The Consequences of Verbally Abusive Athletic Coaches
My 10-year-old son was bullied recently. He was told that he was an “embarrassment.” He was told to “shut up.” He was yelled at and scolded in a tone of voice tinged with disgust and disdain. He was told he would be punished for any mistakes he or his peers made in the future.
Surprisingly, this didn’t happen at school. The bully wasn’t even a peer of his. The bully was his swim coach, a young lady of perhaps 26. She was desperately trying to motivate her swimmers to swim fast in the big meet the next day. And this was her attempt at motivation.
In speaking to the lady in charge of the coaches on this swim team, it quickly became apparent that this type of “incentive” was not only okay with her, it was actually encouraged. She said that 9- and 10-year-old boys were “squirrelly” and “needed to be taken down a notch.” She was in full support of her coaches yelling at, embarrassing and insulting young children to motivate them to swim faster. “That’s just the way swimming is,” she said. Had I not spent 12 years of my childhood swimming competitively, I may have believed her.
How Do I Know if My Coach Is a Bully?
To determine if a coach is a bully, you must first know what bullying behavior looks and feels like.
Bullying is aggressive behavior that occurs repeatedly over time in a relationship where there is an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying can take many forms, including physical violence, verbal abuse, social manipulation and attacks on property. Physical violence is not usually a component of a coaching relationship. If your coach is physically violent with an athlete, call the authorities.
Verbal and emotional abuse is much more common in athletics. It can lead to severe and long-lasting effects on the athlete’s social and emotional development. In a world where “more is better” in terms of training and “no pain means no gain,” there is a great deal of machismo in coaches. Most coaches coach the same way that they were coached while playing the sport growing up. This means that many coaches are still operating as if the training methods used in the Soviet Union in the 1970s are state of the art. “Ve vill deprive you of food until you win gold medal.” Central to this old school mindset is the idea that threat, intimidation, fear, guilt, shame, and name-calling are all viable ways to push athletes to excel.
News flash: None of these is a worthwhile motivator for anyone. These are the bricks which line the road paved to burnout, rebellion and hatred of a once-loved sport.