Sunday, April 4, 2010


Why do babies poop in their diapers? Babies poop in their diapers because they lack self-discipline. At some point they will realize that dirtying diapers is not fun, smells bad, and can be quite uncomfortable, leading them to learn the discipline necessary to visit the little boys room or little girls room when necessary.

My point here is that self-discipline is something we learn, and like sports skills, it will improve with practice, training, analysis, goal setting and goal attainment. Can we as coaches and parents teach children self-discipline? Of course we can. We potty-train our children, teach them how to hit a ball off a tee, turn cartwheels, run a post-pattern, and we can teach them how to be self-disciplined.

You may argue that SELF discipline means doing what’s right whether someone is watching you or not, and you’d be right. The Encarta Dictionary describes self-discipline as “the ability to do what is necessary or sensible without needing to be urged by somebody else.” Some people may think that standing over your children and telling them right from wrong, what’s necessary or sensible will not teach them self-discipline, after all, that word “self” is a key component of the phrase. Those people would be wrong.

We don’t give our four year old a bat, ball and tee and say “here you are, figure out what to do with these.” And, we don’t send our children out into the world and say “go learn right from wrong.” Before our kids can choose to do what’s right, they must know what right is. That comes from education. Education from parents, teachers, clergy, coaches, family, friends, and people they trust. We can’t confuse matters by throwing the word “self” into the education and skill development process. Self-discipline is not self-taught, it is only self-administered.

Youth sports are an excellent environment to teach self-discipline. It creates opportunities to teach right from wrong and gives children experience with decision making where the consequences of a poor decision are not life-threatening or life-changing. With proper focus from a coaching staff, a child can clearly learn the benefits of being self-disciplined in a youth sport setting. Experiencing those benefits will hopefully encourage them to continue their education and skill development in this endeavor into adulthood.

Coaches, if we can put time and effort into setting goals and teaching sports skills that will diminish and possibly disappear with age, shouldn’t we also put time and effort into setting goals and teaching self-discipline skills that will last a lifetime?

When talking to my athletes about self-discipline I always refer to three points I’ve taken from a philosophy presented by Lou Holtz about creating a positive self-image. I believe they apply to self-discipline as well, because having strong self-discipline plays a key role in having a positive self-image.

1. Always do what’s right. (If you’re not sure what’s right find out from someone you trust.)

2. Always do your best.

3. Always treat others as you’d like to be treated.

Coach Holtz explains how doing these three things will answer some important questions that significant people in your life will ask about you. First, “Can I trust you?” The only way to earn trust is to do what’s right all the time. Next, “Are you committed to excellence?” Show the people whose lives are touched by yours that you are committed to excellence by always doing your best. And, last, “Do you care about me?” Living by The Golden Rule covers this one.

All of us are born with very little self-discipline and as our lives progress, we become more self-disciplined. It is a never ending process of education and skill development. We should be teaching those whose progress is below our own and learning from those whose progress is beyond ours.

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