Punishment Is Not Coaching


Lisa wrote the following and asked me to comment:

I wondered if you had a comment on the HS coach charged with reckless homicide in the death of his player from hyperthermia? Reckless homicide maybe going too far, but there is a huge responsibility on head coaches (not just ATC, strength coaches) to know how the body responds to physical stressors placed upon it. (Some) coaches need to understand that punishment is not the same as performance training.

Lisa I will refrain commenting directly on the Kentucky situation since none of us know all the facts, rather I will comments globally on what I have seen. As an athletic development coach, sport coach or physical education teacher I am not a believer in physical exercise as punishment. I feel very strongly that if we are trying to teach the athlete how to be fit and learn an appreciation for exercise as a means to fitness that using laps or “gassers’ as punishment is in appropriate. My attitude is to take away what they most want to do- play or practice. I am not a punishment coach, I make that clear to everyone I work with. The program will be demanding enough without adding that element. Each athlete regardless of their level of development must be taught that they have certain responsibilities to learn to take care of their bodies. We can only train them a limited number of hours each day, what they do the rest of the time is their personal responsibility.

We also need to get away from this idea that pre-season training is the time to get in shape. You can’t get in shape in ten days or two weeks. More players are injured and games lost during this period because coaches hammer the athletes and they NEVER recover. This is 2009 we should understand adaptation and proper training and preparation.

Heat is a whole other matter. Universally stress from heat is the single biggest factor in limiting performance and training. Heat stress is dangerous and must be recognized as such. Even today we have too many coaches who think they need to have the players sweat the weight off. Look at the coaches, many of them wear rubber jackets to take weight off. What an example. We know that just drinking water during practice is not enough. We must drink an electrolyte solution and be well hydrated before practice starts. Train and practice away from the heat of the day. In other words just use good common sense.

There is another area that coaches do not understand, that is exercise induced asthma. It is very prevalent in today’s youth. I have been around too many coaches that think the athlete is just being a wimp – they are not. It is a condition that is dangerous and potentially life threatening, it must be recognized and dealt with on an individual basis. We need to reach the athletes to communicate with the coach if they have this condition. I feel that the athlete has responsibility in this regard.

After coaching forty years and being an athlete longer, it is amazing to me that we are still talking about this kind of stuff. I somehow survived two and three a day practices in college football with two Dixie cups of water, and not being allowed to take our helmets off. When I think back on that I realize how lucky we were that no one died. I vowed after that experience to never put any athlete that I worked with through that kind of abuse. It was abuse not training. Training is preparing the athlete to thrive in any environment and just survive.
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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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