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Son has verbally abusive coach

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My 10 year old plays in a competitive basketball league where a father of one of the kids became a coach. My son who has some natural talent and a love for the game is feeling afraid to make a mistake. The circumstances of how he became a coach were a surprise. The parents were told that no parents would be allowed to coach because it was a conflict of interest. But he was allowed to coach. He literally dismissed the real head coach during practice in front of the kids and the head coach backed off and stopped coming to practice altogether.
The other part of this is that the coach is one of my best friend’s husband. They are having major difficulty with their teenage son and maritally. I have given him the benefit of the doubt repeatedly because of this.

The bottom line is that my kid is unhappy because coach yells at him and and is very controlling about what he is allowed to do when he is in the game. He feels treated unfairly and is so tentative that he is not improving his game. Furthermore, I am afraid he is traumatized due to the treatment by this coach. At the game this weekend the coach threw his clipboard and stomped his feet, he was yelling at one of the kids who was sobbing on the bench. It is so difficult to watch. Also, he plays his son for the whole game! His son is not anymore skilled than the rest of the kids. The parents of the other team members are furious and feel he mistreats the kids.

I can’t help but feel that he has something personal against me. He once told his wife he thought we were having an affair!!! Nothing could be farther from the truth. I wonder if he is manipulating me and my kid to drive a wedge between his son and my son who are friends and a wedge between me and my friend, by treating my son unfairly. My son said he doesn’t want to be friends with the kid anymore.

The things my friend tells me make me wonder if he has a personality disorder. He barely speaks to anyone unless he is spoken to, he is petrified of his wife leaving him, he is described as hard to get along with by others, he is very moody happy one minute and miserable the next, he once told his wife at a family gathering that we ( me and my friend) had a look in our eyes and he was going to be watching us (we were dancing to the TV with the kids), he got in a wrestling match with his teenager as a result of a disagreement which my son witnessed. My son then was trying to protect his friend from the brother when he came after him. The coach’s son is best friends with my son. Also,I told her one day he was surprised when I asked to talk to him, she said oh great he will be watching you again. What is that?!

Mainly the anxiety and the controversy he is causing is very intense. He has all the parents up in arms and no one wants to speak up for fear that he will punish the kids.

He is damaging the self esteem of all the kids by being really controlling about how they play and by hollering at them. His body language also spells disgust, he flails his arms and pulls the kid immediately after they make a mistake with the exception of his son and the other kid whom he favors.

I asked him what my kid was doing wrong one day at practice (how pathetic is that)and he said he gets down on himself just like all the other kids except his son and one other kid who plays all the time. So his perception is there is something wrong with the kids– not his technique.

He is causing me grief with my child and with my good friend. I don’t know if I should report him or try to talk to him. I want to avoid my friend now too.

I’m concerned that you are allowing the many complicated and difficult considerations in this painful situation to distract you from the most important thing: kids are being verbally and emotionally abused. Whatever else is going on in his life; however troubled this guy may be; regardless of friendships; etc. the bottom line for all the parents ought to be that their kids are being hurt. They are getting a model of adult male behavior that is detrimental to their emotional growth and, most distressing of all, they are learning that their parents are helpless to protect them.

This coach can’t run off the head coach unless that coach and you parents let him. The league is run by somebody. It’s long past time for the parents to get organized, approach the sponsoring organization, and bench this fellow. There’s strength in numbers. He can’t blame you if most of the parents stick together.

Thank him for trying to coach if it will make things go down easier but by all means let him know that his behavior is neither sportsman-like nor healthy for growing children. If you don’t get cooperation from the league, walk. Better to take the rest of the season off, if necessary, than to let the kids be subjected to this stuff one more day. Kids have played pick-up games for generations. It won’t hurt them to play for the fun of it instead of a trophy for what’s left of the season if it comes down to that. Over the summer, you parents can regroup and figure out how to give your kids the positive experience with basketball they deserve.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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