By Ken Reed

We’ve been writing about the problem of abusive coaching in sports for a long time. (See “When Will Abusive Coaches Finally Be Kicked Out of Sports?” and “Old-School Coaching Model Needs to Be Mothballed”) While the old-school Vince Lombardi/Bobby Knight coaching approach is less prevalent today it’s still a widespread problem.

Nowhere else in society, is screaming, belittling, demeaning and abusive behavior by leaders seen as normal and acceptable. And it starts at the youth sports level.

Many athletes begin to be conditioned to accept abusive behavior at a very early age in their youth sports careers. By the time they get to high school and college they are used to controlling coaches screaming in their ears after every perceived mistake. They also learn that in order to be considered “tough” they have to play hurt.

Abusive behavior goes beyond the physical to include verbal and emotional abuse. Much has been written about the mental health crisis in college athletics these days, including a rash of suicides this year. It’s an important issue. It’s also important to realize that abusive coaching can spur and exacerbate feelings of insecurity, anxiety and depression.

The University of Texas’ Abigail Hazlett, who researches intimate partner violence, said the normalization of abusive coaching contributes to abused athletes becoming abusive coaches themselves. Abuse, she says, “has lasting impacts. It actually can rewire and change your brain. When we have normalized being treated horribly or those dynamics, I think it becomes easier for us to start treating other people like that.”

And the cycle continues.

It’s a shameful stain on our society that so many abusive coaches are still active in 2022, from the youth level to the pros.

The great author James Michener, who wrote Sports in America, said coaches in the United States get away with forms of discipline that simply aren’t tolerated in any other activity.

Why are they tolerated in sports?

That’s a question that needs to be constantly asked by sports stakeholders until the abusive coaching model is extinct.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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