Handling sub-standard behavior in your program

How do you handle sub-standard behavior from your athletes in your program?

You will either build trust or destroy trust depending on how you handle these sub-standard behaviors.

Last week I wrote about creating a great environment in your program.

This stirred up several conversations around the topic of accountability and discipline.

One coach said to me…“You make it sound like if you collaborate, encourage people, inspire, and catch them doing good, all will be well. You will have zero issues.”

So I wanted to address discipline when an athlete doesn’t live up to the standards or when all is not well.

There are two grids I want to propose to you when dealing with sub-standard behavior.

1. Get to the Root

The first is to not assume anything.

When sub-standard behavior happens, we often assume that the kid is just being a punk. Or the athlete lacks discipline. Or just doesn’t care.

My experience tells me there is a deeper issue. Here are some examples of what I am talking about.

Late for Weights

The kid who shows up late for Monday early morning weights. It wasn’t because he is undisciplined, it was because he went home for the weekend because his parents are going through a nasty divorce. When he was getting ready to leave on Sunday evening to go back to campus, his mom asked him to stay Sunday night because she felt fearful. The three-hour drive on Monday morning took a little longer than normal which made him 2 minutes late.

Worried about the draft? Or something else?

Or the athlete who has disengaged from his teammates and isn’t performing on the field like he is capable. It could be because he is only thinking about the draft and is being selfish…or it could be that his dad puts so much pressure on him that he just wants to quit.

I think there is always a deeper reason why someone is acting in a sub-standard way.

Getting to the root, in an empathetic way, is crucial. If you will take the time to ask questions and get to the root, you can help athletes be transformed…as opposed to just trying to manage/dictate their behavior.

I am not making the case that you don’t go ahead and administer whatever discipline is called for in your program. I am however making the case for getting to the root of the issues…it helps the kids and it creates/builds more trust in your program.

2. Let their Posture Dictate

To set up the other grid, I love the quote by Brad Stevens, former coach of Butler and Boston Celtics, “Win em over, weed em out.”

Win em over: You are trying to win them over… to get them to completely buy-in. You are trying to help a young person navigate life. The trust is they are going to mess up. They are going to do stupid things.

Weed em out: There might come a point, where the athlete can no longer be a part of the program

As you are leading and journeying with your athletes, I want to propose that you allow the athlete, within reason, to dictate how you handle the ‘weed em out’ part of this framework.

Let me explain.

He did what???

I worked with a coach who had a troubled player. This young person had a hard time following instructions and had a hard time acting appropriately in certain situations.

But the kid was also trying to change.

As you know, change is not easy. Nor quick.

Case in point…I have consistently journaled for a long time. The other day I was reading some older journal entries from 2012. I was reminded how hard change can be, even for a 47-year-old. The same struggles I was wrestling with then, I am still wrestling with today…in 2021! (And we often expect kids to change in one week)

So, back to this troubled athlete. The coach continued to discipline him when necessary but was allowing the kid’s heart posture to dictate when or if he ‘weeded him out’.

As long as the athlete was teachable, humble, and had a soft heart posture towards his coaches and teammates, the coach was not going to cut him.

He had to suspend him on one occasion as well as leave him off the travel roster the next year…but he didn’t ‘weed him out’ because the athlete continued to be humble and teachable and was making an effort to change.

Over time, this young man became an energy giver, a team favorite and slowly changed. The ironic part is he never contributed much on the court, but was transformed off it.

Most coaches (probably including me) would have cut him. Thankfully this coach allowed the response and posture of this kid to dictate the course he took.

In Summary

First, recognize there is always an underlying reason for sub-standard behavior.

Second, allow the teachability and willingness of the athlete to pursue growth and change to dictate much of your decision to ‘weed em out.’

How you handle substandard behavior will either create or tear down trust in your program!


I coach coaches to help see themselves more clearly and make the necessary changes to create an elite environment. Email me if you are interested in working together. (travis@kingdomcoachingtw.com)

Learn it alls, not know it alls!
I prefer to work with coaches who are ‘learn it alls’ rather than ‘know it alls’. I run a group of ‘learn it alls’ that meets every 2nd and 4th Monday night called the Tribe. We discuss leadership topics that help you become a better leader, my aim is to ask good questions that force you to think and process and become a better leader for your program…if you want more info or want to sign up…CLICK HERE!

Posted in

Travis Wyckoff

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.