Below is a quote from one of our athletes who is a 16 year-old high school quarterback who loved football and had the potential to start as a freshman — until the coach destroyed his mental game…

Going into high school I was a standout athlete with high confidence but after my freshman year I started to lose interest. It just wasn’t fun anymore. I hated practice because I was always worrying about messing up and being embarrassed by the coach. In games I worried about what he would do or say if I made a mistake so I became less aggressive. When I thought I did something right he thought it was wrong, and when I tried to work hard and gain his approval it was never good enough.

It got to the point where I was making up excuses to get out of practice, and I even hoped I would be benched so I didn’t have to worry anymore. I knew the coach was tough, and I have no problems doing extra work or having someone push me to do better. But when he gets in my face, calls me out, embarrasses me in front of the team, and has a problem with me every day it makes me question why I still play.

I use to play to learn, compete, be with friends, and have fun. Now I can’t wait for the season to be over, and practice is always the worst part of my day. I don’t tell anyone how it affects my motivation and confidence because it’s football, and everyone complains about the coach. You just have to quit or accept it.”

Youth coaches are critical to kids’ sport experiences. They can influence whether young athletes enjoy sports and want to continue playing. Some coaches can get kids excited about sports, while other coaches may discourage kids or take the fun out of the game. A good coach can keep kids’ interest in sports alive. Bullied kids think there is something the matter with them. This deflates them and creates a lack of comfort and security in sports.

It is possible young athletes are afraid to talk about being bullied by coaches. Often, young athletes’ first reaction to being treated this way is shame. They feel as if they somehow caused the coach to treat them badly. Bullying can hurt an athlete’s confidence–in and out of sports. When athletes are being bullied, and singled out by coaches they begin to have doubts about their ability to perform which cause them to question their role in sports. Athletes who are bullied experience difficulty focusing on what they should focus on. Like this young athlete, they sometimes obsess on the bully. The kids are also afraid.

They think, “Should I shoot the ball? Should I pass the ball? Should I get rid of the ball fast?” for example. They focus on the wrong things during sports because they are preoccupied with gaining approval from the coach. Often they are afraid of how the coach will react if they make the wrong decision. Fear doesn’t enhance an athlete’s sports experience. And it’s not good motivators–although some coaches try to rely on it.

Fear is a mental game killer. To really benefit from and enjoy sports, young athletes need to feel confident and safe. That’s where you, as sports parents come in. You, as parents and coaches, can do a lot to help kids who are bullied by their coaches. Please visit our Discussion Forum and Message Board to share your story and comments and for more opinions from our experts on how to deal with bully coaches in sports.

You can calls contact us to learn more about our Sports Parenting Programs. Our Bully Programs for parents will teach you how to identify the characteristics of a bully coach, and how to stand up to coaches who put your athlete’s confidence, focus, self-esteem, motivation, and enjoyment of sports at risk. Please share your comments, questions, and opinions in our discussion forum/message board.

We added this component to Sport Psychology Today to allow parents, athletes, coaches, students, and professionals the opportunity to submit any questions, topics, and advice publicly. You can visit the Discussion Forum through the “Discussion” tab on the Homepage menu. Once you click “Discussion” you can register for FREE and log-in and share your thoughts and questions with unlimited access. You can also click the highlighted text below.