Unfair Coaches Bullying Coaches

Unfair Coaches.  Bullying coaches.

Unfair coaches.  Bullying coaches.  Coaching at the youth level… and specifically I mean UNFAIR coaches; BAD coaches; BULLYING coaches …  at the youth level is by far and away the most volatile and incendiary (the definition of incendiary by the way is “a device designed to start FIRES) aspect of youth sports.  From what I have observed in nearly thirty years of teaching youth athletics and coaching individual and team sports and perhaps most importantly, from working as a mental toughness trainer with individual youngsters, NOTHING ELSE comes in even as high as tenth place in terms of issues affecting the young players.  It is quite literally, as the kids say… “the bomb.”

How do sports parents and the young players themselves deal with it?  How should they respond to it?


Sounds like a good name for a horror movie!!!  Cue up the spooky music.

Why are you and your family doing this … participating in youth sports … in the first place?

Your family (and trust me … it IS MOST DEFINITELY a “family” activity) are in it for the purpose; at least in the beginning; of having some good old fashioned “family fun”.  You load up the family wagon with everybody except the cat and head out to the local park.  Your son/daughter runs off to join his/her team and you settle in, have a hot dog and a soda and await the game.  It starts and … uh, where’s Johnny/Suzie?  Oh uh, there they are …  on the bench.  Well; you shrug your shoulders; okay, he/she’s young.  However … you look up and suddenly it’s the fifth inning and your son or daughter has still not sniffed the field but wait, the team has a seven run  lead (that’s cool) and here he/she comes up to the plate.  You jump up and down; holler encouragement and wave but … oops!!!

Strike three!!!

Gosh that looked waaaaaay outside; like a foot … or more but, oh well.  “Next time” you holler out  except …

… your son/daughter is walking back toward the dugout and … what’s this?  The coach is YELLING.  Your child sits down with chin on chest and when the team comes out for the field your son /daughter is nowhere to be found.

After the game your child TRUDGES to the car and doesn’t want to look up.

“What’s the matter?”, you ask.

“You let your team down?”  You choke back about ten pounds of emotion.  Your child is ten.  What is this coach thinking about?

It gets worse. Next game your child doesn’t even get INTO the game.  Third game your child doesn’t WANT to GO to the game.  What should you do?  Should you speak to the coach?  The league?

Hmmmm … !!!

True story coming up and quite honestly in hindsight I am more embarassed than proud of my behavior even though it MAY have been appropriate.  I probably should have handled it differently but …

I was at my own son’s 9/10 team game.  Pitcher threw the ball, my son ducked, but PLOP!!! (it was going about 30 MPH) it hit him on the helmet and the umpire (I think he was fourteen years old) gave him first base.  As my son trotted down to first base the opposing manager SPRINTED out of the dugout and started bellowing bawling like a wounded hippopotamus.

“The kid didn’t duck.  The kid didn’t duck.”  He was in the umpire’s face; screaming and yelling.

Everyone was embarassed.  This all went on for a few minutes before I stood up.  I wasn’t even angry.  I mean what the hell, you don’t get angry at clowns.  You laugh at them.  I DID NOT yell or even raise my voice.

“Hey …” I gestured.  He looked over.  “Pal … you’re out of line.”

“Who are you?”  he screamed.

“I’m the boy’s father …” I shrugged.  “He got hit in the head and you didn’t even ask if he was all right.  You’re screaming and yelling about a “hit by pitch” at a ten year old baseball game.”  I paused and cocked an eyebrow.   “And you’re embarassing yourself … in front of all these people who camet to watch their kids play a baseball game”

He motioned to walk over.  I held up a hand to stop him.  “I’ll tell you what …”  I pointed past the infield.  “I’ve got a bucket of whiffle balls in my truck.  Let’s go over to the field behind right field and I’ll throw them … UNDERHAND … and see if YOU can hit.”  I nodded  “Hit even one and I’ll give you a hundred bucks.”

He stopped, considered it a moment and then turned and strode back to the dugout.

Incident over but the question remains; How did this guy become a coach.  Believe me, they can and do and it gets really really bad.

Gary Leland’s Fastpitch.tv  network published an article by a gentleman named Mitch Alexander on coaching certification which had some really unsettling statistics on coachin: https://fastpitch.tv/youth-sports-coaching-certification

Over 45% of kids surveyed said they have been called names, yelled at, or insulted by coaches

21 % were forced to play with an injury

Over 1 7 % said they were hit, kicked, or slapped by their coach

Over 65% of kids surveyed said they play sports to be with their friends

Winning is not very important to kids

70% of kids drop out of sports by age 13

Half of the top six reasons kids quit sports involved the coach: played favorites, poor teacher, or don’t like the coach

Bullying is of course bad enough.  It is an enormous problem in our schools and on our playgrounds.  As a mental toughness trainer I deal with it constantly but … when you find unfair coaches and bulling coaches, it needs to be discussed and dealt with.   Let’s BEGIN with an objective and intelligent discussion about “why”.


Why are there so many unfair coaches  and bullying coaches in youth sports?

You know what and who we’re talking about here; all those teeth-grinding maniacs that prowl the sidelines of the Little League and the Pee Wee Football games believing that they are the reincarnation of Bear Bryant or Billy Martin. You also see it with basketball coaches, athletic directors, volleyball coaches, soccer coaches, youth coaches, varsity coaches …

Here is the whole article on Gary Leland’s fastpitch.tv network recently with the truly disturbing statistics about unfair and bullying youth coaches and the issues of certification.

Youth Sports Coaching Certification


Even the seemingly nice head coach can be an unfair coach; a bullying coach in disguise.  He’s the guy that runs the team and rambles on about what a “great guy” he is (He was so busy patting himself on the back, I heard that he tore his rotator cuff last year) and how he’s there “for the kids” but, oh by the way, his  son starts on the mound every game, pitches for three innings and plays shortstop and bats third every single inning of every game and has made the all star team for three years in a row even though …  well, let’s just politely acknowledge that there are other players who are equally deserving.

We all know them and have probably dealt with them and by the way, just WHERE is a good psychiatrist when you need one?  “SHRINKS R US”.  Now THERE’s a business idea!!!  You could set up a booth at all the kids’ games.  Hot dogs.  Pretzels.  Popcorn.  Soda and … THERAPY!!!

It could be an app on your phone like calling for an Uber … “SHRINKS ON DEMAND.”

Whenever a coach gets out of line you can just pull out your phone and …  well, you get it.  I don’t even want the shrink to work with the bad coach.  I just want him to be stuffed into a burlap sack and carted away.

What a great idea.  I’m calling my attorney first thing in the morning.  I’m seeing a need here.  I’m visualizing demand.  I’m seeing … dare I say it … “FRANCHISES!!!”

Okay … deep breath.  Again; let’s start with … “why”.


Why does the phenomenon of bullying behaviors and unfair coaching even EXIST?

Consider for a moment that this is an environment and activity which has especially and specifically been DESIGNED (supposedly) for children; for their enjoyment, for their health and fitness and for their “education” in the form of the valuable “life lessons” concerning work ethics, team work, goal setting, etc.  Again, I repeat: … “an environment and activity … specifically designed for our CHILDREN; our most precious resource as parents and as a society.

Actually I believe that the “why” is fairly easy to discern.  The “why” relates to three things: (a – “self image / self worth / self esteem” (b – the adult/kid thing and (c – the parent thing.

We live in a society which is ASTONISHINGLYand even BRUTALLY competitive; a culture wherein self worth is NOT measured according to a person’s “intrinsic value” as a human being but in how well they COMPETE against others.  Oh, and as a footnote; just to make things worse; our culture also possesses a “win or lose” perspective so it is NOT even the competition.  It is whether you “win” or “lose” PERIOD.  No, no, no … none of that “… how well you played the game stuff” and, if you DON’T win, the perception is that you are a … LOSER.


Don’t blame me.  I didn’t make the rules.  I don’t even live  here.  I’m just passin’ through.

Therefore a person’s value; his/her “status” in the society (and we are talking not only about children here … but the adults as well the parents) is measured by how they “rank” in competition … or in the case of adults; how they “ranked” in the past.

Did you win?

Were you dominant?

How about your children?  Is your son/daughter any good?

They’re not?  Then you must not be a good parent.  Certainly not as good as the parent of a talented player.

Even though the “it’s all about the kids thing” gets a lot of lip service; it really becomes ALL about the ADULTS.

Sadly this is especially true in YOUTH sports.  Why?  Because sport, be it youth sports, school sports, pro sports, is incredibly (and hopelessly disproportionately) important to all of us and also probably not as well managed and administrated as it should be.  It turns into a PARENTING CONTEST.

I swear sometimes that I am going to be walking past the television at some point (I pray that it’s later rather than sooner and never would be the best) and overhear a newscaster declare that; “North Korea invades Hawaii, Tsunami completely destroys Japan and, at half time, the Patriots are leading Dallas by three points.”  Pause for dramatic effect and then …   “Details and video on the football game right after this commercial break.”

Out of control, no?


An individual child can be incredibly sweet, kind, intelligent, disciplined, and responsible; a great student, an aspiring artist, musician, etc., etc., etc. but the (loaded) question remains … (and tune up the music again; apprehensive and foreboding this time for … JUDGEMENT awaits) …

“Can he/she play SPORTS?”


Worse with adults (supposed role models).  Worse because theirs are “PAST” glories; either real or imagined (or inflated and lied about).  Even adults with success in other fields and interests; the proverbial doctors,  lawyers, and Indian chiefs somehow get caught up in the  incredibly superficial “pecking order” imposed on athletic fields and they can transform into an unfair coach or a bully coach.

Hence the creation of the bad coach, the bullying coach, the unfair coach; the person (usually of course a man) who feels somehow that the purpose of his job; even though it’s at the youth sports level … is to WIN … and often “at all costs; an approach and attitude with INEVITABLYproblems; especially in dealing with children … and their parents.

The next ingredient thrown into this “witches’ brew” is the adult/kid thing; the “parent/child” thing; specifically … before we even get to “behavioral” issues .. the IMPOSITION OF ADULT STANDARDS ON CHILDHOOD BEHAVIOR.

Here is where it really gets “nuts, nuts, nuts”!!!  Tens of thousands of dollars for equipment, traveling teams, tournaments and private lessons and … (again  with the music; now truly evil and ominous): UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS!!!

It becomes a parenting contest rather than a sporting event for kids; especially tough in games requiring detailed “skills” more than size, speed, strength; games like baseball, golf, or tennis for example.

Let’s start with a simple truth; a truth based on physical, biological fact.  Children are in a DEVELOPMENTAL state.  They are NOT adults.

This is why they CANNOT flourish and more importantly why they cannot (here’s a very important word); DEVELOP in an youth environment with ADULT standards for achievement.

Important note:  Adults ARE fully developed.  Children are NOT fully developed. Children are DEVELOPING.

Frankly I have seen this in measures that are grotesque to me; particularly involving physical and performance demands that are a precursor for injury; stress, burnout.  Shoulder and elbow surgeries up 300% over last two years.  75% of children drop out of sports they loved, by the time they are 13 – 14 years old.

SHAME ON ALL THESE PEOPLE!!!  Especially if they are motivated by money.

An easy and obvious solution for these issues is for the governing bodies of these sports to institute CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS. Programs which would REQUIRE coaches to become “qualified” through education that includes (moderately important … I’m being sarcastic here)  issues such as  positive coaching styles, defining physical and emotional abuse, bullying in sports , and finally how to TEACH the game in an age and skill level appropriate manner; i.e. (kids can’t perform like adults) and equally important … how to deal appropriately with players and parents.

Amazingly many European countries require education and certification in team and individual sports as diverse as soccer and Equestrian events.

About time we followed.

Although there is plenty of discussion and some movement on this solution it is not likely to occur soon so let’s start with suggestions and considerations as to how we can deal with these issues as parents of our individual children when we have a problem with sports coaches.

Do not be afraid or unwilling to approach this (unfair or bullying) coach with a question or issue.

It is part of the coach’s job to INFORM both the kids and the parents; especially if the activity is part of a school; i.e. “educational” program.

It is always amazing to me when coaches at all levels do NOT talk to their players.  When I have coached I have always acknowledged both players and the parents that I WILL not only inform them of my decisions (including the reasons “why”).  I also acknowledge that I WILL make mistakes and will own up to them.  The mistakes are “human”.  The mistakes are certainly not by intention or design and never meant to hurt a player.  Seen in this light, almost any and every decision is acceptable.  Players feel that they are being treated openly, honestly, and fairly.

The player knows the reason why he/she is being handled in a certainly and can respond and the decision can be adjusted in the future.


“Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Johnny, I want you to know that I am batting Johnny down in the order because, although he has not gotten a hit for a couple games, he is making contact and I want to set that position in the batting order come up as a second “lead off”.  Johnny can help us move runners even if he is not getting hits.  This way he can take the pressure off himself to get hits, keep working on getting “better” contact and still do the job for me and the team.  When the ball starts to fall in for him, I’ll move him up in the order.

Approach the coach with a calm and open mind and listen to and acknowledge his/her INTENTION.

Coaching at the youth level is NOT easy.  I have had several instances in my own life when I openly stated that it was my intention to “develop” players; would divide playing time equally, etc. and parents were STILL not happy.  Some wanted only to win.

Again; the truth is that “development of talent” should be the goals.  Even good players are not being denied under such a scheme for the hard reality is that, “just because you’re good at 12 years old does not mean you’re going to the big leagues so … take a deep breath and consider his/her response to your question.  Does he have a point?  Perhaps your son or daughter does indeed need some work on an aspect of his/her game.  The goal of youth sports should be to “develop” skills NOT win games however, inevitably this is a conflict.  It is my observation (and supported) by research that children want to play more than they want to win.  PARENTS WANT TO WIN.  This needs to change.


“Mr. and Mrs. Jones, I want you to know that I realize that Bobby is not getting a lot of playing time at the moment.  It is my goal to be fair and divide the time equally but he is having a LOT of trouble with his defense to the point where I observe that it is starting to affect him.  He plays as if he is scared rather than having fun and being aggressive.  He is still going to get his time and I have offered to work with him a couple times this week to get him “up to speed.”  I would like you to come as well so I can give you some “drills” to work on with him at home.

 Consider the level of competition

Certain coaching techniques that are applicable at certain levels are NOT applicable at others.  A coach who consistently yells at the players may work for SOME “upper level” competitors but is NOT going to work for a youth level performer where “learning” is the priority.

Really analyze the situation with the unfair or bullying coach.

Is this an issue that you son/daughter can adjust to or fix.  Is this really about fairness and bad coaching or is it just because you or your child is not getting “your way”.  If you have questions, get your emotions under control and sit down with a professional (see below) and get an objective opinion.  If, in the end, this team is not a good “fit” for your son or daughter, ask the league or the academy/training facility if you can make a change.  If you are denied, sit out.  Most competitive youth sports have competitions nearly year round.  Don’t be afraid to sit down and work out at home on your own until the  next competitive season rolls around.  At worst it will be a few months before another opportunity comes up and quite honestly your child will probably get more “repetitions” at home than they would at practice or games and just may benefit and improve away from competition for a bit of time.

Consider the rules of competition and the intention of the league.

Youth levels of competition are very hard to organize and manage.  Quite honestly, through no fault of anybody, there may be literally hundreds of children; all at very different stages of maturity and physical development.  It is very very difficult to serve the educational/developmental needs of all those child athletes, keep the parents (and their perceptions) all satisfied and manage fields and umpires and judges and on and on and on.

The best (read better financed) leagues and competitions will try to meet this problem by setting up different levels which more truthfully accommodate the players’ levels and be able to offer equitable competition. They may even have a coaching certification process in place.

Consider teammates and parents and consider your own own and your child’s aspirations.

It’s great to be able to go to work and brag about your child but does the situation really fit his/her interests or aspiration.  Maybe YOU want to be able to tell your friends and coworkers that he/she is great but is that what your CHILD wants.  I have one son who has a doctorate in math; another with two master’s degrees who is one of the youngest academic administrators in the state.  (He is vice principal at a very prominent high school)  The third had a full scholarship for music.

What?  No baseball players?

I’m so ashamed.  (Joking of course.  I’m proud as hell)

Find the level of play that serves THEIR interest.

Fun first.

Consider development and projection.

Development is always the key.  The conflict is always pairing off “being challenged” vs. “growing confidence”.

All of these issues form an excellent “checklist” to consider BEFORE rushing in to a headlong fight with a head coach assistant coach or coaching staff. Acting with calm intelligence rather a knee jerk response generated out of  anger; even in the face of  behavior that is truly egregious is ALWAYS the best response.

Consider getting the advice of an honest professional

Remember, when we are angry or upset we tend to seek out someone who will AGREE with us; someone to vent our anger on, “justify”our position and “validate” that  anger and other emotions.

Great!!!  (And I sincerely mean it) Venting your anger and confusion and frustration as a parent may be entirely justified and having a sounding board for your wrath (and all else that is bothering you) may indeed make you feel great but … it does not necessarily fix the problem(s) … most importantly … for your child.

As a mental toughness trainer who is also a full time baseball professional; strength and conditioning and speed coach, I get asked to consult in this manner very often.   Having no issue or motive other than objectively trying to find what is best for the client makes it easy to help.  All of the issues factoring into the equation (stated herein) need to be observed and dealt with objectively in order to find the best possible solution for the student athlete.

By all means, get help if you need it.

Be a PARENT first.  Be a SPORTS PARENT second.

Most important of all you set an EXAMPLE for your child for correct responses to life’s challenges.  Keep in mind that this WILL NOT  be the only time they will be confronted with unfairness and you are equipping them with proper ways to respond and deal with it.

Set an example as a human being.  Be a parent first; a sports parent second; a sports parent dealing with a bullying coach … third.

The process works when you work the process.

“If you are struggling with a performance issue that just isn’t responding to instruction and hard work, then call me now and let’s fix it. I’ve got a systematic process that takes care of any interference you have to your ultimate performance potential that you have seen short bursts of…and want to see it show up consistently! Call me or email me right now while you’re thinking of it!”

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