I get many calls and questions from coaches about the use of punishment in youth sport. Punishment from a sport psychology perspective is adding something an athlete perceives as negative or aversive.
Examples of commonly used punishments yelling, exercise including push-ups & running, and sitting on the bench (adding bench time).
Punishing mistakes is not an effective way to shape behavior, teach life skills (i.e., being on time, listening, focusing attention when the coach is talking) or develop skill. Researchers have proven that positive approach to coaching involves strengthening desired behaviors by recognizing them when they occur and giving information about training and instructions that helps an athletes improve or do it differently is the most effective way to communicate. A “negative approach” to coaching involves attempts to eliminate a behavior based on criticism and the use of punishment. While punishment can help eliminate an undesired behavior in the short term, it does little for teaching skills that develop over time.
Punishment also has a number of potential negative consequences including:
- Fear of failure
- Increases likelihood of choking because athlete is thinking more about mistakes than on what needs to happen to perform well
- Creates stress and anxiety, especially because it is usually done in front of peer teammates
- Creates an unpleasant social and learning environment
- Cohesion is built on hatred of coach
- Undermines coach-athlete relationship and erodes coach as a positive role model that young athletes look up to and admire
- Inappropriate modeling (Do we want youngsters to yell and scream at others when mistakes are made?)
- Decreased enjoyment
- Increased likelihood for drop out
- Conveys the wrong message about exercise as an enjoyable activity