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To Spank or Not to Spank

“Your turn!” I said to my wife, Melissa, as my two-year-old daughter, Alena, had just defiantly thrown a toy across the room, shouted, “No!”, and refused to head upstairs to bed.

Melissa dragged her over to the wooden “time-out” bench; a bench which had been passed down from her parents to us. As Melissa put my daughter on the bench and told her she would be in time-out for two minutes, Alena started to kick her repeatedly.

Melissa and I looked at each other. What do we do now?

“I guess she needs a spanking.” Not really knowing any other way to deal with the escalating situation, my wife turned my daughter over, and as she went to spank her, she cringed and had to turn her face away, unable to watch herself commit the act. The “spanking” was more like she was brushing some dirt off her shorts, and I couldn’t help but laugh at her futile attempt to discipline our daughter.

Over the next month or so, I would discover I was “good” at spanking—maybe because I had more experience with it growing up than my wife did! I was quick to spank, but I realized I was also quick to get angry, and I didn’t feel good about it, either. The spanking, the anger—none of it felt right or healthy.

After some personal reflection and discussion, my wife and I decided this wouldn’t be our way. We committed ourselves to reading books and talking with other parents whom we admired to find a better way; a way that aligned more with what we valued.

My wife and I didn’t just want our daughter to be obedient; to go to bed when we told her to. We also wanted our daughter to develop character and self-awareness. And, we wanted to do this while nurturing our relationship, not hurting it.

This parenting lesson taught me something important: When we sit back and reflect on our behaviors, when we screw up, when we don’t act in accordance with our values, we know it! So, not only do we need to develop a system of listening to others’ feedback, but we need to develop a system of listening to ourselves.

Aligning Behaviors with Values

“Once a value is actualized, it becomes a virtue: A character trait of moral excellence. My value is empathy—the virtue is to empathically understand my players. My value is kindness—the virtue is showing kindness toward my players at every practice. My value is service—the virtue is serving others beyond myself.”

—Joe Ehrmann

Now, you might be about to start your season, you might be in the middle of your season, or you may have just finished your season. Regardless, you have a new start; a new beginning, right in front of you.

One of my strongest qualities as a coach has always been that I love practice. For me, no matter how bad a game or a practice went, I couldn’t wait until the next practice. I saw it as an opportunity to become a better coach; to improve on the mistakes of yesterday.

I wish I could say I never spanked my daughter again after I realized it wasn’t the “best” way for me to discipline, but sadly, that isn’t true.

The most important thing is to not see our coaching mistakes and failures as a part of our identity. Instead, we need to see these mistakes as just another step in our journey to learn and grow!

People ask me, “When did it change for you as a coach? When did you start to love this process of personal growth?” The answer is simple: When I realized I wasn’t admitting to being a bad coach or even a bad person. For a long time, I felt that admitting to mistakes was like saying, “I’m a bad coach”. So, I avoided these truths.

Fortunately, I realized that, when I admitted to a mistake, I was just admitting that I was human. I was doing the best I could with what I knew. For years, I just didn’t know better; I didn’t know a better way. And that is what this blog is about. It’s about finding the better way, and then, retraining the way we operate!

And here is the most exciting part of it all: When we realize that we were doing the best we could with what we knew, and when we stop tying our identity to our failures, and instead, see them as opportunities to learn and grow, we become free. Free to fail beautifully and to fail forward. Our experiences and relationships as coaches, spouses, and parents will be transformed. We will be transformed.

Activities and Disciplines

  1. Find a mentor both outside and inside your circumstances.
  2. Empower players and assistant coaches to give you feedback on your behaviors.
  3. Describe the future you! Sketch out the future you! Ask yourself, “How do you want people to see you?” Write out the adjectives and behaviors you want them to see!
  4. Film or record yourself at a practice or game! Watch yourself or watch with a mentor to evaluate your behaviors. Ask yourself, “Am I emulating my values?”
  5. Reflect in your journal or just go through the previous day’s practice or game in your head. Ask yourself: “Were my behaviors governed by my values or by my feelings?”

-J.P. Nerbun