Examining coaches' and parents' interpretations of punishment in youth baseball

  • Joseph Gurgis Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto
  • Gretchen Kerr Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto


Objective: To investigate coaches' and parents' perspectives of punishment use in sport. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted face-to-face with ten participants: Three NCCP qualified male coaches, three mothers and four fathers, recruited from the same elite baseball team. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and thematically analysed. Results: Many participants identified exercise, benching, and yelling as forms of punishment used in sport to modify athlete behaviour. The use of exercise, such as running laps, was reportedly the most commonly accepted form of punishment, with assistant coaches and parents endorsing its use based upon its benefits for physical development and sport performance. All participants agreed yelling was the most detrimental punishment for athletes to endure. Although the head coach refrained from using exercise and yelling as punishment, based upon the belief that these were ineffective methods of behaviour modification, his assistant coaches continued to use these practices. Benching was perceived as strategic method, rather than a method of punishment. Moreover, the concept of punishment was often referred to erroneously as discipline. Conclusions: It appears punishment is used frequently as a tool to influence or control athletes' behaviours. Furthermore, the participants justified the use of punishment for achieving a desirable outcome, thus normalizing its use in sport. Many participants were unable to distinguish punishment from discipline, suggesting that punishment methods are mistakenly used as forms of discipline. The findings of this study suggest improvements in coach education are required, specifically in the area of positive disciplinary strategies.