Changing the Game Project – Abuse in Youth Sports

The following is taken from an article from a program I like to follow, ‘Changing the Game Project’. An excellent organization trying to combat the toxic nature of youth sports and provide education and engagement to coaches and parents. Firstly, please see a selection of the article below, and then the following thoughts –

I kept thinking to myself how wrong it is that we have created a system that scares players into compliance with abusive coaches, who hold so much power to determine whether they will play at the next level. And who are scared and accept abusive and demeaning behavior from coaches because of this fear. And what about the parents, much like the culture of gymnastic parents, who continued to register their children for the abusive coaching and gladly paid for it? Why do we live in a world where we think making people feel worse about themselves will make them play better? Why do we risk our children’s physical, emotional and mental well being in pursuit of a college scholarship or on field performance? When will we say “ENOUGH!”

I do not blame the children, as many of them are so young they cannot possibly know better especially when they witness adults that they trust turning a blind eye. And I completely understand the fear many parents feel that if they speak up, their child can lose a coveted place on the team. I even hear from parents who stand up, blow the whistle on such behavior and get sued for their effort. Coaches lose their job when they stand up to abusive behavior or report on colleagues or board members who are engaging in sketchy behavior, but win a lot and place players in college programs.. Do you not find it ironic that in our race to take away childhood by adultifying youth sports, we neglect to act like adults when our children need us most? 

I truly hope the Yates report is a turning point, but somehow I doubt it. This occurs in every sport, boys and girls, and the incentives still favor abusive, win at all costs coaching. But at some point we need to finally say enough is enough, I am pulling my child, to hell with the consequences. So I will get off my pedestal now, but I am interested in your thoughts. Why do we tolerate this type of coaching behavior, and what can we do to change it?

  • Behaviours in coaching is something I am passionate about, and is something lacking in coach education, modern coaching focuses more on this, moving away from the old methods of shouting and scorning. However, this is still so common in coaching, as we continue with the thought process of, ‘it’s what we did growing up’, ‘it didn’t hurt me’, ‘it will teach kids to be stronger, tougher’. All of this has been debunked by scientific research, and because it’s what we used to do, it doesn’t make it right, we now have the research to back this.
  • The winning culture, so dominant in US sports is adultifying the youth experience. Cutting players at 8-9 years old. Making kids run if they lose games. Shouting at kids while the ‘play’, because they can’t do something. If you refused kids into schools because of a grade, made them write lines for making a mistake, and stood over them shouting while they were in maths class, you would call this crazy and abusive, but in youth sports… somehow accepted.
  • There is too much adult ego in youth sports. The coach that tells you they can take your child to a college scholarship, how only being on their team will make your child an elite player, how they play in ‘x’ league, ‘x’ bracket, and have won so many tournaments. These ego’s should not exist in coaches, it’s the kids game, we are meant to be here for the kids.
  • Parent ego stems from the coaches behavior and environment created. The importance as parents we place on a childs sporting success and how it affects the perception others might have on us as parents. The ‘cooler’ talk at work, the hoodie worn at school pick up, it’s not healthy for the parents nor the players.

We need to give youth sports back to the kids, and even more than ever before as we return from lockdowns which have had an effect on kids development, and also to stop the spiral of a toxic culture that’s taking away the youth sports experience for the kids.

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