“Don’t Tell Your Parents” Part 4: Cowering Before Coaches

It’s been a while since Part 3 of this series. The big question remains to be addressed: what do you do when your child does tell. But first I think it is instructive to look at one of the most bizarre behaviors I’ve seen parents exhibit, and that is cowering before coaches. If parents won’t stand up for their children when they witness verbal abuse firsthand, what can be expected of them when they are asked to trust their child’s reports of behavior they haven’t seen?

In the Huntsville Times, a married couple, Dr. Margaret Bibb and Dr. Patrick Quirk, both clinical psychologists, write a weekly advice column about family life issues. I wish I could give you a link to their March 12, 2009 column, “Volatile Coach Concerns Mom,”  so you could read it for yourself. It is archived, but to get to it would cost you $2.95, so I’ll skip it. Usually the pair gives fairly sensible advice. Not this time.

Concerned Mom is wondering about the effect on her son of his coach’s behavior [emphasis added]:

The coach will blow up and be really verbally abusive to my son and others. Often their offense is something very small or they haven’t done anything wrong at all. On other occasions you will see him acting very affectionately with the boys, although his expressions of affection are often laced with teasing insults. The team does well and everybody seems pleased with the coach, including the school principal. When I make reference to other parents about how volatile the coach can be, they agree, but seem willing to accept the way things are.

Let’s look at a few things here:

  1. Coach is described as “verbally abusive” without provocation.
  2. Coach is insulting even when expressing affection.
  3. Team wins. 
  4. Other parents agree coach is volatile but won’t complain.

Think about it:

  1. If we weren’t talking about a coach but instead any other faculty member — and I assume this man is a teacher, since he has his principal’s approval –, would we even be having this talk? Maybe, but it is a lot less likely that a classroom teacher who blew up without provocation in the presence of her students’ parents would remain in the classroom very long. I hope so, anyway.
  2. I’m not a psychologist, but I think that wrapping compliments in insults is indicative of a person with a lot of anger, just a nasty piece of work, really.
  3. If the team had a losing record, would this same behavior be viewed differently?
  4. Why the hell not? Parents! News flash! You pay your kids’ teachers’ salaries! And do the math: How many kids does the coach need to have a team? Nine? So if there are 18 kids who want to play, and 10 of you stood up and said my kid won’t be on this team if this abuse continues, the principal would have to pay attention or explain why the school was forfeiting the season. All it would take is to keep the kids home one gameday. And then of course make damn sure you had a representative at every practice to insure your kids suffered no retribution because of your decision. But I’m not naive, and I in fact learned the hard way how cowardly many parents can be, preferring to gripe rather than to act. Still scared of the coach, still scared of the principal. Why?

Back to Concerned Mom. She fears her son

will learn that this is an appropriate way for relationships to be and he will be more likely to form and tolerate abusive personal relationships in his adult life.

Husband and son tell her “to stay out of it.” Mom feels “trapped” and like there is nothing she can do. She doesn’t want to take her kid off the team because “he would lose a support group and an activity that means a lot to him.” What she wants from the Drs. Bibb and Quirk is their perspective on whether her concern is justified and if there is anything she “can or should do.”

Bibb and Quirk [B&Q] advise Mom to “monitor” her son to see “if there are signs that this experience is damaging to him, and be prepared in that case to take some action.” What exactly these “signs” are is not addressed, nor is Mom’s question about whether the implicit condoning of verbal abuse as normal might have longterm implications.

What strikes me is that Mom is right on target. Any bets on whether Volatile Coach’s childhood was dominated by verbally abusive authority figures? If we were talking about domestic life, B&Q would likely say that all too often abused children become abusive parents. Why is it such a leap to see that abused players become abusive coaches? But I guess it doesn’t matter, as long as the team wins.

B&Q tell Mom [emphasis added],

For healthy psychosocial development, it is appropriate that children become involved in group goal-oriented activities. . . . To push these adolescents to become the best they can be and to develop a strong sense of commitment to the group and to the goal, the adults in charge . . . often develop an intensity that can quickly go from enthusiastic encouragement to severe scoldings and punishment.

As adults, we know that many people and situations we deal with . . . are neither fair nor kind. As parents, we can help our children learn to interpret these situations so they don’t take them personally. Instead they can learn how to manage themselves in a manner that gets recognition for achievement and minimizes negative feedback from those in power.

Why not just say what matters is winning at all costs? Isn’t that what being “the best they can be” and getting “recognition for achievement” means? Too bad if they lose: just suck it up and take the “severe scoldings and punishment.”

Implicit too is that it is perfectly acceptable to have people who cannot control their emotions in positions of power over children. Rather than holding these adults responsible for their behavior, the child is required to develop the emotional maturity that the adults who are supposedly guiding his “healthy psychosocial development” lack.

Apparently it doesn’t matter if the children are severely punished even if  “they haven’t done anything wrong at all” since life is “neither fair nor kind.” Don’t fight injustice, don’t stand up to groundless persecution by those in authority. Lie back and take it. Then grow up and pass the same mentality along. Oh, and don’t take the abuse inflicted arbitrarily by those in power “personally.” (I ask you, if not personally, then how?)

The last paragraph of B&Q’s response left me frothing at the mouth. Mom should consult a therapist [emphasis added]:

It can be difficult for any of us parents to see our child treated harshly or unfairly. However, if you are unable to emotionally adjust to this situation, it may be because you have issues from you own history that are being triggered. If so, a therapist can help you to resolve those issues so that they don’t intrude on your son’s situation and you can happily share this activity with him.

Listen up, B&Q: It should be difficult for anyone to see any child treated harshly or unfairly. The harsh and unfair treatment of any child should not be tolerated, and this is not something any of us should seek assistance to adjust to.

As for “happily” accepting undeserved, harsh and unfair treatment or punishment of one’s self or another: no way.

No way.

No way.


6 thoughts on ““Don’t Tell Your Parents” Part 4: Cowering Before Coaches”

  1. Brava, Laurie! This is excellent. The only part I might disagree with is where you say B&Q are really emphasizing winning (“being the best you can be,” etc.), but I agree thoroughly with the whole well-written piece, overall. It’s something which needs to be said, and heard, and heeded. Thank you!

  2. I think you are spot-on with this. The most eye-roll-provoking part of the B&Q piece is urging the PARENT to get into therapy if faculty brutality against her child bothers her!

  3. It took me a little while to understand that first sentence, but I must say the image it evokes has potential. I should have called post: Psychologists Cowering Before Coaches.

  4. Once I had stopped imagining parents lying down on the ground in front of buses, I have to say I agree with you.

    I’m known as a trouble maker, because I generally put my children before others. But I’ve found that eventually people see things my way, after first saying how wrong I am.

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