CAITLIN BASSETT: The Canterbury bullying claims highlight how humiliation will never get the best results

Caitlin Bassett
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Jackson Topine claims he was unfairly punished by the Bulldogs. Tough love stylre training should be resigned to history.
Jackson Topine claims he was unfairly punished by the Bulldogs. Tough love stylre training should be resigned to history. Credit: Getty Images

Tough love was once seen as an essential part of building resilience in sporting teams.

Many codes would undertake military style boot camps or have trainers who were more like drill sergeants.

But just like the rest of society, that approach of striking fear into athletes with corporal punishment doesn’t cut it anymore.

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In the NRL, the Canterbury Bulldogs are facing a $4 million lawsuit from former player Jackson Topine who was left feeling humiliated by his alleged treatment by the club last year.

As a result of being late to a training session, Topine claims he was forced to wrestle all of his teammates one by one while being yelled at by a trainer.

The treatment, he says, led to him walking away from the game aged just 22.

Now, I know what you are thinking — if he can’t hack that then he’s not cut out for the NRL.

But in modern elite sport, the very best teams know how to challenge and reward individual players to get the very best out of them.

No two athletes are the same and while some might respond well to corporal punishment, others will not — and that doesn’t mean they don’t belong in the sport.

The Bulldogs claim they wanted to have winning performance standards and to do that they need to enforce individual accountability.

I agree but the way these standards are upheld is very different now to what was acceptable just a few years ago.

And you are hardly going to improve standards if you are driving talented young players away from your club in the very early stages of their careers.

Another example of this was as the now defunct Brisbane Bears in 1991.

Shane Strempel was a young player who played three games for the struggling club.

During his one season, it was later revealed that after arriving late to training he was ordered to box with eight of his biggest team mates post-training.

After three rounds Stempel was struggling to keep his arms up, his face was bloody and his teeth chipped.

The punishment only stopped when one of the players refused to fight telling the coach “you’ve got to call it off or because you’ll kill the boy”.

The Bears won three games that season, and only four in each of the next two. Hardly an inspired move.

As sporting organisations start to tap into the power of mental skills training for team and individual performance they need to understand the psychological impact that operating under such high intensity can have on a player.

As netball developed in and became more professional I was quick to notice the changes in our training environment.

When I was playing for the Lightning towards the end of my career we had a buddy system. If a player slacked on a team standard you and your buddy had to complete an extra training session.

I remember once I accidentally slept through my alarm and was late for training. When I realised one of my mates in the team was also going to be getting punished it hit me hard.

I truly felt the weight that I wasn’t just letting myself done I was letting her and the team down by not being on time.

As humans we are prone to making mistakes but compounding those mistakes with humiliation is not the answer — if anything it only creates more problems.

With player welfare and mental health issues becoming common place in elite sport, organisations need to make sure they are acting in accordance for what’s best for the individual as well as the team.

The outcome of this lawsuit will not just impact NRL, it will potentially open a floodgate of similar cases across different sports.

But hopefully this can be a turning point.

I have no qualms with discipline, in fact I believe in order to build a strong club culture behaviours and standards need to be upheld.

There are just so many more effective ways that corporal punishment.

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