What Can Parents Do When Coaches Bully Their Sports Kids?

Comparison's Impact on Athletes Confidence

What to do When Coaches Bully their Students

Parents should never under-estimate the importance of coaches in their children’s lives. Coaches can boost or undermine kids’ confidence and self-esteem. If you see any signs that a coach is hurting your young athlete’s confidence, it’s critical to take action.

Parents should be wary of coaches who yell at, tease, put down or intimidate their young athletes.

“I want to know how I should handle a coach who teaches in a very negative way,” says one parent. “He 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.”

It’s understandable this child wants to quit. Insults and bullying can hurt kids’ self-esteem, undermine their social skills, make it hard for them to trust and in some cases such behavior can cause kids to feel anxious and depressed.

Writes John L. Schinnerer , Ph.D., “Verbal and emotional abuse in athletics…can lead to severe and long-lasting effects on the athlete’s social and emotional development.”

In addition, it’s common for bullied athletes to feel as if they are only important in sports when they perform well. The young athletes focus too much on the “win” and the “score” in order to please the coach, and don’t experience many of the social and emotional benefits of taking part in sports.

One of the main complaints from parents is that coaches yell.

Says one parent, “I have two sons who play soccer at the US Soccer Development Academy level. The challenge we have is with coaches who use short-term motivational techniques like screaming, insulting and sarcasm to get the boys to perform.”

Some coaches view yelling as a good coaching technique. That may be because their coaches yelled at them when they were young athletes. They sometimes also believe that shouting will motivate kids. However, a study by McCarthy and Prosser found that coaches who yell don’t help novice athletes improve their skills.

If you feel as if your child is being bullied by a coach, you need to take action. Often, parents are hesitant to intervene. For example, one coach in Portland, Ore. continually bullied a group of 5th grade basketball players. He yelled at them, insulted them and in some cases threw balls at them when he was angry. The parents were afraid of approaching him. Ultimately, one of the parents stepped up and challenged the coach and her son quit the team.

Says Twemlow, “It’s important that you be courageous and stand up to the bullying behavior. To the extent that you sit by, complain in the background, but do nothing to prevent bullying behaviors, you allow it to continue.”

When you speak to the coach, try to avoid blaming him or her. This will only make the coach defensive. You might say, “I’m concerned that your yelling at my son is hurting his confidence.” Don’t say, “You’re a terrible coach because you yell.”

If the coach doesn’t change his or her behavior, be sure to report the coach to the supervising league. It will be most helpful to the supervisors if you can be as specific as possible about the coach’s behavior.

In some cases, you may find that you can’t change the coach’s behavior. If this happens, you should consider moving your child to a different coach or team. “Staying with the same coach is likely to lead to increased anxiety and decreased athletic performance at a minimum,” says Twemlow.

While you’re making these decisions, understand it’s critical for you to nurture your athletes’ physical and psychological health. If your players act as if–or say–they feel angry, ashamed, guilty, anxious or sad about playing for their coach, listen to them. If you can’t improve the situation or find a new coach, your young athletes may quit sports altogether.

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14 thoughts on “What Can Parents Do When Coaches Bully Their Sports Kids?”

  1. Thanks for this. Today my son was bullied in a way that not many could notice. They made him sit out (fine), ignored his questions and even went as far as to cut him off before getting on the field to play catch with a teammate. He was instead left tossing a ball to himself in the a.r We simply pulled him outta there and although this was not long term or even physical or verbal bullying it was even worse. It was the kind of bullying that only we noticed and the kind of bullying that cut deep on my son.

    • If you have the option, find a team that works best for your son. Sometimes that’s not possible, then you want to work with your son on focusing on what’s important to his improvement.

    • That is so sad. My child is experiencing this herself. Hence why I’m reading this article. I hope your childs confidence has been regained and is no longer in such a toxic environment

    • The coaches have been a lot and bsitters have been just four that have been picked on.one even yelled at my child in front of the teams and audience

  2. My son threw his give down out of frustration over a balk that caused a run to score. I know that is bad sportsmanship. My problem is that his coach came to the mound and told him to stop acting like a little bitch. I feel the coaches reaction was as bad or worse than my sons initial outburst. He seems to think it was justified because my son embarrassed his team and the organization. My son apologized for being disrespectful. After the games his coach pulled him aside and went off again asking him if he was stupid. Then he texted me later and basically kicked him off the team. My son has never had an outburst like this in the team all season. It was a one time out of character event.

  3. I have been battling whether or not I should contact the supervisors of my son’s former school. This past October, he asked to switch schools due to several instances. My son was having a trying year while learning a new sport in high school. He didn’t make all of the right choices but it still didn’t cause the coaches to mistreat him. I’ll give examples of some of the treatment: his former coach had cancer and in front of everyone called him the “cancer” in his head. Also, he told him not to befriend a teammate who had been kicked off the team. If he or any of the other coaches saw him befriending him, he would be kicked off the team. He also told other team members not to befriend my son as well when they finally kicked him off the team for not running to the field house on the second day of school. As a result, the coaching staff no longer spoke to him or gave him any conversation. He felt ostracized and unwelcomed. One final example, a coach he admired said to him in a room full of student athletes, “we know you’re not doing anything in the summer time”. It was the continuous remarks and telling others not to surround themselves. Although he doesn’t attend the school anymore due to this, his self esteem has been greatly shaken and this was six months ago. He’s at another school but this ways heavily on him. When he was there, he asked me not say anything for fear of retaliation.

  4. We have been dealing with a coach who has not only verbally abused my son during peewee football practice bit, who has actually picked him off the ground by his face mask and even shoulder rushed him then tried to intimidate him. We have reported to higher-ups and only resolution they could come up with was to not allow him on field when my son was playing. Leaving our last game the coach has now attempted to bully me which he only caused more fear in my sons mind. I am at a loss in how to help him overcome and not quit football over the stupidity of a grown man who feels the need to abuse and cause fear in children.

    • Power in numbers. Can you get other parents to corroborate what you are going through? Also, do you have the ability to find another program?

  5. Power in numbers is exactly what should take place. Teaching our young developing athletes to stand in solidarity as a team against these damaging coaching tactics should be the norm by now, but sadly isn’t. Family first, right? Many schools would not tolerate these behaviors from a teacher within the classroom, but we tolerate it on the field and in the locker room from coaches. Our children need to learn how to play the game both on and off the field when dealing with sports and adults who make the sport a toxic environment.

  6. Yea coaches have way too much power to mentally , verbally, and sometimes physically abuse kids in the name of sports with no repercussions or accountability. We need a national organization that combats this type of behavior as right now parents have no power or rescourse to do much else but just take it.

  7. The male HS Volleyball coach has sworn at the team and individual girls, has also belittled and demeaned them, yanking them off the court at random times when they miss one ball, and the other assistant coach has stood by and watched this. The assistant coach was texting a former student’s boyfriend last year. Several girls have received scholarship offers and will play in college. Teammates are afraid to report since this means they will not be on Varsity next year. The senior girls are considering talking to the principal but have received this treatment for three years. Any words of advice besides what are you waiting for? If reported by coach to their colleges they could lose their scholarships.

  8. We are dealing with a narcissist mean girl. Basically has inserted herself into the kids friend group acts like the older sister giving boyfriend advice and using the kids admiration as her narcissistic supply. The issue is if you have a child that doesn’t stroke her ego, or she finds “annoying” she is horrible. Calling them stupid, sending private text messages, pitting the other kids against them by telling them not to hangout with them… it’s horrible. I don’t want my kids around her, but they want to play. Hard to find other parents that see it because she is grooming their kids. They want to be friends with her because she is the cool teacher that hands out her cell phone number. I have requested the school adopt Safe Sport training, they seemed open to it after I showed them the text messages, but nothing has been done. It’s just all so wrong. Now my kids are upset because they are not going to play while all their friends who never played before all want to be on the team.


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