by Mike Davenport, CoachingSportsToday.com
Now I’m worried.
I’m reading the September 28, 2015 issue of Sports Illustrated.
On page 50, Alexander Wolff’s article, Abuse Of Power, begins. Wolff does a slam dunk on abusive coaches.
Every coach at every level needs to read it.
You need to read it.
Change is coming — but that’s not what I’m worried about.
This Is What Worries Me
Wolff does a fine job in the article, except for one thing — there’s another chapter to this story he left out.
Yes, athlete abuse happens, and it is unacceptable.
Yet, what Wolff does not mention, is that coaches are abused also.
To make things even more worrisome, the abuse doesn’t stop there. Refs, athletic administrators, reporters also get their fair share.
Overall — physical, mental, and emotional abuse in the sporting world is rampant.
According to Dr. Ben Tepper, who studies abuse in the workplace, “Abusive leadership is two to three times as prevalent in college sports as in the orthodox workplace.”
And that’s enough to worry even Alfred E Neumann.
This Matters To You
This subject impacts all of us.
Athletes suffer, so they leave the sport — much worse off than when they came to it. (Wolff noted 41% of athletes in one study reported being so depressed it was difficult to function.)
Coaches suffer, so they leave the sport — with their heart and spirit broken or damaged beyond repair. (About 1/3 of coaches leave coaching each year.)
The sport suffers, so an activity that was once a great place to develop people increasingly becomes a competitive nightmare.
Let’s focus on the coach aspect for a moment.
Too Close To Home
It’s a very depressing place to be when abuse happens to a coach (I do speak from experience). It matters little if the abuse comes from a boss, a player’s parents, social media, alums, or fans.
For coaches (and, actually, all humans) the reaction to the abuse is stress, and stress, especially unrelenting stress, can have severe physical and emotional impact. Unfortunately, those reactions can spillover into other parts of a coach’s life — in other words, a stressed-out coach is stressed-out everywhere.
What’s a coach do?
If you report abuse, rifts can happen. One peer might support an abused coach speaking out, while another might feel the victim needs, as Wolff cited is often said to athletes, “to man up.”
How does that play out in an athletic department?
There’s a yearly turnover rate of up to 30%, or more, in coaching. That’s millions of coaches leaving coaching each year. A significant number of those coaches leave due to abuse. Crushed. Gone. And that seems to be the most widely accepted solution for athletes and coaches, when it comes to abuse — they leave.
I’ve seen it happen, where an abused coach is let go for “personal” reasons. Or replaced because the team needs to go in a “new direction.” That solves the problem, right? Get rid of her, or help her quit, and then hire one of the hundreds who want that job.
It’s a terrible waste, and like the abuse of athletes, it needs to stop.
Action You Have No Choice But To Take
There are certain actions every coach must take. And when I write must I mean must as in you must breath to stay alive.
This is where we can all start to make a difference.
A) Get Your Head Out Of The Sand. Coaching sports is not for the feint of heart. This stuff goes light-years past that. Specifically, coaches often pay a heavy price for being a coach.
In 1995, I studied over 100 coaches during a competitive season. I was looking for the impact of coaching upon coaches. What I found was by the end of the season the stress & burnout rate was at a similar level to stressful occupations such as law enforcement. And this was for a low key sport (referred to as non-revenue generating sport). I’d love to see the results for D1 football.
Over the past 20 years things have gotten incrementally worse because:
1. The expectations placed on coaches have increased (you HAVE to get my son a D1 athletic scholarship!),
2. While the resources have decreased (except for a special few sport programs),
3. And there’s a lack of over-site in sports that at times is, in fact, criminal. Or the over-site might be conflicting (“*Stop complaining! You were hired to win, not whine!*”)
B) You Must Protect Yourself. You don’t go into coaching to get rich, nor do you coach to have your mental or physical health damaged. But it does happen, at a higher rate than most workplaces. So you need reasonable standards on how you will be treated.
Expected to be treated as a professional, and of course give them ample reasons to do just that. If it doesn’t happen, speak up to your supervisor. (A shrug of the shoulders is not an acceptable response.) Or go to the appropriate personnel supervisors.
Two additional steps you must take to protect yourself, ones I’ve noted before, are: (a) NEVER meet with an athlete alone, especially behind closed doors, and (b) have a liability insurance policy.
C) You Must Protect The Athletes. You’re not abusing your athletes — on purpose. You wouldn’t be reading this if you were.
But are you crossing a line that’s so fine it’s difficult to see? Struggling between being demanding and demeaning? Are you making decisions that to the athletes are negative or harmful? How do you know if you are?
- First, get feedback. Grab a fellow coach, who you trust, who knows her stuff, and have her watch one of your practices. Then listen to her comments.
- Second, create a survey and give it to your athletes, or have someone ask them.
- Third, consume anything from PCA (Positive Coaching Alliance), and especially any of the books the director, Jim Thompson, has written.
D) You Must Speak Up. If you see an athlete (or fellow coach) suffering abuse (or if it is you suffering), report it immediately to your supervisor, and record that you did. This is not optional, it’s a mandatory step, and in some states it is required by law.
It Is Time
Coaches are here to guide, to protect, to nurture.
And to be guided, protected, and nurtured.
It’s time for the sporting world to treat the participants — all participants — more humanly.
I love coaching. I do it for a living.
It’s time for us to make it a better place.