Push-ups for Punishment in Youth Sport = Bad Idea

At an American Development Model USA Hockey Symposium I recently attended, Bob Mancini (ADM Regional Manager) said:

“Push-ups for missing the net is the worst thing we’ve ever done for hockey”

I have written previously on why punishment in youth sport is a terrible idea based on sport psychology evidence. Two of the reasons included were punishing kids for not completing a skill correctly can make them fear failure and the punishment doesn’t help them learn improve the skill they are being punished for misexecution.

Making mistakes is how we learn. No one executes a skill perfectly every time. We make attempts, hopefully get constructive feedback, learn from errors, make adjustments and try again.

When Bob made his statement, I agreed with him. I asked him why he felt that way and he replied because kids today don’t know how to shoot because many coaches use the “push-ups for punishment” for not shooting on net. Instead of aiming for  holes or upper corners (more difficult and likely to result in a shot high or wide and not putting the puck on net, but more likely to result in a goal!), kids will shoot the puck safely  “on net” right at the goalie to avoid push-ups.  The result is “successful” shots on net but no long term shooting skill development….and probably  less goal scoring during competition.

Many coaches reproduce this practice without thinking about why.  In coach education workshops I ask coaches to think about “the why” in everything they do. Does this help my kids develop the skills they need to 1. optimally perform, 2. develop skills, or 3. have fun and enjoy their sport? If the answer is “NO” to all three things, then it shouldn’t be done.

When I suggest coaches not use physical activities for punishment I often get push-back (pun intended). The question is: What do I do instead? In the case we are talking about here, instead of push-ups for shots not on net I would simply pull the kid aside, give him/her constructive feedback to help them get the shot on net in the future, and let them get back in the drill to make another attempt.

Last point on physical activity as punishment: If we want kids to value and enjoy physical activity for a lifetime, we shouldn’t teach them that physical activity is a punishment.

Coach Gone Wrong (and it isn’t about Paterno or Sandusky)

The last week was a particularly terrible week in terms of egregious coach behavior coming into public light. I am not going to weigh in on the Penn State/Paterno/Sandusky/He Said-He Said/Student Riots Sex Abuse scandal. Others have written on this topic. My favorite pieces (here and here) of the many out there on this topic are by Dave Zirin, who writes for The Nation. He summarizes The Big Problematic Picture of “the billion-dollar logic of big-time college football”.

What may have been lost in the media frenzy over the aforementioned was the egregious behavior of another football coach. A Wyoming high school football coach resigned after he made his players fill out a “Hurt Feelings Survey” (see picture). What would possess a coach of boys to conceive, construct and deliver such a survey is baffling to many. However, it isn’t all that mysterious when placed in the big picture context of how football is the epitome of a masculinity breeding ground and apprenticeship for teaching boys how to be men.

This survey teaches boys exactly what is expected of (real) men: don’t be weak, don’t have feelings, don’t show weakness, don’t tattle on other boys and men (i.e., perpetuate the culture of silence if you are harmed or abused, or see harm being done to others…sound familiar?), don’t be anything but a masculine heterosexual, and don’t turn to others for support or seek comfort  when you are hurt (especially from a female like your mother who will surely feminize you even more!…tough it out by yourself and be a rugged individual). This survey teaches boys that being a real man is in opposition to: boyhood and childish behaviors, girls and women and all things feminine, nurturing forms of masculinity (like those needed by fathers and real partners), and gay men.

While the coach who constructed this survey was dumb enough to actually put this all on paper, don’t for a second think other coaches don’t “teach” these lessons to boys every day, in every sport, in every state. Until “lessons” like these are eradicated in youth and interscholastic sports through awareness, coach education and public outcry, the problems like those we have all hard about this week will unfortunately persist.

More on Gender Difference and Coaching

I recently was called by a reporter who was writing a story on gender differences and coaching. I’m posting the link to his story here, as he did a nice job representing the current debate and ongoing discussion about coaching girls and coaching boys .

Stay tuned for more research-based information this topic coming soon!

Did You Know? Videos: Hot Topics in Coaching

I put together a few Did You Know? powerpoints and turned them into short videos (1:22-1:34 in length).

One is about the scarcity of female coaches in youth sport and the other is about gender differences & similarities in coaching.

I’d love your feedback as this is a bit a work in progress. Here is what I’d like feedback on:

  • Content
  • Length
  • How could these best be used?
  • What other topics would you like to see in a DYK?
  • Any other feedback you feel is relevant.

Thanks in advance. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

(thanks to Austin Stair Calhoun for overlaying the cool music!)

Latest “Women in Intercollegiate Sport” Report Now Available

The most recent version of Acosta & Carpenter’s longitudinal (33 years!) research on Women in Intercollegiate Sport is now available on their website. Some good news highlights:

  • 42.6% of women’s teams are coached by a female head coach, a number that has remained stable over the last four years
  • HIGHEST EVER number of paid assistant coaches of women’s teams, 57.6% which are female
  • HIGHEST EVER number (n= 12,702) of females employed in intercollegiate athletics

Given that basketball is the most popular collegiate sport acording to Acosta & Carpenter, and it is March Madness, you can also download the most recent Academic Progress/Graduation Success Rate Study of Division I NCAA Women’s and Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams

Director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), Richard Lapchick states in the report, “Nineteen women’s tournament teams had a 100 percent graduation rate for their teams. Women do much better academically than men. Furthermore, the academic success gap between African‐American and white women’s basketball student‐athletes is smaller, although still significant, than between African‐American and white men’s basketball student‐athletes.”

Keeping it real with some data during March Madness…

Two Triggers of Background Anger in Youth Sports

Over the weekend a Minnesota sport parent assaulted a youth basketball commissioner following an in-house game played by sixth graders. The the father was disgruntled over the officiating during his son’s game. From some of the research I’ve conducted with colleagues pertaining to what we call “Background Anger” the spark to this parent’s violent behaviors is consistent with our data.

We’ve found that many things make sport parents angry, but two big themes are more likely to set off sport parents: 1) their perceptions of injustice and, 2) their perceptions of incompetence.  This father was was upset because he perceived “the  timekeeping of the game” at the end of overtime was not correct (incompetence), and most likely felt it disadvantaged his son’s team (injustice). Based on what data exists, I would argue this combination of sport parent perceptions along side the fact the game was in overtime and probably emotionally charged, provided a perfect storm for an egregious background anger incident to occur.

Our data shows background anger incidents by sport parents are more likely to occur with travel, not in-house levels of youth sport. However, this example illustrates that no level of youth sport is immune to background anger. Requiring research-based education for sport parents, like Minnesota Parents Learning About Youth Sports (MN PLAYS™) or the MYSA Parents And Coaches Together (PACT™), can help to reduce the liklihood these type of incidents.

To see a video clip of me discussing this issue on Fox News 9, click here.

Vonn isn’t “heavy” she’s a great athlete!

In the last week Austrian coaches claimed downhill skier and USA Olympian (and fellow Minnesotan!) Lindsay Vonn was heavy, which they said gives her a competitive advantage. Really? Are you sure she isn’t one of the best skiers because she is an amazing athlete who trains hard?

I was called by local WCCO TV reporter Heather Brown to comment on this issue. I didn’t know where to start, there were just so many angles of this story. Here are my thoughts:

1. From a sport psychology perspective, the Austrian coaches could of purposely leaked the comment to the media to distract Vonn’s attention away from optimal performance. That appears to have backfired, as Vonn responded as a mentally tough athlete would by choosing not to comment much and use it for fuel to further motivate her. Vonn’s response was that of a champion. She couldn’t control what was said, but the did control how she responded. Point Vonn!

2. From a sport media perspective, the comment about Vonn’s weight is yet another example of how the focus on female athlete’s appearance seems to be more important than her performance. Serena Williams is constantly being criticized for being “too big and muscular” and people seem confused as to how a woman so “big” can be so good. Yes we do hear comments about male athlete’s bodies, but it is rarely about appearance…it is about strength, power, speed. I doubt we will hear an Austrian coach discuss Bode Miller’s weight. When a female athlete dominates her sport and her body doesn’t conform to the traditional feminine norm,  she comes under surveillance. Think of South African sprinter Caster Semenya from this summer.

The Vonn comment is a bit unique because the coach said her “extra weight” gives her a competitive advantage. It reminded me of similar comments made about Danica Patrick, when opponents claimed she had a unfair competitive advantage because she weighed less than the males drivers.  The point is, comments about a female athlete’s weight is a way to minimize her performances, and “explain” why she excels rather than attributing winning to athleticism.

3. Lastly, the weight comment conveys to young girls and female athletes that emphasis is placed on what the body looks like, than what it can do. Constant media messages like the Vonn comment socializes girls and women into becoming obsessed on physical appearance, rather than on health, well-being, and optimal performance.

As head into the Vancouver Olympics keep a close eye on how the media constructs Lindsey Vonn as the poster girl for the team.

Note: to read the transcript from Brown’s piece click here

Benchmarking Women’s Leadership

Since it is finals and I don’t have much brain power left after grading to come up with clever original blog material, I’m sharing links to information already out there you may not know about.

The White House Project, just released a new report title Benchmarking Women’s Leadership which can be downloaded for free by clicking here.

Related to women in sport leadership, a research topic of mine and which you can read more about within previous blog posts, see pages 101-112 of the report.

A Tribute to a One-of-a Kind Servant-Coach

Me with Steve "Wilk" Wilkinson

Last night I attended a tribute to my mentor, friend and tennis coach, Steve Wilkinson. I’ve written about Wilk in previous blogs recounting his accomplishments and 3 Crown Philosophy. I was honored to be able to say a few words about Wilk on behalf of the Gustavus women’s tennis program. I’m sharing those words with you in this blog. There are not many opportunities in life to be in a room with so many people who are such an important part of your life. I was surrounded by many of my tennis mentors and closest friends–friends I made through sport.  As I sat there and listened to the words and song of others, I felt truly blessed and even more committed to pursuing my life’s work–making a difference in the lives of others, especially girls and women, through sport.

A Tribute to Steve “Wilk” Wilkinson

December 12, 2009, Nicole M. LaVoi

Good evening. I was invited to say a few words on behalf of the women’s tennis team, an opportunity for which I am grateful, humbled and honored. In preparation for tonight I solicited stories and thoughts from my teammates about how Wilk influenced their lives, so I’ll be speaking from their perspectives, as well as my own.

In reminiscing and in reading their comments, perhaps it is not astonishing the similarities between the lessons we have learned from Wilk, both on and off the court, and how we have integrated those teachings into our adult lives. I would guess much of what I say tonight will resonate with many of you.

Although Wilk was not by title my official coach or the coach of the women’s team—many of us saw him as our coach. He was responsible for my recruiting class in the interim between Dave Pettengill and Scott Novak.  Some might argue that Wilk played a large part in crafting the only national championship team of the women’s program—as the senior leadership of that team were all recruited by Wilk. I clearly remember the day during my senior year, I was intent on attending St. Ben’s, when Wilk called and invited me down to visit Gustavus just to “check it out.” Truth be told, I agreed because I could get out of a day of school!  Little did I know that call would shape the trajectory of the rest of my life.

It has been a very rewarding experience to think about Wilk’s influence on my own life and to discuss it with teammates. We are not given many moments, nor do we make the time, to reflect in meaningful ways on the people and events we hold so dear. I know that I would not be the person I am today, nor be striving to make a difference in the lives of children, their families and communities through sport, if it weren’t for Wilk.

Wilk has the ability to see the best and the full potential in all people. I would like to think that someday I might become the woman that Wilk saw within the immature, win at all cost, feisty competitive 18 year old whom he was patiently trying to teach how to volley on a cold April day in St. Cloud over 20 years ago. One of my most vivid memories of  Wilk was a 10 second exchange my freshman year. We were loading into the tennis van for an away match, and I was carrying a pillow with a pillow case that said “Love means nothing to a tennis player.”

For me it represented annihilating an opponent 6-0, 6-0, something at that time I took great pleasure in. Wilk saw the pillowcase and had that disappointed look on his face…you all know that look…and said, “I wish you wouldn’t ever use that again or bring it on tennis trips”. Of course at the time, it made me want to bring it all the more. That exchange always bothered me but it wasn’t until years later that I finally got it…love means everything to not only a tennis player, but human beings. I’m sure many of us, much later have finally “got” the lessons Wilk was so patiently trying to teach us in our youth.

Wilk is grace personified. Mary Sutherland Ryerse shared that a former pastor defined grace as “undeserved kindness”… which Wilk has consistently shown and modeled for us all. My teammates all offered examples of Wilk consistently going out of his way to help, teach, offer support or listen…win or lose, whether you were sportsmanly or not, were in the starting line up or not, got an “A” or failed a class, or if you got the job or not.

Linnea Carlson shared a story I think is an exemplar: She writes, “Our senior year we had finally beat Kenyon in the Midwest Regional final, 5-4, which was expected.  When Kendall Larson and I ran into Wilk at the bubble the next day and told him the news, he got a huge grin on his face and hugged us both…twice.  When I retold this story to a member of the men’s team, the player said, “If you had lost, he would have hugged you three times.”

Certainly our days with Gustavus Tennis were filled with goodness, great memories, gratitude, giving of self, giving full effort, goals with a focus on what can be controlled, and gifts of friendship and community….and of course, much grace.  I know in my own life a day does not go by without the Serenity Prayer—which I learned from Wilk. Whatever situation I’m in, the Serenity Prayer always applies. I joke with my students that all you need to know about the entire field of sport psychology can be summarized by the Serenity Prayer.

Wilk, you taught me that having a positive attitude and seeing the glass as always half full is not only a choice, but a skill that can be learned. Your unwavering commitment to doing the right thing for the right reason and keeping a positive outlook, even in the most difficult of circumstances, has shaped our character in a world that rewards achievement at the expense of others, short cuts, and instant gratification. I suppose this is why when Wilk asks you to do something, and we all end of saying “yes”…it is because we know it’s the right thing to do!

John Gardner, an American activist, reformer, educator and leader…a man much like Wilk, said “There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are” and Wilk you are certainly one of those people. You have taught us that is it us alone who can put the unique ingredients of our lives together in a way that leads to dignity, integrity and meaning…and more importantly if we accomplish this feat, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.

Wilk, your impact surely echoes, and spreads exponentially in immeasurable ways. To give a visual (like this rock engraved with the word Serenity which I keep in my office next to my computer) I would describe you as a rock, our rock… cast into a calm lake and your impact as the concentric circles that emanate from your core and reverberate infinitely outward to places unknown.  It is my wish, and the wish of many of us from the women’s team, that for you this celebration gives you at least a glimpse of what you have meant, and will continue to mean to so many, myself included. Thank you.