The Long Term Effects of Abusive Coaching Practices

By Dr. Jack Singer

By Jack Singer, Ph.D.
Licensed Sport Psychologist

Jerry Sandusky Sex AbuseWith all of the reverberations emanating from the Jerry Sandusky crimes against young men who trusted him, parents should now be hyper-vigilant about the warning signs of coaches in whom they have entrusted their children. There are many subtle examples of emotionally abusive coaching practices that take place every day and which parents often ignore.

In my more than 30 years of practice, I have heard hundreds of cases of coaches who embarrass, humiliate, intimidate, belittle, frighten and threaten their young athletes, all in the name of motivating them and getting them to perform their best. For many athletes, these coaching practices cause psychological trauma, which has a cumulative effect on the person and may not be noticed until significant emotional damage has already occurred. Many athletes want to quit a sport in which they are very talented, in order to avoid the coach, and parents express disappointment in the child for giving up.

Recent research, reported in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, with parents who reflected on these effects on their children years after they were disengaged from their coaches, shows that the parents felt extreme guilt and sorrow that they allowed their children to be exposed to such coaching practices.

The abuse process follows this pattern:

  1. A coach identifies a child as talented at an early age.
  2. Parents are asked to trust the coach’s expertise and relinquish a degree of control over their child’s coach.
  3. Parents are told not to distract athletes, therefore are often barred from the gym. The child comes home and is depressed, frightened or anxious and the parents encourage them to fight on.
  4. The child and family are required to put the sport, time commitments, etc. at the top of their priorities, sacrificing the child’s other interests.
  5. Seeing other parents in the same situation and often competitive themselves causes some parents to accept what is happening as a given. They don’t want their child to appear “wimpish,” and they are told that the child just needs to be more mentally tough. This includes coaches telling their child not cry and fight through painful injuries.
  6. Parents keep quiet because they see their child’s only chance at success lying with this coach and they don’t want to do anything to anger that coach.

Most of the parents who were interviewed after their child “retired” from their athletic career expressed severe guilt and remorse for allowing what they referred to as “emotional abuse” to occur during those formative years. Many pointed to the psychological help their youngsters needed long after retiring, in in order to repair the damage.

Indeed, I have treated many ex-athletes, whose traumatic experiences at the hands of abusive coaches and ignoring parents had long-term effects on their lives, their families, and how they treated their own children.

Fortunately, abusive coaches do not represent the mainstream of coaching, but they certainly do exist in all sports. Parents need to be hyper-vigilant for these forms of abuse, talk to other parents who experience the same from these coaches, and report this abuse to the proper athletic authorities. Only then will these coaches be quickly removed from their positions of trust and our children will be spared.

Free 20 Minute Telephone Consultation with Psychologist Dr. Jack Singer

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About the Author:

Dr. Jack Singer is a professional speaker, trainer and psychologist. He has been speaking for and training Fortune 1000 companies, associations, CEO’s and elite athletes for 34 years.  Among the association conventions which Dr. Jack has keynoted are those which serve financial planners.

Dr. Jack is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, FOX SPORTS and countless radio talk shows across the U.S. and Canada.  He is the author of “The Teacher’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide,” and several series of hypnotic audio programs, some specifically for athletes and some for anyone wanting to raise their self-confidence and esteem. To learn more about Dr. Singer’s speaking and consulting services, please visit and or call him in the U.S. at (949) 497-9880.


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