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Bad Coach

From Dennis and Joanne:

Your article in "kids' sports - the coach can make a difference" was right on the mark. Now that we have easily identified a bad coach, what can we do to get our child through the rest of the season? All the 'powers-that-be' are involved with this coach, so talking to them would not help. Thank you.

Answer: I understand the very difficult and frustrating situation you and your child face. Trying to overcome or offset the negative impact  a bad coach is having on a child is practically impossible short of removing the child from the team - which should be the last resort. 

I would recommend that you make an appointment, away from the athletic field, to meet with the coach and tell him about your feelings. Appeal to the coach, who is probably also a parent, that parents have an obligation as well as a right to look out for their children's interests and that is why you are having the discussion. Often times coaches may not be aware that something they are doing  is causing problems for some of their players. Cite specifics about what he is doing that  is having such a negative affect on your child. Try to learn why the coach is behaving the way he/she is and give the coach a chance to explain his philosophy about coaching and to explain his actions. Make specific suggestions and recommendations for more appropriate behavior. If the coach is an inexperienced but well meaning individual, this approach may help. More likely, the coach will not take criticism well and will not respond favorably. Even so, be polite but firm in explaining that you are asking him and expecting him to change the manner in which he treats your child. If you get no satisfaction advise the coach that you are taking the matter to higher authorities.

Follow this meeting up with a letter to the league/association officials and request their help in resolving the problem. That is not likely to be forthcoming, either, based on what you have said about the powers that be, but still write the letter. If  you do not get a favorable response from the coach and the league. Write to your town officials, the mayor, the board of commissioners, the department of parks and recreation, etc. describing the problem and asking for their help. Most youth programs are run on town or community fields and associations must have permits to use the fields. If school facilities are being used, write to the school board about the problem. Town or school officials should not allow irresponsible organizations that endanger children to use town or school facilities. Town and school officials are becoming more and more sensitive to such matters. Organizations that allow bad coaches to abuse children, verbally, emotionally or physically are acting irresponsibly. Communicate with the local media, if necessary, to nudge reluctant town officials into action. Also try to find other parents who feel the same way as you regarding the association, and band together. Attend league, school and town board meetings and petition a change in the officers of the league.

Parents who are having problems with bad coaches often don't try to do anything to solve the problem because they fear reprisal by the coach or the league against the child. As a result bad coaches continue to coach and more children are impacted.

My feeling is that if your child is currently being mistreated by a coach and the coach or league refuses to seek a resolution to the problem, the child should not be participating in that association. The child is already being treated badly and threats for continued or additional mistreatment, either stated or implied, demand immediate and appropriate action to protect the child.

Coaches must provide a positive sports experience for all their players and if they do not know how to do that, they should receive proper training. Bad coaches need to be identified and removed. Only concerned parents and concerned league officials can make this to happen.

You should continue to support, encourage and praise your child as he or she continues to participate. Try to takeover coaching/helping your child away from practices. Attend all your child's games and practices and make certain your presence there is is known by the coach as well as your child. If you see or hear inappropriate behavior by the coach, be prepared to remove the child from the activity. If, in the unlikely event, you see an improvement in the coach's interactions with your child, make sure to tell him that you appreciate his efforts.
I hope this helps and I wish there was more that I could suggest.

Every child who participates in a youth sport deserves a concerned and caring coach and many kids are fortunate to get. But far too many bad coaches exist. It will take a major grass roots movement supported by concerned parents, caring coaches and dedicated league officials to remove and replace the bad ones. I will continue to do everything I can to help make this happen.

Please let me know how things turn out for you and your child.

February, 2003