When Does Coaching Cross the Line?



So you want a tough coach?  But how tough can a coach be without crossing the line?  Far too often you hear stories of hazing and bulling in sports.  We want our players to be tough. We want our teams to play tough, but coaches often have to tow the line of sensitivity if they don’t want to be perceived as a bully or worst, abusive.

Sports can conjure up the highest of emotions.  On every sport team you can find young athletes  in groups of 20 or more energetic and emotionally riled  from the time they step on the field until the final whistle blows.  It can be quite a challenge to channel the energies of so many at one time.  We often hear of how parents can get flustered and upset at the mistakes made by their young athletes learning the game.  But what about the coach?  Is it okay for a coach to blow his top, yell, scream or use physical force?

In extreme cases, we’ve heard of how coaches use practice and exercise as a form of discipline when building the character and physical endurance of a team.  From carrying bricks, running hours of practice without a water break, and physically striking athletes, we have all heard the stories that can lead to questionable concerns about coaching and its effects on the psychiatric development of youth. Even verbal abuse can outwardly identified at all levels of sports.

In a recent study by the University of Missouri, The Sport Behavior of Youth, Parents, and Coaches, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, 2005 that surveyed 800 youth between the ages of 9 and 15.

  • 48% of youth (compared to 42% of coaches) reported that the coach angrily argued with a sport official
  • 35% of youth (compared to 36% of coaches) indicated that the coach had angrily yelled at a player for making a mistake; and
  • 26% of youth, but only 10%  reported that the coach encouraged “getting back” at an opponent. “Getting back” was the behavior with the highest rate of self-report by the youth.


Not to make the coach seem like the bad guy, but  the results of this study shows that there is an alarming number behavioral concerns from coaches that can lead to other problems in youth sports.  The study further finds that 4% said the coach had hit, kicked or slapped someone on the team.

Discipline is a word that can mean many different things in sports, but physical and verbal abuse is not one of them.  When discipline is used correctly in the best manner for positive play, it can contribute to an engaging experience that everyone can learn and enjoy.

Discipline starts with first controlling your personal behavior.  From the players, to parents, fans and team, it takes everyone involved to keep sports free from bullying and abuse.

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