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Bully Coaches

by Dr. Patrick Cohn


Although motocross for the average youth rider normally does not involve coaches and certainly not a team, a lot of kids who ride also play team sports at school. This is where bad coaches can have a huge impact on the psyche of a young motocross athlete. For this reason motocross parents need to be extra vigilant against the bully coach and be aware of bullying themselves. I'm old school and believe in ruling with an iron fist so this is not about coddling your youngster. It's about coaches who don't know their you-know-what from a hole in the ground and are on a power trip. Theses are bully coaches. Our good friend Dr. Patrick Cohn, a sports psychologist, wrote the following article that I thought would be very helpful to all the motocross parents who follow this site. - Virtual Trainer

What's the biggest complaint we get from sports parents? Bully coaches. These are coaches who scream at, intimidate, harass or scare young athletes—usually in the name of motivating them to perform better.

"My daughter was bullied relentlessly on her high school gymnastics team by her coach," says one sports parent. "She was screamed at in front of her entire team after every meet, called names, criticized for everything, including how she talked, how she looked, what she wore. She was hanged in effigy."

"I want to know how I should handle a coach who teaches in a very negative way," writes another sports parent. "He puts the children down and scolds them in front of everybody. He calls my son a knucklehead all the time and gives negative comments. There is very little positive. My son is very sensitive to this and wants to quit."

In some cases, kids quit sports altogether because they've been bullied by a coach. Sometimes they don't explain to their parents why they're quitting. That's because they're embarrassed. But that's not the only problem. Kids who are bullied by coaches often feel their confidence sink, worry more, are afraid of making mistakes, perform poorly and experience lower self-esteem. Often, bullied kids think there's something wrong with them. That's one of the reasons they don't always tell their parents what's going on. They think it's their fault that the coach is attacking them.

Here's the good news: As parents, there is lots you can do. First, you can choose coaches who don't bully. Do that by checking out a coach before you place your child on a team. Watch a few practices. Talk to other parents. Does the coach put kids down, yell at them, or give more negative feedback than positive? Do the kids like the coach? If you uncover a bully coach, keep looking for another team. If your kids are already on a team, watch for signs that they are being bullied. They may feel anxious before practices and games. They may act as if they're afraid of doing something wrong in front of the coach. They may try to avoid going to practice or games. Or they may say they want to quit altogether. They may tell you outright that they don't like the coach. Be sure to listen to their concerns.

If the coach is the only game in town, and you decide to keep your kids on the team, you can help your kids use sports psychology strategies to boost their confidence levels. Help them focus on their game--not on what the coach says to them. Help them "stay in the moment" by creating small, manageable goals that they can focus on.

Want to learn more about bullying in sports? We have two great options for you. If you join Kids' Sports Psychology, you'll get for free our new e-book, "Bully Coaches: Helping Sports Parents Take Action," as part of your membership. Along with the e-book, you'll gain access to our many e-books, articles, audios, videos and Q and A resources—all designed to help you and your kids make the most of youth sports. You can buy our program, "Helping Young Athletes Stay Confident and Mentally Tough in the Face of Bullies," which covers all forms of bullying in youth sports.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Mike December 01, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Wow.... The kids these days are such babies!
    This is what's wrong with this country ! You can't hurt anyone's feelings at all or you are a bully!
    Grow a pair and let your kids learn some discipline !
    Next the marine drill instructors will have to hand out lollipops to the soldiers that do good!

    This is the everyone gets a trophy generation!
    They need to grow up!

  2. Gravatar
    Beenthere December 01, 2011 at 11:33 am


    I live in a town of 3K and the team just won its 4th out of 5 years. Runner up in 6 of the last 7 years and i have never heard one player complain about the coaches. exactly the opposite. That is football.

    Then we have basketball. the coach sounds much like the gymnastics coach described above. He took a young team that in every year up until JV and Varsity won many youth titles and when they got there they couldnt play .500.

    So please tell me why the kids have to put up with a coach like then when a coach proves you dont need to teach that way to get results?

    Your comment about the drill instructor makes me think your one of those amazing dad everyone loves to hear bitch at their kid to go faster. to even compare high school sports to the marines proves a lot about you.

  3. Gravatar
    B-Nix December 01, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    @ Mike

    Really? You put the marines into this? So a 10 year old kid is the same as an 18 year old joining the marines huh. All this was saying was kids do not learn from being yelled at in a negative way. I dont think anyone does. As an adult, what would you do if someone screamed at you and called you a piece of crap because you didnt do something correctly. Pretty sure you would defend yourself. Kids definitely need discipline, but not in a negative way. So whats actually wrong these days is the way parents (like you) raise their kids in a negative environment.

    Back on topic...I like this article. It really teaches the parent some things kids are too afraid to talk to them about, because like the article said, they feel like they are in the wrong

  4. Gravatar
    Tom Smith December 01, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Parents want thier kids to be more than what they could be as a kid, so why do they expect more out of them. If your kid can't take the drill then go join the YMCA were every kid plays, every kid gets a trophy, and every kids is a champion, but then when the kid has to grow up in the real world they fail. If your kid can;t handle the heat then sign them up for a cooking class.

  5. Gravatar
    MIKE December 01, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    I NEVER COMPARED THE MARINES TO HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS! So maybe you need to learn how to comprehend ! re read what i wrote . i stated that the next thing would be that.

    "we are the 99%" = everyone gets a trophy generation!

  6. Gravatar
    Kaden December 01, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    What about bully parents? Im at many races and its usually the parents doing all the screaming and carrying on. I have seen on quite a few occasions where the parents force kids to do jumps their not ready for..and its usually the parents that have never raced that act like this. I see that as a much more common problem then any sports coaches.

  7. Gravatar
    Tom Smith December 01, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Yes, parents at the races are stupid crazy, and need to take a few lessons on how to talk to their kids, not scream at them. I just want to kick thier dumb rear ends as they yell and cuss at thier kids. Red Neck uneducated, and a big belly. this ruins the sport of motocross to see them run after their kids on the track.

  8. Gravatar
    Jojo December 01, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    The one problem we have with this sport is the kids start competing too young. Do we really need 5 year old national champions? Most can't name 10 states at that age. Does it really matter that Mike Alessi had national titles at the age of 10 years old? While had peaked out RV2 was getting stronger. Parents live vicariously through there kids and push them hard. They sacrifice the other kids in the families well being by chasing the dreams of the parents. How many racers have famous brothers or sisters in other sports? The ultimate sacrifice is when your done on a bike you don't have the smarts for anything else. With only about 40 guys making a living racing you have a better shot at playing poker or playing the loto to get rich!

  9. Gravatar
    jd805 December 02, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Good article. Involvement of good people is key in many towns where the school age group kids playing sports is shrinking. Good coaches keep the kids coming out to play to reap the benefits, including higher self esteem. Positive reinforcement works. Building from what an individual does well provides a base to fall back on during adversity. Many racers lack the confidence to move past tough spots in their development from fear of failure and negetivity that comes from failure. It is the excuse generator. The mental strength and path to develop it is what many coaches fail to deliver.

  10. Gravatar
    Hayden December 02, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    This article should be renamed to "50 Dads". I know this was an article intended for other sports, but it fits perfectly here. Guys like Mike up there are the problem we have here. They find any form of 'weakness' to be a terrible thing and spend lots of time trying to go against it. There are some people who take it as weakness when you don't go wide open through a rut, when you don't clear a 30 foot double because there's a kid on the landing, or when you don't win the 50 Sr. class. These are the people we refer to as 50 dads. They come in all shapes and sizes. Most of them are middle-aged, overweight, and have never raced. These are the guys you see screaming at 8 year olds while squeezing their chin guards to tight that they cut themselves. They're the guys who yell at their kids for making smart decisions, such as not jumping at a yellow flag or not trying to clear a double after you lost traction coming up to it. Their sons are normally on 50s, though some times they're on 65s. Most of these guys couldn't ride a bicycle, let alone a 2-wheeled machine with the power to weight ratio of an Indy car. If you encounter one of these bullheaded animals in their natural habitat, do not try to interfere directly. Their way of parenting is right and you're just a stupid wimp for treating kids like that. Instead, go the indirect route. Ask his wife why she permits her son to be constantly tormented, screamed at, pushed around and looked down upon. Leave a picture of a smiling kid on a PW50 behind in their van for good measure. But by far the best way is to lead by example and not let these idiots ruin your racing experience. Yeah, they'll probably start a fight with you over your son having a Rekluse clutch in the 65 stock class. They'll probably shove your 7 year old out of the way in order to yank their son up by the helmet and throw him back on his Cobra. But these idiots are a fact of life, and as of right now there's not really any proven techniques to dealing with them.

    Also, RacerX needs to do an article on the best way to handle 50 dads.

  11. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 02, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    First, I would like to thank you all for commenting on this article. Good discussion always help push a topic forward.

    The intent of this article is NOT to say that kids these days should not be yelled at or disciplined. I actually believe the contrary to be true. I think in general kids these days are fat and lazy compared to past generations. BUT, it is not the kids' fault. Its the parents' since they are responsible for teaching their kids. So actually a more correct statement would be that parents are fatter and lazier than past generations. But why state the obvious. Nothing pisses me off more than a moto dad yelling at his kid.....with his gut hanging over his belt and a cig in his mouth. Its like having a Doctor who smokes or a trainer who is fat. Anyway, I digress....

    I believe that when a coach yells and screams simply because he knows no other way, then the term Bully (or just plain bad coach) can be used. I certainly DO NOT believe in praising little Johnny for everything he does. If he screws up and does something wrong then he needs to be told. Possibly through yelling if that is what gets through to that particular kid. I believe in saying stuff like, "Well, little Johnny, that still was not very good but I liked the effort. Keep practicing and you will get better." Good coaches will find out what motivates a kid. Bad coaches just yell no matter what b/c they don't know any better.

    Nothing pisses me off more than when a soccer coach tells my kid she did a great job when she obviously did not. And if the effort is not there, they need to be told that as well. And if the coach yells at my kid, then she needs to be tough enough to take it and do better next time. Unconditional praise is as unrealistic in sport as it is in the real world. As a matter of fact, I think it can be extremely detrimental. If you are going to be a coach who yells, you better be able to balance it out with knowledge and skill.

  12. Gravatar
    bobby December 02, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    i agree with mike

  13. Gravatar
    Justin December 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Marines are marines not soldiers

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