A while back, a discussion arose on twitter about how coaches handle a player who is late to practice. It actually started when I responded to what I thought was a hilarious suggestion by someone that a coach should always start practice with something “fun.” The idea was that a late player would miss out on “the fun” and be more motivated to come on time in the future. While I was certainly skeptical of the idea as a way to handle tardiness, I did ask for others to respond, which they did in big numbers. Most agreed with me that the idea was a bit silly, but along the way, several coaches also offered their suggestions for handling the “late player” problem. I found the list very interesting and I must admit, I probably tried several of the methods myself during my coaching career. Here are some of the ones that were presented:
- Lock the doors at the start of practice and no one gets in late.
- Run the late player after practice till he is exhausted.
- Have the late player sit and watch the rest of practice.
- Run the offender during the whole practice and no participation.
- Make the late player sit and watch as the rest of the team runs for him.
That last one is my least favorite of all, but I am sure it works for some because I know of coaches who do it all the time. Everyone has their own method that works for them, including the “something fun to start” coaches. I really have no problem with whatever works and fits into a coach’s philosophy. But it is an interesting topic and since I have 35 years in the coaching business, I decided to present my thoughts and experiences on the subject.
First, let me say, no matter what method I used throughout my career, I never really had any problems with chronic tardiness. Part of the reason was I started each season by handing out my specific Practice Standards in written form and then read them over the first day of official practice. The first three Standards were:
- Always be 10 minutes early and you will never be late.
- Be on the floor, properly dressed, on or before time, and never late.
- Call or text if you will be missing or late to practice.
So that pretty much spells it out three times over that being on time is very important to me and our program. I also believe it is important to make players responsible for calling or texting me if they are going to be late. I have my phone with me all the time, so I can get such messages. If a player is late and I have not heard from him, I will call him at the first opportunity I have in the practice session. Usually that is during Form Shooting or Stretching Time at the beginning of our practice. I tell players that when I don’t hear from them, I will call them to make sure they are all right. I show concern as a parent would. Maybe they were in a wreck on your way here, I tell them. Call me so I don’t have to worry about you. And while the team is shooting or stretching, the others see and hear me calling anyone who is late. They know I care and am concerned about a member of our “family.”
When a player does arrive late, they report to me immediately and I find out what the problem is. Maybe they are sick, injured, or distressed over a family issue. We deal with any issues, but if it’s just lateness, they are sent to warm up on the sideline as they usually would at the beginning of practice. They can join in a drill or as a sub in a 5 on 5 situation when they have properly stretched and warmed up.
As I mentioned earlier, I did use various methods through the years. What worked in the first generation of players I coached didn’t seem to be as appropriate with the next generation of players, including today’s. Times change and I had to change too. I eventually decided I wanted a less confrontational consequence for a player who was late. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, but I wanted to send a message to all that it was not acceptable. So I came up with what I thought was a reasonable way to handle the situation and stay within my philosophy.
What philosophy? I do not make a big deal about missing players, injuries, sickness, or whatever excuse causes someone to not be at practice or a game. It’s “Next Man Up.” A teammate is there ready to fill your spot and away we go. So, if you come late to practice, “next man up,” and you become a sub. You lose your spot at least for the day, whatever your spot was previously. If you were a starter, you become a sub for the day. If you were second unit, drop to sub for second unit. And if you were already a sub, well, you stay there, but see me after practice. In fact, anyone late, will see me after practice. That’s when I assign “Liners” for however many minutes you were late. It is usually one to five, but I always ask them what they think is fair. Most are tougher on themselves than I would be, but that’s OK. If they guess wrong, they are very happy to run less than they originally had hoped. I don’t watch them run or time them or keep anyone around to cheer them on. They just go off to the side and run on their own. All I say is, “Run them hard. Rest between each one so you can run hard like we do in games.”
No one likes losing their spot on the team for the day. I always tell the story of Wally Pipp to my teams when I start a season. Who is Wally Pipp you ask??? He was the player on the Yankees way back who took a day off sick and let a young guy by the name of Lou Gehrig take his place. Pipp never got his job back as Gehrig hit well and played in the next 2130 consecutive games without missing one. The point I am making to the team is that you don’t want to give up your spot by being late or you might be the next Wally Pipp. So, the running afterwards becomes almost nothing to the players but a “reminder” as I call it. The real punishment is losing your place in the lineup and having to earn it back. That can take a day or two or maybe never. You just never know. Ask Wally Pipp.
As for off-season workouts and Summer League practices, I never use the “reminder” (running) after practice. But I do have the “Next Man Up” philosophy in full swing. If you are late, you drop your previous position or whatever position I had determined you were in for the day. In other words, you aren’t in the Top 10 today, you are now a Sub. I found this to be a great method for introducing new players to my “Lateness Policy,” especially when taking over a new program.
I believe the combination of my concern for a player’s well being if late, (the “Next Man Up” philosophy, which is viewed as a demotion), and a little reminder (a Liner or two) after practice is why lateness was not a problem for me. I liked how this worked out and I believe the players thought it was fair too. It was part of our culture to be on time, be there for one another, and always communicate.
Again, I have no problem with the way anyone else handles lateness to their practices. If it works for you, go for it. But think about your philosophy and your culture before you come up with penalties for any disciplinary problems. Make them fit what you believe and what you want your players to believe in. Do what’s best for you, as I did what I felt was best for me and my programs.