The Fine Line Between Coaching and Bullying

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In the world of youth sports, there is a fine line that exists between effective coaching and bullying. To determine the difference between coaching and bullying, let’s break down what defines good and what constitutes excessive coaching.

What is Good Coaching?

A good coach understands the physical limitations of the kids he or she is coaching. They will work to help them develop skills and improve upon what they already can do. However, they will not physically pull or push on the child, belittle them or yell at them. A good coach can get a child to willingly do his or her best without the threat of violence. Moreover, a good coach will build up the child resulting in a higher confidence level and encouraging growth of character.

What is a Bully Coach?

coaching a team

When a coach bullies, they essentially act just like a school yard bully only in a different setting. If the child is a boy, the coach may insinuate that the child is a sissy. Coaches sometimes call the child names, put down their intelligence or physical abilities or may blame a loss on a certain child. In extreme cases, bully coaches actually pull or push on young athletes.

What Are the Long-term Effects of Bullying?

A 2003 study performed by Dr. Stephen Joseph of the University of Warwick discovered that verbal abuse, which is the type of abuse typically found in coaching, can have an even greater impact on the victim than a physical attack. In fact, instead of helping children to toughen up, verbal abuse causes post-traumatic stress disorder is 33 percent of abused children.

Knowing this data on bullying only makes preventing coaches from bullying that much more important. After all, who wants their child permanently and negatively affected by some little league coach? Therefore, defining what constitutes good coaching and what borders on bullying is a must for all youth sports leagues.

 What Can Youth Sports’ Leagues Do?

Although not every aspect of coaching can be controlled by the league, the league can have a standard set of dos and don’ts pertaining to coaching. They could also offer a free class to showcase positive ways to encourage better performance while discouraging the use of harsh words or violence as a way to get above-average effort on the field.

Another way to discover possible bully coaches is by taking a survey of parents after the season is over. If one coach gets more than one or two complaints pertaining to bullying or aggressive coaching, this is a red flag for the league indicating a possible bully coach.

What Are a Parent’s Legal Options?

If a child becomes injured due to a coach’s behavior, the family can likely get compensation through a lawsuit. Even if a coach does not directly and intentionally hurt a child, injury caused by carelessness is still an offense in many states.

Youth sports are often a positive experience for children. After all, it offers kids the opportunity to remain active, meet new friends, increase their skill set in regards to sports and build their self-confidence. However, when coaches begin to bully the youth athletes under their tutelage, these benefits are lost and negative consequences begin to amass. Therefore, it is up to each parent and each youth sport’s league to work together to keep kids safe while playing and prevent coaches from crossing the line into bullying.

Have you ever been a coach?


Krystle Cook – the creator of Home Jobs by MOM – put her psychology degree on a shelf and dived into a pile of diapers and dishes instead. She is a wife and mother to two rambunctious boys, sweating it out in her Texas hometown. She loves cooking, DIY home projects, and family fun activities.


  1. Yes it is a fine line we had something on an A Current Afair only a couple of months ago about a coach we was over stepping that line and was more a bully then a coach. He of course could not see what he was doing wrong

    • We’ve had one of my sons be kind of a bully. Most of the parents didn’t like him but we won the championship

    • Savannah Bobo says:

      Yes, I’d wager in most cases these coaches believe they’re simply exhibiting a “necessary” toughness.

  2. NeoshaGEE (@NeoshaLatrice) says:

    Great post. I’ve seen coaching being taken the wrong way by many. There is indeed a major difference between encouragement in coaching and talking down in coaching.

    –Visiting from BHB Linkedin Group.

  3. Sophia Naz says:

    A real problem is knowing what’s at stake here. Often the pressure put on by bully coaches is less to do with personal growth for the mini-athlete and more to do with winning.
    Winning a game, although a big confidence boost for both coach and child, needs to be looked at as not the only route available. Losing gracefully also builds character.
    Good post reminding us all to know when to draw the line!

  4. Susan Cooper says:

    I have a friend that has chosen other activities for her children because some of the coaches are very brutal. I think people forget that they are only children.

    • I do think they forget sometimes that they are only children too. They get so caught up in winning and forget they are there to have fun too.

  5. Bullying makes headlines today, and I’m glad for it. Children’s sports can be plagued with these idiots, but not if parents are aware. All it takes is one bad coach to ruin a child’s future in what should have been a pleasant and positive past-time. Children are so vulnerable, especially in today’s society, and need their parents to be on guard.

  6. Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) says:

    I am very happy that my two sons made it through the thicket of growing up to adulthood. Lord knows they deal with enough “slings and arrows” without anyone in authority (who should know better) bullying them.

    (Found my way here via BHB)

  7. It’s always sad when these situations develop because often the coach has no idea the impact they have on players or that they may be producing exactly the results they don’t want in players, an aversion to the sport.

    I think one of the things parents can do is also be present. It’s easy to drop off kids and run some errands while their practice is on, but staying and observing on a regular basis ensures you know what’s going on and can talk to your child, if not the coach about the difference between asking someone to try harder and abusing them.

  8. Coaches, just like teachers, have a such a fine line to walk. It’s so true that the best ones don’t need to resort to fear or intimidation, and such things come in so many forms, some more obvious than others.

    • Very true. Some people just have a knack with children while others should probably steer clear when it comes to other peoples kids.

  9. I had some amazing coaches in softball and soccer when I was younger who really made me feel like I was decent at the sport and should have the confidence to keep building on my skills. Then my father paired up with one of his friends I had rarely had the opportunity of meeting and together they began coaching our soccer team. To this day I can still remember the sinking feeling I felt when I was on the field or in practice. My dad would try to encourage us and be the good coach while his friend Sam would call us Candy Asses and swear at us in the huddle. He made me feel out of shape and overweight even though I’ve never been overweight in my life and I have asthma. To this day I think my confidence still suffers from the way he treated our team.

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