and emotional/spiritual growth by a leader. We might call him a student… or, a “trainee.”

When a coach disciplines his players, he is trying to teach them something— hopefully of a positive nature. EX: Work hard; be rewarded! We used to give a special helmet sticker award for someone who showed Outstanding Effort! Why? Because we wanted to encourage our players to hustle; to give a total effort. When players see someone being rewarded for great effort, they want to do the same thing… in hopes of getting the reward (i.e., the Golden Claw helmet sticker!) As a coach, you are teaching something positive.

Let’s look at another scenario and study the opposite effect. I was at a pre-season practice at a local high school one August. The practice was supposed to start at 8 am. At 7:59, the HC blew the whistle and the players lined up for team flexes. One of the assistants started taking roll. About 5 minutes later, a group of players ran out on the field! Late! The HC immediately blew his whistle and told everyone (note: everyone) to line up on the goal line. He proceeded to run them on 10 110 yard sprints. Why? Because a couple of guys were tardy!

He “disciplined” his players- no doubt! But… what did he “teach” them? That being tardy was unacceptable? Sure! But… who needed to learn this lesson? The guys who were responsible and were on time? OR the ones who were late? And… nobody questioned the players who were tardy to find out why they were late!

My question: who needed to be (here we go) “punished?” Here is where “discipline” moves into the area of negative consequences. Players need to learn to be on time. But, should the players who were on time be punished? The coach explained to me that everyone has to be accountable for each other. How? Do they all get to school from the same house? Does a player who lives north of the school have to drive 20 miles south of the school to make sure that a teammate gets to practice on time?

There is a difference between individual responsibility and “team” responsibilities. Be careful that you are not confusing discipline with punishment. It can back fire on you and create discontent among your players!

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