Creating functional consequences for student-athletes that help them and help the team
Coaches and players alike know that not all practices go as planned. Some days the team or certain athletes are just off. It could be the tempo of the practice, the dynamics of the team, players not trying as hard as they could or any number of issues that affect a team when training on a consistent basis.
When days like this happen, coaches typically have to assign unpleasant consequences or punishments designed to increase performance, reset the intensity or tempo of practice or make slight adjustments to team dynamics. It’s absolutely necessary.
But training has changed drastically in recent years. We know more about the body, overuse injuries and how to develop young athletes. If you’re still using arbitrary methods to create consequences, check out what Will Trujillo, Director of Performance and Student-Athlete programs at CrossFit Fury and Doctor of Physical Therapy, has to say about creating functional consequences. It’s time to think beyond the burpee.
Understanding that there are times when a coach must give a consequence or a punishment to increase performance, where is the line when the punishment becomes unproductive for the athlete?
Trujillo: “I’d say the line is when one of two things happens. The first is when motor patterns fault into habits you don’t want to see in game situations. If you have your athletes jumping or sprinting for punishment and it gets to where every landing pattern is one you would hate to see in a game situation, it’s unproductive. The patterns we practice become the patterns with which we play. The second situation is from a social perspective - when the athlete loses belief in the coach or each other, the punishment has gone too far. Kids aren’t going to like whatever consequence you give them, but if they don’t believe the coach has their best interest, it’s counter-productive.”
Mobility and functionally speaking, is an excessive consequence (say 100 burpees) harmful in the long run? For developing bodies, what are the long term benefits or disadvantages of a consequence like this? Is this functional? Does it help them get better at volleyball?
Trujillo: “This is a big sliding scale. Work capacity is a completely individual skill set. If athlete “A” is 14 years-old, well-developed and has a great motor neuro background, she can be pushed or given a consequence for a longer period of time without motor breakdown; she can maintain safe form and movement for the duration. Athlete “B” is also 14 years-old, has yet to hit puberty and struggles with a few motor patterns. Even under shorter periods of time, this athlete is at a higher risk for overuse injuries or the start of tendinitis. You can see that unsupervised consequences or punishments can be terrible if coaches are not assessing throughout the session. If they are trained in motion recognition, however, they can end the session before it becomes injurious.
From an injury perspective, we are seeing an exponential rise in overuse injuries from our youngest cohorts of athletes. The likelihood of this being caused by a single session of consequences is pretty low. However, done on a consistent basis it can definitely increase our prevalence of a myriad of tendon or growth plate issues.”
As a coach of young athletes and a physical therapist, what consequences do you see as more beneficial to the student athlete? Punishment and consequences are necessary in sports and most of the time it takes something unpleasant to redirect a team, but what if it was also functional? What would you suggest for something unpleasant that also relates to sport-specific skills?
Trujillo: “As a physical therapist, I certainly think that punishments can be specifically tailored to benefit the athlete, but it’s difficult and takes planning. An argument can be made that running or jumping can increase work capacity or cardiovascular capabilities, but too many jump/land cycles may not be our best option. The best thing we can do to make it both unpleasant and useful is to make sure it is a conjugate of the activity. So for volleyball, it might be tons of lateral shuffle drills. These drills burn like crazy but give good proprioceptive improvements to medial stability of the knee. They could do shuttle or line drills but with crab walks instead of running to strengthen glutes. Planking as a team may help scapular stability. So, there are certainly ways to give consequences that are effective, unpleasant, but also functional and sport specific.”