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Positive Discipline
"Always lead with an open hand not a pointed finger."
Source unknown

Children Learn What They Live

Dorothy Lois Nolte

  • If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
  • If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
  • If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.
  • If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.
  • If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
  • If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.
  • If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
  • If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.
  • If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
  • If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,
    He learns to find love in the world.
Why Discipline?

Unlike school, youth sports are considered, at least by definition, as a voluntary activity. The typical parent/coach often rushes to the practice site directly from her/his work place. The volunteer coach dedicates considerable time and energy and expects attention to, and cooperation with her/his practice plan in return. The above scenario makes perfect sense to adults, but alas, some kids (not necessarily always the same kids) do not follow the coach's "I am doing all this work for our team, so I expect that you at least pay attention and try your best" logic. Children that commit to a league are bound by a moral obligation to show up, cooperate, and try their best. Expecting the child's attention and cooperation during practice and games makes perfect sense, and is indeed a healthy starting point. Thus, the issue at hand is not whether the coach stands on solid moral grounds when he/she expects cooperation in return for her/his hard work. What the coach may say and/or do about uncooperative, disruptive behaviors, however, is a topic that deserve some discussion.

Separating the Child from Her/His Behavior

All children, including those we feed, dress, and tuck to bed every night, have their "moments." The child we love dearly is the same kid that at times drives us to the very limit of our patience and sanity. By always addressing the child's inappropriate conduct, and not the child's persona, e.g., "I do not like it when you behave this way..." or "It makes me sad (dissapointed, angry...) when you behave irresponsibly...," as opposed to "You are irresponsible ..." or "There are some bad kids on the other team..." the coach empowers the child to select and execute her/his next move.

An Example of Controlled Empowerment

Should a time-out be necessary, the coach may ask the player to sit in a designated area (one such spot may be by the equipment and water bottles so it isn't too embarassing) for the next two minutes. The child is notified when the time-out is over, and may join the group immediately or may choose to sit out for up to additional three minutes. He/she may now join the team at any time during those three minutes. "I am ready now coach," is all I would expect the child to announce as he/she rejoins the group. I would greet the child and proceed with practice without any further comment on the incident that led to the already served time-out. The child is in charge. He/she controls the next move and is responsible for it. That's controlled empowerment.

Poor Self-Control and Aggressive Behavior

Poor self-control and aggressive behavior are two problem behaviors the coach may encounter on the soccer field. While little information is available on aggressive behavior from a developmental perspective, there is an abundant amount of information regarding the relationship between aggression and factors such as gender and parental discipline. Hoffman (1970, cited in Logsdon et al., 1984, pp. 32-33) discerns three types of parental discipline: "(1) power assertion, which uses physical punishment, deprivation of material objects or privileges, or the threat of either; (2) love-withdrawal, which includes direct nonphysical expressions of the parents' disapproval, such as ignoring or isolating the child; and (3) induction, in which the parent explains to the child the reasons for requiring a change of behavior. Few adult role models, such as parents and/or coaches (based on my observations), use exclusively and consistently one disciplinary style. Most adults appear to draw from several disciplinary styles yet may have a tendency to prefer, and thus use one specific approach more often than others.

Research has consistently demonstrated that acceptance of the child and unconditional affection, coupled with induction results in a well adjusted, confident child. On the other hand, children growing in power assertion environments demonstrate more aggressive behaviors.

A longitudinal study conducted by Eron (1987) examined prosocial and antisocial behaviors of over six hundred third graders (ages seven to nine) along with their parents' disciplinary styles. Correlations between parent disciplinary practices and child behavior indicated the following: (1) the highest level of aggression was displayed by children with the least nurturing and least accepting parents; (2) level of punishment at home was positively correlated with aggressive behavior at school, and (3) the highest aggressive displays were by children who least identified with their parents.

The most salient finding in a ten year follow up of about 70% of Eron's original subjects was that children that were identified as aggressive in third grade were three times more likely to have police records at age nineteen, when compared to children not so identified.

A very significant correlation between aggression in the third grade and a twenty-two year follow-up still existed. Children that were identified as prosocial in third grade were as a group better educated, more successful professionally and much healthier mentally. Aggression and parental disciplinary style at age eight, unfortunately, predicts low educational and occupational achievement, psychopathology and social inadequacy at age thirty (LeUnes & Nation, 1996).

Implications of Poor Self-Control and Aggressive,
Antisocial Behavior to Coaching
  • A democratic leadership style creates the best environment for growth and development, thus, the coach should involve the child in sketching the steps toward group goals.
  • When children are old enough to moralize and reason, discussion and persuasion are the best tools of education.
  • Authoritarian coaching style does seem to produce less disruptive behavior during practice and/or games, however, aggression increases when the coach isn't present, or when the child is transferred to a different team.
  • The coach has the right to get angry, upset, or sad when children misbehave. Her/his disapproval, however, must be clearly pointed to the bad behavior and not at the child.
  • Aggressive behavior in every day life correlates highly with a bleak future for the child. There is little reason, therefore, to believe that allowing aggressive behavior in sports will "prepare the child for the real world."
  • The child needs clearly defined limits. Antisocial behavior should carry certain consequences. Yet, even when we feel the child needs to be punished, he or she should know that when they are ready to conform to the rules they can become again a full and equal member of the group.
  • Disciplinary practices appear to have a crucial and lasting influence on the child's future capacity to become a well adjusted member of society. The coach should, therefore, join forces with the parents, and familiarize and involve them in her/his educational goals and processes.

Copyright© 1996-2016, Daniel Frankl, Ph.D.

Questions and/or comments? Thank you! e-mail gif

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Last Modified: May 18, 2016