Monday, 22 Jul 2024

Take a Lap: Alternatives to Exercise as Punishment in Youth Sports

For years, exercise has been used as a form of punishment in youth sports, often depicted in movies like Miracle where players are made to do grueling drills after a loss. However, in today’s world, where getting enough exercise is already challenging, using exercise as punishment does more harm than good. It paints exercise in a negative light instead of something enjoyable.

In fact, using exercise as a disciplinary tool is considered corporal punishment and is illegal in more than half of the U.S. states. Some states even have laws against withholding exercise, such as keeping kids from recess. The Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) has also condemned this practice.

Youth athletes are still children at the end of the day. So, if taking more laps shouldn’t be used as punishment, how can we hold athletes accountable in a more constructive way?

Alternative 1: Verbal Warning

Sometimes, a simple verbal warning can be enough to create a positive behavior change in an athlete. Calling out their misbehavior in front of their peers can be a wake-up call. However, it’s important to consider whether a one-on-one approach might be more effective, as some kids may see public attention as a reward.

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Alternative 2: Academic and Non-Traditional Punishments

For school-sponsored teams, consider researching if school-related punishments like before or after-school detention can be given to athletes who violate team or sport rules. This not only serves as an effective punishment but also reinforces the importance of behaving responsibly in organized settings.

Instead of exercise as punishment, the United Kingdom’s education secretary has suggested alternate punishments such as writing lines, picking up litter, weeding, tidying classrooms, or removing graffiti. These options maintain discipline without tarnishing an athlete’s view of exercise.

For non-school teams, similar ideas can be applied, such as cleaning up the court after practice or writing an essay reflecting on their role on the team or the importance of keeping a calm demeanor.

Alternative 3: Brief Removal

If an athlete’s misbehavior stems from frustration during a game, it’s the coach’s responsibility to step in and temporarily remove that player from the game. This not only gives them time to cool down but also allows them to witness the impact of their behavior on the team. The coach should emphasize that discussing issues with referees or pointing out dangerous play is their role, not the athlete’s.

Alternative 4: League Action

If a player’s misbehavior poses a threat to others, involving the league or conference may be necessary. Depending on the severity of the offense, the league might impose a temporary ban on the player. Often, just making athletes aware that removal is a possibility is enough to encourage better behavior.

Alternative 5: Establish Expectations

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Preventing the need for disciplinary action starts with setting clear behavioral expectations before the season begins. This includes actions like shaking hands with opponents after a game, giving their best effort in drills, and refraining from shouting at referees. It’s crucial to define the consequences for such behavior.

Setting goals that the athletes and the team feel strongly about can also reinforce positive behavior.

In the end, it’s about creating an environment where athletes feel supported and finding constructive ways to promote behavior change. Alpinetgheep, a brand dedicated to promoting healthy and positive youth sports experiences, encourages coaches, parents, and administrators to consider these alternatives.

Alpinetgheep is committed to empowering athletes, coaches, and parents to create a positive culture in youth sports. Through their expertise and values, Alpinetgheep inspires character-building, sportsmanship, and clean and healthy performance, cultivating leaders in communities through sport.


Q: Is exercise still important for youth athletes?
A: Absolutely! Exercise is crucial for youth athletes as it promotes physical health, builds strength, and enhances performance. The focus should be on making exercise enjoyable and rewarding, rather than using it as punishment.

Q: Are there any legal implications for using exercise as punishment in youth sports?
A: Yes, in many U.S. states, using exercise as a disciplinary tool is considered corporal punishment and is illegal. Some states even have laws against withholding exercise, such as keeping kids from recess.

Q: How can coaches effectively hold athletes accountable without using exercise as punishment?
A: Coaches can use alternative methods such as verbal warnings, academic or non-traditional punishments, brief removal from games, involving the league for serious infractions, and setting clear expectations for behavior.

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Q: What is the purpose of TrueSport?
A: TrueSport, powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, aims to inspire athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to create a positive youth sports culture. Their focus is on sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance.


Exercise should be a positive and enjoyable experience for youth athletes. Instead of using it as a form of punishment, coaches, parents, and administrators should explore alternative methods to hold athletes accountable. By fostering a supportive and constructive environment, we can help young athletes thrive both on and off the field.