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The Coach is a Bully: Now What?

If inaction or retaliation results, you -- and your athlete -- must be prepared to leave the team. It isn't fair, but the bottom line is that the current situation is destructive and intolerable -- and you need to protect your kid as well as your values.
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What should you do when it's the coach who's the bully on your kid's team?

When it's your child's peers, it's no fun, but at least it's a struggle for power among equals. However, when the coach is the bully, it's not only an abuse of power, it can be a land mine for you -- and your kid -- to navigate.

In my last column, I outlined some of the signs that your child's coach is a bully. If you see any of those behaviors, the first step is to communicate your concerns with the coach and/or athletic director. While open communication is ideal, you need to temper your expectations. Why? Because the coach won his position through a consistent pattern of behavior and, in all likelihood, this behavior always included being a bully. Success can breed arrogance, which means that the coach might feel justified not to make any changes and the same goes for the athletic director. Coaches and athletic directors see parents come and go every year, helicoptering in and out during the season.

Look at it from the coach's perspective: This isn't a measured conversation about whether or not the coach is a bully; it's an accusation demanding an answer -- a challenge to his established authority and, when egos are assailed, defensiveness arises. Worst case scenario, your plan for open communication might make a bad situation much more difficult. Not settling for being defensive, the coach may decide to go on the offense and retaliate against the player.

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If inaction or retaliation results, you -- and your athlete -- must be prepared to leave the team. It isn't fair, but the bottom line is that the current situation is destructive and intolerable -- and you need to protect your kid as well as your values. By forcing your child to stay in a situation where the coach is degrading or demeaning her sends the message that it's ok with you if someone treats your child in this manner. Look at it this way: Would you allow a teacher to treat your child with that kind of disrespect? Would you allow the parent of her best friend to speak to her the way the coach does? In all likelihood, absolutely not. You shouldn't allow a coach to behave that way either.

The Lessons of Quitting

Some people insist that you should never, ever quit. I disagree. There are lessons to be learned from quitting a team -- for the right reasons. A young athlete learns that...
  • Self-respect comes first
  • Parents are concerned advocates
  • Being right is no guarantee of success

Teaching our kids that life isn't fair shatters the Disney-like myth that every story ends "happily ever after," but learning this is a big step toward maturity. What's more, this lesson is inevitable -- and one that most parents want to postpone as long as possible. But when the coach is the bully, you can't delay any longer.

Self-respect is one of the most important lessons we'll ever teach our children. It will shape everything from how our kids eat to the career they choose. Learning about self-respect from a coach who is a bully is no one's first choice for how to reinforce this life lesson, but sometimes we have to work with what we're given and decide whether we have enough respect for our kids to keep them safe.