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A Trainer’s Perspective: Disciplinary Techniques (Not a Fun Job, But Someone Has To Do it!)

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Recently, Ninja Trainer Devyn Yurisich was asked on social media how she disciplines her students, and she wrote this fantastic remark to a fellow Trainer. She outlines how she defines discipline, and why it is one of the most important aspects of her job. This is well worth the read, especially if you’re a Ninja Trainer, or have aspirations of becoming a coach (of any sport!). 


Discipline is not for just when a kid misbehaves. Many believe that the word ‘discipline’ has a negative connotation.

Discipline is training or teaching the kids to obey rules (the firm lines or limits that you enforce), and behave appropriately. Being a trainer is just like being a parent – discipline should be kept consistent across the board (you expect the same respectful behavior from every student).

Discipline is one of the most important subjects to learn about as a trainer (or as a person, really).

Ask yourself these questions:

*How do I expect my students to behave? I expect my students to make safe decisions, respect all people by caring about how they feel, and listening to them when they speak, and follow directions.

*Why are my students not obeying my guidelines? Many times, students aren’t aware of your expectations. Communicating what SHOULD be done rather than what SHOULDN’T gives the student a clear understanding of how they are expected to behave. Include “why” all of the time. The way you speak to each age group should be different, remembering that the little ones are developmentally capable of understanding simpler terms, than the older ones.

*How do I correct inappropriate behavior? Calling out, singling out, or embarrassing the student in front of their peers will result in that student, and all others, to not trust you. When people make mistakes, they deserve grace. Politely let the misbehaving student know what they should be doing. Yelling at your students teaches them that this is how people resolve issues or encourage change. Is that true? No… kids actually respond very well to an honest, respectful correction.

*How else should I not discipline? Making your students do extra conditioning literally rips away the true fact that conditioning is actually good for them and should always be experienced in a fun way. Getting mad or making angry facial expressions teaches kids that they are only loved when they do what you want them to. Kids deserve to be loved when they make mistakes, and they just need more guidance or help to know how to do what is expected. Forcing your student to sit out or alone should absolutely only be when they are hurting others. My biggest rule that I enforce is that I WILL NOT and WILL NEVER tolerate physical aggression in the gym.

*What are some clever ways to set my students up for choosing to behave as expected? Friendly reminders of your guidelines should be addressed right before the class starts. I often ask my students, “Did you guys bring your listening ears today?” in a serious, but friendly way. Start the class on a line, and always expect them to walk from area to area in a line. The structure and order of the traveling will carry over into “staying in line” when at a station/rotation area. For little guys, give them markings to help them know where you expect them to wait, walk along, or stay within. I use little carpets, frogs, cones, etc. and communicate to them what to do in between doing actual skills. I confront misbehavior the moment it happens so the student knows exactly what they are doing incorrectly. For example: John is turned away from you, jumping on a mat, while you begin to explain what the students are doing in the new area you’ve just arrived to. You say, “I need all eyes on me! Everybody come really close, it’s easier to hear that way. Can everyone see me? I cannot tell you about all the fun stuff we’re about to do until I know that everyone is listening.” I always address the issue to the entire class, without singling out the one student. When John realized that he wasn’t doing what I was asking everyone to do, he stepped into the group and joined those who were listening. I always tell the students that in order to learn, you must listen. It’s easier to listen when they are not on equipment or looking at other classes. Ask students to group together and look at you when you speak, and then to always line up before moving to another area. Also, mention to the class that getting on any equipment without the trainer supervising is dangerous. If the student would have gotten hurt, the trainer would not know how they got hurt or how to help them.

*So is discipline actually just enforcing appropriate rules that PREVENT bad behavior? YES! Discipline shouldn’t be “whipped out” when a student does something “bad”. Discipline takes patience (loads of it), consistency (expect the same behavior every class, even when you feel irritable or relaxed), and grace (taking time to talk to the student respectfully shows them not only how they can choose to treat others as they grow into adults, but that you care about them). Students will obey your rules once you’ve communicated them, enforced them, and expected them.

*What about the kid that knows the rules but still chooses to misbehave? Honestly, I don’t have students that disobey my rules. Seriously. They do at first (of course), but after I help them and redirect their actions, they choose to do what I’m asking them to. It’s surprising how competent–and genuinely good– kids actually are. The student that cannot comprehend your rules and chooses to disrespect your guidelines might need to be talked to after class. This should only happen very RARELY. Bringing parents into the picture makes things complicated, because the way you discipline will most likely be different than the way they do. The student may be “numb” to the tactics that parents use to correct misbehavior. Try your best to resolve the issue with the student without the parents hovering over the situation. Without the student in ear shot, mention the severe issues that keep arising in class with their child. Let them know the way you handle the situation, and ask if they could watch for that behavior at home. Never tell parents how to “fix” the student’s misbehavior. Students don’t need to be fixed. They need to be helped.

My last advice for you or your staff – research as much as you can. Working with kids is (in my opinion) one of the most important jobs you could have. ‘Discipline’ is a term that is interpreted differently by so many, and the best “most recent” advice is always changing/new. The basis of my understanding of successful discipline is that humans are meant to develop relationships and love one another… even when we have to tell someone that they’ve made a mistake. And when it’s all said and done, you still have a little friend that depends on you to teach them all that they need to know as they grow into the future inhabitants of this Earth.

Oh! I should also add: thank your students! Thanking them often when they do what you’ve asked them to encourages them to make that good decision again. It also affects their peers–you never know who is watching! I always thank my students for listening to me, respecting me, following my directions, etc. I do this A LOT. They love to hear that they are making good decisions… and they love to know that they are making me happy (making others happy makes you the happiest!).

-Guest blog post written by Ninja Trainer Devyn Yurisich


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