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Bullying or Honesty – A Coach’s Perspective

Bullying or Honesty – A Coach’s Perspective

bully-coaches-kill-confidenceThe following article is a High School Basketball Coach’s perspective on Bully Coaching, in response to the example presented in “How Bully Coaching Affects Athletes.”

Dear Dr. Edger,

I do not think the story of the high school quarterback is considered bullying. I understand your argument and what the quarterback might be going through. However, if a coach has time to yell or criticize a player, he cares about the player’s performance, and has high expectations. I think most people would rather have a coach that has high expectations for their players than mediocre expectations. I believe it is the coach’s job to challenge his athletes and as well make them feel confident. However, feeling confident is on the athlete.

Self Esteem

An athlete can be confident, and still take heat from a coach and still perform. Now, I do believe coaches must nurture their athletes well enough to make them confident but every player is different and it’s on the coach to know what type of player can handle their criticism and what player can’t. A good coach should study and read the body language of player after he is being criticize so next time a coach knows how to adjust and motivate a player effectively. All players are not the same, for some players a coach might have to talk softly or yell their lungs out to get the player to focus. There are many ways for a coach to motivate a player and if yelling is one of them then yelling is not wrong if makes the player perform better

I have coached high school and middle school ages and I’m currently a manager of my college’s basketball team and 85% of the time the coach yells and criticizes other players in front of other teammates. Yes, this might be embarrassing for a player because he is getting chewed in front of everybody but, usually a coach does this because most coaches don’t want to repeat there selves because most players make the same mistake another player makes in practice. A coach doesn’t yell to intimidate players, if so that will be considered bullying. However, most coaches yell because they want to increase the intensity of practice and emphasize on particular points.

Being Negative

In addition, I think there is a fine line between being positive and negative. However, as a coach I believe it is your job to be honest and lets face it most honest comments coming from anyone’s mouth is considered negative to other people and that’s life. Players must understand to not listen to how a coach is saying his comments but to listen to what a coach is trying to say. So many young players focus on the tone of a coach and squeeze up if there getting yelled at, instead players need to focus more on what the coach is trying to say and the content behind his/her tone.

Practice vs Game time

Moreover, the environment plays a big factor on bullying. Players such as Bill Walton were reminded of John Wooden how he was such a perfectionist and would correct the players every minute; a study was actually done how John Wooden corrects his player every minute. Now that might make a player hesitant and less aggressive but John Wooden had high expectations and understood the concept of being a perfectionist during practice. John Wooden wasn’t the nicest coach in practice but he still carved out great success from his players. More importantly, if a coach is being brutally honest in practice he has a right too because it’s practice it’s a classroom setting where players need to listen and learn.

When does a coach’s behavior become bullying?

I believe a coach bully’s players when he embarrasses a player in one on one conversation or when a coach attempts to embarrass or intimidate a player to people who are viewers outside of the team such as fans. For example, if a coach consistently scolds a player only on game day and not in practice I will consider that bullying. The best time to scold a player is during practice because a player has time to correct his technique but scolding in a game may give him a decline in his performance depending on how mentally strong the player is.


Overall, I consider bullying a consistent behavior where a person attempts to lower a person’s self esteem, trying to make one person feel recessive in any way whether it’s joking around, being physical or providing rude comments to a player.

Article by Michael Evien, High School Basketball Coach and Head Student Manager for Men’s Basketball at San Jose State University.

A note from the editor:

Bully Coaching and bullying in sports are controversial topics in need of further debate, and evidence based research in the field of Sport Psychology. We encourage our readers and authors to share their opinions in a productive manner that adds to the context of the issues being discussed. A response to Coach Evien’s article will be published shortly. Our staff at Sport Psychology Today  thank Coach Evien for sharing his thoughts, and providing our readers with a coach’s perspective on bully coaching.

Join the Forum discussion on this post


  1. To Coach Evien, Wow my heart sank as I read your words. To Mr.Edger thank you for your wisdom and support. To others thanks for listening. I stumbled on this site looking for information on coaching styles and the effects on younger student athletes. My daughter plays travel basketball. I got a call one day from a coach inviting her to come play on his travel team. She was thrilled! She loves the game and is a fierce competitor. It was her decision to try it. Well fast forward a year. It has been an ok experience. She has been the starting point guard from the beginning. She does share playing time( it is not an elite team- if you pay you play) which I knew upfront and I completely support. She is not at all selfish about it. She has a good attitude and a she is a hustler. Her father and I focus on her having fun, playing team ball and giving effort-that’s it period. I come from a family of coaching football and basketball. My dad was a high school basketball coach as was my sister and a brother that’s a highschool football coach. I played as a youth and all through middle and highschool. So I do have some knowledge of all sides. Ok so her coach has progressivly got more and more hard on her over the last month or so. I film most of her games so she can show her kids one day :), and to watch as family if we want or she wants.so as he has started yelling at her more and more I’m finding myself actually watching the film, and oh how telling it is. He yells her name constantly. I knew it was happening But I didn’t realize how much. If she passes the ball he yells why you do that, when she has the ball he yells give it up! He never wants her to look to score, which i know a pg is a facilitator, but sometimes it is there. She is pretty tough mentally, but she is only 11. I think you get what’s Happening. What really made my heart sink was coachs words about yelling and demeaning in a game or practice. Well in practice he NEVER yells at her or really even corrects her??? He actually praises her a good bit and sometimes uses her to motivate others, which i dont agree with. But in a game he constantly yells at her about ONLY what she is doing wrong. He will even say ” what you gonna do #12?” When she is being guarded when she has the ball. I have never heard him say good job,way to go way to hustle the entire time. It’s weird. To make things complicated his daughter on same team, same position, but is younger and does not play quite as much. They have always shared playing time and I as well as my daughter have no hard feelings at all. The way he has shared playing time in the past has been when we have a tournament, there are usually 3 games 2 are usually pretty easy and one tough one. On the easy games she usually sits out more. I get it, and then plays alot more in the tougher games. Well over the last couple of weeks her playing time has been cut alot across the board. I don’t know why? However,I am more concerned with his behavior and how he yells at her and is so negative, by the way he always gets a technical, yells at refs and even fans sometimes. I started looking at film, making sure she had a good attitude, listening to him, was being a team player, and playing well. Couldn’t find anything wrong (well you know what I mean). So how does she feel? She really gets along very well with the girls on the team, she likes them, they like her and even look up to her. She Has been acting as if nothing, absolutely nothing has changed, until today. It was bad. from tip off he was yelling pass the ball, don’t make that pass. she was at point and they were in man to man and the wings were just standing, she was heavily contested and he screamed pass the ball, well she did and it got deflected. He immediately pulled her. Then he kept pulling her in and out, which he didn’t use to do, mind you nothing has changed.so after the game, I for the first time since this has been going on I could tell her spirit was broken. Me and her dad talked privately about it and we both agreed that we should pull her. Then we sat down and asked her how she felt. Her response was that she had fun with the girls and wanted to keep playing. She didnt want to talk about him directly or his yelling and negative remarks, is she just in denial or in protection mode? The bad thing is he does this to all girls including his daughter, I’m talking about the yelling and negative remarks, however there is one child he does not do it to for whatever reason is unknown. I don’t know what to do. My fear is that it will hurt her self esteem and I want her to have fun playing the game she loves. again she is 11 and she is mentally tough, I think that is her strength in the game especially when it is tight, but I don’t know that she is mature enough to handle this at this time in her life on her own, if she were 14 or 15 I think she may have more life skills to handle more on her own. Please help me!:) Thank you so much!

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