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Rutgers Case Prompts Tips to Prevent Abusive Coaching

rutgers abusive coaching caseRutgers University men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was a hot coaching prospect in 2010 and was the first big hire made by new Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti. Rice, known for his fiery courtside demeanor, engaged in even more inappropriate behavior when the crowds weren’t present. A series of released videos show Rice berating his players with homophobic slurs, physically manhandling them, throwing basketballs at their heads and in at least one case, kicking them. After the video’s release and the ensuing public outcry, he was fired.

Highlighting Rice's termination as a teachable moment for coaches at all levels, EducationWorld offers the following tips regarding how to identify and combat abusive coaching.

What are the warning signs?

Safe4Athletes identifies some of the warning signs that a coach’s behavior may be crossing the line into verbal or emotional abuse. A coach is considered abusive if he or she:

  • Excessively, in comparison to treatment of other athletes, singles out an athlete through negative interactions;
  • Routinely uses profanity or degrading [including homophobic] language;
  • Personalizes error correction;
  • Devalues a player’s role on the team, potential for success, or value as a person;
  • Constantly blames the team or groups of players for failures; or
  • Isolates a player by ignoring him or her.

“Coaches must make every effort to avoid such conduct,” Safe4Atletes explains.  “Coaches should immediately call a halt to any bullying or emotional verbal abuse undertaken by any athlete toward another while in the coach’s presence. Coaches should refrain from and disallow their athletes from engaging in verbal discourse that denigrates others.”

Schools should be particularly concerned about coaches who use homophobic language, such as that used by Rice. (Sadly, coaches’ use of such language is not limited to the college level, as evidenced by a Marin County (CA) Youth Commission survey in which nine percent of students in that district reported having heard a coach use homophobic slurs.) This type of language not only damages school climate, but also can be construed as legally defined harassment.

What are the effects of abusive coaching?

The negative impact of abusive coaching, especially on student athletes at the prep and youth levels, cannot be overlooked, according to the site All Torn Up.

“Inappropriate coaching conduct has a direct correlation to inappropriate player conduct. When children are exposed to this negative and abusive behavior and interactions, they are very likely to behave in similar ways (Raakman, Dorsch & Rhind, 2010)… [Even] behavior that is not directed towards the athletes themselves can still have a negative effect… A child observing his/her coach using foul language and aggressively arguing with the referee or opposing team can have just as much of a negative impact on the athlete as when the coach screams at one of his own players (Raakman et al., 2010). Many forms of abuse go unnoticed because they have become so common they are almost accepted as normal in the world of youth sports. This behavior is not something that children should strive to achieve.”

The Competitive Advantage sports psychology newsletter describes additional negative effects of abusive coaching. Athletes with abusive coaches often:

  • Feel scared a lot of the time. (This fear is usually related to what the coach may say or do if athletes mess up or fail.)
  • Spend a lot of time feeling guilty about things they’ve supposedly done wrong.
  • Feel regularly embarrassed and/or humiliated by the coach in front of teammates and spectators.
  • Feel badly about themselves and lack confidence.

How can we combat abusive coaching?

Competitive Advantage, a site specializing in sports psychology, offers this resource for addressing abusive coaching. Some tips for coaches include:

  • Never use humiliation or embarrassment as a coaching tool.
  • Catch athletes doing things right.
  • Rarely raise your voice.
  • Be supportive and encouraging.
  • Create a feeling of personal safety on the team.
  • Understand that coaching is about doing what’s best for the kids.
  • Put winning in perspective and define success in appropriate ways.

In addition, PlayByTheRules has put together some great advice for administrators, parents, players and coaches. And for more tips on teaching youth sports in an encouraging way, check out


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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