How to deal with a bully coach

June 18, 2014 2 Comments »
How to deal with a bully coach

In coaching kids soccer, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly among my peers. It’s important to clarify that it has mostly been good. But on the occasions when it has been bad, it has sometimes been very bad.

Such as seeing coaches berate children to the point where it verges on abuse.

Depending on the age of the children, their stage of cognitive and emotional maturation, and the “competitive” nature of the environment, yelling could be an okay thing or it could be a very bad thing.

As a parent, you want to discern between when it’s okay and when it’s not.

With pre-teen kids, yelling in any sort of negative tone is almost always inappropriate, and sometimes it qualifies as bullying.

For instance, I have seen a few coaches over the years yelling at 8 and 9-year-olds during a basketball or soccer game, “What’s the matter with you?”

The words themselves may seem innocuous, but you have to consider the real message being communicated in each instance. In this case, the message is clearly, “You just made a mistake, you’re stupid, and I seriously disapprove of you.”

Not a great message for any 8-year-old kid to hear, or any athlete of any age for that matter.

It may be that these are coaches who want to win at all costs, and this is their misguided way of trying to inspire player performance. Sometimes it works in the short-term, but the effect is temporary. And over time, many of the kids will quit their sport as a consequence of feeling bullied, and some of them will even develop a permanent and enduring hatred of all physical activity.

No child should have to suffer that kind of abuse, so here are 8 steps to help you deal with a bully coach:

1. Talk with your child

First, take some mental notes of instances where you think the coach crossed the line with remarks directed at your child or the other players. During a quiet moment away from the game or practice, ask your child what he or she felt about the coach’s comments and yelling. (You might also ask one or two other parents for their reaction, just to see if you’re taking crazy pills or not.)

2. Talk with the coach

If you get a clear confirmation that your child feels intimidated by the coach’s negativity, and/or other parents feel the coach’s behavior is over the top, then you need to communicate this to the coach. You can either write a polite email or arrange a face-to-face talk away from the game or practice. Whichever you choose, respectfully express your concern that the coach’s “tone and elevated voice” seems a bit negative at times, and you feel it may not be having a wholly positive effect on the players.

3. Talk with the manager or assistant coach

If you are not comfortable addressing the coach directly, talk with the team manager or assistant coach instead, and ask them to discuss your concern with the coach. Ask them to reply to you afterwards with the coach’s response or the outcome of the discussion.

4. Talk with the club administration

See how the coach responds. Sometimes they are simply unaware that they are perceived as negative and bullying. They may quickly adjust their behavior and it’s case closed. However, if the coach refuses to recognize the problem, and especially if they seem belligerent and arrogant about it, you need to talk with the head administrator of your local sport club or school.

5. Clarify that the behavior is not acceptable

If the administration tries to brush things off by saying the coach “is a dedicated volunteer who gives freely of his time”, point out that regardless of the coach’s noble intentions and generous volunteerism, the behavior is not acceptable and needs to be addressed.

6. Ask your child if they want to quit

If the administration continues to deny the issue, then talk with your child about possibly quitting the activity. Due to popular mythologies around “never be a quitter”, a lot of children don’t understand that this is an option. Your child actually might look at you with grateful and bewildered surprise. You mean I don’t have to “tough it out”?

7. Check out other programs in the same sport

If your child wants to quit the activity, see if there is a neighboring club in the same sport in your area, and confirm that they have a decent program with qualified coaches who don’t shout abuse.

8. Check out different sports and activities

If there are no other opportunities to play the same sport in your area, investigate other activities and sports programs that are available. Kids will often discover new pursuits that they enjoy more! It happens. There’s often a silver lining to these situations.

The main thing to remember: you don’t have to tolerate a bully coach. All it takes is a little courage and the willingness to speak up for the children who do not feel empowered to speak for themselves.

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  1. Mara Call August 30, 2017 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this. I’ve been waffling about this for weeks. My kid, who usually loves football, has been frustrated and down on himself. I finally said to him, hey, you don’t have to be subjected to this negativity anymore. We don’t have to be a part of this. There are other options. It’s good to hear that our approach is ok. It has felt right, so it must be.

    • Jim Grove
      Jim Grove August 31, 2017 at 10:59 am - Reply

      Hi Mara,
      I’m very glad that this post helped you to find clarity. We’ve all been in situations where we have a strong feeling that things aren’t right, but maybe we doubt ourselves a bit. I’m glad this helped you.
      Best regards,

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