Amy Donaldson: Why do we tolerate abuse in coaching?


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  • BigCity Lehi, UT
    March 14, 2013 3:33 p.m.

    Being an out of stater, and person who had an abusive head coach I can see both sides. At the same time. I have played a lot of basketball in my life. I know that this state is very conservative and is soft in the sense that kids are sheltered from what reality is. I know for a fact that a lot has to do with the search for perfection in many ways. Coaches want perfection but in effort in most cases. But its all about wins and losses. Not value and principle. We have lost life lessons because we have to win to survive. The game is so wrong now. That's why coaches are getting fired. Parents take swearing and make it war against the coach. I'm not saying being abusive is OK, I'm saying that picking out a coaches imperfection is wrong and holds no value. We don't hold players imperfections against them, but we try to teach and reinforce them so they don't occur again. The game has changed and coaches need to adjust to it as well. Holding kids accountable is none existent. The entire state is suffering from this

  • joseywales Park City, UT
    March 13, 2013 2:59 p.m.

    Todays athletes are bigger, faster, stronger no doubt. Benefit of supplements and better access to proper training for sure. Here is a quote from Rick Wolff from Ask Coach Wolff-

    However, I do think a case can made that perhaps kids today, in general, don’t cope as well with adversity as athletes of a generation ago. This theory was supported by a recent survey done of HS football coaches in Georgia by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Overwhelmingly, the coaches reported that kids are too often shielded by their hovering parents, and when it comes to adversity, kids today too often fall back on Mom and Dad when the coach starts to lean on the kids to work harder or practice harder.

    Myth? I think not.

  • Coach P Provo, UT
    March 13, 2013 11:47 a.m.

    I think athletes being softer is a myth. I look at Lone Peak's basketball players and they play as hard as anyone past or present. They worked as hard at their games as anyone past or present, probably more and harder. They play the game as disciplined as they need to get the job done, past or present. But their coach follows the John Wooden model vs. the Bobby Knight model. Lewis doesn't physically or verbally abuse but challenges his players to give their best.

    I think many players often want to know the "why" in what they are doing. Some call this being soft, I view it as part of the journey to truly learn the game.

    I've coached a whole generation and was a decent athlete myself back in the day. I really don't see athletes being any "softer" now than in the days past. They will work as hard and have faith in their coaches as much now as back then if motivated properly. Parents are probably a different matter but back in the day you still had helicopter parents and parents who tried to use their riches to influence coaches decisions.

  • joseywales Park City, UT
    March 13, 2013 10:14 a.m.

    xert- Yes, but that ONE coach as you say, is the one this story is talking about. No doubt that the vast majority of coaches do good with the youth. However, it's that one guy or lady who crosses the line into verbal abuse that muddy the waters. This story isn't about parents who are over protective, it's about coaches who either physically or verbally abuse the student/youth that they are in charge of. If you use the power that comes with coaching as good, then you end up like the guys you talk about, however, if you use it incorrectly you risk damaging a young persons mind, or self image. That is what is intolerable. No doubt that youth today are softer than 20-30 years ago, and much of that comes from helicopter parents. That is why coaches are so important today in my opinion, that is why we can't tolerate the ones who aren't there for the right reasons, or aren't in good moral standing.

  • xert Santa Monica, CA
    March 13, 2013 7:35 a.m.

    Why stop at sports? I also feel that in Marine Corps boot camp (where--lets face it, they are only about a year to a year and a half older than the kids we are talking about)--the Drill Instructors are way too mean and demeaning. Raise your voice if necessary, but raise it with praise and chocolate kisses if the recruit does well. Raise it with a hearty huzzah and popcicles, if they make their bunks correctly and with promises of orange slices and juice boxes if rifles are kept neat and tidy. Prison camps will be much easier to face if the field marine can say, "Staff Sergeant Hebrink tore me down to a quivering mass in the first few days, but then he built me up with 5 compliments for every negative remark. He was more than a boot camp instructor--he was a friend."---In all seriousness, I would be willing to bet that for every coach who "crosses the line" there are about 250 who are loud, passionate, tough and yes--sometimes in their players faces--and who do NOTHING but make kids better and stronger people.

  • eagle Provo, UT
    March 12, 2013 9:29 p.m.

    I remember watching Junction Boys, the story of Bear Bryant's first year year at Texas A & M. He was hard on his players like no other in any era. A lot of the players quit, one nearly died. A father, who was a World War II vet, asked him what he was doing. Bryant said "football is war." I loved what the father said back and it was something like this. "I've been in war, football isn't war." It even made the legendary Bryant take a pause about what he was demanding...

  • mr. loco spanish fork, UT
    March 12, 2013 2:54 p.m.

    I can honestly say that I don't agree with this article. I have lived here for 7 years now and I have never seen kids so protected by their parents. I admit there are some bad coaches out there, but lets not confuse abuse with tough love. I played football in Southern California, and I feel like I had one of the best football coaches in the area. He was not a saint, He liked to yell, cuss, and insult but never did I think he was abusive. I can honestly say that his philosophies helped me to be a better Father, Husband, and Citizen. High School sports is an extension of the classroom and teaches those things that kids can't learn in the class room. I'm sure that every soldier that fought in WW2 is grateful for a coach and pushed them to their limits. All this article did was fuel a fire that parents are building in the area. This is why there is so much coaching turnover in this state. Look at lone peak and other schools, where parents chased out a coach. Toughen Up!

  • Coach P Provo, UT
    March 12, 2013 12:14 p.m.

    First, I think in regards to high school coaches you will see far less abusive behavior than you would from paraprofessionals with certainly some exceptions.

    Second, there is no reason to use the "F" word in any situation as a coach. Again, I won't claim perfection with profanity of a different kind but I think I never directed it at an athlete in jest and certainly not in anger. I think having discipline and tough-minded athletes and teams does not mean one has to be profane. Some coaches I truly admired were Don Holtry and Roger Dupaix. They had disciplined teams, won championships and both men refrained from profanity.

    Third, conditioning is something we did to get better. It should never be used as punishment. When athletes buy into the fact that conditioning is met to get them in physical condition and build mental toughness to have the edge over their opponents, athletes will buy in. They will stop cutting corners etc. When they see it as a punishment with no real higher purpose, then running ladders or laps or whatever loses its effectiveness and athletes will cheat to get out of the work and resent coaches.

  • Small Town Utah Rural, UT
    March 12, 2013 11:39 a.m.

    With all the focus on bullying, why are coaches exempt? We've all been bullied and seen our kids bullied. The worst bullying that I've experienced or seen my kids experience have been by a coach. Coincidently, our win loss records proved that those methods were ineffiective. Too bad there are few Wilbur Braithwaites left in the coaching world.

  • Mr. Moots Salt Lake City, UT
    March 12, 2013 8:35 a.m.

    I played College Football and have coached my kids in baseball, soccer, football, basketball and I have been very observant of my own coaches as well as other coaches, parents, fans along the way.

    We for sure have a problem with coaches who are abusive and on a power trip. Some parents are just as big of a problem.

    There is a big difference in being competitive (which I love) and being combative! There is just way to much hate out there. Some parents are yelling at their little kids more than the coach is. It is way past time to pull back.

    I love how sports can bring out the best in people. I love to see a team come together and rally to win a game and overcome set backs and keep believing. Good coaches are really rare.

    Everyone in support of being abusive to toughen these kids up for the "real" world are buying into the lie that winning is the only thing.

    Half the teams in the world at every level (youth, HS, college, pros) lose everytime a game is played.

    It is time for everyone to demand better behavior of EVERYONE involved in sports!

  • Dennis Harwich, MA
    March 12, 2013 6:08 a.m.

    The English language is diversified enough that profanity can and should be avoided around kids,
    But Amy, were I to compile all your posts together it would seem appropriate to put playground equipment in all school yards, grades 1 through 12, cover everything with 18 inches of padding and put a supervisor at every station to monitor everyone's behavior.
    Your point of view is shared by a lot of people but the "soccer mom" mentality in general doesn't prepare our kids for the real world.

  • markymark HERRIMAN, UT
    March 12, 2013 12:22 a.m.

    Im with mount olympus, Kids and parents are getting soft. Take Bingham for example, they have a no F-bomb rule. But that doesn't mean that its never said by anyone. They try hard and as i have ben around the program I have heard it less there then on any other football team. But thats not saying that emotions start flying and it is never said. But tough coaching is needed in sports. that doesn't mean you need to drop that word all the time but some kids get motivation in different ways. some kids need tough treatment and others don't. That is what makes a good coach is getting the best out of his players. Some tough treatment and some need to be brought along slow. but the ones that need to be brought along slow are usually mentally weak. Ill take the mentally tough kids all day long.

  • Uncle Sam West Jordan, UT
    March 11, 2013 7:29 p.m.

    Mount Olympus, I guess that all depends on what you consider 'tough'.

    If you think being 'tough' is yelling at and demeaning high school kids so that you can 'push them' to their potential, then I don't think you know what the word means.

    Not sure what the point of your post is, because someone who is 'tough' does not need to yell F-bombs at kids!

  • Mount Olympus Salt Lake, UT
    March 11, 2013 6:36 p.m.

    I had a few coaches that pushed us in conditioning. What they did was help us to be in shape so we could perform in the 4th quarter.

    I could see how some may have defined this as abuse, but to me it was just getting the most out of us.

    Football is becoming ridiculous because they are taking out the hitting. Soon it will be ballet.

    Give me a break. People just need to stop being so soft these days. If you can't handle a tough coach then don't play.

  • Rational Salt Lake City, UT
    March 11, 2013 6:10 p.m.

    While I agree with Amy, I would add this:

    Our world is overrun with critics and "experts." If you want the behavior of coaches to improve, become one. Parents expect EVERYTHING of coaches, and give little or nothing themselves (Except frequent backbiting and criticism.) Coaches make nothing or next to nothing in little league and high school, but they sacrifice much.

    As someone who coached for more than a decade I can tell you the players who worked hardest and were best behaved had parents who had coached, and the best parents to work with were parents who were coaches.

    Finally, the f-bomb. Don't use it, and ask others not to, but keep it in perspective. Weigh a coach accidentally occasionally using the f-bomb to the good he or she does. If the good outweighs the f's, have a quiet conversation with that coach that begins with, "I appreciate all you do for the kids. Your sacrifice, caring, dedicating your time and expertise on their behalf. Thank you. May I recommend you refrain from using that word. It offsets some of the good you do. Thanks again."

  • Speak English - USA West Jordan, UT
    March 11, 2013 5:22 p.m.

    I know of situations right now, this very minute, that are pretty ugly with coaches demeaning players verbally. But for some strange reason these individuals are 'protected'. However this new article bringing out the truths about what happened at the U of U should change that moving forward. I would urge parents that know of issues to write e-mails and document their reports, both to the principal and district people in charge. Those principals that choose to 'cover it all up' can be held liable down the road just like what is going to happen at the U of U and what happened at Penn State.

    I know of a case two years ago where a kid took a tape recorder into the locker room and recorded his coach flying "F-bombs" left and right. He took it to the district and school, and they did nothing. This coach continues to coach and his behavior has not changed. This is a case where I think clear documentation in writing will help others down the road that have those same issues.

  • FatMan86 West Jordan, UT
    March 11, 2013 1:33 p.m.

    While I would never in a million years defend mistreatment of a young man or young woman by a coach in any setting, I see other things at work here. We have a culture of entitlement that began when we started awarding trophies to every kid who participated in any athletic competition. This has lead to many parents (and kids) believing that they are entitled to win every time they take the floor or field. When things don't go their way, the overwhelming instinct for parents (and kids) is to assume some sort of victimization at the hands of either officials or coaches. Coaches feel this pressure as well, and may be driven to desperate measures to satisfy their own unrealistic expectations and to satisfy involved parents. Parents and coaches simply have to start doing better in creating the right environment, and having the right expectations for the experience that their kids are having in sports.

  • Thucydides Herriman, UT
    March 11, 2013 12:38 p.m.

    You said it tdwds...

    While I never condone abusive language or behavior from coaches, it's funny how some parents feel they can scream obscenities at officials, cast insults at opposing players, and then claim a coach is verbally and emotionally abusive because he or she pulled little Johnny or Suzie from the game for poor play. Everything is abuse these days.

    Anyone who has been involved in AAU and High School athletics, I mean really been involved, knows that there are certainly some people out there that shouldn't be coaching, but that most of the despicable and abusive behavior comes parents who sadly act the part of their children.

  • JSB Sugar City, ID
    March 11, 2013 12:31 p.m.

    Observing the behavior of the fans, coaches and players changed me from a supporter of athletics to a critic. School athletics are supposed to build character but so often it does the opposite. To spend so much tax money on a program that has so little value is wasteful to the extreme. People complain that the public schools need more money but as long as schools have enough money for football, they shouldn't be asking for more money for their school budget.

  • tdwds South Jordan, UT
    March 11, 2013 12:10 p.m.

    There are a handful of coaches who I've seen can coach without being up in your face and rude to players. Two of those are basketball coaches in 3A and are consistantly competitive, i.e. state champoinships etc. (Wiscome from Morgan, Magnusson from Wasatch to name a few). I've seen more seemingly untalented teams and players excell under that coaching style than any other. So the reality is there is no reason that coaches have to exhibit rude, degrading behavior, there is no place for it.

    Parents who complain about this don't really have a leg to stand on though, when they do the exact same thing from the stands to officials.

  • DC Fan Wx, UT
    March 11, 2013 11:33 a.m.

    Yankee, nice comments, you're right about it being swept under the carpet... you're also right about they are teachers and they take care of their own, cover for each other to the point it's criminal. Each school needs parent advacate committee who hears all complaints first and the coaches have no idea where they come from, next step is it goes to the admin, then to the coaches, this eliminates the cover ups... it's all documented and if a coach keeps getting complaints, everyone knows about it, this committee, the admis, the AD... no more cover ups. The AD's who do the hiring are the ones who get the complaints and they cover their boys.. (or Girls).. the admin sometimes don't get involved. It's a good old boys club gone amuck...

  • yankees27 Heber, Utah
    March 11, 2013 11:03 a.m.

    Some of us don't tolerate it at all, but when it's brought up to a high school principal or administrator, because that coach is usually also a teacher, they don't like dealing with it. So, many times, it's swept under the rug, or dealt with "internally". For many years we tried talking about an assistant coach who would berate the kids, use profanity, and talk about inappropriate things with the boys, but to no avail. The head coach (still there somehow) enabled this guy by letting him get away with it for years. Finally, two seasons ago, it came to a head and the asst. coach lost it and said too much to the wrong guy. He was "allowed to resign" but I'm sick at how many boys were berated, verbally abused, and had their childhood changed forever by someone who should have been dealt with years before.

  • Prep Fan 89 Draper, UT
    March 11, 2013 10:57 a.m.

    In my personal opinion, there is no place for the "F" word in high school sports. It should never ever be said under any circumstance. To me, the "F" word is abusive and should be unacceptable at the high school level.

    Problem is, I can tell you of numerous high schools that tolerate it and worse behavior. So why do we tolerate it and allow our kids to be exposed to this type of demeaning behavior?

  • offenderforaword South Jordan, UT
    March 11, 2013 10:16 a.m.

    A coach shouldn't be abusive, but coaches of competitive teams can't be Namby Pamby.

  • wer South Jordan, UT
    March 10, 2013 10:20 p.m.

    Many good points here, especially about getting the facts about the lack of reaction by the U.

  • Kyle loves BYU/Jazz Provo, UT
    March 10, 2013 9:55 p.m.

    Nice thoughtful article. Also solid comment Coach P. I really like the 5 to 1 ratio. There world would be so much better off if we all stuck to that. I do couples counseling and sadly it seems it's often 5 criticisms to 1 compliment.

    The sports world needs more John Woodens and fewer Bobby Knights. Unfortunately I don't think there will ever be another John Wooden but it would be nice of more coaches tried to emulate him.

  • DC Fan Wx, UT
    March 10, 2013 8:17 p.m.

    Nice job Amy, I think we all should look after the kids, regardless of who is coaching or the AD and admin who hired and therfore are covering for them...they must be held accountable! There are many coaches to choose from, many who are not currently within the education system.. Paraprofessionals I'm speaking of. I'm not suggesting hiring just any teacher to coach, hold them accountable,hire quality coaches and moral descent people who know the game.. The education system is horrible when it comes to hiring and retaining coaches... They cover each other at the expense of the kids! Thanks Amy

  • Frankness TALLAHASSEE, FL
    March 10, 2013 7:54 p.m.

    Really good Amy.

    I played in youth leagues growing up in Utah from age 4 on, soccer, football, wrestling, swimming, and on. I agree with what you've said. Coach needs to have command, no doubt. Beyond that, I had a coach or two that maybe should have lost a license.

    When you talk with such an abusive dude, you read between the lines that the this guy thinks such abuse " leads to raising a thinking child". However, I lost so many would be team mates. Their parents can't stand it. Kids hate practice. Mentoring and encouraging goes much further.

    1) If a kid is out of control, he/she be sidelined discreetly.
    2) Practice is the time condition players; coaches who degrade and snipe in public and during games should be removed.

  • Coach P Provo, UT
    March 10, 2013 7:39 p.m.

    One can coach without being abusive. Raising one's voice does not necessarily define abusive. But personal insults do. I would suggest to all coaches, young and old, focus on the behavior with any constructive criticism and don't go into the realm of abuse or attacking the personal attributes. There is a difference in saying "You're an idiot," vs. "That wasn't a smart play or decision."

    I'm too am real sick of college coaches in particular who have gone into outright berating players during games and in a couple of cases putting their hands on their players getting physically abusive.

    I would also ask parents and even players to give coaches some benefit of the doubt. Sometimes a coach does say things which are out of character. One must look for a pattern of behavior. Again, coaches, me included, have said things we often regret. But again look for a pattern and if a coach does it a lot, be concerned.

    I also believe in the five to one ratio as a coach. Say five positive things to every criticism, even if the criticism is gently stated. People tend to internalize negative feedback, especially children.