Let’s be honest sports parents, we can’t always make it to every practice or game. Sometimes we have another child and another activity to get to; we have to work late; we have doctor’s appointments, car issues, are sick, stuck in traffic and so forth. How often have you dropped your child off at practice, run a few errands, and picked them up an hour later? 99% of the time our kids are in capable hands; their coaches are our friends and neighbors, people we know and trust. And what can really happen in an hour when your child is surrounded by their friends and teammates? But 99% of the time in not 100%, and that uncertain one percent is what we as parents have to keep in the back of our minds when we drop our kids off at sports practice.
After a video surfaced of Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice screaming at, shoving and grabbing, and throwing basketballs at players during practice he was fired and Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned shortly thereafter; it was revealed that he knew about Rice’s behavior long before the video was made public. Now while we’d be willing to bet that most sports coaches aren’t like Rice in any way, shape, or form, there will also be those few coaches that are use aggression and confrontation as their go-to coaching tactic. The question is—do we as sports parents really know what kind of coach our child has? Do we really know what is going on?
As sad as it is to say, some coaches are bullies. Or they may allow bullying behaviors among players to run unchecked at practice. Neither situation is ever acceptable but many times no one outside of the team is aware of what is happening, until something like the Rutgers video comes to light and no one can hide the truth. And even scarier is the fact that 56% of those that sexually abuse a child are our acquaintances, those friends and neighbors that we thought we knew and could trust.
Those who abuse children (physically, verbally, or sexually) often create a culture of silence where youth athletes don’t feel like they can turn to anyone for help. In the case of the Rutgers basketball team, perhaps some of the players were there on a sports scholarship and were worried if they reported the abuse they would lose their scholarship, and therefore not be able to afford tuition. Other players might have felt like an aggressive coach is just part of the deal if you want to play sports at a higher competition level. After all, Bobby Knight is well known for his sideline antics, but is one of the winning-est NCAA coaches in history. If that kind of behavior is tolerated, even excused, why should they complain about Rice?
The vast majority of youth sports coaches are fantastic people that truly love what they do. They care about the kids, want them to have a great time, learn new skills, make friends, win some games and generally enjoy playing sports. And hopefully you and your child will never have to deal with a coach that is too aggressive, demeaning, or abusive in any way, shape, or form. But as parents it’s our job to protect our kids as best as we can and keep an eye on as many aspects of their young lives as possible. Coach background checks can keep a lot of sexual predators at bay, but background checks don’t tell you what kind of coach someone will be. Yes, it’s important we teach our children how to be independent but no youth athlete should have to suffer from an abusive coach on their own. So maybe you can make time to stick around for a few extra practices this season, just to make sure.