Archive for Abusive Coaches

ABUSIVE COACHES: Knowing When to Draw the Line

When Coaches Instigate Their Players To Talk Trash

By Doug Abrams


In late October, the Yarmouth Clippers downed the Gray-New Gloucester Patriots, 13-6, in Maine high school varsity football. As Rick Wolff reported on this blog at the time, the game turned out to be the last one for the Patriots coach.

Before the game, several Patriots players told their parents and school officials that the coach had allegedly instructed them to taunt an opponent with “Who’s Your Daddy?” each time they tackled him. The opponent lives in a household headed by two women who are married to each other.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the two women said they were “appreciative and thankful” that some Gray-New Gloucester players and parents informed them beforehand that the coach had singled out their son. No Gray-New Gloucester players were overheard trash talking the opponent on the field, but the coach worked his last game for the team. The school district superintendent did not say afterwards whether the coach was dismissed or whether he resigned, but confirmed that the coach “no longer works for” the district. The district, the superintendent told television station WMTW, “does not tolerate threatening or discriminating behavior.”

This column discusses three harmful consequences that can follow when a youth league or interscholastic coach instigates the team to taunt an opposing player. Instigation can threaten player safety, compromise sportsmanship, and diminish the respect among athletes that brings out the best in sports competition.

Player Safety

Influenced by high-profile trash talkers in the professional ranks, trash talking increasingly infects high school sports and youth leagues in many communities today. For some pro stars, it no longer seems enough just to win; savoring victory also depends on humiliating the opponents. Regardless of what might pass as tolerable or entertaining in the adult professional world, the calculus is different at the youth level, whose athletes are children and adolescents.

Especially in a contact or collision sport such as high school football, a coach’s trash talking can incite dirty play that threatens control on the field and in the stands. No such safety risk marred October’s football game in Maine, but players are impressionable and a coach’s taunting has sometimes led teams to trade cheap shots from the opening whistle.

Pediatric professionals call youth coaches (in the words of Toronto neurosurgeon Charles H. Tator) “the most important individuals for maintaining safety” in the heat of competition. Coaches are the ultimate gatekeepers, a central role that depends on foregoing verbal abuse that most mature adults would find unacceptable coming from their own children.


Sportsmanship and trash talking don’t mix. Youth coaching resembles a game of “follow the leader” because the coach’s conduct heavily influences the team’s tone, for better or worse. Youth coaches represent themselves, their families, their schools, and their communities in every game. Trash talking neutralizes the values that coaches should teach, values that will outlast anything the coach teaches about the fundamentals and skills of the game.


Safety and sportsmanship depend on Respect, a pillar that a youth coach’s trash talking shatters. Coaches encourage respect for the game, for the family, and for opponents by teaching players to relish victory as reward enough, without descent into taunting or trash talking. And by teaching that targeting an opponent or the opponent’s family because of race, creed, color, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or other distinguishing characteristic is off-limits.

The players’ respect for the coach may also hang in the balance because, like most people, coaches get what they give. Players are unlikely to respect a coach for long simply because the coach carries a clipboard or wears a whistle. The coach must earn the players’ respect, not only by teaching skills and strategies, but also by demonstrating sound values through words and deeds.

Media reports indicate that when the Gray-New Gloucester coach urged the team to target the opponent who has two same-sex parents, several players (and their parents) summoned their own values by notifying the target family, reporting the coach to school authorities, and disregarding his instruction during the game.

Respect and Strength

Maintaining respect for game, family, and opponents signals strength, not softness. Respect does not diminish the desire to win, and indeed can stimulate that desire. At the ceremony enshrining him in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2005, Ryne Sandberg explained why.

“[I]f there was a single reason I am here today,” the Chicago Cubs star told the audience, “it is because of one word – respect.” “I was in awe every time I walked on to the field,” he explained. “That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never ever your uniform. . . . I played [the game] right because that’s what you’re supposed to do – play it right and with respect.

Sandberg’s abiding respect strengthened his desire to win and sustained his competitive, but clean, play throughout his 16-year big league career. He would not have put up Hall of Fame numbers if maintaining respect had softened his passion for winning.

Conclusion: Taking a Near Hit

Sportsmanship and respect are the foundations of the good that happens in the game, and disrespect inevitably stains the game. Striving to win remains central to high school varsity competition, but sportsmanship and respect nearly took a hit in Maine high school football late in October, allegedly at a coach’s instigation. More than 40 years ago, the British Association of National Coaches set the ethical compass applicable to youth league and interscholastic competition:

“Sport without fair play is not sport, and honours won without fair play can have no real value.”


Sources: Rick Wolff, HS Varsity Football Coach Dismissed for Encouraging Taunting of Opposing Player, (Oct. 20, 2017); Mike Lowe, Gray-New Gloucester Coach Resigns; Allegedly Told Players To Taunt Opponent, Portland (Me.) Press Herald (Oct. 20, 2017); Seth Koenig, Maine High School Football Coach Canned After Claims of “Hate-Laden” Taunts, Bangor (Me.) Daily News, Oct. 19, 2017; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 Clinical J. Sport Med. 451, 455 (2009).


ABUSIVE COACHES: HS Varsity Football Coach Dismissed for Encouraging Taunting of Opposing Player

According to the Associated Press, a HS varsity football coach was let go in the town of Gray, Maine, because he had allegedly instructed his players to verbally taunt an opposing player who happens to have two mothers as parents.

The mothers, Lynn and Stephanie Eckersley-Ray, of Yarmouth, Maine, reported that the football coach at Gray-New Gloucester HS apparently told his players to verbally taunt their son every time he was tackled by yelling at him: “Who’s your daddy?”

However, despite these allegations, there were no reports of this actual verbal taunting being overheard during the game. Regardless, the superintendent confirmed that after the Friday night game last week, the football coach no longer works for the school district.

ABUSIVE COACHES: There is Never Any Reason for a Coach to Grab or Shove a Player

If you hadn’t heard about this story, let me tell you about the Morehead State Men’s basketball coach Sean Woods. Up until a few weeks ago, Coach Woods had been at Morehead for several years, and had enjoyed success with the program; in fact, the school had recently renewed extended his contract through 2019.

Everything seemed to be working great.

Except that the coach apparently had a habit of showing his displeasure or frustration with his players by physically hitting or pushing them.

That is, according to several media reports over the course of this season and in previous years, Coach Woods has allegedly pushed, shoved, and even head-butted some of his players when he was upset with them or their play.

Recently, it reached the point where police were brought in and actually charged the coach with misdemeanor battery. And as a result, Coach Woods was then suspended from his coaching duties at Morehead.  Coach Woods is due in court on Feb. 9th  to respond to those charges.

And not surprisingly, along the way, the coach tendered his resignation to the university.


The history is this: There was a pushing incident involving Coach Woods with one of his players back in 2012, when Coach Woods shoved one of his players in a game against the University of Kentucky. It was caught on videotape, and Coach Woods was suspended for a game for doing that.

But now, these latest charges stem from two of his players this season, who claim that the Coach assaulted them during a game against the University of Evansville back in November, 2016. One player says the coach pushed him hard in the chest, and the other player says Coach Woods shoved him during, and after, the game.

Said one of the fathers of one of the players at the time of the incident: “This is not the first time the coach violated our trust because last year, during the season, he head-butted my son and turned around and asked him to forgive him, and he apologized. My son accepted his apology. The coach said he would never do it again. And as for the school, I’m still waiting for a response from them and to take corrective action. They say they are still investigating.”

But as noted, Coach Woods has since resigned. Morehead State now has an interim coach and will look for a new head coach at the end of this season.

For the life of me, I can’t understand how an adult coach could ever do this.  Oh, I know some coaches will claim that they have anger management issues….but to me, if you have anger management issues, then in my opinion, you really shouldn’t be coaching kids in the first place.

Some of us remember Bobby Knight physically assaulting his players at Indiana, and that eventually led to his dismissal even though he had put together a tremendous winning record. Speaking of coaches with successful programs, how about Ohio State’s Woody Hayes punching out an opposing player from Clemson in a college bowl game on national TV Then more recently, Mike Rice at Rutgers was justifiably let go for grabbing his players, throwing basketballs at them, ripping them with profanity, and so on.

And yes, I know we have a forgiving society, and people deserve a second chance, but as a head coach? I mean, you are charged with leadership and with responsible behavior. That’s a fundamental part of the job. As such, I can’t imagine how a coach who does this to his players would really ever deserve a second chance. In my opinion, it’s just unconscionable.

Just as I feel sports parents need to be held to a zero tolerance standard, the same goes for coaches as well.  In other words, as a coach, you should just know better ALL THE TIME not to push, bully, grab, or assault your players. If you do, then you — just like your athletes – have to be accountable for your actions.

The callers on my show this AM all agreed with this, some of them remembering when a coach assaulted them many years ago. It left an indelible mark on their memory. Others praised coaches today who clearly draw the line between yelling at one’s players as opposed to grabbing or pushing them.  While I’m not necessarily in favor of verbal abuse (verbal abuse is right there with bullying), I was heartened to hear the coach in question didn’t resort to physical violence.

As to what would a parent should do if their son or daughter told them about a coach who was physical? No question this is a serious complaint and needs to be fully examined and investigated. Those basketball players at Morehead were right to have spoken about their coach.

We all hope and pray that this kind of abuse has been drastically reduced from a generation ago, when it was somewhat seen as a coach just being tough with his players. But it was unacceptable then, and still unacceptable today.




ABUSIVE COACHES: When HS Coaches Want Kids to Practice Their Sport….All Year Round

We all know about the ongoing tug-of-war between HS varsity coaches and travel team coaches, and how all coaches are eager to have their top athletes dedicate the bulk of their practice and game time to each coach’s respective sport.

We know about all of this from the battles between HS varsity coaches who insist that the talented athlete make a commitment just to play on the HS   varsity team. But at the same time, the travel coach is pretty much making the same demand of the kid; that is, choose between the elite travel team or your HS team.

But…here’s a new wrinkle that was only recently brought to my attention.

I am hearing about the ongoing and growing rivalry among HS coaches who, in their attempt to build up their own sport’s program, are now asking their players to dedicate a good chunk of the year to that one sport. That is, not only does the kid focus on that one sport during its season, but the head coach is strongly suggesting that the kid practice that sport all-year round — even at the expense of the youngster playing on other HS teams.


Let me explain. Your kid is a real good all-round athlete, and plays a lot of sports. Let’s say he plays football, basketball, and baseball at the HS varsity level.

But the HS football coach tells your son –and his teammates – that if they really want to improve and succeed next year, then they really need to commit to weight training in the off-season, and need to lift and run at least three times a week. Plus they need to find substantial time to get some extra work in on their position. Maybe even watch video tape.

Problem is, your son is also a member of the HS varsity basketball team. And varsity baseball team. And he has homework every night, plus maybe even a part-time job or performs some community service. In other words, he’s busy. And adding more football practice time in the winter and the sprint is going to be a real chore.

So how does he tell the football coach that he’s going to miss those weight-training sessions? And when he does, the football coach isn’t going to be happy to hear this. After all, the coach wants his OWN program to come first – not basketball or baseball.

The truth is, the football coach may not care about the other teams at the school…he only cares about his football program. Especially if he’s not on the HS faculty as a teacher, but has been hired as an outsider. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be football. It could be soccer, lacrosse, ice hockey, field hockey, whatever sport.

Now, a generation or two ago, this kind of thing was never an issue. HS varsity coaches knew that the best all-round athletes in the school routinely played two or three sports, and the coaches didn’t interfere with the other coaches in terms of making demands on the kids out of season.But just as travel teams have interfered with HS teams and have forced kids to choose between a travel team and their HS team, so now the other HS coaches within the same HS are making all-year demands on their athletes.

And the kids are caught in the middle.



I received a ton of calls this morning on my radio show, as apparently this has really become a problem. Some callers said that coaches like to try and tip-toe around the year-round commitment by saying to the kids that “not to worry – these extra sessions are merely optional.” But athletes – especially those who are fighting for a starting position or to just make the team – know full well that these optional practices are hardly that. Yes, the head coach may not be running them officially, but he certainly is getting plenty of feedback from the coaches who do them as to who is there, and who isn’t.

In short, that’s just not fair.

Another caller said that when the HS coaches are members of the school faculty, there is usually less of a problem with this. Why? Because faculty routinely see each other everyday and in order to maintain friendship with their colleagues, they are reluctant to run roughshod over them and their sports teams. But when the coaches are hired as outsiders, they don’t know the other members of the faculty, and are more likely to focus only on their own sport.

The other thought that was mentioned several times was the role of the AD. That is, it’s up to the HS AD to keep an eye on this kind of all-year practice and to emphatically make it clear to all of one’s coaches that this is not acceptable as it places undue time and pressure on the athletes. That, to me, seems like a logical solution, but apparently some AD’s either don’t put the law down as many parents and kids want.

As my colleague Steve Kallas said this morning, and I thought his comments were right on target: “It was very hard to be a sports parent 15 years ago. And these days, it’s only become more difficult.”

Truer words were never spoken.



ABUSIVE COACHES: Losing One’s Perspective During the Post-Game Handshake

When Coaches’ Misconduct Disrupts Post-Game Handshake Lines

By Doug Abrams

Late last month, the Omaha World-Herald reported that police ticketed a 52-year-old coach for suspected assault and battery on a 10-year-old opponent as the teams traded high-fives in the post-game handshake line after a flag football game. According to writer Kevin Cole, the Omaha coach (whose team had just lost decisively) grabbed the player by the collar and nearly lifted him off his feet. The coach allegedly told police afterwards that he “snapped and lost his temper” because the player had slapped his hand “too hard.” “You will respect me!,” the coach told the boy.

The local youth football association immediately banned the coach, and prosecutors contemplated whether also to charge him with suspicion of disorderly conduct. I have found no later media accounts of the legal outcome, but the incident that Cole reports sheds light on coaches’ leadership roles moments after youth teams have finished a game.

“Models of Good and Acceptable Behavior”

In a variety of youth sports, most post-game handshake lines proceed without incident as they reinforce the sportsmanship and mutual respect that youth leagues and interscholastic competition strive to teach competitors. Last month’s Omaha incident is not the first disruption, however, nor is it the first disruption instigated by a coach who lacked self-control expected from a team leader.

In a handshake line after a pee wee hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2012, for example, the winning team’s 48-year-old coach intentionally stuck out his leg and tripped a 13-year-old opponent, whom the coach had berated from the bench throughout the game.  The player broke his wrist when he fell onto a teammate. A spectator’s video, which quickly went viral, showed the coach pointing menacingly at the boy immediately after the tripping. (1:12).

The Vancouver coach pleaded guilty to one count of assault, and the court sentenced him to 15 days in jail, to be served on consecutive weekends. “Society,” said the judge, “will not tolerate the assault of children by adults.” He called coach’s sentence “a signal to other parents heavily involved in the sporting activities of their children that they must be seen as models of good and acceptable behavior and not as instigators of violence and of riotous behavior.”

“Follow the Leader”

A Kentucky school superintendent recently said this about the value of post-game handshake lines: “Teaching our students to win and lose graciously are life lessons that we hope and expect coaches to embrace.” The superintendent urged principals and athletic directors to “[a]sk coaches to remember that very few of our students will be college and professional athletes. However, ALL of them need to be able to demonstrate character at crucial times.”  The point is that most men and women face periodic setbacks throughout adulthood, and that resilience learned on the playing field can increase the prospects for overcoming adversity.

When they explain to players the value of post-game handshakes, coaches can share wisdom from Olympic gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken. “The most important lesson I’ve learned from sports,” she says, “is how to be not only a gracious winner, but a good loser as well.  Not everyone wins all the time; as a matter of fact, no one wins all the time. Winning is the easy part; losing is really tough. But, you learn more from one loss than you do from a million wins.  You learn a lot about sportsmanship.”

“It’s really tough to shake the hand of someone who just beat you,” Van Dyken specifies, “and it’s even harder to do it with a smile.  If you can learn to do this and push through that pain, you will remember what that moment is like the next time you win and have a better sense of how those competitors around you feel. This experience will teach you a lot on and off the field!”

The title of “youth coach” confers responsibility to set an example before, during, and after games. Coaching resembles a process of “follow the leader” because players learn from what they watch. Even after a game when the team has come up short, coaches participating in handshake lines need to remain above the fray because actions speak louder than words. Coaches teach self-control by maintaining self-control.


Sources: Kevin Cole,  Youth Football Coach Accused of Attacking 10-Year-Old After Boy High-Fives Him ‘Too Hard”, Omaha World-Herald, Sept. 30, 2016; Hockey Coach Jailed For Tripping Child, Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada), Feb. 27, 2013; Sam Adams, Hockey Coach Jailed For Tripping 13-Year-Old Player As Teams Shake Hands After Junior Game, MailOnline (England), Feb. 27, 2013; Backlash Ensues After No Handshake Directive, (Oct. 10, 2013); Amy Van Dyken Quotes, Backlash ensues after no handshake directive Backlash ensues after no handshake directive Backlash ensues after no handshake directive (quoting Van Dyken)

ABUSIVE COACHES: The Ongoing Issue of Entitlement with Volunteer Coaches

Entitlement is another one of those relatively new concepts in youth sports that really didn’t exist when most of today’s sports parents were growing up. Like the concept of travel teams, or burnout, or repetitive use injuries, coaching entitlement is one of those  issues that has sprung up like an annoying weed in youth sports, and it has unfortunately spread all over the country.

Let me first define what entitlement is. As you might imagine, it comes directly from those parents who are over-involved in their kid’s sports, either as a volunteer coach, or in many cases, as a travel team coach.

The problem is especially evident when a parent feels that since he or she is volunteering their team to work with kids, then there should be sometime “built-in” special side benefits to being a volunteer.

What are the tell-tale signs of Entitlement?

The general philosophy goes something like this:

“If I’m serving as the head coach of this team, and giving of my time and energy without any compensation, then certainly I should be allowed to give my youngster a little break here or there…”

Translation: Since I’m the head coach, my kid is entitled to more playing time than the other kids, or my kid is allowed to play the position he or she wants, or my kid is going to be a team captain, or have their choice of what uniform number they want, or my kid is going to be on the All-Star team.

This is the essence of Entitlement in youth sports. Too many Coaches/Parents feel that, somehow, they – or their kids – are entitled to be treated a little more fairly than the other kids.

Of course, this is NOT the way it’s supposed to be.

It’s as though Parents who volunteer are not aware of the definition of the word Volunteer: which means to give of one’s time FREELY with no expectation of compensation or personal benefit.

But somehow, that simple and clear definition of volunteer coach has been lost in recent years.

Look – if you volunteer, and  you’re giving of your time as a coach, or an assistant coach, you MUST treat all the children in the same way. You CAN NOT show favoritism or nepotism to your own kid. And you certainly can’t give special perks to your son or daughter – just because they are your son or daughter!

Is this pattern now to expected?

The callers on the show this AM all felt that not only is coaching entitlement a continuing issue, but that in many towns, it’s now become a part of life. That is, if your kid plays on a local youth or travel team, all the other parts are now conditioned to assume that the coach is going to play his or her kid more. That this is part of the accepted way of having your kid play for another Mom or Dad.

That trend, of course, is most disturbing. One caller, a physician in his 50s, said that he still recalled with great bitterness when he was told, as a 17-year-old baseball player, by a summer league coach that the coach was going to cut him simply so he could make room for his own son on the team.

The doctor spoke with great emotion as to how hurt he felt by this coaching entitlement. After 30 years, it still bothered him as being cruel and unfair.

Too often youth coaches today forget that the words they use, and the actions they implement, have a very strong, life-long impact on kids. And especially for youngsters just starting out in sports, which is supposed to be all about equality and success based upon meritocracy, this kind of favoritism played by youth coaches is just inexcusable.

Bottom line? If you’re helping out as a coach and your kid is on the team, be doubly sure that no one of the other parents can ever accuse you of giving favors to your own child. You do that just once, and you will run the risk of alienating all of those other parents and their kids.

ABUSIVE COACHES: “Steph Curry….Stay Away from My Students!”

Sometimes, a teacher means well, but the words they choose unfortunately just don’t come out the right way.

And because of that, I’m going to give Matt Amaral, a teacher at Mount Eden HS in Hayward, CA, a break on this. Let me explain why.

Back in May, Amaral wrote a letter to NBA MVP Steph Curry asking him to stay away from Mt. Eden and the students there. What a bizarre request! Why would a teacher write such a note?

Simply because Amaral felt that so many kids in his HS truly believed that they, too, would follow in Curry’s footsteps and someday play in the NBA. Amaral explained that there just weren’t enough adults in these kid’s lives to tell them the truth – that they have a better chance of winning the lottery than ever getting to play pro ball.

Well……as noted, Amaral’s theme is a worthwhile one, but to try and highlight his point by telling one of the NBA’s real good guys to “stay away” from the school is a message gone awry.

What Amaral should have said is that if Curry would come to Mt. Eden to talk to the student-athletes enrolled there, perhaps Steph would talk more about his education at Davidson College, and ideally, how Steph learned along the way to develop some other passions in life including his education — just in case his basketball dreams didn’t come true, or if he suffered a career-ending injury.

Sure, all the kids at Mt. Eden idolize Curry as an NBA superstar, but if Amaral could somehow convince Curry to speak at Mt. Eden, that’s the point you would want Steph to get across: to explain how lucky he was to make it to the pro level, and along the way, he could talk about all the other highly super-talented kids he played with or against in HS or college who, for one reason or another, never were that fortunate.

That’s the message Amaral should have made. And who knows – maybe if Steph Curry came in and talked to the student-athletes about the harsh realities of life and sports, perhaps the kids would actually pay attention to what he had to say. That’s the lesson you want the kids to hear.


ABUSIVE COACHES: The Secret of “Voice Control” When Coaching

 The Youth Coach’s “Theater”

By Doug Abrams


A few years ago, I happened to watch a pee wee hockey practice conducted by a coach who spent nearly the entire hour-long session barking instructions at his 11-12-year-old players. The players seemed willing to follow directions even if the coach spoke in a measured tone without a steady shout, but the coach never gave them the opportunity.

I did not notice whether the players were tuning out, but I would not be surprised if they were. Barking does not resonate for long because nobody likes to be shouted at incessantly by people who are charged with leading them.

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership,” said President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who knew a thing or two about military and civilian command. President Theodore Roosevelt explained his own success this way: “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”

“Knowing” and “Earning”

It is helpful to think of youth league coaching as part theater, with the practice or game venue as the coach’s stage and the players as the audience. Once the coach understands the game and how to motivate kids, the coach puts on a performance. Mere understanding is not enough.

This column offers a two-part formula known to anyone who has ever been successful on stage. First, the coach must “know the audience.” Second, the coach must “earn the right” to the audience’s continuing participation.

First: Knowing the Audience

As a threshold matter, the pee wee hockey coach did not know his audience. After the practice session, I asked him why he was so loud and boisterous for the whole hour. “That’s what pro coaches do,” he responded, and he sincerely meant it.  “Vince Lombardi was gruff with his players, and he’s in the Hall of Fame,” the coach explained, “I’m just trying to be a good coach.”

I am not sure that the hockey coach was right about Lombardi and the pros, but he was surely wrong about kids. Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins were adults, and pee wee hockey players are . . . well, pee wees.

The pros today are elite multimillionaire adults employed by multimillion-dollar (and sometimes billion-dollar) corporations to provide public entertainment that earns profits for owners and shareholders. Lucrative media deals, corporate sponsorships, personal endorsements, and cities’ economic fortunes ride on winning and losing. When coaches yell at a pro, the multimillionaire still gets paid handsomely.

Youth leaguers are not miniature adults or pint-sized professionals. They are children with youthful emotional needs and cognitive capacities. They are growing, learning and playing, not working. Without fat contracts, national media coverage and audiences of millions, children play for fun and fulfillment to an audience consisting usually of only family and friends.  The children’s physical and emotional welfare, and not financial reward, is the bottom line.

Some youth coaches miss the distinction when they lead youth leaguers for the first time. Then some become creatures of habit and never temper their approach. Much of their knowledge of sports comes from the professional games they watch on television, attend in person, or read about in the newspapers. Youth leaguers are different.

Second: Earning the Right to the Audience

Once coaches know their youthful audience, they must earn the right to that audience. Similar to most other rights that must be earned, this one demands hard work and careful attention. Just because a person speaks does not necessarily mean that anyone will continue listening. Similar to theatergoers who may leave before the curtain falls, players may disengage before the end of the season, the coach’s final act. Coaches retain the right to an audience only when the audience wants to stay put.

This frank recognition, drawn from humility and not entitlement, should motivate anyone who seeks rapport with an audience, including youth league coaches. Writer Catherine Drinker Bowen used to keep a simple sign posted above her desk as she created her well-crafted biographies: “Will the reader turn the page?” Youth league coaches should write something similar atop their notebooks and practice agendas: “Will the players come back for more?”  As Ms. Bowen understood, the right answer does not come from taking the audience for granted.

Dave Snyder, my hockey coach at Wesleyan University, taught me about “voice control” when we did some clinics together after I graduated. Be firm but fair, authoritative but not authoritarian. Theater instructors similarly stress voice control as a path to successful and effective communication.

When I coached youth hockey, I used voice control to speak on the ice in the same tone of voice that I would use with the players on the street. I would raise my voice when I needed to be heard some distance away, but never to intimidate or to win false respect. Find a youth coach who remains convinced that barking wins respect, and you have found a coach who is either insecure or inexperienced, or both. When coaches maintain voice control and treat players like fellow human beings, respect follows if the coach deserves it.

“50 Percent of the Performance”

Mastery of theater remains important for youth coaches because open lines of communication remain important. “No coach has ever won a game by what he knows,” said former Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, “It’s what his players know that counts.”

When Shirley Booth won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1952, she shared the credit because “the audience is 50 percent of the performance.” The percentage may be even higher in youth sports because the audience is so impressionable.  “All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It. All the youth sports world certainly is.


ABUSIVE COACHES: When Coaches Take Away Scholarships and Don’t Give A Reason Why

This story will make your blood pressure rise, but just remember this: what this college coach did is NOT illegal.

In October, 2013, Beth Alford-Sullivan was the women’s track coach at Penn State. And as part of her job, she routinely recruited the very best track athletes she could find to Penn State. One of those top HS track stars was Morgan Harvey from NJ. She was such a top hurdler in HS that Coach Alford-Sullivan offered Morgan an 80 % full athletic scholarship to attend PSU.

Morgan was delighted, as was her family, but she turned it down. Why? Very simple. Morgan would have taken the 80% scholarship to Penn State except that she had been a full 100% scholarship to go to Tennessee. She went to UT. The money was important, because Morgan has a twin sister and the savings from Tennessee would help pay for her sister’s college tuition bills.

But then fate intervened. Coach Alford-Sullivan was hired as the head coach at Tennessee. For Morgan, this was wonderful news. After all, Alford-Sullivan had recruited Morgan.

But then a couple of weeks ago, Morgan Harvey, along with six other freshmen recruits on the UT track team, were called into the new coach’s office and were told they were being cut. The girls and their families were stunned. UT had announced Alford-Sullivan’s hiring on June 24th. And the Coach told the media on August 6th that the girls who had been recruited before she had been hired would arrive on campus intact.

But on September 24th, the Coach cut six of the girls. All of them had enjoyed not just good, but spectacular HS accomplishments as runners or hurdlers. Even worse, the Coach didn’t offer any reason for the women being let go, nor had they been in trouble or had academic issues. She basically told the girls that they didn’t fit into the direction that she wanted for the program.

In other words, a hurdler like Morgan, who was personally recruited and offered an 80% scholarship by Coach Alford-Sullivan, apparently was now no longer was good enough to make the Tennessee track team. Hard to believe.

Here’s the caution: too many sports parents don’t realize that college athletic scholarship are renewable on a yearly basis. In this case, UT is honoring the scholarships for these girls for the rest of this year. But after that, those scholarships have to be refreshed every year by the coach, and in this case, they have been cut from the team.

By being cut from the UT team – through no fault of their own – their names are removed from the school’s track and field roster, they are no longer allowed to use the school facilities for weight training, treatment, or nutrition. They can run on the track, but only when other the school teams are not using it.

At this point, Morgan and the others are looking to transfer. But it’s a hassle transferring schools in mid-year, and there’s always the issue of trying to get scholarship from other schools.

Now, in all fairness, perhaps Coach Alford-Sullivan has a different side of the story to tell. But regardless, no matter what her side of the story may be, her actions are going to follow her, especially in the tight-knit world of track and field. One has to wonder how she’ll do when recruiting the next crop of scholarship athletes.

ABUSIVE COACHES: A New Trend is Developing in Holding Coaches Accountable

Ever since the debacle of the Rutgers men’s basketball program a few years ago and the dismissal of Mike Rice for verbally and physically abusing his players, something new has evolved.

And it’s a good trend.

Coaches at all levels are now coming under more scrutiny than ever before.

There was a time in this country not long ago where coaches used to have supreme power when it came to running their programs, and they were given tremendous leeway by their athletic director to run their programs. In effect, so long as the coach put forth winning teams, the AD would look the other way.

But apparently that’s happening less and less.

Here are a couple of examples that didn’t make major headlines, but certainly caught my eye:

o A former female basketball player at Holy Cross was so outraged that the long-time coach Bill Gibbons would strike her hard enough on the back to cause pain, and would also verbally abuse her in an effort to motivate her that she sued him and the college.

Despite the fact that Coach Gibbons has been on staff there for three decades and that he’s the winningest coach in the program’s history, an out-of-court settlement was reached between the woman and the school.

In sum, this woman had the courage to stand out to outdated coaching methods, and filed suit. It really doesn’t make any difference how much she was awarded in the settlement – that’s not the point. What counts is that this kind of legal action must have sent a real warning to all the other coaches at Holy Cross and in other intercollegiate programs.

o And at Temple University in Philadelphia,Eric Mobley, who had served as the college’s track-and-field coach for six years, was let go after accusations of mistreatment of track-and-field and cross-country athletes came to light.

Temple would not go into detail as to why this dismissal was occurring, but in the school newspaper, The Temple News, a number of disturbing allegations were made. Clearly the school administration figures it would make a lot more sense to simply dismiss Mobley than to try and defend him and his program.

Of course, these are just relatively small coaching decisions in the universe of college athletics today. But they at least point to the growing trend that colleges are now paying more attention to trying to weed out those coaches who overstep their boundaries when it comes to working with young athletes.

We all have known coaches who seem to use their status to become bullies with their players. They somehow feel that being in charge has imbued them with powers that make them untouchable or unaccountable for their actions. For an athlete who finds him or herself  as the victim in such a situation, there are usually three options: say nothing and put up with it, transfer to another school, or just quit the team.

None of those options are good ones. But yet, for generations, too many college athletes (and high school athletes) have put with this nonsense.

I’m heartened to see today’s athletes and journalists question these coaching methods. As noted, this is a good trend. Being named head coach doesn’t give you a license to torment and push around the players on your team.