In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Problems in Youth Sports

I was at a soccer coaches conference this weekend and was approached by a mother and team manager. She was concerned that several of the very talented 10 year olds on their now coach-less team wanted to quit playing the game. The club was in the process of trying to locate a new coach and she wanted some advice about how they might keep their players interested enough to stay with the team until the new hire.

Then she told me why the kids wanted to quit the game and why they were looking for a new coach. For approximately a year and a half this group of 8 and 9 year olds were “coached” (and I use that word quite loosely here) by a man who would have been better suited working with inanimate objects. This “coach” (he doesn’t deserve the respect that this title implies) would systematically berate his players after games. When they performed poorly or lost, his post-game talks included useful and constructive “teaching” gems like, “you guys are pitiful…you guys suck…you can’t even play this game.” The coach was strategic (translated, “deceitful) enough to be sure that no parents directly overheard these post game comments. He probably also told these little boys (remember, we’re talking about 8 and 9 year olds here) that if they were really tough enough, then they wouldn’t go whining and complaining to their parents after the game. This is exactly what abusers do. They emotionally or physically threaten those that they abuse to discourage them from blowing the whistle on them.

So these litttle boys never said anything to their parents, (they were probably much too afraid) for a year and a half. Finally the parents caught on. Perhaps it was the fact that the kids started to tell their parents that they no longer wanted to go to soccer practices anymore. Maybe it was the surprise of hearing their sons say that they hated soccer, a game that most of them used to love playing and one that they thought about 24/7. Then too, it could have been related to all the “sickness” and stomach aches that used to suddenly pop up on game days.

Finally the parents figured it out and actually heard some of the horrible things this child abuser was saying to their kids. Please understand that yelling at and demeaning 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, year olds is NOT coaching. Coaching is constructive. It builds things in our kids. It teaches life skills, sport skills, team building, sportsmanship, how to handle frustration, success and failure, how to deal with fear, etc. Abuse is destructive and it tears our kids apart in every which way, sometimes scarring them for life. This adult was a child abuser plain and simple. Is it any wonder that they wanted to quit the game?

Pay very close attention to the coaching situations that your kids are in. Watch the behavior of the adults responsible for teaching your child. Be sure that what they say and how they say it is constructive and age-appropriate. Do not hesistate to talk to the coach if you observe behavior that appears hurtful, demeaning or abusive.

Remember there is something a lot more important at stake here than whether your child gets playing time or starts for this team: His/her long term mental health and happiness! Be your child’s advocate. Say, “NO” to abuse.


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