Helping kids handle tough or abusive coaches

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

A reader wrote in and asked my opinion on a very touchy subject. A dad sent an email describing a girls’ high school coach who exhibited angry, sarcastic and belittling behavior when coaching the team. The dad related that he’d spoken to this coach on numerous occasions, expressing his displeasure with the coach’s handling of the girls, and that other parents had as well. Each time, he said, the coach’s behavior improved temporarily, but he’d soon relapse into the same mean and negative personality. In the most recent incident, the dad reported that his daughter had come home in tears and ready to quit because she’d been unsure of what to do at practice and the coach had embarrassed her in front of all of the other players by showing his irritation and making them all stop what they were doing to listen to her question.

The dad said he’d read my article on parents and playing time and would like some advice. What I wrote, (below) is not significantly different than what was written in the original article. What it comes down to is that sooner or later, kids will have to handle these types of situations on their own, and though this is not one of the pleasant aspects of life, perhaps the positive in being faced with a situation like this is that lessons that can be learned and applied in the future:

Hi (name),

Thank you for your note and for asking my opinion on this matter. This is a very tough and touchy subject and, unfortunately, I don’t have any magic solution for you.

First, I’m obviously going to have to take it on faith that this person is acting as you say he is, which leads to several other questions. Does he seem to focus this behavior more on your daughter, or is he equally sarcastic and negative to all the girls? If it is just your daughter, there are different issues to deal with. If you would say the treatment is the same for everyone, then are all the parents upset, or do some believe he is a good coach? It appears that you and others are not afraid to stand up to him, (as many people would be since he controls playing-time), so has anyone gone to the Athletic Director with complaints? One parent complaining about the coach is probably not going to change anything, but if a substantial portion of the team voiced the same concerns, it is more likely the AD would believe it is a real problem. That is the only way I see this coach being replaced.

Outside of having him removed, based on what you have said, I do not believe there is anything you can say or do to make him change. Therefore, the only other options I can see are quit the team, or deal with it.

I know how hard it is having kids playing for coaches we don’t like. It is terrible. We want them to be happy in everything they do and this must tear at you. However, the silver lining could be the life-lessons your daughter could learn. All her life she will be in situations where she must deal with disagreeable people. Someday she may have a job where her boss is just like this coach, (I’ve been there). When that day comes, she won’t have you to talk to the boss to try to get him to be nicer…she’ll have to handle it herself. If her way of handling it is to quit, she’ll end up having to find a new job, and may like the new boss even less.

I would see if there isn’t something she can to to improve her relationship with him such as working harder or being more of a team leader. Find out what he wants as a coach and do the best she can to give that to him. If she can’t improve her effort in any way, I’d recommend she takes the initiative to speak with him herself and address her concerns. It may be that he’d respect that more than hearing from her parents, and he might be more likely to think twice before belittling her the next time. And you’d be giving her an opportunity to learn a valuable skill in dealing with people that will benefit her the rest of her life.

I hope this is helpful and that your daughter sticks it out. Again, I appreciate your taking the time to write in and ask my opinion.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck ( and also author of four sports books which can be found at

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