Student-Athlete Punishments: What happens when minor rules are broken?

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Student-Athlete Punishments: What happens when minor rules are broken?

Trevor Kliebenstein, Sports Reporter

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Different coaches have different philosophies on how they will manage their teams in terms of discipline.  The contrasting nature of sports themselves also produce distinct punishments from sport to sport. Due to both of these factors, punishments handed out to student-athletes for committing minor offenses such as showing up late to practice, not executing well in game and disrespecting a teammate or coach will differ throughout each sport. 

Getting both coaches and student-athletes perspective is crucial when discussing penalties handed out for breaking minor, informal rules. Consensus is formed when differentiating the aspects one can and cannot control as a student-athlete.  The things one can control includes showing up on time during practice and respecting teammates and coaches. The things one can’t always control includes executing perfectly in every single game.  

Mitch Sutton, senior first baseman for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Eagles baseball team, described the way his team focuses on not performing well in games. He said, “Not executing well in a game is a punishment enough for yourself. Nobody is going to make it worse because they know you weren’t trying to play bad. If someone doesn’t execute in a game, it’s more often the case that they’ll take extra reps on their own to get better.”   

Sophomore UWL Eagles volleyball player Julia Van Fleet stated, “Our coach, of course, believes that if we struggled with a certain skill during a match, the next day at practice we will be working on it.”  

She also added that no form of physical punishment such as running laps is served for poor play in game, but rather added that her team has a “growth mindset,” in that if “you don’t understand failure, you’re never going to succeed.” 

Bill Hehli, UWL Eagles men’s and women’s tennis coach for 23 years, agrees that no huge punishment should be served for a student-athlete that isn’t performing at the level they should be. He realizes that losing playing time is what the players care about the most.

Hehli stated, “I can run kids into the ground and do all those kind of things and punish them that way, but until you take away their opportunities…that’s the most important thing for them in being on the team, is having opportunities to play.”  

In terms of punishments served for breaking minor rules such as showing up late to practice, Sutton and Hehli both agree that it’s a situational affair.

“It depends on the person, the violation, the circumstance,” said Hehli. He said there’s not a set-in-stone list of penalties for certain offenses committed, but rather he takes every case based on the situation. He usually likes to give his players the benefit of the doubt. He stated, “Usually we’re able to give kids a second chance…in situations where their car didn’t start or class went long, things like that. We evaluate it on a case-by-case basis and deal with it accordingly.”  

Sutton explained that the most effective discipline method his baseball team utilizes is the one that sends the right message. He said, “Sometimes that might mean exercise, other times it might mean a stern ‘you all [need] to get on the same page.’”   

Back in 2015, University of Tulane Strength and Conditioning Coach Stephanie Sharpe was fired when disciplining a bowling player who showed up an hour late to practice by making the student run laps. Since many people thought Sharpe’s actions of utilizing running as a form of punishment was completely justifiable, this sparked outrage all over the country. 

While Hehli didn’t indicate he used running as a form of punishment, both Sutton and Van Fleet stated running can be a normal form of discipline when breaking certain rules.  

“If someone is late to practice or disrespects a coach, they might have to do some extra running,” Sutton stated.  

Explaining that running is an effective form of punishment, he said, “It’s something that athletes are used to and can do well. Turning it into a punishment can also drive you to do what it takes to avoid that extra amount of exercise.” 

Van Fleet stated that she’s been on teams before that have ran a lot as a form of discipline, saying “it is a fairly effective way to understand the need to strive to be better.”  

However, she did not completely side with running as a great form of discipline, adding, “I think to a point it also can make kids afraid to make mistakes and put themselves out there because they don’t want to run if they lose.” 

A 2016 study performed by Coach&AD found that coaches were virtually split on running as a form of punishment for athletes.  Of the coaches involved in the study, 43.8 percent stated that running is an effective form of punishment, 45.3 percent said that it’s not and 10.9 percent weren’t completely sure.   

One question that comes up when discussing running, or any form of punishment in general, is whether individual or team discipline is more effective.  Different coaches and teams have different ideas on whether the whole team or the single individual who breaks a rule should serve the punishment.  

“If the individual screws up, then the individual will serve the punishment. If the group screws up, then the group will serve the punishment.  I think that’s the fair way to do it and it’s how things are handled here,” Sutton stated regarding the UWL Eagles baseball team.  

Hehli stated that the answer to this question is dependent on the situation. He explained, “If we’re doing a drill in practice and say, if one guy misses an overhead, we’re all running, that’s team discipline but it’s not causing the other players on the team to resent the player that did it.”  

On the other hand, he stated that if a player misses a couple practices, he won’t discipline the whole team as it wouldn’t be justifiable but would rather make the team resent that player. 

As opposed to Hehli and Sutton, Van Fleet is certain team discipline is a more effective method of serving a punishment.  She explained, “Simply because I play a team sport. We are only as good as our weakest player, so when there are mistakes made, I think it’s fitting that we all run. When we do run at practice, it is as a team, which I think we all appreciate.”

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