Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Behavior - Education vs. Rules and Consequences

We choose how we behave and our behavior comes with consequences. If we eat properly and exercise, we will benefit with better health, the ability to lead an active lifestyle and do more with our time. If we study, either formerly, or informally, we will be more educated. And, of course, misbehavior typically comes with negative consequences. Choosing to behave appropriately is an educational process. We learn what good behavior is and then we choose to behave that way (or not).
I’ve never been a big believer in rules with consequences. I understand they are necessary and I have rules at my gym that we follow and that have consequences. The larger the rulebook, the more police action necessary to monitor those rules and apply consequences. As coaches, we have enough to do without being the “gym police.”

In general, I expect each of my gymnasts to work hard, work smart, be a good person and behave appropriately. Natural consequences occur based on how much or how little these expectations are performed. If you work hard and smart, you will improve. If you’re a good person, you will have good friends and earn respect from those who know you. If you behave appropriately, you will be trusted.

If one of our goals as coaches is to help prepare our athletes to be great adults, then behavioral education should take priority over rules and consequences. We must teach our students appropriate behavior and help them understand why it’s important to act a certain way.

A Light Bulb Over My Head
Every now and then, I get criticized for not having more definite rules and consequences. Over the last couple weeks, some happenings at my gym have helped me more clearly understand why I’ve always been a “not too many rules” kind of person. For months my staff and I have been trying to improve the attendance habits of our gymnasts. A lot of girls were showing up a few minutes late every day and missing practice without good reason. So, I put an envelope on a bulletin board for each girl. Inside the envelopes were three cards. When a gymnast was late to practice, the green card was dated and sent home to be signed by a parent and returned the next practice. A yellow card was sent home when a practice was missed, and a blue card was sent when a practice had to be modified due to injury, emotions or attitude. Penny, who is always at the front desk, got to hear “There’s no way I can get my daughter here on time.” “What happens if we miss too much practice?” “Please don’t punish my daughter for being late. It’s not her fault.” In an effort to save Penny from all the questions, I put out a note to my gymnast’s parents explaining the card system. It was while I was writing this note that I more clearly understood why I’ve never had lots of rules with consequences. Here’s the note:


Helping our gymnasts develop good habits that will carry over into the adult world and be a benefit for life is a priority at Folger’s. There are few habits that will affect a person’s life more than their habits toward attendance. A person’s reputation is very much affected by their attendance habits.

Good attendance says these things about a person:
* What I’m doing is important to me.
* The people I’m participating with are important to me (my team, my co-workers, my company, my boss, etc.).
* I’m dedicated to this activity (gymnastics, work, school, church, family).
* I respect other people’s time.
* I am trustworthy. You can count on me.
* I have learned a significant amount of self-discipline.
* Doing what’s right is a priority for me.
* Etc.

Here is what we see as good attendance habits:
- Be on time to practice, meets, events, snack breaks, everything that’s scheduled into your day.
- Be at every activity you have committed yourself to.
- Don’t leave early from your activities.
- Participate fully while you’re in attendance.
- Let Mark or Penny know when you can’t do these things (before they happen).

Since we see attendance as a learning experience, we don’t have rules and policies that are set in stone. Our goal is to make sure that all involved (gymnasts, coaches, and parents) are well informed about the attendance habits of the gymnast and working together to make those good habits. Poor attendance habits will create consequences. Top among that list is a decrease in performance quality. Next on the list is a loss of trust and respect from teammates, coaches and others involved. These are natural consequences that come from not being punctual or committed to an activity.

The Card System

Green Card – “I was late to gym.” This card will come home to be signed by a parent each time a gymnast is late to practice. It should be signed and returned at the very next practice.

The Yellow Card – “I missed gym.” This card will come home after the gymnast misses a scheduled practice. It should be signed and returned at the next practice.

The Blue Card – “I modified my practice.” This card will come home when a gymnast modifies their workout due to aches and pains, injuries, emotions or attitude. It’s not a measurement of whether or not they complete their assigned workout. The blue card’s purpose is to monitor how often a coach must modify a gymnast’s workout due to these reasons. It should be signed and returned at the next practice.

Our attendance policies are all about education. Getting accurate information to all involved speeds the education process, and that’s our goal. Obviously, if a gymnast has poor attendance habits and can’t change them, she will be asked to leave the team. Children learn a lot from seeing the consequences that come to people who behave in ways that are not appropriate. Therefore, it would be a disservice to all our girls to allow one gymnast to continue poor attendance habits without an effort to improve.


Anonymous said...

I think this is a fabulous idea! And I think it asks for commitment from the parent too. If the parent doesnt want their child to be punished for being late then they need to make the changes to be on time. Their (the parents) actions effect others as well and if they want their child to be committed to the sport then they need a level of commitment as well.

Its kinda a dual lesson... Teaching the kids responsibility and appropriate behavior also gives their parents a lesson as well. Some parents need it more than their child!

Anonymous said...

I believe this article is spot on!! I do think this is a great idea amd should be started. Parents actions have everything to do with their children it's how they learn what is right and what is wrong. Parents should make the changes get their kids to practice on time and teach them that they way the SPEAK to their coaches should be no different than a teacher at school. I believe if a child is sat out or made to call their parent and to leave the gym that day or night because of they way the speak to their coaches this would stop real quick.