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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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