Punishment Running Has No Place In Youth Sports

Why do we punish athletes with running?

Are they running for warm up, for fitness, or for punishment?

A friend just shared that her 14 year old JV field hockey player was exhausted and had dissolved into tears because at her Thursday and Friday practices the coach had submitted them to “punishment running,” 7-9 miles of it. That’s distance and sprints over 2 hours. No playing. No skills. Just running. The reasons, according to this player, were two:

  1. They lost a game for the first time this season.
  2. One of the players forgot her equipment.

I just don’t get it, for two reasons:

  1. Running for punishment will not make them better field hockey players.
  2. The girl who forgot her equipment may never forget again but this will be motivated by fear and shame, not responsibililty. Is this what we want to teach our girls?

Young athletes, especially girls, will grant a coach authority. They’ll do what they’re told. As coaches, we should never abuse this privilege. The players count on this and so do their parents. Coaches who punish and shame abuse this trust. Worse, they abuse the kids.

Parents, if your child has a coach like this, be in touch with other parents and have a sit-down with that coach. This is a tough conversation, but it must take place. If the coach is not responsive, talk to the Activity Director (for high school) or the League Coordinator for club play. It has got to stop.

Coaches, if you know a coach who administers punishment-running ask him/her about the outcome they hope to achieve by it. Try asking them, What is their “so that?” This is a practice I find very helpful that I have adopted it from a book called Bearing Fruit, Ministry with Real Results, by Lovett Weems Jr. and Tom Berlin. Have the Coach fill in the blanks:

“I do _____________ so that the players ______________.”

If the answer is, I have them run  so that they are fitter on the field, then some running may be justified. But why not build it into the game they’re playing and the drills you’ve designed? (see Fit2Finish page Making Fitness Fun for ways to use the sport to gain fitness).

But if the honest answer is “I have them run and run and run so that they know this is what happens to losers” that’s probably how they’ll start to see themselves, as kids who think they’re losers. Or, maybe worse, kids afraid to lose. Then they’ll be cautious players, afraid to challenge themselves, afraid of risk. Ultimately, afraid to play.

If you have a story about coaching behavior, share it with us at Fit2Finish. We love to hear the good stuff, but let’s get together to address the other stuff, too. The athletic field should be a healthy, safe place for our kids.

About Wendy LeBolt

Since 2005, Fit2Finish has been working with parents, coaches, and athletes to keep youth sports healthy. Injuries and burnout should not be sidelining our kids, but young players need special care and handling to manage today’s demanding competitive schedules. Fit2Finish wants to put this know-how into your hands.

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