Kate Roberts Ph.D.

Savvy Parenting

Advice for Parents of Competitive Athletes

When a competitive coach threatens a child’s love for a sport, parents can help.

Posted Jun 25, 2014

As a society and culture, we are undecided as to whether coaches need to be bullies in order to motivate athletes. A recent example of this is the success of the Esquire channel reality television show Friday Night Tykes. The program is highly successful with viewers, as it showcases the coaches’ brutality of child football players who appear conditioned to relish in the humiliation tactics as a way to gain approval of their parents and coaches. Recently, two coaches have been suspended from the league, but the show goes on. This, despite a request from Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to pull the show down because of concern that it’s glorifying violence among young athletes at the time there’s growing concerns about concussions in athletes. In contrast to the Senator’s concerns, Brian Morgan, the Texas Youth Football Association League President emphasized recently that local parents are not protesting the show, and in fact, many other football teams are reaching out and trying to create similar leagues to the Texas Youth Football League.

Here are 5 considerations for parents of children involved in competitive sports at any age.

1. A child’s attitude changes towards the once loved sport including withdrawal, lack of communication, apathy, disinterest in a sport once loved, fear, avoidance of authority, and overall apathy are signs that a he or she may be bullied by an overzealous coach.

2. If these behaviors are present, parents need to become informed by attending sports practices, and talking with other parents or people that are involved with their child’s sport. When addressing their concerns with kids, parents should be sensitive to kids’ denial and reluctance to address these types of issues head on. Parents can ask general questions such as “Does Coach Bob seem tense during practice and if so, how?”

3. Parents need to probe and not leave any stone unturned when they are concerned that their child is at risk for being bullied by a coach. If parents cannot access the information by asking directly, then they need to talk to a professional who can help.

4. When the child is not an adult, parents need to confront the coach and authorities if they believe their child is being mistreated by their coach. Parents should provide those adults with the parameters of acceptable behavior towards their child. And if the adults can’t comply with the guidelines of acceptable behavior, then parents need limit the contact between those adults and their child.

5. When parenting an adult athlete like a college student who is being coached by an alleged bullying coach, parents need to support their child in making a decision about how to proceed. Coaches who use an intimidation style with adult athletes report they are doing it in the interest of winning the game in an attempt to instill motivation in their players. It doesn’t work for every player and parents can help their child decide whether they want to continue to play or not given the situation. If players decide to play, they should do so only if the coaching tactics work for them. They need to ask themselves “Is the coach inspiring me to play better or not?” If the answer is “no” and the child decides to leave the team, parents’ support for this decision will have a monumental positive impact on a child.

Intimidation tactics are necessary only when preparing military troops for life and death situations, such as in the Marines. Despite this, there are coaches who use this approach in the name of winning. With parental guidance and input, adult athletes need to decide if they want to play under these conditions. Parents are reminded of the importance of their role in protecting younger children from bullying coaches and the necessity to advise and support older children who allege exposure to practices of bullying and intimidation by college coaches.

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