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Sports Parenting: When Favoritism Hurts

Sports Parenting: When Favoritism Hurts

youth-football-bullyingWhen Favoritism Hurts – Can youth football have a negative psychological effect on a young child?

Imagine your 10 year old boy, turning around and looking up at you from the sidelines, during his very first Youth Super Bowl Championship game…. With a red face and angry tears, he yells out at you in a plea of desperation “MOM! We’re going into overtime and the coaches won’t let me play!!!”

This is exactly what happened last Sunday. I noticed in the 3rd quarter that my son, had not been called for a single play and began to get antsy. By the middle of the 4th quarter I had made my way down to the bottom level, grabbed the attention of one of the coaches and asked why my son hasn’t been rotated in for a single play-being that the game was about to end? (Score was still 0-0 at that point.) The coach blew me off, saying “Ma’am, I’m not the one calling the plays.”

I was both raging for my son’s pain and fearful for the damage this may cause him in the long run. Fact of the matter is that there were at least 12 “coaches” (for his team ALONE) out on the field that day. I guess each one ensuring his boy was given his right to glory at this pivotal game in their child’s NFL career. It’s a classic Good-ol-boy partnership where the coach-fathers ensures their boys are pulled aside for “special training” during practice and shown diverse plays and later call upon those boys, exclusively, during the games, with their defending reasoning: “these are the boys that know the plays.” The rest of our boys, talented or not, remain and are treated as “fluff.” Regardless, when my son says, “We won 36-0, but I only got to play 3 times,” I exclaim, “Who cares! You’re part of an awesome team and those 3 times you played, you DID GREAT! I’m so proud of you!”

According to my son’s youth football league, their motto stands upon “putting God first,” instilling “good Christian values,” and their goal is “to provide a memorable and positive experience for players, cheerleaders, and parents, alike.” This season has been far from a memorable and positive experience for our family, who would have never signed him up had we known it would lead to the crushing of our young child’s spirit… and for no good reason, at all.

This situation is especially hurtful as I am disabled and have a degenerative disease that causes me great pain. Football has been this little boy’s only escape from having to see and deal with his mommy’s continuous suffering, which has been progressively getting worse. This came at a time when my boy had finally found true joy in the game.

Although, my son has been playing football since kindergarten, he has only shown a genuine interest and effort, this year. He finally became ALL about football–knowing the talk/the positions/the plays/and pretending he’s a pro on Madden NFL. I love watching him talk “sports” with his buddies, like little grown men.

Unfortunately, his entire demeanor has changed since the last game on Sunday. His teacher has told me he was completely silent and downcast the entire next day, also noting that she has seen his interests and efforts drop following the ordeal.

On SportsPsychologyToday.com, Dr. Edger discusses the effects of bully coaching on young athletes and the potential threats this outdate coaching approach poses to a young athletes and their sports experience.

“A large majority of the coaches who use this approach are volunteers who lack the appropriate level of education and training needed to work with young athlete. They have an unwarranted belief that fear and scare tactic are good motivators to improve athletic performance, and as a result they are completely oblivious, naïve, or for use of a better term, ignorant of true effects and the potential  damage they cause.”

“Youth coaches are critical to kids’ sport experiences. They can influence whether young athletes enjoy sports and want to continue playing. Some coaches can get kids excited about sports, while other coaches may discourage kids or take the fun out of the game. A good coach can keep kids’ interest in sports alive.”

“When athletes are being bullied, and singled out by coaches they begin to have doubts about their ability to perform which cause them to question their role in sports.”

“Bullying can hurt an athlete’s confidence–in and out of sports.”

While I’m not claiming that my child was mistreated, he definitely was singled out, excluded, and made to believe that the reason the coaches’ kids get to play and have all the starring positions is because he is not good enough. He doubts himself now, and has lost interest in trying other things (never-mind the reality of favoritism that exists on his team regarding the coaches and their sons).

While I do not know if my son will play next season, I can only hope that this let down will not hold him back. As of right now, my little boy continues to paint a smile on his face when he looks at me, but, as his mother, I see there is a fixed sadness in his eyes, and this tears me to shreds!

My boy was so proud to go undefeated all season and had his little heart set on playing the Super Bowl in the “big stadium.”  How could the narrowmindedness of grown/adult men have overcome and trampled on a little boy’s dream, completely robbing him of his day?

Much as I did, standing on the edge of the field at that game on Sunday, I feel powerless, not knowing how to help my son and keep this from happening again… to him or other children in the league.

Article by Celeste  – A Concerned Sport Mom.


  1. As Celeste described her son’s situation above, she presents a clear example of bully coaching. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Yes… no… maybe?

    This is one of those borderline bully coaching situations that crosses the line for some, but remains in bounds for others. Even Celeste had contradicting thoughts on the matter, stating “I’m not claiming that my child was mistreated, however, he was definitely singled out and purposely excluded from participating.”

    That said it is important to understand that there is no concrete definition or guidebook on what is and is not bully coaching. At Sport Psychology Today and Mental Edge Athletics, we use the term bully coaching to describe a wide range of coaching behaviors, each putting athletes at risk. We recognize two defining characteristic of bully coaching:

    1. A coach’s actions or behavior having a negative effects on an athletes self-concept and mental well-being (low-confidence, doubts, fear of failure, ect).

    2. A coach’s actions or behavior having a negative influence on the athletes sport experience beyond the athletes control

    There are many reason why bully coaches are able to get away with mental abuse over and over and over again, year after year, leaving behind an invisible trail of victims. Currently, one major reasons is that youth coaching have no ethical boundaries or guidelines to abide by, outlining a clear definition of what is and is not bully considered bully coaching.

    As a result, sports parents like Celeste are limited in there ability to take action and stand up to bully coaches. However, in order to take any action you must first determine if the athlete is a victim of bully coaching.

    Let’s look at Celeste’s sons situation as an example. Is being singled out and excluded from participating bully coaching?

    While at a youth sports conference today I asked 12 individuals for their opinion on the situation, and they voted evenly resulting in a split decision, 6 – Yes and 6 – No.

    However, I was not surprised by the result. Without a universal definition and clear guidelines with sanctions it has been my experience that this type of neglectful, exclusion based bully coaching is often overlooked by parents and coaches. That said, I assure you it isn’t overlooked by the athlete.

    Fortunately, in this situation my vote is the tie-breaker. I found the correct answer to be fairly obvious, based on the details provided by Celeste. She did an excellent job of highlight the negative impact the coach’s actions had her sons mental game, by explaining, that “he doubts himself now, and has lost interest in trying other things” she goes on the explain that, “unfortunately, his entire demeanor has changed since the last game on Sunday. His teacher has told me he was completely silent and downcast the entire next day, also noting that she has seen his interests and efforts drop following the ordeal.

    Celeste story raises a number of red flags. Her son is only 10, Pee-Wee Super Bowl or not each player should have been a part of the process. By mistreating, and excluding one athlete the coach is sending the wrong message on so many different level. A coach and coaching staff who mistreats a member their team, a 10 year old boy, to the point of tears screaming for his Mom that the coaches wont let him participate is extremely upsetting. These coaches are not only bullies, they are an embarrassment to the sports community.

    I encourage parents to start taking action. Get mad that there are men and women out there who think the title “coach” give them the right to turn participating in sport, which is suppose to be a positive and enriching experience for our children in a parents nightmare. It is our responsibility as parents to stand up for our children and more importantly lead by example, standing up for what is right. Bully coaching is viewed by many professionals as a legal from of child abuse only mentally, and mental wounds scar just as deeply as physical abuse.

    • Totally agree with Celeste, and have to add that gets even harder to swallow when your have a teenager that wants to play, you have to pay significant club fees, the coaches are supposedly professionals, and you see same behavior pattern.

  2. Great blog you havge got here.. It’s hard to find excellent writing like yours
    nowadays. I really appreciate people like you! Takee care!!

  3. The question is how does one stand up? Speaking with coaches is look at complaining. Trying to get other parents involved – no one wants to jeopardize their child’s chances of playing even if it is also just a minute in a game. I’ve gone to the league director and I get no response.

  4. Yes, I agree with her because I’ve been there myself. It’s full-blown cronysim and it is rampant in boys sports. Often fathers are volunteers receiving reduced sports fees in return for their time (or some other benefit), and the majority of the families are paying full price fees. However, the coaches seem to think they have more benefits than reduced fees for their time, and often make decisions based on “favoritism.” However, boys need to feel valued in some way and need to be told they are valued and better yet, shown they are valued.

    We need to value the spirit, souls, and identity of our young boys.

  5. that is a little like what im going through. My coach refuses to give me solos or anything like that like i was suppose to be captain but she told me no because i have a job. its horrible i start shaking right before a run through because im so scared shes going to get mad all of my friends see it to and im really tempted to just quit i come home crying after rehearsals because of how she treats me. PS im a dancer

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