The #1 Mistake Youth Sports Coaches Make About Discipline

Walk into a gym in the US, and you’ll find a coach “disciplining” their players.

Every team needs discipline if they want to achieve greatness. But, from my experience, I see so many coaches draining their energy on the athletes who need discipline the most.

Instead of focusing on the kids who go above and beyond, we give attention to those who are wasting time. Our teams can go much further when we pour our energy into our self-disciplined kids.

Photo by Dave Lowe on Unsplash

Our teams are an example of a social group. A group of people coming together to achieve something.

As we know, humans are social creatures and rely on each other to survive, especially in our early years of biological development.

Back in the days of early development, it was the job of the group leader (coach) to make sure everyone followed along with the group. It could take one person to wander off and make the group weaker.

So naturally, we focus our energy on those who make our team weak instead of giving our power to those who make our team strong.

What’s the problem with giving our energy to our “weak links?”

Gone are the days of needing a group of people to forage and survive. We play sports to thrive, have fun, learn life lessons, and achieve our goals of winning.

Everyone in a group or team wants to feel like they belong and can contribute something to the team. So when we start disciplining the same kid over and over, they begin to form their identity as the “trouble maker” because they see this as a survivor skill to stay on the team. They are wired to feel like, “oh, the coach is giving me attention, so I’m going to keep doing this.”

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

Instead of focusing our energy on disciplining the athletes who are out of line, we give most of our attention and energy to the kids who are good listeners.

For example, when I am coaching a group and ask them to go to the baseline and hold the ball. I will give attention to those who are following directions instead of yelling at the one kid who is not, which will then make other kids stop following directions too so they can get attention from the coach.

But most people want to be recognized for their POSITIVE contributions to a team. So let’s do it!

One of the many reasons Coach Sean McVay is so successful is because he is a HUGE believer in the power of a positive team. He has created a culture where Coach McVay rewards the players who are doing their best work with praise.

Like DeSean Jackson, those who don’t get in line with the Rams culture don’t make it very far.

I know in youth sports, you can’t just kick kids off the team for a bad attitude. It’s part of our jobs as youth sports coaches to teach and coach kids these life skills of being a great teammate.

Instead of giving attention to the kid, wasting time constantly in front of the entire group. Have private conversations with them about their behavior. Hey, “insert name,” you are being disrespectful and distracting to your teammates when you dribble the ball while I’m talking. If you keep doing it, I will have to sit you out of practice and speak to your parents.

Focusing on the people who contribute positively to your team doesn’t mean ignoring the discipline aspect. You should still have your firm expectations and hold them to them. But have those disciplinary conversations privately instead of giving attention to the one kid wasting time in front of the entire team.

  1. Who are your rockstar listeners, and how can you give them more energy?
  2. Which athletes do you need to have a private conversation with?
  3. Can you create a system that rewards those who contribute POSITIVELY?

Reach out to me on Twitter @coachfurtadoo, and let’s have a conversation!

Photo by Natalie Pedigo on Unsplash

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Coach Furtado

Writing about leadership, teamwork, and human development through the lens of sports.