The Consequences of Verbally Abusive Athletic Coaches
So What? A Little Yelling Never Hurt Anyone
The old school of thought was along the lines of the nursery school rhyme “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The old school of thought was that a little yelling at players will “toughen them up and prepare them for real life.” Fortunately, we now know better.
A 2003 study by Dr. Stephen Joseph at University of Warwick found that “verbal abuse can have more impact upon victims’ self-worth than physical attacks, such as punching…stealing or the destruction of belongings.” Verbal attacks such as name-calling and humiliation can negatively affect self-worth to a dramatic degree. Rather than helping them to “toughen up,” 33 percent of verbally abused children suffer from significant levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is the same disorder that haunts many war veterans and victims of violent assault.
A 2005 UCLA study demonstrated that there is no such thing as “harmless name-calling.” The study, by Jaana Juvonen, Ph.D. found that those 6th graders who had been victimized felt humiliated, anxious, angry and disliked school more. What’s more, the students who merely observed another student being bullied reported more anxiety and disliked school to a greater degree than those who did not witness any bullying.
The major lesson here is that the more a child is bullied, or observes bullying, in a particular environment, the more they dislike being in that environment. So any bullying done by coaches will virtually guarantee a victim’s hasty exit from the sport.
A 2007 Penn State study found that the trauma endured by bullied children results in physical changes. The study, performed by JoLynn Carney, found that levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, were elevated in the saliva both of children who had been bullied recently and in those children who were anticipating being bullied in the near future. Ironically, when cortisol levels spike, our ability to think clearly, learn or remember goes right out the window. So those coaches who rely on fear and intimidation ensure their athletes won’t recall any of what they said while they are ranting and raving.
Repeated exposure to such stressful events has been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, greater chance of injury, chronic pelvic pain, and PTSD.
Anxiety appears to be the most dangerous aspect of bullying for the victim. The anxiety stays with the victim and fuels deep internal beliefs such as “the world is a dangerous place in which to live” and “other people cannot be trusted.” As demonstrated in Martin Seligman’s work, such core beliefs lay at the heart of depression. Thus, bullying is directly linked to trauma and anxiety and indirectly linked to depression and higher cortisol levels.