Mar 24, 2011
A recent question from a concerned coach from Australia provided the impetus for this blog topic. It seems she has reached the breaking point when it comes to dealing with dishonesty and blatant cheating on gym assignments from some of her integrity thin athletes. As a coach who has had that button pushed far too many times, I have to say I can understand the frustration. How do you deal with athletes who constantly cheat on their assignments?
The simply solution is the 1-2-3 strikes and you are out. In the perfect world I am sure this would work well. The perfect world being where club owners did not have to pay bills and coaches didn’t have to field competitive teams. This is however a solution worth considering provided the definition of cheating is well known and enforced within your program AND we modify the 3rd strike a bit (out really isn’t a viable option for most businesses). Where do you start in regards to creating an atmosphere where cheating is a rare occurrence rather than the every day norm? Here are some suggestions:
Has the importance of honesty and integrity been explained? I think it is a very important life lesson to instill honesty and integrity in our athletes. My definition over the years of integrity has been “doing what is right when nobody is watching and doing it in the toughest of situations.” It is easy to be honest when everything is going well (they are feeling strong, nailing routine after routine or skill after skill). Integrity is doing what is right when things aren’t going quite so smoothly. This is when kids are most likely to cheat in the gym. Instilling the attitude that cheating is for losers is an important carry over skill that will assist our athletes throughout life and one I am sure most parents would support. Integrity lessons are at the core of every successful gymnastics program and serves to self police dishonesty issues. In an atmosphere where cheating is plain and simply not acceptable, the occurrences will certainly be few and far between.
Has cheating been defined in your gym? Sounds silly I know as most would think every well raised child would know what constitutes dishonesty. The fact is however that with the variety of home situations (some strict, some not so much) the definition can vary a great deal. I find myself constantly reviewing our stance on cheating with our athletes. The obvious violations are doing less numbers than assigned (5 routines instead of 8, 10 reps instead of 12 etc). Using our definition if you are even one number short … that it is cheating. Most quality programs like to take it a step further and consider inadequate effort level as cheating also. Not putting in enough effort to pull the chin above the bar on a chin up, not lifting legs all the way to the bar on a leg lift, not giving maximum effort on rebounding skills etc. is a form of cheating. (THIS OF COURSE assumed they are fully capable of the assignment).
Have the expectations been explained? Many times what coaches think is cheating is simply a lack of communication where the number of assigned routines or repetitions is misunderstood (this of course can also become a very weak excuse over time) or the actual expectation of the requirement is vague. Prior to calling a kid to the carpet of embarrassment be sure that they understood the expectations of the assignment and were capable of executing the demands. For instance if the requirement for the day is 5 mistake free beam routines and you notice that a kid counted a routine with a couple balance checks … Is this cheating? Yes, if they are fully aware that a balance check constitutes a mistake.
Is the assignment reasonable? Based on the individual ability of the athlete (not the group she is in), is the assignment doable? Many times coaches set requirements for the majority of a group and expect the bottom rung members to keep pace. Sometimes this is unreasonable and the only way to keep up is to CHEAT. Never put your athletes in a position where cheating is the only way they can say they accomplished the goal. Assignments should be challenging yet reasonable in order to avoid pushing some to the brink of cheating.
Do you encourage open communication? As all coaches know, athletes are going to have bad days now and then. This is the nature of sport. In a system where athletes feel comfortable in communicating honestly without major repercussions they will discover less need for dishonesty. Now I am not talking about letting them off the hook everyday, but if they are truly struggling and they communicate a logical explanation combined with a reasonable amount of effort … by all means cut them some slack. The alternative is to brow beat them into a situation where some may opt for cheating.
O.K., the ground work has been laid and you still encounter repeated issues of cheating.
*STRIKE ONE- caught red handed the first time. I would have a private meeting and review the importance of being honest as a person of integrity and substance. I would also emphasize the impact that dishonestly can have on the team morale and program success. (What IF everyone cheated on their requirements?). I would certainly require that the athlete repeat or make up any of the requirements that she was caught cheating on and then after a sincere apology the subject would be dropped. (there might be a subtle hint of that she would be watched more closely in the future).
*STRIKE TWO- Caught again! This would require a more stern message and appropriate repercussions that would fit the crime (reasonable and enforceable). If we are in competition season this may mean sitting out the next competition. If we are in off season the punishment may include a missed training day (to think about their mistake). On occasion we have used pier pressure at this point and have the offender sit and watch as her teammates do the work for her. This is severe but will definitely get the message across in the locker room. In either case at this point a parent conference and possible team meeting is called and the problem discussed. Most parents are quite willing to stand behind a coaching staff at STRIKE TWO.
*STRIKE THREE- This is wear it gets tricky. (Most clubs can not afford to lose the financial revenue for the gym). I would suggest a more stringent version of strike two with perhaps missing a couple training days. Removing them from a couple competitions is an option but this is where you may start to lose parental support (especially if you have a gym down the block.) Using further peer pressure, team and parent meetings may be needed to set this athlete on the right path but unless the case is so totally disruptive to the program, I do not suggest removal from your team. Keep driving the message home and you will eventually teach a valuable lesson.
Don’t use conditioning as a punishment! In a sport where conditioning is so vitally important it would seem counter-productive to use conditioning as a punishment. I am not sure that conditioning and strength training is ever going to be enjoyable BUT we certainly don’t want to teach our athletes to HATE CONDITIONING. This is the message that is sent when ridiculous numbers of repetitions (climb the rope 10 times without your legs, do 300 push ups, 100 dips etc) are given as a solution to a discipline problem.
In reading the above, some might get the impression that I condone going easy on the dishonest athlete. Quite the contrary! There are a few lines that should never be crossed as an athlete. Being dishonest (which include deception and lying) is right at the top of the list with being disrespectful and lazy. Interesting enough the “Cheater” usually displays all 3 of these undesirable traits yet it is our jobs as coaches to guide them down a more productive path.