By Ken Reed

As 2016 approaches, way too many athletes, at all levels — from youth leagues, to high school, to college, to the pro ranks — will go to practices today dreading the fact that they’ll once again have to deal with an abusive coach.

Too many coaches still resort to swearing and verbal abuse. A smaller group, thankfully, still doles out physical abuse. It’s the ol’ “kick ’em in the ass” approach to coaching sports. Think Vince Lombardi and Bobby Knight.

But slowly but surely, parents and athletes, of all ages, are saying enough is enough. Nowhere else in society is this type of “leadership” tolerated. It shouldn’t be tolerated in the sports world either.

In the September 28th issue of Sports Illustrated, Alexander Wolff builds a compelling case against the negative, abusive coach. He starts with the case of Simon Cvijanovic, a former football player at Illinois who documented the abuse he’d received at the hands of former Illinois football coach Tim Beckman on Twitter. Cvijanovic described how Beckman had pressured him to play with knee and shoulder injuries.

“If I’m hurt, I’m hurt,” Cvijanovic tweeted. “I don’t need to be called a pussy to make me make bad decisions for my body.”

For many coaches like Beckman, coaching with fear and intimidation is the only way they know.

“I believe this is a cultural problem,” says Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, which often hears from abused athletes. “A lot of coaches, they were hollered at and abused when they were players.”

And for too many players-turned-coaches the cycle continues.

According to Dr. Ben Tepper, a trained psychologist who works in Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business, “Abusive leadership is two to three times as prevalent in college sports as in the orthodox workplace.” Tepper says this is so despite the research showing that “hostility always produces diminishing returns.”

The reality is there’s a growing mound of research that shows that positive coaching techniques are more effective than traditional negative tactics.

“[I]n terms of bonding, loyalty, commitment to a team or a group and personal development over time, negativity doesn’t work as well as positivity,” says Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a social psychologist at the University of North Carolina.

Despite the numerous examples of negative and abusive coaching that those of us involved in sports are well aware of, we actually are in a cultural shift towards more humanistic coaching styles.

The problem is we need progress to move at a faster pace than what we’re currently seeing.

It’s time for all bullies with clipboards to go.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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