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January 6, 2021

Confronting the Abuse of Child Athletes: An Action Plan For Parents

Abusive coaches are the high school bullies that never grew up. A coach that is abusive uses  homophobic and racial slurs, embarrasses athletes, forces training while injured and threatens athletic careers.  The coaches routinely use the threat to force compliance and silence your child. 

Abuse in sports has been around for a very long time, but it does not mean that your child has to go through it as well. Student-athletes have started calling out abusive coaches and filing lawsuits to bring awareness and demand accountability. 

So, what is stopping you from taking actions against your child's abusive coach? 

Many student‐athletes feel the pressure to engage in inappropriate sexual relationships that results in shame, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and other illnesses. Abusive coaches not only affect your child, but it also impacts you and other family members.

Abuse isn’t just isolated to physical or sexual acts - emotional abuse is equally harmful. 

Emotional abuse can also lead to psychological trauma and other distress. "While emotional abuse doesn't always violate the law, it certainly violates the U.S. Center for Safe Sport’s code, endangers an athlete's safety and well-being, and should be reported," writes Ju’Riese Colon, CEO of U.S. Center for SafeSport; an non-governmental organization founded to provide training and misconduct investigations for national governing bodies of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC). 

An abusive coach may cause your child to give up a sport, lose out on scholarship opportunities,  or harm the entire family’s well-being. At any time during youth sports, but especially at the more competitive levels, it may seem impossible to transfer teams or find a skilled coach.  However, taking the lead and “breaking up” with your child’s abusive coach is crucial.  

There are three steps parents can take to minimize the harm of abusive coaching practices:

1. Look out for Red flags: 

Red flags to look out for in the coach-athletes relationship.

  • Closed-door meetings between your child and the coach.
  • Controlling behavior; for example, a coach telling your child, "You are cheating during practice" or "Why aren’t you as good as…"
  • Your child appears “off,” stressed, or as if something's wrong. 
  • Your child being punished with excessive conditioning.

2. Support your Child with an Action Plan:

Begin with an Action Plan.  An Action Plan should be executed, either immediately or over time, depending on your child’s specific circumstances:

  • Validate your child’s fears, complaints and suffering through non-judgmental listening.
  • Schedule a consultation with a trauma informed counselor, therapist or other mental health professional. Interview mental health professionals outside of your child’s sports community.
  • Use discretion when confronting an abusive coach, as the coach will be defensive, may blame your child and employ shame to silence your complaints.
  • Document your efforts to address the abuse.
  • Depending on your circumstances, contact law enforcement outside of sports associations, NCAA and national governing bodies (i.e., local police, prosecutor).

3. Trust Your Child. Trust Your Instincts

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Maya Angelou.  

  • If you witness a pattern of unacceptable coaching practices and a steady negative decline in your child’s behavior, trust your instincts that it is time to fire your child’s coach and seek support to move forward.  

Contact The Law Firm of Judie Saunders for legal guidance and advice concerning the abuse of child athletes. 

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