The "Safe Haven" of Sports
Locally, there is a story about a girls' basketball coach who was fired for verbally abusing his players. Demoralizing them, insulting them, and demeaning them. Nationally there is the Penn State saga. While this abuse was physical/sexual, the result is identical because the abused student/athletes are psychologically wounded.
I have personal knowledge and experience with the local, ousted coach. My daughter went to his Sunday basketball club workouts a handful of times. The first few times, my husband took her. The very first time I attended, I was aghast at the way he spoke to the girl players. It was a co-ed experience. I felt my anger growing as he verbally berated the 7, 8, 9 and 10 year old girls. I watched my daughter's face harden and her lip quiver as he asked her if she needed to go "hug her Mommy" since she kept glancing at me in the stands. When we left the gym, I asked my husband why he thought this was a good idea for our girl. His response, which has been repeated and a source of contention between us, was that all kids need to have the experience of a hard coach so that they can learn to deal with the pressure.
Coach and athlete by Eric Langley via Flickr
I was incensed by this coach's macho, ego-maniacal, degrading tone and my husband thought it was mildly acceptable??!!
My background differs from my husband's in several ways. The most important way is in the area of competitive sports and the role it played in our lives. My husband has used his love of sports as a basis for his ENTIRE adult life. His lessons as an athlete helped him build a business based on the concept of team, which he learned playing football and baseball all through college. I played sports...well swimming and "track", and "cheerleading" mostly as a way to get out of my house and away from my parents....such as they were. I was never identified as an athlete and I am fine with that. I love sports. I watch a ton of sports. On TV and in person. Now, as a mother to 2 athletic daughters, I live in a constant state of sports. Hannah Storm wrote a book called "Go Girl". I purchased this for my husband in 2002. I just re-read it.
Coaching abuse is not a new concept. In 1993, a study showed that 43.5% of boys and girls reported being yelled at, called names, or insulted while playing sports. 17.5% said they had been hit, kicked or slapped while participating in sports. 3.4% had been pressured into sex or sexual touching and 8% said they had been called names with sexual connotations.
Here is the deal for me....young girls look up to coaches as important authority figures and they take their criticism very much to heart. The continual berating, over time, can damage their self-esteem. Now I am not going to go all airy fairy and say that "everyone is a winner" and I do not believe that any coach is responsible for raising my daughters. However, accentuating the positive and encouraging the best effort should not be considered tantamount to coddling or taking the "sport" out of sports. These are young, impressionable children. Why wouldn't a coach want to instill confidence and love of the game instead of demeaning and emphasizing "winning at any expense"???!!!
The firing of this local coach has been twisted by some parents as just "sour grapes" over playing time. I have to wonder what they were watching? I refused to let my daughter attend his club workouts. I stood my ground, against my husband, to the point that I was willing to request a transfer if that coach was still in place when it came time for my daughter to play in High School. That is how horrifying I found his attitude and coaching style to be. While I cannot help but feel a bit vindicated, I am deeply saddened that grown MEN have been allowed to wield such power over our impressionable youths. I am outraged that more parents do not notice the glaring RED FLAGS....although I can honestly say that had I been being abused by any of my coaches; there is NOT A CHANCE that my own parents would have seen the signs.
I do not coach. I do, however, attend each and every practice. I know what a luxury this is. Perhaps my hyper vigilance is unnecessary. But I do not care. These are MY girls. If someone is playing this big of a role in their lives, they will do so under my watchful eye. I would not have it any other way. To date, aside from the aforementioned coach, my girls have had very good coaches. When I have seen or heard something the least bit inappropriate, I have said so. It has only happened twice. Both times I was thanked for pointing out what it must have sounded like to the young girls and an apology was given by the coach. Youth sports is a joy. My daughters have made some amazing friends. Experienced some intense highs and had some sorrowful lows. Neither one has any problem identifying themselves as an athlete. However, it does not DEFINE them. They have taken some of their "on the field" lessons and translated them in the classroom, in the lunchroom, and on the playground.
When my husband uses a sport's metaphor in his mission statement for his business, it rings true. His employees huddle up and hang on his every word and he has the uncanny ability to "coach" each one exactly the way they need to be coached. With a pat on the back, an incentive to strive for more, or a challenge to rise up to par. To this day, he speaks with reverence about his coaches and how much they taught him about life. I know the Penn State coach will NOT have the same legacy, nor will the basketball coach here in our town.