Why is society willing to overlook the malicious actions of successful coaches? How can you protect the young people you love?
We give sport coaches access to our children without question. We plan our lives around THEIR practice schedules. We attempt to meet their every whim and fancy. We let them “encourage” our children with intimidation and threats. We let them hold the keys to a child’s sports success. The more successful the coach the less chance that anyone will challenge their coaching style.
The time has come to identify and end the abuse of bully coaches. In January 2012, Psychology Today published an article by Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D. on Adolescents and Bullying Coaches. The bully behavior outlined by Dr. Pickhardt includes: intimidation, insulting, ridicule, humiliation and benching.
The impact of these kinds of actions on adolescent age players can be performance anxiety, hesitant play because of unsure decision-making, loss of confidence, believing mistreatment is deserved, losing enjoyment of the sport one once enjoyed, even quitting the sport to avoid any coaching at all.
If you recognize this behavior, how can you proceed? If you believe your child has been abused sexually or physically, call the police and file a complaint. If the abuse is in line with bully behavior, the first step is to notify the school’s athletic director.
This must be done in writing and include specific dates, times and actions. A copy of the complaint should also be forwarded to the principal or director of the school and the school board. If this is an Association or club check your contract to determine where a complaint should be lodged. By forwarding the complaint to as many branches of the school as possible you are using the check and balance system to insure that someone will take the complaint seriously.
If the complaint is sustained the coach could be sanctioned or possibly terminated. At the very least you will have put the school and the coach on notice that the type of behavior experienced by your child will not be tolerated. If your child is a high school student, you should check with your state’s High School Athletic Association.
Each state’s association is responsible for the oversight of professional and appropriate conduct by the coaches and schools within the state. Reports of abuse of any kind that are not being addressed by the school need to be reported to the association.
If you are aware of any other complaints filed against the coach include copies. It may take an accumulation of complaints before any action is taken. Someone has to be first, and the time to act is now. Failure to act perpetuates the problem.
The second step may be a lawsuit. There have been suits filed by parents, but in most states, coaches are immune to such suits. Check with an attorney in your area to determine if immunity will protect a coach. A second, more difficult approach is to sue the bully coach under the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. (IIID).
In most states there are 4 elements for IIID: (1) the action must be intentional or reckless; (2) the conduct must be extreme and outrageous; and (3) the conduct must be the cause of (4) of severe emotional distress. Restatement Second Torts (1965). These elements are intentionally difficult to meet in order to protect an individual from frivolous claims and suits. For most parents the filing of a lawsuit would be too costly and produce little results.
Unfortunately, children and parents have few rights when dealing with a bully coach, resulting in a feeling of helplessness. But calling attention to a coach’s bully behavior by documenting the coach’s destructive actions and reporting those actions to his supervisors and employer can lead to the bully coach being sanctioned or even permanently removed from his or her position of power.