Last month, a Responsible Sports Parent wrote to our panel of experts to ask:
"My daughter is 9-years old and participates on our local soccer team. Her coaches use "corrective conditioning" (push-ups, running, frog jumps) for bad behavior or poor performance. How do I convince the coaches that they can get optimal response/performance without using corporal punishment?"
- Kim, a concerned parent
We asked two of our experts to weigh in. Sam Snow, US Youth Soccer Director of Coaching, had this to say:
Punitive coaching rarely works for the betterment of the player or the team, especially in youth sports. To use physical exercise as punishment with 9-year-olds is just wrong! The kids need exercise – yes, but in a healthy approach.
Even college and professional athletes are not given corporal punishment as the result is poor morale, not improved drive and determination by the athlete.
Exercise should be presented in a positive fashion with young people. Not only for the immediate effect on their soccer performance, but also their life-long health. We want exercise to be a positive experience. Using exercise as a punishment gives a negative connection to the experience. Exercise is then likely to be avoided by the children as they age. So both for the short-term and the long-term the negatives outweigh the positives of "corrective conditioning."
Bad behavior during a training session is often the fault of the coach. Misbehavior by children can occur on the soccer field when they are bored. Boredom usually stems from the use of drills instead of game-like activities. So if a coach wants to avoid the kids being unfocused and perhaps misbehaving, then avoid drills in a training session. While we’re at it lets also avoid the 3 L’s – Lines, Laps and Lectures.
Poor performance by a 9-year-old in a match is to be expected. Let’s be realistic – they are only 9! Soccer, like all team sports, is a long-term developmental sport. Players in soccer peak in their match performance in their 20’s and early 30’s. The adults need to be patient with the game-day performance of children whose life span is still counted in single digits.
Fitness improvement must come from playing many game-like activities in a training session.
The bottom line is that sports are supposed to be fun for kids. They are not little adult professional players. Always ask them to try their best, but live with the outcome of the match. They’ll get over it and so must the grown-ups. Be sure they give it their all (that’s a life lesson as well as a soccer one) while letting the joy of the game infuse them.
And George Kuntz, Hawaii Youth Soccer Director of Coaching answered:
This shouldn't happen at that age.
It certainly depends what the issue is at practice. Is the punishment for disruptive behavior or a penalty for losing a game or exercise at practice? Kids certainly understand "time outs".
Sitting the players down if there are disruptive issues is a far more effective solution at that age.
Coaches may need to re-establish ground rules for what expectations are when players come to practice. These expectations must be clearly outlined at a parent meeting. Offering practice incentives versus punishments can be helpful as well.
For instance, if the team adheres to the tasks at practice and works hard coach may offer more shooting, a longer scrimmage, or some other incentive. The coach can constantly remind the team what the training habits should be and offer rewards for good training.
Once ground rules have been established it is up to the coach to maintain a level of consistency.
Are you a coach or parent who has a youth soccer question you’d like to pose to our panel of experts? Visit us on Facebook and ask your question today! We regularly post answers on Facebook.com/ResponsibleSports and each month we’ll feature one question here at US Youth Soccer.