[18 August 2014] -
Exercise should never be used as punishment
With the new school year underway, students and athletes of all ages will have many opportunities to be physically active. Kids are naturally active, and physical activity in various forms is a normal part of growing up.
The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that kids require 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate levels of physical activity daily to maintain proper health and weight. It is very sad, therefore, that physical activity, particularly exercise, is used by many PE teachers, sports coaches and even some parents to discipline and punish our kids. This has got to stop! We have already created a culture of exercise haters.
Why is exercise used as a form of discipline? Because, researchers have found, most PE teachers and coaches believe that exercise as punishment can teach students that there are consequences to their actions. There are pretty serious consequences to this practice, however. Our attempts to build positive attitudes toward exercise is a way to maintain physical and mental health and to control weight, but the message we are sending our youth is that exercise is unpleasant and used as a weapon; as something unpleasant and to be avoided.
When we use exercise as a form of punishment (“You’re late; do 20 push-ups”) we are promoting negative attitudes toward exercising that carry over into adulthood. The WHO tells us that American adults are now sitting on average eight hours a day, leading to an array of premature diseases.
According to Brad Cardinal, professor of exercise psychology at Oregon State University, many adults try to avoid regular physical activity due to their earlier unpleasant exposure to exercise as punishment, usually as students in PE class or on sports teams.
According to a position statement by The National Association for Sport and Physical Education, “Administering or withholding physical activity as a form of punishment and/or behavior management is an inappropriate practice” and “coaches should never use physical activity or peer pressure as a means of disciplining athlete behavior.”
Exercise when used for disciplinary purposes, they claim, is a form of corporal punishment and is illegal in 29 states.
Often coaches and PE teachers have often asked me, “How else can I discipline these kids if not through exercise?” Alternatives to using exercise as punishment have been addressed by professors Maura Rosenthal, Karen Pagnano-Richardson and Lydia Burak in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 2010. They recommend:
• Not all infractions are equal and require the teacher’s or coach’s attention. Avoid being a strict disciplinarian. Perhaps start with a warning in pointing out inappropriate behavior before invoking punishment. Try to be flexible before making a big deal out of everything.
• Work with school administrators to review alternative disciplinary strategies unique to your school or sport organization that can be conducted outside the immediate environment. Examples include early or after-school detention, meeting and discussing the situation with one or both parents or, in the case of athletic participants, the denial of activity. (“You missed practice again this week, Joan, so according to team policy, you may not play in our next game.”)
• According to NASPE, “at times it’s appropriate to remove a student briefly from a physical education lesson, recreational play, athletic practice or game to stop an undesirable behavior.”
• PE teachers and sports coaches should discuss the student’s or athlete’s faulty actions (usually in private) about the causes and undesirable consequences. At the same time, “good” or “desirable” behavior should be recognized.
We need to help children develop healthy and positive attitudes toward various forms of physical activity, including exercise, to maintain healthy habits throughout their life. Sports coaches should use exercise to promote sports performance and to build strength and stamina, while PE teachers need to improve student fitness and teach our kids healthy daily habits. Exercise and other forms of physical activity can build a student’s self-esteem, develop a sense of competence and achievement, improve motor skills, and to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. We can do better!
Mark H. Anshel is professor emeritus, Middle Tennessee State University, USA