Coaches warned not to belittle student athletesOctober 8, 2014
The commissioner for teacher regulation has warned teachers who coach student athletes to watch their language.
Bruce Preston says he’s received a number of complaints from parents about tough talk from coaches that is intended to be motivational but sounds more like bullying.
While such in-your-face lectures may be fine in professional sports where athletes are mature and seasoned, they are not appropriate in schools “when the recipient of the demeaning or belittling comments is a student of an age and at a stage of development when being singled out can have profound consequences,” he stated recently.
“Students, whatever their age, are vulnerable to emotional injury when such behavior is directed at them from persons in positions of authority, such as coaches.”
Preston, a former judge who was appointed the independent commissioner for teacher regulation in 2012, acknowledged that drawing a line between vigorous coaching and harmful conduct is not easy. But he said it must be done.
“Some of the most concerning complaints the commissioner has dealt with in the months since being appointed have involved this issue,” he wrote in his 2012-13 annual report.
In the latest edition of Learn magazine, he wrote more extensively about the issue, explaining that coaches who yell at students or make derogatory comments about their performance in front of others could face discipline if a complaint is filed.
Teachers must adhere to professional standards on playing fields as well as in classrooms, he added.
Coaches must also keep their cool when parents challenge their judgment about a student’s skills or criticize their decisions about who should get play time and how much.
Coaches who have children playing on their teams must be extra careful to ensure there is no favouritism, Preston said.
“The preservation of the dignity, self-image and confidence of the student, and the profession as a whole, should be paramount consideration of coaches when dealing with motivational issues or when responding to disputes.”
Preston added that he appreciates the hard work and devotion of student coaches and applauds their work. But some should reconsider their coaching styles, he said, noting courses are available from organizations such as BC School Sports.
Pediatrics magazine published an article earlier this year on the same topic. It was titled Bullying Behaviour by Athletic Coaches. Accessing the article requires a subscription, but the New York Times describes it here.
Recently, a Coquitlam teacher was disciplined for using derogatory and profane language while coaching a Grade 7 boys basketball team. He called students “dumbasses” and told the team to “get their fingers out of their asses”, according to a story in The Province newspaper.
The teacher was suspended for two days without pay and ordered to take anger management classes.