Frumpy Middle-Aged Mom: Readers take on abusive coaches
By Marla Jo Fisher
Last week, I wrote about the dreaded disease that I’m calling Coachmouth, which generally strikes people with whistles around their necks and sneakers on their feet.
The main symptom I’ve observed is the urge to hurl insults and curses at their players, whose youth apparently does not exempt them from being subjected to verbal abuse.
This column seems to have struck a nerve with many of you, and I heard overwhelmingly from parents, players and other coaches who agreed that this malady should be stricken from student teams.
I only got two emails defending the practice — one from a mom of four who said that kids will be bullied in the military and later in life, so they might as well get used to it.
Another reader questioned whether I was writing the column based on some survey I’d read. No, sir. I wrote from what I’ve observed as the mom of an inveterate jock. My son hasn’t been subjected to an unusual amount of abuse, but I’ve heard enough to be sickened by it.
An anonymous reader called and said the article was a waste of space. “Write about people who are more prevalent in society, not the one-off coaches who do this. It’s not the norm. How about writing about the 90 percent of coaches who don’t scream at their players?”
Well, I am not sure if 90 percent of coaches don’t scream at their players, but I agree there are a lot of good coaches out there.
Meanwhile, I wanted to share some of the other comments I received:
“I completely agree that coaches should not have separate standards of conduct than other teachers. Apparently, much of America does not agree or isn’t willing to put their money where their mouth is. … After years of being team mom, referee, Girl Scout leader, instructor, and counselor ... I crossed over to coach this season. … I took the AYSO class, got my whistle, and guess what? AYSO Region 55 has a new policy for coaches: Not only are they not to yell at any kids, we are to remain as quiet as possible. It seems coaching takes place at practice. During the game, we give the kids the lineup and watch them play! Who knew? After years of watching my kids get abused because I was late to practice, and having them not want to play anymore because some jerk berated them, made them feel bad, or wouldn’t play them because they were girls, I find out YES, they were jerks. … Bullying is never OK. Really hope this idea moves into high school sports. Thank you for speaking out.”
— Eileen Johnson, Huntington Beach, Calif.
“Your article hits the ‘nail on the head’ of how youth sports is often tarnished by a verbally abusive coach, manager or parent on the sidelines or stands. For a sports official to sit back and not confront the source of abuse is to condone such action. Positive life lessons for our youth through sports requires each and every one of us to stand up against those whose words or actions demonstrate disrespect, vulgarity or abuse to those that they have the privilege to coach, manage or officiate. A phrase that I usually say before a game to the managers or coaches that are in games that I officiate is this: ‘We are all thankful to be here to help with this game. We are all volunteers. We are all in a position to be a positive role model for these kids along with everyone in attendance. Let’s make sure our words and actions reflect that.’”
— Bill Slope, Huntington Beach
“Your article today was exactly on point. I’ve been a teacher for 40 years and have witnessed the kind of behavior you describe from coaches on campus. I have even counseled students who were targets of a coach’s bullying (using the ‘f-bomb’ and calling them ‘little girls’). I have also worked with wonderful and successful coaches who would never treat students that way. It’s well past time for administrators and parents to step up and end that kind of behavior. What lessons do kids learn from being ‘coached’ like that? And we wonder why bullying continues.”
— Tim Lutz, Placentia, Calif.
“I am a youth worker in a church and I cannot tell you how many times I am shocked by the stories the young people tell me regarding coaches. The extreme ugly words used to get someone motivated baffles me. … I have asked the young person if they would like me to call the coach or their parent into action, but it is always the same … FEAR! ‘No, the coach will have it out for me!’ So I listen, encourage and remind them that they are worthy … because they have a God that loves them regardless of a ridiculous game or play! ... It just about breaks my heart that they have to be reassured that the behavior of these adults (who they are told to respect) is wrong and you are not to allow a coach to define who you will become.”
— Patti Wieckert, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
“I currently serve on the Fullerton Hills girls softball board and we have had many experiences with idiots like you describe. The irony is that they are almost never successful and our league has had a lot of success locally, at the state level and nationally. In fact, this year we had two teams make the national tourney and both of the coaches are fantastic motivators who get more out of players by high-fives and hugs and playing songs like Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin” during warm-ups.”
— James Campbell, Fullerton, Calif.
“Throughout my 20 years in coaching at the college level, I have always known my No. 1 job is to build confidence. I could be the best hitting coach, the best fielding coach or the best pitching coach, but none of that matters unless my athletes have confidence. I challenge the coaching community to make this your personal drive: Create an atmosphere where the athletes can build confidence. Catch them in the act of doing something good. It is so easy to pick out and focus on the flaws, but put your energy into what the athletes are doing right. … Enjoy the challenge, coaches!”
— Kelly Ford, head softball coach, Cal State Fullerton Titans