Coaches play a critical role in children’s lives. Kids often admire them and long for their approval. When coaches yell at, intimidate, put them down or tease them, their self-esteem and self-confidence drops.
Often, children who are bullied by their coaches want to quit sports.
One parent says, “My son’s coach puts the children down and scolds them in front of everybody. He calls my son a knucklehead all the time and gives negative comments. There is very little positive. My son is very sensitive to this and wants to quit.”
If parents or coaches see any signs that a coach is bullying young athletes, they need to take action, says Timothy A. Dimoff, founder and president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., an expert on violent behavior and author of the book, “Life Rage.”
Often, coaches don’t even know they’re bullying, says Dimoff, a youth sports coach for 16 years. “People learn from others and carry it over. Often, people think they’re doing something they should be doing.”
Coaches who bully never learned how to negotiate with or motivate young athletes, he says. Many of them are untrained. And many were insulted and intimidated when they played sports. “They resort to what they know and what they experienced,” he says.
Bully coaches may not mean to hurt kids, but they do. They undermine their physical performance in addition to their confidence.
One coach said that when his player’s transferred to a new team led by a bully coach, their performance changed drastically. “They played with apprehension and fear of making mistakes. You wouldn’t believe it was the same team,” he says.
“When I watch (certain teams), the kids head to the bench when they make a mistake because they know they are coming out. The coach screams at the players on the court and doesn’t even look at them when he takes them out! These teams nearly always lose the game if it is close because fear takes over.”
Here’s the good news: If coaches understand that they’re hurting others, they’ll often change their behavior. In fact, one coach wrote us that he did just that:
“Once you start yelling, it’s the only thing the boys respond to. My son called my practices “Hitler practices.” It wasn’t until one of my assistants pointed out that the boys were no longer listening to me that I started to change. I still run a strict practice but I cut way back on the yelling. I went to the carrot and the stick style. Horse around and you do push ups, follow the rules and we have fun.”
Dimoff says that it’s important for parents to talk to bully coaches. But they have to be very careful about how they do it. They shouldn’t be angry, he says. They should approach coaches when they are alone or call them on the phone, but never when the sports kids are within earshot.
“Calmly explain what you observed and the reaction of the kids and point out how it is having a negative effect.” Tell the coaches that you know they want to be good coaches. “Many coaches say, ‘I didn’t know I affect the child that way.’ We see a lot of positive if the parents’ presentation is calm and non-threatening.”
Parents should give the coach some time to change. If he or she doesn’t change, parents need to ask their kids if they can handle hanging on until the season ends. If the child is having a hard time, however, remove him or her from the team. Find another activity for that child, Dimoff says.
If that coach is the only one in town, parents should talk to other parents and try to find either a replacement or an alternative team, he says.
In the words of one parent, “Unfortunately, the bully coaches are out there… but I personally believe you don’t need to stand for those situations. Take action for your child’s sake, realize it is a game–and the reasons for the game are to have fun, get a little exercise and make social connections.”
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