Sport is not isolated from society; it is a microcosm of the society in which we live. So it is naïve to think that the discipline problems that exist in society will not exist on our teams. We can bemoan the lack of discipline or we can do something about it.
For the young athlete to learn discipline demands guidance. We as coaches must provide that guidance. We must set the standards by fair rules that carefully lay out the behavioral expectations involved in being part of the team. These must be written. They must be clear so that there is no room for debate. Essentially as the coach you are providing a structure to begin to improve their abilities and their enjoyment of the sport.
I think many of today’s athletes crave the structure we can give them, even though it may not be part of their everyday life outside of sport. But they have to understand that it’s a two-way street – that they can’t just follow the rules they like, but sometimes they must obey all the rules even the one’s they don’t like. That’s the price they have to pay for the structure the coach provides.
Discipline is a responsibility of coaching. If we do not enforce discipline then we are shirking our duty as coaches. We must understand that we are not coaching a sport; we are coaching young men and women who are competing in a sport. We owe it to them to provide the most positive experience that we can. Through firm and fair discipline we can create a favorable learning environment that will allow them to reach their potential.
How can this be done? Start by getting everyone on our side. You and your coaching staff should decide on the behavioral expectations of your athletes and then set the rules that will define those behaviors. Review them with your administrators. Get them to buy in and support you before any challenges are made. if you feel comfortable doing so, you might want to involve the senior athletes and the parents in the process. If they’re part of the process, it’s easier for them to buy in.
Once the rules are set, schedule a mandatory parents’ meeting to go over the rules and responsibilities for their youngsters to be on the team. This meeting should also educate the parents to practice procedures, nutrition guidelines, and criteria for team selection. Take this opportunity to educate the parents about the sport and your philosophies. Be sure to make it clear that there is no room for debate and that the rules are non-negotiable and apply to everyone on the team.
Both the parent and the child must sign a statement that they will observe the rules. If they do not they will not be allowed to participate. Emphasize that to be an athlete is special. It is a privilege to participate, not a right. There should also be a pledge from the coaches as to the behavioral standards the athletes and parents can expect from the coach. The ultimate goal is to create an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Remember as coaches we have a responsibility to teach our athletes. Very few will compete past the high school level, but they all can have the great growing-up experiences of testing their limits and being part of a team.
Discipline will help insure a positive experience. It is not outdated, and it never will be.