It was 2007, and I was teaching Physical Education classes, each consisting of 50+ high school students. My students lived in the cities of Compton, Watts, and North Long Beach—rough neighborhoods filled with kids that needed strict guidance and love. I cared deeply for each of my students, but they were a rambunctious group, and my early struggles proved that I needed to change my approach, or it was going to be a very long school year.
My class was one of four classes that met each period on the blacktop on a set of painted PE numbers. For the first two months of the semester, when the PE teachers would exit the staff office to join up with our classes, I couldn’t help but notice that two of the classes would be sitting very orderly, while the other two classes, one of which was mine, were spread out, standing around, and arriving late.
5+ DECADES OF EXPERIENCE
In our department meeting, I brought up my struggles by asking the two veteran teachers, that combined had 55 years of teaching experience, what they were doing that I wasn’t. How did they get their students to follow directions? I explained to these mentors of mine that I had been loud and clear with my students, telling them repeatedly that when I came out from the office, they were to be seated on their numbers. They both smirked and then shared with me that they had indeed heard my yelling every day for the past few weeks. Just when I thought they were going to tell me that I needed to yell a little firmer or say something different, they didn’t. They told me, “Stop yelling, and instead, come up with a more motivating and useful consequence. Yelling is not a productive consequence.”
They went on to explain to me, using their 5+ decades of experience as teachers, that with the vast majority of youth, the consequence of being ‘yelled at’ does not create the leverage needed to produce change. Yelling has little use and is typically a byproduct of poor leadership.”
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES WISELY
As I vetted their words through my mental inventory of experiences, it became clear that these older teachers were spot-on. As I was headed out of the meeting room, they stopped me and said, “Before you run off to devise a more appropriate and effective consequence, you must first decide if this is a rule you feel is necessary. You must first decide if getting your students to sit perfectly on their numbers is a worthwhile battle.” I thanked them for their guidance and got to work.
YELLING PROVIDES LITTLE LEVERAGE
Over the next 24 hours, I mulled over the rule and its necessity. I decided it was a necessary part of starting the class, and thus, I worked on a consequence that would produce change—a consequence that was more effective than the passing annoyance of being yelled at. Since yelling was giving me very little leverage, and with many of my students, it wasn’t producing any positive changes at all, I needed to create a high-leverage replacement. I did not want to punish them by making them do push-ups or going through a set of sit-ups because those movements were part of our fitness program, and I wanted to maintain a positive perception of those exercises.
Fortunately, I quickly came up with the following consequence: If every student was not seated on their proper blacktop numbers when I came out from the PE office, the entire class would have to walk back to the locker room doors, and then I’d blow my whistle, giving the whole class exactly 15 seconds to power-walk or jog to their numbers and sit. If anyone in the class did not complete the task in 15 seconds or less, we’d start over. The leverage multiplier was requiring the task to be correctly completed five times before we would move on to more enjoyable activities.
It went perfectly for the first two days, but on day three, my rule was tested. There were a few students who had failed to be seated on time. All of my students were next to their numbers, but three were still standing. That was a vast improvement from earlier weeks, but the rule was still broken. The rule was that they were all to be seated, allowing me to complete the attendance sheet faster and more accurately. As I walked toward my class, I was rationalizing with myself, telling myself that it would be much easier to overlook it and just get to playing basketball. However, I knew if I didn’t enforce it this time, my words would lose credibility, making it exceptionally difficult down the road to implement and enforce other necessary rules. The rule I had implemented had to be applied whether I felt like it or not, so I applied it.
From that time forward, my class was the only class that was correctly seated, in order, every single day for the remainder of the semester. The consequence was appropriate and strong enough to make the students want to avoid it. Less work, better results. Less yelling, better consequence.
CALMNESS IS TRUE CONTROL
Yelling and screaming will not produce disciplined youth. You are not making your players more disciplined or tougher by yelling at them. If you have an effective discipline policy in place, you’ll never need to yell at your players. If you’ve earned the players’ trust by consistently praising them and showing them that you genuinely care about them as people, you’ll never need to yell at them. If you do find yourself yelling at your players, know that you’ll be receiving a negative long-term return on your energy and time.
Using a firm tone from time to time can be appropriate, but the volume of your words should only increase slightly. Talking sternly can have its place, but yelling truly does not. The only time you should raise your voice to the level of a yell is when someone’s immediate safety is in danger. There are simply no other exceptions to this rule.
Discipline comes from cultivating and creating disciplined habits. Many players will show self-discipline, and for those that do not, you have your rules to guide them, and the consequences as leverage. Once a coach trusts this, they will never feel helpless again.
I want to personally thank each one of you coaches for taking on the important and influential role of coaching our youth. Thank you for being a positive leader.
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