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Coaching Survival: Discipline for Discipline


First, thank you to all that responded to my survey over the past month. Your answers have given me some great insight into making my blog as meaningful to you as possible. Your support is hugely appreciated.


One of the questions that I asked in the survey was “What is your biggest challenge as a coach?” There were some terrific, insightful answers but what struck me was how many (more than half) talked specifically about dealing with parents and/or motivating players. I would argue that the two are linked in many ways and coaches can deal with both challenges simultaneously. Here are some of the responses to the survey question:

  • Meeting the demands of the parents.

  • Getting young players to buy into a team concept.

  • Parents and club politics.

  • Getting parents to buy into your development/season plan.

  • Maintaining a quality communication link between the parents (and staff).

  • Unruly players/discipline.

  • Managing the expectations of the parents.

  • Motivating players and creating a culture that both players and parents buy into.

  • Disrespectful kids.

  • Parents.

And, as I sit to write this, my Twitter feed popped up the following quote from the University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban:

“(Players) all think they have this illusion of choice,” Saban said. “Like ‘I can do whatever I want to do’. And you kind of have a younger generation now that doesn’t always get told no, they don’t always get told this is exactly how you need to do it. So they have this illusion that they have all these choices.

“But the fact of the matter is, is if you want to be good, you really don’t have a lot of choices, because it takes what it takes. You have to do what you have to do to be successful. So you have to make choices and decisions to have the discipline and focus to the process of what you need to do to accomplish your goals.”

The most important part of what Coach Saban is saying is the notion of discipline. We simply need to create a culture where discipline becomes the quintessential piece of the team puzzle. And a big part of discipline is the ability of a coach to say “no” - both literally and metaphorically.

Former NHL coach Mike Keenan often talks about ice time as being the most motivating factor for a hockey player. Doing what it takes to get more ice time and conversely, doing what it takes not to lose ice time, is crucial to getting the most out of your players.

That said, setting the stage at the beginning of the season for appropriate discipline in a team environment is paramount to success. This will usually be in the form of a team meeting and depending on the age group, with parents as well. There is no one who will challenge a coaching staff on laying down ground rules with respect to discipline. Both parents and players will all be in agreement because they never think that it is them or their player who will need to be reprimanded for lack of discipline. Coaches must layout expectations in the form of team rules or guideline but, then they must absolutely abide by them for the rest of the season or risk losing respect of the team community.

As an example, I always have a hard and fast rule that players are not allowed to talk to referees unless I have specifically asked them to go over and address them appropriately. I am very clear at the outset of the season that if I hear a player talking to a referee then the player will miss playing time (I don’t specify how much!). If a player gets a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for talking to a referee they will go directly to the dressing room and miss the rest of the game (as a minimum).

Typically, this happens only once a season. Players (and parents) get the message quickly.

One incident that made a big impression on me was when I began coaching a boys high school team that had a lot of veteran players. And there was still grade 13 in the province of Ontario - so the team was older with players turning 20 during the season. My most skilled player, who was also the oldest player on the team, would not stop shooting pucks around in practice after the whistle. I did have a quiet word with him to ask that he stop but by the third practice of the season he was still at it. Usually this is something I would plan but I lost my temper early in the practice and threw him off the ice. The rest of the team was shocked - but happy as well because this player was getting under their skin with his lack of discipline.

The next day I got an apology, and my most skilled player became my most disciplined player. We are friends still 20 years later. What amounted to a 60 minute “time out” truly set the stage for one of the most successful seasons I have had as a coach.

I look forward to continuing this conversation about discipline and dealing with parents next week.

For more on team building and connecting with players check out Creating a Culture of Confidence. This is a terrific "how to" eBook for coaches in all sports available at Amazon or by clicking the link below.



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