Setting the Scene...
Coaching children can have its frustrations!
Even a well meaning coach may sometimes feel so overwhelmed by a situation or behaviours that he or she loses their cool.
The following scenario explores the nature of verbal abuse and suggests strategies for coaching in a more positive and supportive way.
As you read through the material think about how you would behave in this situation. If you would like more information click on the resources menu item at the top of the page.
Scene 1: Soccer training
A soccer coach overseeing a training session (where the kids are mucking about) calls the boys together - and launches into a loud, angry tirade.
"I've had a gutful of you lot! You're just hopeless!!! How many times do I have to show you this drill?!?! All you do is muck around! And you're the worst Jack! That bloody mobile phone rules your life! It's no wonder you let the team down week after week. You're hopeless! And what are you smirking about Daniel?? You're just as bad. I come out here week in, week out with no bloody help or thanks from anyone. I don't know why I bother. Not one of you is trying. Not one. If you get beaten again on Saturday, it would serve you bloody well right!"
Which of the following best describes what you've just heard?
A) Poor coaching
You're right it is an example of poor coaching. It's clear from what we've heard that the coach doesn't know how to manage the children's behaviour or how to motivate and inspire them.
But although this is clearly poor coaching, it's more than this. The hostility, swearing and picking on individual children goes beyond what we'd consider acceptable behaviour for anyone coaching junior sports.
B) A reasonable outburst given the circumstances
We've heard the coach's tirade and we know that he is frustrated, angry and exasperated but we don't know what preceded his ourtburst: we can only make assumptions.
The reality is that coaching can be extremely challenging. Children may be rude and disrespectful; some will muck about whilst others won't pay attention; parents and club members may not appreciate the time and effort expended on preparing and conducting training sessions. None of this is justification for swearing, humiliating individual children or being abusive.
C) Verbal abuse
Yes, it's verbal abuse. While it's at the mild end of the scale - and many of us have witnessed a lot worse - it's still abuse. If this type of behaviour continued or escalated it could have serious impact on:
- children's self esteem - they're likely to feel humiliated, embarrassed, angry, resentful, frightened or hostile
- their interest in sport - if children are insulted, ridiculed and told they're hopeless they're unlikely to be enthusiastic
- their performance - although some individuals may improve their game in the short term, junior sport shouldn't be about winning at all costs.
Scene 3: Identifying your personal triggers
Although verbal abuse has no place in children's sport, a lot of us have been tempted to behave like the coach in the opening scene.
Think about your reactions.
Explore what might trigger this type of response.
A) Children mucking around, being rude or inattentive and not following instructions
Almost every coach or teacher has experienced this type of situation.
There are many reasons why children misbehave and boredom and disinterest are high on the list. In some cases the children may only be attending because their parents want them to; in other cases they may be challenging the kids with an abundance of energy and little understanding of boundaries. In most cases, however, it's likely to be because the sessions aren't interesting, engaging or enjoyable.
Shouting, yelling or swearing at children may have an impact in the short term, but it won't neccessarily be the effect you are aiming for.
Nor should you assume that parents approve of this method for maintaining control. Many don't but choose not to raise the issue for fear their child may be victimised or not selected for the team.
To find out about strategies for managing children's behaviour click here
B) Frustration with the lack of club support and/or feeling that you don't have the knowledge or skills to handle situations.
Coaches are often parents - many with jobs and related responsibilies - who willingly give their time to support children's sport. And it can be a demanding and challenging task, particularly if no one offers support or guidance.
Almost all coaches, no matter how experienced, will feel frustrated at times. Newer, less confident coaches may feel pressured by everything they have to do. None of this, however, excuses verbal abuse.
Although clubs should provide support to their coaches, this won't always be the case. It's therefore important that you take the initative.
To find out about strategies for dealing with this situation, click here.
C) Your belief that the team could win if they'd just try harder; you know they're not doing their best and some of the team are playing way below their standard.
Although it's nice to be the coach of a winning team, children shouldn't feel under pressure to win at all costs. Junior sport should be enjoyable, with participants actively involved, learning new skills and having fun.
Verbally abusing children in an effort to improve their performance is rarely an effective way of motivating them. It's much more likely to have the opposite effect and prompt them to drop out.
To find out about strategies to motivate children, click here.
Scene 5A: A coach's response to verbal abuse
You've been at the club for a number of years and coach the senior team.
You've just witnessed another coach verbally abusing a group of under 12s.
How do you respond?
A) I wouldn't say or do anthing - it's none of my business
All club members have a responsibility to create a safe and secure sporting environment. This means that each of us has an obligation to treat others with respect and to take action if we observe our colleagues behaving in an unprofessional manner.
B) I'd have a general chat with him when he's finished training
You are certainly on the right track. A coach who has 'lost it' during training may want to talk about what happend and why, although it's likely that he'll focus on the events that led up to his outburst rather than his actual behaviour.
As a fellow coach you're in an ideal position to empathise with his situation (e.g feeling overwhelmed, facing disruptive children) and to offer suggestions for more appropriate responses to the behaviour/incidents that trigger the event.
If you feel comfortable doing so, talk about the frustrations he is experiencing and ways for overcoming them without resorting to verbal abuse.
C) I'd speak to the administrator and let him/her deal with it.
Referring the matter to the administrator is a good option if you don't feel comfortable addressing the matter with the person.
In many cases a coach is more likely to listen to a colleague if the matter is raised immediately after the event. They have just come off the field, the situation is uppermost in their mind and they'll probably be keen to talk about it and to listen to advice from a peer who understands the frustrations they face. By approaching the coach directly, you're modelling good behaviour and tackling the issue in an appropriate and timely manner.
Of course, not all clubs are the same: in some it may be more appropriate to refer the matter to an administrator, particularly if the verbal abuse was extreme. Knowing your club, how it operates and how it deals with problems should help guide your behaviour.
Scene 5B) A club administrator's response to verbal abuse
You've just witnessed a coach verbally abusing a group of under 12s.
How do you respond to the coach's outburst?
A) I'd let go because I don't want to lose a coach.
Finding coaches is extremely difficult and often clubs and schools settle for anyone who volunteers. Although this is understandable, all club administrators have a responsibility to ensure the coaches they engage act within their club's policies and codes of behaviour.
A coach who is verbally abusive is likely to need support and guidance. If however, the abuse continues or escalates - despite your intervention - it's better to lose a coach than put the well-being of children at risk.
B) I wouldn't over-react but I'd be prepared to take action if any parents made a formal complaint.
It is important to consider how often this type of outburst occurs. It may be that the coach is having a bad day and that the behaviour isn't representative of his normal approach. Yet even if this is the case, you still need to talk to him about it. In doing so, it's important that you listen to his verison of events rather than accusing him of being unprofessional. Ask him to tell you what happend and why. Once you know what caused his behaviour you can decide what action to take.
C) I'd immediately remind all coaches of the club's Code of Behaviour in the hope that this particular coach gets the message.
This is a great place to start and something you should do regularly throughout the season. However, the coach you are targeting may miss the point.
Observe him at practice and if you witness the behaviour talk to him about it.
Find a time and place that is appropriate and ask him to tell you his version of the incident. Once you understand the cause of the behaviour you can decide what action to take.
D) I'd make it very clear to the coach that his behaviour isn't acceptable. I'd also offer support to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Although this is a great response, it's success will depend on how you talk about the issue. If you're hostile or judgemental your comments may not be well received and you could end up losing a coach. It's important to find out what prompted the outburst and whether the coach has a history of this trype of behaviour.
Most coaches are well intentioned and want to do their best. In this case the coach may need more support e.g mentoring, coach education and behaviour management strategies.
If the behaviour continues you may need to be prepared to take a firmer postiton, e.g. release the coach from their position.
Administrator's reflection & responsibilities
Identifying the cause of the coach's outburst is critical to tackling the issue. If it's a one-off event and related to a lack of support, poor behaviour management strategies or problems coaching, then you can provide support and guidance.
If their coaching philosophy leads to speak to children this way, and is part of their coaching style, then you may face a more difficult task. Talk with the coach about why 'winning at all costs' is at odds with children's enjoyment of sport. Warn them that this behaviour is unacceptable, remind them of the club's Code of Behaviour and then monitor the situation. If things don't improve, it may be necessary to remove them from their position.
There are steps you can take to minimise the risk of this type of situation occuring.
- make clear to club's expectations about coaching behaviour
- promote the club's Code of Behaviour and Member Protection Policy (if you have one)
- encourage coaches to undertake training
- introduce mentoring for new or struggling coaches
- offer support at the first signs of difficulty
- observe coaching practices and address and concerns as soon as they arise.