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Is it corporal punishment to make a kid run laps?

When high school athletes do something wrong, it's not uncommon for coaches to make them run laps as punishment. But the age-old practice is on the way out, at least in Iowa, where there's a big debate about whether it's actually corporal punishment.

Des Moines High school football coach Tom Mihalovich was suspended for disciplining a sophomore football player who made derogatory comments about the school's varsity team. The coach made the kid run at least 20 hill sprints and several laps along with a series of up-down drills as punishment.

The school says he violated school bullying and corporal punishment policies. And officials say even though it's been common practice in years past, it's not acceptable anymore.

"Good common sense would indicate we're past using conditioning and running in a punitive manner," Mike Dick, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union executive director told The Des Moines Register. "To use conditioning as punishment is "almost vindictive in nature."

In a conversation on Seattle's Morning News, there was disagreement about whether extra running constitutes corporal punishment.

"I'm confused about that being punishment though because they're also forcing kids to run around in PE class and it's not punishment there," says KIRO Radio co-host Linda Thomas. "There's no physical harm from this punishment."

"Well of course there can be, occasionally you'll hear about somebody falling over because they didn't drink enough water," counters co-host Bill Radke. "But it's also, we've outlawed spanking not just because there could be lasting permanent damage but that we're more enlightened than that."

A national group that promotes youth health says the discipline doesn't work.

"While some people believe that physical activity used as punishment and/or a behavior management tool is effective, experts perceive this as a 'quick fix' that actually might discourage the behavior it is intended to elicit," said the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, in the report from The Des Moines Register. "Using negative consequences to alter behavior suppresses the undesirable behavior only while the threat of punishment is present; it doesn't teach self-discipline or address the actual behavior problem."

In the Iowa case in question, the coach withheld water as part of the punishment. It harkens back to older days when coaches commonly pushed players through grueling workouts without water. Today the practice is considered both dangerous and criminal.

Radke argues there are better ways to punish a player, such as preventing them from playing.

"Forcing people to run around because they're in trouble, that's not conditioning," says Radke. "It's not healthy."

But co-host Tom Tangney isn't convinced there should be a blanket ban on exercise as punishment.

"It's one thing if you take a kid out of French and make him run three laps but if you're already in a PE class you're doing something that's not harmful and it's probably beneficial to the body."

"Just to suddenly run a bunch of laps is not the same as conditioning, it's just overworking the body randomly," Radke counters.

What do you think?

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About the Author


Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM.

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