How to deal with a bully coach

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.

9 responses to “How to deal with a bully coach

  1. I have an assistant coach that hasn’t really said anything to my son out of the way. He has been voting for him not to play certain positions and acts a certain way when my son doesn’t make a play. He is 9. My son hasnt noticed but I have. Its all about his kid. I get that and he’s a great ball player although not perfect either…because he’s 9. How do I stop this negativity towards my son? The other 3 coaches love him. My son and his son have not always gotten a long. In fact last year his son got in trouble at school for bullying my son. My son loves baseball and there aren’t any other choices around to change him. My son is ready and willing to reconcile and be civil. So am I, but this Dad coach is not. Help!

    1. These types of situations are not easy. The problem is that we have no way of controlling what other people (e.g. this assistant coach) feel about us, our children, or anything else. And sadly, I don’t think this situation is likely to be remedied by reconciliation regarding the school bullying that occurred last year. (That is more likely to simply open old wounds.) I think the best way to proceed is to monitor whether or not this assistant coach’s “voting” is impacting the positions where your son plays. If you discover that your son is being denied opportunities to play certain positions, you are justified in approaching the head coach(es) and asking them why. This brings the discussion out into the open, and it focuses on the player learning and development aspect as opposed to individual personalities and social conflicts.

  2. Thanks for your post. I’m not sure how to handle a few coaches swearing within directions to my 9 ur old sons baseball team. (“Hit the f ____ ball!”) It only happens in practice and it happened about 5 times all season. We don’t swear in our house so it was the first time my son heard swearing from an adult to a child. He knew it wasn’t right but was too embarrassed to say anything. In fact he told me the day the season ended because he was even too embarrassed to have me saying anything. Still I feel like I should encourage the coaches not to swear. It’s the norm for them and for the league and maybe they consider it tough love but I don’t know how swearing was ever helpful in growing a child.

    1. Hi Savitri,
      Coaches intentionally swearing at or with or around children is not acceptable. I am guessing that your son’s coaches believe they are providing some kind of “motivation” to the players, but these coaches are misguided. This kind of thinking grows out of an old sports culture of the past that romanticizes “tough guy talk” and imagines that, as you say, this represents “tough love.” It does not. It is just poor form and it degrades the entire atmosphere of training and competition. If your son is going to continue with the team and this group of coaches next year, I would recommend that you request a meeting with the coach(es) in private to discuss your concern. If the coaches are dismissive of your concerns, then I suggest you talk with the senior executives at your community baseball association. You might want to involve any other parents who share your concern as well. For reference, you can review and quote the Coaching Association of Canada coaching Code of Conduct located here:…uct_EN.pdf
      In particular, review (and share) the section called “Responsibilities” and subsections 10(a), 10(e), 10(g), and 10(k). The Coaching Association of Canada and its NCCP training program provides the gold standard for all community coaching that takes place in all sports in Canada. If your son’s coaches are trained, they have more than likely been trained through NCCP courses designed in cooperation with Baseball Canada. If they have not been trained, then you might talk with the executive at your association about mandating training for all coaches. Most NCCP courses represent only a few hours of evening or weekend commitment, so this is not an unreasonable request.

    2. Hi Savitri!
      I completely agree! Swearing around the kids in regards to coaching is never appropriate. My daughters former travel softball coaches would do that. I knew this, so this mama was always there, at every practice, every game, every everything! Nothing directed at her directly, but she was still intimidated to say the least! But there was negative talk, “I’m disappointed in your performance” type of talk. We ended summer of 2018 with her crying, wanting to quit softball. Long story short, we found a much better team, she’s 12 now, and really looking forward to the 2019 season. Follow your gut, there are great teams out there, dont settle!

  3. 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.

    1. 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,

      1. Hello,
        Is it ok for a coach to grab a player from his shirt and neck if he thinks the player did some thing wrong? If not, how do you handle it ?

        1. Hi Rita,
          I am not clear about the situation you are describing. If the coach sees that the player may be physically endangering others, then the coach may need to physically restrain the player? But it would really depend on the situation. Does the player have a knife? A club? A gun? Is the player hurting or threatening to hurt someone?

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