Why is Abusive Coaching Tolerated in Sports?

Abusive coaching is a term that describes coaching that is overly either physically or verbally aggressive. You might think that in this day and age – where we are ostensibly far more sensitive to the emotional and psychological wellbeing of others – this would be a rare thing. In fact, though, abusive coaching is not at all unusual and happens all the time.

Why is Abusive Coaching Tolerated in Sports?

Picture the stereotypical sports coach, and you might well think of someone barking orders, shouting at their team, and forcing them to do huge sets of push ups for making minor mistakes.

This is not how it should be, and yet it is how it is. So why is that?


One issue is the misconceptions that surround coaching in general, and the best way to get the most out of someone. We tend to believe that in order to perform our best, we need to be pushed. We require both the carrot and the stick in order to feel motivated and to train harder.

The truth is that most people actually perform best when they are emotionally supported by a supportive and encouraging environment! Those that think otherwise are simply outdated. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misinformed coaches still out there training people.

Partly, this may also come from other influences. In particular, the coach might see themselves as having a lot in common with an army drill sergeant. These professionals are responsible for whipping armies into shape, and will famously use extremely harsh methods and language in order to accomplish that.

But this is an entirely different field with different goals and challenges. Military training needs to be emotionally tough because the reality of war is extremely emotionally tough. The trainees are tested physically and emotionally so that they will be able to follow orders under extreme pressure. And even in this setting, the methods used are often called into question.

It is simply not appropriate for this same attitude to be brought into the sports locker room.


The other issue is culture. Unfortunately, there is something of a macho culture in many sports teams, with most members not wanting to show obvious signs of weakness. Making a complaint about an overly harsh coach could well be seen as such as sign. As such, many sports men and women are happy to continue being abused, and afraid to speak up. In fact, they might even join in!

This is a problem because it simply perpetuates the issue, and ensures that it will not be addressed.

The bravest, and most “macho” thing that you can do, is to speak up and to demand better treatment. YOU are the talent, and the coach works for YOU. They need to support you emotionally in order to get the most out of you mentally and physically, and you shouldn’t stand for anything less. This is not only a service to yourself, but to your team as a whole. You will help to make sports more welcoming for everyone.

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