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How to Spot A Bad Youth Sports Coach

While there are lots of good youth sports coaches, sadly, there are still way too many coaches in this country who are failing to teach and model ethical behavior or, worse, physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusing children in their care, playing favorites and placing winning ahead of having fun and skill development.

Some coaches are well-meaning, but may not have the skills, temperament or personality to be good coaches. They are easy to spot.

Less easy to identify are the coaches who appear to know what they are doing but are still bad coaches. In particular, there are three kinds of coaches to watch out for:

The drill sergeant

Watch out for coaches who:

  • treat young athletes like warriers going into battle
  • think that making a child cry is the most effective form of motivation
  • believe sports is place for "boys to become men"
  • push players to be tough and play through pain and injury ("suck it up") and never show emotion, or
  • try to motivate boys by engaging in gay- or girl-bashing.

The entrepreneur

Some coaches, especially at the elite level, are coaching for personal or financial gain and will do just about anything to win and get ahead.

In particular, be in the lookout for coaches who use charm and flattery to make unrealistic claims about your child's talent. They are usually the coaches who lead your child (and you) to harbor unrealistic dreams that there is a scholarship or Olympic gold medal with his or her name on it if only he:

  • practiced more
  • took a particular "nutritional supplement"
  • attended a particular summer camp (funny, how often it is a camp where the coach is a paid instructor)
  • transferred to the school where he is the coach, or
  • spent an extra year in middle school so he would be older and bigger when he got to high school ("redshirting").

The Loose Cannon

Be on the lookout for coaches who:

  • constantly yell or scream at players
  • argue with officials
  • exhibit rapid mood swings
  • are impulsive
  • have an inflated sense of their own importance
  • have an unhealthy need for admiration
  • exhibit an unhealthy lack of empathy
  • turn on anyone who disappoints them
  • try to make you inadequate and question your credibility if you dare to question their judgment
  • are overly defensive and controlling about even minor matters
  • jump from job to job, never staying in one more than a season or two (this is a sure sign of trouble ahead).

Avoiding bad coaches

The best way to protect your child from a bad coach is, of course, not to let him play for such a coach in the first place.

Do whatever you think is reasonably necessary to find out about the coach before the season starts when, hopefully, there is still time to find him a place on another team:

  • Talk to parents of athletes who have played for the coach
  • Ask them if you can talk to their children to get their perspective
  • Find out if any complaints have been filed against the coach with the local police, club, league, or national governing body.
  • If the club conducts evaluations of coaches (as it should), ask to see them, or, if they won't provide the actual evaluations, ask for a summary and for information on how he ranks against other coaches.
  • Trust your instincts: it is better to be safe than sorry.

Adapted from the book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers In Youth Sports (HarperCollins 2006) by Brooke de Lench, founder and Editor-in-Chief of MomsTeam.com, and Executive Director of MomsTEAM Institute.

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