The practice of coaches disciplining their teams by making them run is as old as sport itself. Anyone who has played a team sport at some point in his or her life can probably remember a coach telling a a teammate who stepped out of line to “Take a lap” or to run a quick sprint else risk warming the bench in the next game. Now, that time-honored punishment is under attack after some say coaches in an Iowa school district went too far.
Coach Tom Mihalovich, a football coach at Iowa’s Des Moines Lincoln High School, made a sophomore on his team run sprints as a punishment for making negative comments about the school’s varsity football team. As a result, the Des Moines Register reports that Mihalovich is being accused of breaking the school's anti-bullying and corporal punishment rules. The school's athletic director and school board members told the newspaper that jogging around the field is a punishment that belongs in the past.
“Good common sense would indicate we’re past using conditioning and running in a punitive manner,” an athletic director told the Register, who also called the practice “almost vindictive in nature.”
An investigation at the school concluded with that assessment after finding that the sophomore player in question was forced to run 20 hill sprints and two laps around a football field, in addition to having to complete 20 up-down drills, and then another set of hill sprints. He did it all in a span that lasted between 25 and 30 minutes, with no water break.
“While some people believe that physical activity used as punishment and/or a behavior management tool is effective, experts perceive this as a ‘quick fix’ that actually might discourage the behavior it is intended to elicit,” the investigators found, according to the Des Moines Register. “Using negative consequences to alter behavior suppresses the undesirable behavior only while the threat of punishment is present; it doesn’t teach self-discipline or address the actual behavior problem.”
A coach at a nearby school said that while running too much in some situations can be harmful or even deadly, coaches have to realize the danger that’s present by banning such practices.
“If they start disallowing any form of discipline in this way, I think youth sports are in trouble,” the coach said.
“We condition hard in some sports, but in conversations with my coaches, we don’t feel that we have a certain sport or a certain issue that would require serious, heavy run-till-you-drop type of conditioning,” said Judge Johnson, an athletic director in the community.
Multiple health sources stressed how important it is for coaches to make clear their own requirements to a team at the beginning of a season. They also reported that discipline from coaches should be specific to a player’s age and never to assume any player can handle a conditioning overload.
This story comes after the news that many high schools across the country would stop “two-a-days,” the practice of having football players take to the field twice every day during the hottest months of the year. USA Today reported that the decision was made to increase player safety after heat-related deaths were on the rise. Some teams had two-a-days in weather that surpassed 100-degree temperatures.
"They allow us, if we choose to go to single practices, a three-hour block of time," one coach said. "In my opinion, that's plenty of time. After a while, you reach a point of diminishing returns when players lose the ability to learn because they're just trying to survive."
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