In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Handling Failure/Adversity, Out of Control Emotions/Jealousy and Anger, Parents' Role in Youth Sports, Problems in Youth Sports, Winning/Losing

There are so many REALLY good coaches out there and I have had the good fortune to speak in front of them and learn directly from them. They have trusted me to work with their athletes and teams, and I am where I am in my career today largely because of them. I am confident that these coaches will understand my need to speak out about a topic that finally needs to be directly addressed!

First and foremost, OUR CHILDREN ARE HUMAN, whether they are 7 years old or 22! They are living, breathing, impressionable and feeling organisms. We seem to recognize this in the classroom when we call them “students.” The best teachers teach them with patience, support and encourage them with constructive feedback and praise, and create a safe learning environment where they are allowed to make mistakes and fail, because EVERYONE knows that this is how you learn! You learn BEST from making mistakes and failing!

So I want to know, what happens when that school bell rings at 3:00pm signaling the end of the school day and the “student” is now called an “athlete” by the coach? Unfortunately, every week I hear a lot of what REALLY happens to some of my “student-athletes.” They are yelled at and called disgusting names by the coach for making mistakes and failing, using language that would get any teacher immediately fired. They are demeaned and humiliated by the coach in front of their peers, another sanctionable behavior were it to come from a teacher. These coaches “teach” by using intense fear and intimidation, creating an unsafe environment that sabotages the learning process, kills creativity and creates performance problems, again behaviors that would be reportable in ANY school system! Excuse me….but aren’t we in a school system here??? And even if you’re not coaching within a school system, as a coach you are still a role model/educator working with athletes who deserve to be respected and treated with dignity!

I will often hear that this behavior is ONLY directed at one or two students. Along with this, I will frequently hear that these targeted students are simply “too sensitive,” not tough enough and/or are really the problem here. So, I guess that if a teacher in a classroom only targeted one or two people to swear at and humiliate, then this would be OK, especially if the targeted students were “too sensitive?” It’s my understanding that in most schools, there is a zero tolerance policy for student-to-student bullying. Have we not evolved enough as a culture to do the same for a coach who is not really teaching as much as he/she is really BULLYING?

In my 28 years of experience working with thousands of athletes I know the following to be true: Bullying, demeaning and humiliating athletes does NOT create mental toughness or peak performance in them. On the CONTRARY! It makes athletes anxious and physically tight, distracts them from the important tasks at hand, kills their motivation and enjoyment of the sport, shuts down the learning process and generates performance problems like choking, slumps and blocks! This kind of coaching behavior NEVER gets the best out of the athlete. NEVER!

I know that when coaching abuse does happen, it makes administrators and some parents uncomfortable. Therefore, it gets explained away as, “Oh, that’s just “X,” he/she is really “passionate” and doesn’t mean any harm!”

Can you see the cruel absurdity of this double standard and how it has seriously damaged youth sports? Ask any athlete from any sport, ages 7 to 22 and you will hear these HORROR stories. These student-athletes know the difference between good and bad coaching because they’ve either observed it or experienced it directly. However, as adults: parents, coaches, administrators and athletic directors, WE NEED TO STAND UP AND PROTECT OUR KIDS FROM EMOTIONAL ABUSE and call it what it is!! Until we do, our crazed sports culture will continue to focus on winning at the terrible expense of our children!


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