Alternatives to using exercise as punishment: using exercise as punishment remains common in sports and physical education despite efforts to end the practice
Source: JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. 81.5 (May-June 2010): p44.
Document Type: Report
The boys' varsity volleyball team reluctantly gathers around their coach, Ms. Hicks, after dropping their third match of the season (7-3) to the (2-7) Panthers. Ms. Hicks barks at them to "drop and give me 20 push-ups, run three laps, do a cool down stretch, and come to practice tomorrow ready to run." They are going to run "all day long" for making too many mistakes and losing to the Panthers.
At the start of a middle school physical education class, students line up in their squads to listen to Mr. Thomson's instructions about the warm-up activity. Caitlyn has already been asked once to "open her ears " yet she continues to talk with her friends while Mr. Thomson is addressing the class. When he can no longer ignore Caitlyn's disruptions, he stops what he is saying and orders Caitlyn and her friends to take a lap on the track and return to their squad when they are ready to listen, while the rest of the class waits for them.
What are these athletes learning about their sports, their teams, and about physical activity when their coach or teacher uses exercise as a punishment? Why do Ms. Hicks and Mr. Thomson use exercise as punishment to manage their teams and classes? Teachers and coaches may use exercise as punishment because it helps, in the short term, to refocus students' attention and stop bad behavior or attitudes. Although this practice seems common in sport and physical education, it has not been systematically examined and warrants a closer look. Individuals in positions of authority might benefit from reflecting on the intended and unintended consequences of using exercise as punishment or behavior management.
Burak, Rosenthal, and Richardson (2010) explored the use of exercise as punishment or behavior management in a recent survey of 273 undergraduate physical education majors and 65 nonmajors, many of whom have multiple career goals including coaching (68.8 %), teaching physical education (42.4 %), or becoming a fitness professional (71.1 %). The participants included 31 first-year students, 57 sophomores, 91 juniors, 138 seniors, and 21 post-baccalaureate students. Females made up 42.5 percent and males made up 57.5 percent of the participants. The majority of students (96%) reported being athletes, 68.4 percent of them had participated in sports for more than 10 years. More than half of all the students reported that they would likely use exercise as punishment in their teaching, coaching, or fitness careers.
The survey instrument was developed according to the theory-of-reasoned-action guidelines (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980) to determine the predictors of intentions to use exercise as punishment. According to the theory, a person's beliefs determine his or her attitudes and norms, which in turn predict intentions and behaviors. Beliefs about the outcomes or consequences of behavior are, therefore, foundational in the development of attitudes and intentions.
To develop the belief-based survey items, Burak et al. (2010) asked 10 individuals who were representative of the student population to identify what they believed to be the positive and negative outcomes of using exercise as punishment. The lists of outcomes were analyzed and compiled into a list of seven possible outcome beliefs: exercise as punishment (1) improves attitudes, (2) increases injuries, (3) improves fitness levels, (4) leads to exercise avoidance, (5) increases mental toughness, (6) establishes the authority of the coach or teacher, and (7) teaches athletes or students that there are consequences to their actions.
Anecdotal evidence and observations in sport and physical education settings by the authors suggest that the use of exercise as punishment is common despite its potential negative outcomes. More than 91 percent of students participating in the study reported that their coaches used exercise as punishment in sport and 42.7 percent reported that their physical education teachers used exercise as punishment in school. School is typically the first place where students are introduced to sport and physical activity, and to exercise as a form of punishment. Although there are no data specifying how many school personnel use exercise as punishment, the 2006 School Health Policies and Programs study (Lee, Burgeson, Fulton, & Spain, 2007) found that staff in 32.3 percent of a representative sample of United States schools were allowed to use physical activity as punishment. Staff were actively discouraged from using exercise as punishment in only 8.9 percent of schools, and staff were allowed to exclude students from physical education for bad behavior in 22.6 percent of schools (Lee et al.).
It is not well understood why coaches and teachers continue to use exercise to punish or manage their students and athletes. According to the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980), people's behaviors are determined by their intentions, attitudes, and norms, which are in turn underpinned by their beliefs. A key to understanding coaches' and teachers' behaviors, therefore, is to understand their underlying outcome beliefs. Outcome beliefs are specific to the behavior in question; they reveal a person's perceptions of what will occur as a result of engaging in a specific behavior.
This article examines participants' beliefs about the outcomes of using exercise as punishment in an effort to better understand why individuals engage in this practice and how future teachers and coaches might be educated to not use this practice. Using Patton's (1990) suggestions for content analysis, participants' outcome beliefs about using exercise as punishment were grouped into three thematic categories: (1) teaching and leadership, (2) fitness training, and (3) mental toughness and attitude. This article will also discuss the prevalence of these beliefs by student participants (figure 1) and provide alternatives to using exercise as punishment or management for coaches and teachers (table 1).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Table 1. Suggested Alternatives to Using Exercise as Punishment
1. Create a task-involved, student-centered environment
2. Adopt the FITT principle (frequency, intensity, type, time)
3. Adapt the fitness plan in response to schedule and fatigue
4. Use positive, detailed, timely feedback to increase desired behaviors
5. Teach for social and personal responsibility, empower students with decision making
6. Focus on the positives
7. Reflect on coaching, class, and team performance
8. Foster mutual respect between teacher/coach and student/athlete
Teaching and Leadership
Student-identified outcome beliefs related to teaching and leadership were that (1) the use of exercise as punishment can teach students that there are consequences to their actions, and (2) that using exercise as punishment can establish the authority of the coach or teacher. At first glance, these outcomes appear quite positive. Understandably, most coaches or teachers want their students or athletes to know that there are consequences to their actions. And using exercise to punish athletes for a loss is sometimes the only way that coaches or teaches know to assert their authority and show students and athletes that losses come with consequences. For example, in the first opening scenario, Ms. Hicks made her team run as punishment for a loss rather than using the next practice for focused and intentional skill development and for honing tactics needed to improve game performance. Perhaps Ms. Hicks did this to compensate for her own perceived lack of control over the situation, or perhaps this behavior was what she herself had experienced as an athlete, and was thus the only way she knew to respond to the loss.
Prevalence of Beliefs. Nearly 82 percent of the participants in the Burak et al. (2009) study agreed that exercise as punishment can teach students that there are consequences to their actions, and 69.4 percent of participants agreed that using exercise as punishment can help the coach or teacher establish authority. Fewer than 10 percent disagreed that exercise as punishment can teach students that there are consequences to their actions.
Alternatives. An alternative to using exercise as punishment after an athletic loss is for the players and coach to openly discuss game performance and to identify specific skills, strategies, tactics, or fitness training that would improve the team's performance before the next game. Researchers have found that coaches who engage in shared decision making with athletes may positively influence athlete autonomy and overall satisfaction with the sport experience (Reinboth & Duda, 2006). Shared decision making and athlete autonomy could effectively eliminate the perceived need for external control over athletes' behaviors. A team loss provides a unique opportunity for coaches and players to discuss the strengths and weakness of themselves and their opponents and to refocus as a team on specific skills and tactics that will improve their game performance. When a coach allows players to engage in this type of problem solving, players become acutely aware that their actions (or lack of action) in the game have consequences.
Furthermore, the coach has an opportunity to establish herself as an authority figure through the mutual respect she demonstrates with her athletes as a result of this coach-athlete dialogue. Fostering mutual respect between the teacher or coach and the student or athlete before problems arise can contribute to a shared and cooperative management of problems when they do arise. Respect can be developed by avoiding certain controlling behaviors and by employing behaviors that increase autonomy. Reinboth and Duda (2006) suggested that coaches should avoid behaviors that put enormous pressure on athletes or that show dominant and controlling power, and that they should be aware that athletes who feel a sense of autonomy may experience enhanced well-being through their sport participation.
Developing athletes' autonomy can be achieved by including them in meaningful discussions about goals and ways to accomplish them, and by using positive reinforcement and feedback to create an environment wherein they want to learn. These techniques are not quick fixes, but they do provide a solid foundation for a positive learning environment.
Punishment or punitive feedback is discouraged by scholars in sport psychology (Smith, 2006) and by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (2004), the Women's Sports Foundation (2007), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1997), and the American Sport Education Program (ASEP, 2007). Scholars in sport psychology support the use of positive reinforcement as the prevailing method of feedback or, in some cases, the use of response-cost punishment (i.e., taking away practice or playing time or some other valued commodity) to strengthen the desired behavior (Smith). The recommended way to change negative behaviors is not to reinforce it at all, but to reinforce desired behaviors (Smith). Reinforcement of desired behaviors clearly shows students and athletes the positive consequences of their behaviors and, if practiced consistently, can lead to the elimination of many undesired behaviors.
Finally, physical education teachers and coaches should always look to school policies and rules for a framework on which to base their management decisions. Teachers and coaches must apply school policies and rules in a consistent manner if they are to he viewed as trusted authority figures in the school. For example, for minor infractions such as being late for class, teachers need to apply the school rule that exists and is used schoolwide (e.g., a warning for a first offense), rather than using exercise as punishment.
The three outcome beliefs related to fitness were that exercise as punishment can (1) improve fitness levels, (2) discourage students from exercising, and (3) cause injuries. In the physical education example, Mr. Thomson's reaction to Caitlyn's continued talking was to have Caitlyn and her friends "take a lap" on the track while her classmates waited. The net effect of this decision was a reduction of activity time for some class members, who were required to wait. Also, running a lap was meant to be an unpleasant experience for Caitlyn and her friends, who were all aware that their classmates were waiting.
Prevalence of Beliefs. Almost 65 percent of the participants in the Burak et al. (2010) study agreed that using exercise as punishment can increase fitness. Forty-three percent strongly agreed that using exercise as punishment can increase injuries, and 42 percent agreed that its use can result in exercise avoidance.
Alternatives. Increasing fitness is a goal of most physical educators and coaches; it should be a thoughtfully planned portion of each practice and class session. Teachers and coaches can easily handle minor infractions, such as students talking out of turn, by waiting to speak until all students or athletes are quiet and listening. The use of exercise as punishment to develop fitness is ill-advised because it can cause embarrassment, injury, and reduced class time for some students or athletes. Although rare, recent cases of severe injury or death as a result of exercise as punishment underscore the importance of addressing this behavior (Rico, 2002).
Teachers and coaches are encouraged to keep their classroom management system separate from their training and fitness protocol. An alternative for achieving fitness benefits is to plan fitness training guided by research that supports specific, progressive training (e.g., the FITT principle). A clear understanding of physical training principles, exercise motivation principles, and exercise and training goal setting is a necessary part of preservice and inservice teacher education and coach education programs. When training and conditioning are embedded in the behavior-management system, then training is left to chance and the systematic, progressive approach is not consistently implemented for all. When teams engage in a planned progression of fitness training, the result is that all players are trained at an optimal level.
Participants in the Burak et al. (2010) study did recognize that using exercise as punishment can be a dangerous practice in that it may cause injury or may cause students to avoid exercise. These were the only identified outcome beliefs that implied a negative effect of using exercise as punishment, and it is a promising sign that some physical education majors realize that their behavior-management approaches can have a negative impact.
If preservice teachers, coaches, and exercise specialists learn about the serious physical injuries associated with using exercise as punishment, and understand the haphazardness of using it to achieve important fitness goals, their knowledge may inform their beliefs about the possible negative outcomes of the practice.
Mental Toughness and Attitude
The identified outcome beliefs in the final category were that exercise as punishment can (1) increase mental toughness and (2) improve attitudes. Researchers have found that attitudes toward exercise are important predictors of intention to exercise. In a meta-analysis of 111 exercise studies, Downs and Hausenblas (2005) found that attitude about exercise is the primary predictor of intention to exercise. Attitude is clearly important in sport and physical activity settings. In both of the introductory examples, Ms. Hicks and Mr. Thomson used exercise as punishment most likely because they believed that it was something their students or athletes wanted to avoid. It is hard to imagine that at the end of the boys' volleyball "running" practice or after Caitlyn and her friends finished their lap, they had a "better attitude" toward their sport or class.
Prevalence of Beliefs. Sixty-five percent of participants agreed that exercise as punishment could increase mental toughness, and 43 percent believed it could improve attitudes of students and athletes.
Alternatives. Teachers and coaches are the ones who develop the climate in the classroom or on the held that affects student attitudes. The way teachers, coaches, and parents give feedback, define success, and reward or punish athletes contributes to the motivational climate. Teachers and coaches can help students and athletes to develop positive attitudes by creating task-involving climates that include appropriate, positive, instructional feedback. Task-involved climates in physical education and sport are positively related to increased intrinsic motivation, perceived competence, and self-esteem (Barkoukis, Thogersen-Ntoumanis, Ntoumanis & Nikitaras, 2007; Ferrer-Caja & Weiss, 2000; Koka & Hein, 2005). When students feel positively about sport, and are confident in their abilities, they have positive attitudes towards their activities (Biddle, Wang, Kavussanu, & Spray, 2003).
Opposite of the mastery or task-involved climates are the performance or ego-involved climates, wherein coaches foster competition and social comparison among players and punish participants for errors or for losing (Smoll & Smith, 1996; Waldron & Krane, 2005). Ego-involved climates have been found to incite competitive stress and negative feelings among athletes, as well as nonenjoyment of their activities (Biddle et al., 2003; Magyar & Feltz, 2003; Smith, Fry, Ethington, & Li, 2005; Smoll & Smith; Waldron & Krane).
Another common punishment for poor performance in sport attributed to lack of effort or a poor attitude is the withholding of playing time. For this practice to be a positive learning experience, it is important for the coach to be clear with the athlete about why playing time is being withheld and to communicate this to the athlete before the contest. In addition, the coach needs to communicate specific expectations to the athletes about the effort and attitude required to earn playing time. Learning to work hard and to display a positive attitude is best achieved without using exercise as a threat.
Fitness training and sport-skill practice provide a rich context for the development of mental toughness. In order to reach higher levels of fitness or to develop new skills, students and athletes must engage in daily focused practice and often must work beyond their current comfort zone in relationship to fitness activities. Although using exercise as punishment is not recommended, teachers and coaches are encouraged to have high performance expectations for each student or athlete. Mental toughness is best developed through teaching students to challenge themselves to take responsibility for their decisions and actions; and to get through difficult training, practice, and performance tasks with perseverance and problem solving. Punitive behaviors do not increase mental toughness; instead they may increase fear and lead to lack of enjoyment and sport attrition (McCarthy & Jones, 2007; Smith, 2006).
In order to eliminate the practice of using exercise as punishment in sport, physical education, and physical activity settings, the profession needs to move beyond the consensus statements of national organizations that decry its use and understand teachers' and coaches' underlying beliefs about the practice. Beliefs are important because they influence attitudes, which in turn influence intentions to perform behaviors. This article has begun the process of understanding beliefs. It explored preservice students' beliefs about the use of exercise as punishment and included recommendations that can provide future teachers and coaches with alternatives to using exercise as punishment to achieve their desired outcomes. Effective management and motivation of students, athletes, or clients involves a complex set of behaviors and practices. There is no simple "quick fix" to achieve effective management and motivation that works for all.
Students preparing to be teachers, coaches, or fitness leaders need to be taught that when individuals are punished with exercise, key opportunities for the development of the skills, strategies, and fitness needed for success may be lost. Teacher and coach educators can help students by enabling them to reflect on their beliefs and values and to explore and adopt alternative ways to achieve the important and valuable outcomes of sport and physical education.
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Maura B. Rosenthal (email@example.com) is an assistant professor, Karen Pagnano-Richardson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant professor, and Lydia Burak (email@example.com) is a professor, in the Department of Movement Arts, Health Promotion, and Leisure Studies at Bridgewater State College, in Bridgewater, MA 02325.
Rosenthal, Maura^Pagnano-Richardson, Karen^Burak, Lydia
Burak, Lydia, Karen Pagnano-Richardson, and Maura Rosenthal. "Alternatives to using exercise as punishment: using exercise as punishment remains common in sports and physical education despite efforts to end the practice." JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance 81.5 (2010): 44+. General OneFile. Web. 16 Apr. 2012.
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