Coaching Basketball: The line between tough and abuse

One coach said, “I grabbed him because I wanted to know he was paying attention.” Another coach in a time out grabbed a jersey because he needed to move him into place to demonstrate a point. Another coach grabbed a jersey while punching a chest.

Years ago I think coaches could be more aggressive, but it has changed. Abuse simply is not tolerated. So what is the line? Can we yell at kids? Some ask if a decade of artificial self-esteem boosting made American society wimpy that a coach can’t raise his voice without being fired? Should we put hands on kids? How about a sarcastic yell laced with curse words?

I am going to tackle this from a perspective of coaching 6-12th grade basketball.  I started by asking my h.s. son if it was OK for a coach to grab a jersey of a player and he replied, “it’s just a game, why do people have to lose their mind, they need to relax.” Well, that was easy. Blog over! He’s got a point.

Yet, the game is intense; it has moments in the huddle that the coach has thirty seconds to get one point across. There is half time inside the locker room and coaches yell for sure. But there is a distinction between high-volume correction and mental or physical abuse.

So what is the line between being tough and abuse?

Let me start by saying, I do believe some of the abuse comes from the fact that as a society we have genuinely lost our perspective on winning. Sadly, winning has become more important than the mental health and happiness of youth/athletes. When winning is more important to the coach than the experience of his/her athletes’ participation, then EMOTIONAL and sometimes PHYSICAL ABUSE are the end result.

  • Personal attacks are unacceptable. Things like “are you stupid?” “You’ll never play anywhere, why don’t you just quit”; “you’re fat and out of shape”. Timing and tone are everything. We have got to remember why we coach. For me, its developing skilled players and mentally strong players, but perhaps more importantly developing character and helping kids grow into leaders in their homes, church, community and on their future teams.
  • Putting hands on a player is unacceptable. This includes grabbing, pulling, poking fingers into their body, pushing, etc.
  • Abuse is unacceptable. Here are some signs of abuse: uses public embarrassment and humiliation, disinterested in feelings, rarely gives positive feedback, demeans, yells, plays head games, creates an environment of fear and intimidation, never satisfied with performance, not interested in feed back, unapproachable, uses excessive conditioning for punishment, physically touches a player, ignores, is a know-it-all, cares little about athlete and more about winning, kills joy in players, coaches through guilt, is a master at denial and consistently leaves players feeling poorly about themselves, rarely uses praise or positive feedback, earns contempt from players and parents and denies it all.

“Kids who play for these types of coaches may win trophies and tourneys however, the emotional price that these athletes end up paying in the long run for their “success” is an extremely high one. The damage that abusive coaches can do to preadolescent and adolescent athletes oftentimes haunts them well into adulthood, negatively shaping their future performance experiences and relationships both in and out of competitive sports.” Competitive Advantage, Coaching ABUSE: The dirty, not-so-little secret in sports

Click here for qualities of a good coach


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