6 Signs Your Son’s Coach Is a Jerk (And a Bully)

How to recognize the difference between a bullying coach and a tough coach

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Perhaps the most difficult situation to deal with is bullying by a youth coach – the very person responsible for your son’s athletic development and advancement. Many times parents do not even realize that their son’s coach is bullying him. Instead, they falsely believe that the coach is just tough or pushes their son to get results.

But bullying in youth sports can have significant consequences. It can impact your son’s health, overall wellbeing, and his interest in the sport.

In fact, many kids have quit playing a sport they once loved simply because the coach was a jerk. Therefore, it’s important to distinguish between a tough coach and one who is a jerk or a bully. Here are six signs that your son’s coach is a bully.

Verbally abuses your son. For instance, a bullying coach will humiliate your son, often in front of others. He also might shout, swear or yell on a consistent basis or make offensive jokes at your son’s expense. Verbally abusive coaches also make snide remarks or offer unfair criticism about your son’s abilities or performance in a game. Meanwhile, a tough coach will offer constructive criticism and direction. He might do it with a stern voice, but the words are never hurtful or shaming.

Intimidates your son or other players on a regular basis. Intimidating behavior might include threatening your son with severe consequences as a way to maintain power and control over him.

It also can include threatening gestures, screaming or making threats to harm him physically when he makes a mistake.

Questions your son’s ability or his commitment to the team. Bullies often make fun of or question a player’s abilities by belittling him. This may be done in private or in front of others.

They also may blame others for losses or mistakes in a game while boasting that their skills as a coach are responsible for good outcomes. And they may question your son’s commitment to the team, especially if your son misses practices due to school commitments or family obligations. Remember though, that even if your son puts in long hours and sacrifices personal time, it still may not be enough for this type of coach.

Undermines or impedes your son’s success. Coaches that bully often set unrealistic goals or guidelines for their teams. Doing so increases the chance for failure. What’s more, this type of coach may bench your son if he knows a scout is coming to watch him or if you have a lot of family at a game. These coaches also may punish your son for mistakes that are not his or bring up past mistakes in order to shift blame for reducing playing time. They also may make it impossible for your son to make a higher level team within the organization.

Talks bad about your son to other coaches or spreads rumors. Bullies often go to great lengths to make others look bad.

As a result, they may gossip with others or spread rumors about your child’s performance, his abilities, your parenting and his future in the sport. The goal is to undermine your son’s success and to maintain control in the situation, especially if you have reported the coach or talked with him about his behavior.

Isolates your son or your family. Bullying coaches also might exclude your son or your family socially. They leave you off party lists and don't include you in team outings, dinners or meetings. They also may schedule practices or other events when they know you have a conflict in your schedule. And they may go so far as refusing to allow your son to attend games or events.

If you are experiencing any of these abuses, it’s important to recognize that this type of bullying, while common, is not a normal part of youth sports. Repetitive verbal abuse, exploitation, name-calling, physical bullying and other activities that repeatedly demean your son or are not only discourteous and wrong but also will eventually take a toll on your child.

Help your child learn to recognize bullying for what it is so that he does not blame himself for someone else’s behavior. Remind him that bullying does not mean there is something wrong with him or that he will never be a good player. Instead, bullying is a choice that is made by the bully.

Additionally, keep the situation in perspective but take steps to protect your son’s self-esteem and health. Also consider filing a complaint with the sport organizers or directors. Doing so may prevent another child from being bullied by this coach.

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