By Doug Beavers
Recently, as I listened to an author discussing his book on solving children’s sleep difficulties, I had a realization. What he had to say about kids, parents and sleeping patterns was like a revelation. The author described a common error that parents make with young kids. They leave the bedroom door open after bedtime, allowing the children to get up out of bed and leave the bedroom as they please. He commented that this practice often causes children to have recurring difficulties sleeping through the night. As soon as I heard this, I knew that I had to get tough with my team, starting that day.
The author explained that clear guidelines and rules (I.E. “After bedtime, you may not come out of your room”) create a sense of security for a child. When parents are ambiguous about limits, children are left to fend for themselves. When parents accept their role of leadership and set those clear guidelines, children know that they are taken care of – that the adults are in charge. If these rules are fairly enforced with consistency and consequences, the child can quickly let go of any thought of getting out of bed, going into the parents’ room, etc. He or she is relieved of the burden of trying to decide what to do. The options are: a) go to sleep, or b) lay awake in bed quietly. When parents are unwilling, unable, or just plain fail to create structured rules and guidelines for their children, those children are left in a frightening world where no one is in charge.
Listening to this sleep expert, I suddenly realized that when I fail to take charge of my program and my athletes, I put them in a similar position. If I become permissive or lax in the enforcement of team rules or policy, I have done a disservice to my athletes. In the short term, of course, it is often easier to let it slide. I guess that’s why they call it discipline. At those moments when it would be easier to just smile and let someone get away with something, I need to remind myself that Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do - excellence is a habit.”
I recognize that I am going against the tide of popular culture when I suggest this, but I think adults should actually create and enforce rules for children. They need it, and they actually appreciate it when it is done in an equitable manner. I know - it is very “old school.” But this progressive-kindergarten-teacher-approach to working with kids is madness. “I like the way little Johnny is standing in line.” Meanwhile little Jimmy is setting the coat closet on fire, but we don’t want to give him any attention… This is a world turned upside down.
My point is simple - it is time for coaches to recognize their responsibility as the leaders of their respective athletes and parents. And it is a RESPONSIBILITY, not a right. It should be taken with a dose of humility, and seen as an honor. But we have to do the job. What we are doing now in many cases is allowing the athletes to run their own workouts. While our athletes are bright, highly motivated, and extremely capable, they should not be asked or allowed to be the coach and the athlete. We just do not serve our athletes or ourselves by shirking this responsibility, and cowering from our duty as the coach and the grown-up.
It starts simply – we create rules, we create guidelines, and we take charge of our workouts. Why do our athletes balk, break position, and give up on dives so often in workouts and meet warm-ups? Why? Because WE LET THEM! We have not created rules or enforced guidelines that will help the athletes to eliminate these habits. Our permissiveness as coaches often comes from our desire to make everyone happy. Unfortunately this misguided approach does not accomplish its goal. Any motivated athlete who wants to get better will welcome a firm but fair rule that helps to eliminate “garbage habits” like balking, breaking position and giving up. As long as the rules and policies that we create are fair, consistently enforced, and intended to help the team improve, the athletes and parents will appreciate it. Athletes thrive in environments with such rule systems in place.
Discipline, the habit of excellence, the grown-ups in charge, the children led by adults who take care of them with tough love and guidance - these are all principles that have been around for all of human history. They are principles that should never be looked down upon, no matter what the politically correct thinking of the day may be. And these principles are an integral part of every great success story ever told. Success never goes out of style, and without discipline we are just hoping that success will fall in our laps by pure luck. Don’t bet on it.