Are today’s athletes different? They certainly are different in many ways from the athletes of 1969, when I started coaching. But the biggest differences are not in the athletes themselves, but in the society we live in and the expectations we have for our athletes.
One of the biggest differences has been a breakdown in discipline. Discipline is the foundation for excellence, and self-discipline is the highest form of discipline. Of course, for youngsters to learn self-discipline they must have guidance: what is right, and what is not right? That guidance takes the form of rules. Coaches today have become reluctant to set rules, because then they must enforce them. That could be uncomfortable. What if a parent challenges them? Will they receive backing from the administration, from the school board, the principal, the vice-principal, and the athletic director? Coaches believe in discipline just as they always have, but they do not have the backing they used to have. Younger coaches are reluctant to set rules and enforce discipline because they will not be popular and they know they will not be backed. What is the answer?
Sport is not isolated from society; it is a microcosm of the society in which we live. So it is naïve to think that the problems that exist in society will not exist on our teams. For the young athlete to learn discipline demands guidance. That guidance must come from us, the coaches. We must set the standards by fair rules that carefully lay out the behavioral expectations involved in being part of the team. These must be written. They must be clear so that there is no room for debate. Essentially as the coach you are providing a structure to begin to improve their abilities and their enjoyment of the sport.
I think today’s athletes crave the structure we can give them, even though it may not be part of their everyday life outside of sport. But they have to understand that it’s a two-way street- that they can’t just follow the rules they like, but sometimes they must obey rules they don’t like. That’s the price they have to pay for the structure the coach provides.
We must understand that we are not coaching a sport; we are coaching young men and women who are competing in a sport. We owe it to them to provide the most positive experience that we can. Through firm and fair discipline we can create a favorable learning environment that will allow them to reach their potential. Discipline will help insure a positive experience. It is not outdated, and it never will be.