Every parent who has a child that participates in competitive sports know that bully coaches exist. We’ve all heard horrible stories of coaches who, for whatever reason, fixate on a particular athlete and intimidate and harass them.

In an article titled The Sport Behavior of Youth, Parents, and Coaches – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, 800 American children were interviewed. About 45% of them said that their coaches called them names, insulted them or verbally abused them during play.

And in a UK study called The Experiences of Children Participating in Organised Sport in the UK, 6,000 young adults were asked to share their youth sports experiences. About 75% of them revealed that they had suffered “emotional harm” at least once and about 33% of that group said their coaches were the source of it.

Of course, there have been cases where the allegations have been exaggerated. Children deal with tough situations differently. Some may be more sensitive than others and may mistake tough love as bullying. Whatever the case, kids who truly feel they are being bullied eventually start to pull away from the sport, perform poorly, and experience low self-esteem.

As parents and coaches, we recognize the reality that bully coaches do exist. So what do we do when the athlete in being bullied by their coach is our own child?

If you start to notice that your child is withdrawn or doesn’t talk about the sport with as much passion as they once had, there may be a reason why they have lost interest in a game they once loved.

If you start to suspect that the root of your child’s withdrawal from the game is a coach that bullies them; encourage them to open up. A kid who may be hesitant to admit that their coach is verbally abusing them may blame themselves or are too scared that people will accuse them of being too sensitive or not believe them.

And if you feel strongly that your child is being bullied and withholding the truth, plan to observe one of their practices. The coach may be on their best behavior because they know they are being watched. So instead, watch your child and see how they behave around their coach. Do they respond well to when their coach calls to them? Do they make eye contact? Do they appear enthusiastic?

Approaching the coach with hesitance and a bowed head when the coach calls to them shows that your child is preparing themselves for a scolding. Avoiding eye contact reveals that your kid fears their coach. And a lack of eagerness confirms that they lack motivation.

Once you have established that your kid’s coach may be a bully, urge your child to be honest with you. Ask them if the coach has ever spoken to them in a manner that they felt was inappropriate or mean. Is the coach particularly hard on them specifically or verbally abusive to the team in general?

Ask your child how they would like to proceed? Do they want to quit the program? Do they want to transfer to another team? They may protest and say that they don’t want you to make a big deal about it. However, it is important for you to explain to your child that this behavior is not acceptable. And if they choose to ignore it and take no action, another child may be victim of that coach’s bullying.

A bully coach should be reported to the proper authority such as the league administrator or school principal. Young athletes need to know that there is a difference between tough love and verbal abuse.