American youth sports culture today has no shortage of examples of bad coaching. From coaches who spend more time screaming – sometimes at very young children – to those who emphasize winning over sportsmanship, it’s not hard to find anecdotes of people who shouldn’t be allowed to be near children, let alone coaching them. There is evidence today that bad coaches are more than just a source for head-shaking anecdotes: they can actually cause harm, despite comical depictions in movies like “Kicking And Screaming” and “The Bad News Bears.”
“Coaching abuse is a serious Issue that can cause permanent mental damage to your child,” wrote Pat Dalton for the Rio Rancho Observer. “The most severe damage is caused by subtle psychological abuse that can go undetected, even by the most caring parents. There is a growing amount of sports psychologists who believe subtle abuse can actually be worse than physical abuse.”
Dalton, who coaches world champion professional athletes in mental preparation, noted that recent studies have even suggested that type of abusive coach bullying can cause athletes to have anxiety disorders, eating disorders, depression and even PTSD.
In Florida, State Senator Jeremy Ring, a Democrat from the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Margate, has proposed a bill that would require season-long bans for coaches who are ejected from games involving children ages 12 and younger, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Ring says the legislation was prompted by some of the outrageous acts he has witnessed in his eight-year-old daughter’s soccer league.
"Some of the things I see on the field, they're really scary at times," he said. "And I would say as coaches we're supposed to be teachers and some of the behavior is just unacceptable."
The provisions of the bill are relatively mild: there is no punishment (aside from being benched for a season) because this would require an appropriation for enforcement, according to Ring. Organizations can also allow coaches to appeal, and those kicked out can resume duties the following year if youth groups deem they are fit to return.
Ring is not new to legislation over youth sports. Last year, he sponsored a bill that ultimately because law that mandated background checks for Florida youth sports coaches. Supporters say it’s necessary to hold coaches to the same standards that would be used for other education professionals.
"We wouldn't allow this behavior for our teachers in school," said Ring.
Dalton has noted that some parents – even good parents – are willing to allow some bullying on the part of youth coaches because it was done to them, and they may mistakenly believe that it’s necessary to build mental toughness.
“Coaching has come a long way, and parents should educate themselves on how to nurture their young athletes in a way that makes them perform much better,” Dalton wrote. “Pressure and abuse will only cause mental issues on the field. A happy athlete performs much better than a stressed athlete. In my practice, the first thing I do when working with a new client is remove the pressure. Performance goes up immediately — and drastically.”