Despite multiple nationwide campaigns to weed out bullying in schools, too often we turn a blind eye to bullying in sports, particularly the kind applied by coaches, parents, and teammates. Why?

In a cellphone video circulated last year, a California football coach forces one of his players to place his hands over his head before punching him in the stomach. In a public mea culpa, a father laments the insane pressures he placed on his son, who eventually contemplated suicide. Even professional football players have suffered from bullying from teammates.

While these examples may seem extreme, studies demonstrate that as many as 2 million kids each year are emotionally and/or physically bullied by coaches, parents, and teammates.

Sports doesn’t build character unless the coach models it, nurtures it, teaches it.

Experts are divided on precisely why so many schools, clubs, coaches and even parents ignore the problem or, worse, approve it, particularly when it involves children.

In the case of the California coach, several parents downplayed the incident, some even defending his behavior as good for the kids. Nevertheless, the coach has been suspended and law enforcement is considering criminal charges.

No doubt many coaches and parents are simply mimicking the way they themselves were coached. Others believe – mistakenly – that harsh treatment of players builds character and leads to success.

Numerous studies have shown not only that players respond poorly to aggressive modes of coaching, but that it can cause long-lasting damage. Furthermore, it’s been demonstrated that coaches who use positive forms of reinforcement enjoy greater levels of success – both in terms of happy, productive players as well as team wins.

All of which is particularly important at a time when more than 70% of kids abandon organized sports by the age of 13. A big part of the reason for this drop-off in sports participation: abusive coaches.

“The great myth in America today is that sports builds character,” says Joe Ehrmann, a former defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts. But sports “doesn’t build character unless the coach models it, nurtures it, teaches it.”

Fortunately, a growing number of experts are recognizing the risks of bullying in sports and working to establish standards by which coaches, parents, and others conduct themselves when it comes to kids and sports.

The Positive Coaching Alliance, for example, has set up training courses and materials for coaches, parents, and others in how best to work with student-athletes. PCA salutes coaches who support its double-goal program, which focuses first and foremost on helping kids with life goals and secondly on winning.

 

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