Protecting Athletes From Bully Coaches

Youth Sports Psychology

Bully Coaches in Youth Sports

What’s the biggest complaint we get from sports parents?

Bully coaches. These are coaches who scream at, intimidate, harass or scare young athletes—usually in the name of motivating them to perform better.

Read on to learn about how to protect your kids from being hurt by coaches. You’ll also learn what to do if your kids have been harassed, threatened, put down, screamed at or physically harmed by a coach.

“My daughter was bullied relentlessly on her high school gymnastics team by her coach,” says one sports parent. “She was screamed at in front of her entire team after every meet, called names, criticized for everything, including how she talked, how she looked, what she wore. She was hanged in effigy.”

“I want to know how I should handle a coach who teaches in a very negative way,” writes another sports 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.”

In some cases, kids quit sports altogether because they’ve been bullied by a coach. Sometimes they don’t explain to their parents why they’re quitting. That’s because they’re embarrassed.

But that’s not the only problem. Kids who are bullied by coaches often feel their confidence sink, worry more, are afraid of making mistakes, perform poorly and experience lower self- esteem.

Often, bullied kids think there’s something wrong with them. That’s one of the reasons they don’t always tell their parents what’s going on. They think it’s their fault that the coach is attacking them.

Here’s the good news: As parents, there is lots you can do. First, you can choose coaches who don’t bully. Do that by checking out a coach before you place your child on a team.

Watch a few practices. Talk to other parents. Does the coach put kids down, yell at them, or give more negative feedback than positive? Do the kids like the coach? If you uncover a bully coach, keep looking for another team.

If your kids are already on a team, watch for signs that they are being bullied. They may feel anxious before practices and games. They may act as if they’re afraid of doing something wrong in front of the coach. They may try to avoid going to practice or games. Or they may say they want to quit altogether. They may tell you outright that they don’t like the coach. Be sure to listen to their concerns.

If the coach is the only game in town, and you decide to keep your kids on the team, you can help your kids use sports psychology strategies to boost their confidence levels.

Help them focus on their game–not on what the coach says to them. Help them “stay in the moment” by creating small, manageable goals that they can focus on.

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The Focused Sports Kid

Are your young athletes easily distracted by people shouting on the sidelines? Do they obsess over their mistakes? Do they worry about what people think of them?

These issues will cause their concentration and performance to suffer!The Focused Sports Kid helps kids overcome distractions that can hurt their performance in sports.

The Focused Sports Kid program is actually two programs: one for sports parents/coaches that provides mental game tips especially designed for parents and coaches, and for young athletes, ages 8 to 12, that will walk them through 7 simple lessons in mental focus in sports.

5 thoughts on “Protecting Athletes From Bully Coaches”

  1. Patrick, you make such a critical point here. Parents should carefully check out a coach BEFORE placing their child on a team. Bully coaches should be avoided at all cost! They not only do great harm to a child’s overall self-confidence, but if you place your child in a program with a bully coach, consider the values you are implying to your child by making this decision. It is so worth the research time to find a coach who will inspire and lead your child to be a better athlete and a better person.

  2. Why should any town tolerate a bully in such a visible position? Perhaps I am missing this, because I haven’t seen your complete materials, but, while it is extremely valuable to teach children to cope with bad relationships, shouldn’t we also teach children that they don’t have to stay in them? If an abusive coach is “the only game in town,” time to get him or her fired and recruit someone who cares more about the team’s success than his or her own power trip. Better yet, encourage the coach to get counseling so that the abusive behavior can end. Standing up to a facing the problem is a far better lesson than “keep your head down and try to survive.” Why privilege the abuser over the best interests of an entire team of children?

  3. Your article is great and gives all sorts of advice on how to handle an abusive coach, but when it’s a high school coach, that’s the only coach you have. My daughter and her teammates have already gone through a sexual molestation case and now we have an insidious woman who verbally and mentally abuses these girls and tears their confidence down and makes them cry in order to motivate them? My husband and I both played youth sports all the way through college and NEVER did a coach abuse us in this way! I even had the “Bobby Knight” of women basketball coaches and she is a sweetheart compared to this coach our team is dealing with. We have filed a grievance against our coach and the school administration has admitted to her violations of codes of conduct and bullying/harassment and yet they still want to just slap her onthe hand and take bullying classes and get a HS coaching certification! Really? We have had 4 suicides at our school in the past 3 years due to bullying and our administration is going to allow a coach/teacher to bully our daughters? What gives? Isn’t there any laws that can protect our team? Is it going to have to take someone to commit suicide to open their eyes? Our administration finally opened their eyes after the previous coach finally sexually molested one of our varsity players even after there were many complaints about him! Why do our kids have to “deal” with the abusive coach? Why doesn’t the administration just get rid of the coach?

  4. Our two daughters were bullied by their High School Dance Team coach. The worst of the bullying occurred after the Principal forwarded our emails of concern onto the coach. The coach retaliated against us by bullying our daughters. Our oldest daughter was a Special Needs student and was bullied the worst.

    We took our concerns to the Superintendent and even the Town Board of Education, but we were not taken seriously. Our complaints and concerns went unanswered as we were told the matter was a “personnel” matter and therefore could not be discussed. The bullying got worse when we hired an attorney. Having legal representation only made the school become more agitated and annoyed with us.

    Only through Freedom of Information Act requests and obtaining correspondences, including emails, of all school personnel involved did we discover the conspiracy and willful effort to deny our claims. A quote from one email written by the Superintendent to the Principal states, “If we continue to refute all allegations then we will shatter the accusations that come in from those parties who are trying to make things such a big deal. Hang in there…” We attempted to speak before the Town Board of Education and were denied to speak freely. A letter written to us by the Superintendent states, “If in the future if you plan to speak at another board meeting during public participation, please refrain from any accusations or allegations against personnel. It is against the board’s policy.” The efforts by the Town, the School and its employees involved to dismiss our claims were very strong, at times we felt powerless but it only made us stronger in other ways. Our attorney was most surprised by the schools lack of concern and unwillingness to resolve the situation.

    We have presented our case to the State Board Of Education Special Education Division over nine day’s of Hearings. The facts determined by the Hearing Officer was that there were “outrageous acts of bullying” by the coach and that the Board “failed to appropriately reprimand” the coach, “and in fact, the Board acquiesced in the bullying by demoting the Student and supporting the advisor’s outrageous behavior”.

    The Hearing Officer found that my oldest daughters Civil Rights were violated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The school has sought to appeal this decision and we are currently awaiting trial in Federal Court. The local News channel recently covered the story and can be seen on at,

    For all those parents that find it too difficult to fight city hall, don’t give up for what you believe in. In the end, justice will prevail and the findings will benefit all of us by forcing schools to be responsible and accountable for their actions, or in our situation, lack of actions.

  5. These bully coaches also bully other coaches, volunteers, that is, other adults. Let’s also not forget the impact on trying to keep these events running.

    I wish I knew why those in authority keep the bullies in their positions and support them. In the matter of the Dance Team coach above, those ridiculous Facebook photos should have been enough for immediate dismissal and denial of employment at any other school.

    Young women should not have coaches who think that being a publicly drunk “sex symbol” is some sort of OK achievement after high school because “everyone else does it.” We should want our female athletes to strive for goals like ihard work, talent, intelligence, athleticism, etc.

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