By Kevin Hoffman, Associate Editor
My first sports writing job out of college brought me to a regional Little League tournament in western Kentucky. As a casual observer, only in attendance to snap a few photos, I got my first taste of over-aggressive coaching.
It started with name-calling—the young players were “useless” or an “embarrassment.” It escalated to an altercation where he told the opposing coach that his players “better be wearing their helmets,” implying he would order his pitcher to go head hunting.
It was a shocking thing to witness, but the truth is this happens every day across the country. Though the scene I just described is terrible, it’s tame when compared to assault or sexual abuse. The latest example is a Canadian youth hockey coach who tripped an opposing player during a handshake line, breaking the child’s wrist.
Coaches hate hearing this news just like journalists despise reports of plagiarism—it gives everyone a bad name. It’s time for us to crack down on abusive coaches and impose harsh penalties on those that violate laws and the trust of parents and children involved in youth sports.
Now how many times have you heard that? It’s a “no-duh” statement that’s already on the minds of most coaches out there. We know the problem, but developing a workable solution is much more difficult than anyone anticipated.
You can start with background checks—attack the problem at its core. However, nearly all school districts already conduct these searches and find nothing to indicate a coach poses a risk. On top of that, most youth leagues or independent organizations don’t have the funding to purchase background checks. Some leagues, desperate for coaches or participation from parents, take anyone with interest in leading a team.
Strict oversight is another option, but again it’s a question of manpower. Can leagues really afford to have supervision at practices or road tournaments? Maybe coaches should be subjected to review at the end of every season, giving student-athletes a chance to anonymously grade them or report incidents. Fear of retribution, however, might force some of those players to hold back.
It could be that the best solution is imposing stronger penalties. That likely wouldn’t be enough to wade off sexual predators or extremely aggressive coaches, but if it has some impact, even on a microscopic level, it’s worth the effort.
In the wake of accusations against former AAU President Bobby Dodd, the organization developed two task forces to recommend revisions to its policies. What it returned to the AAU with was an impressive list of nearly four dozen changes they thought should be put in place. Those included background checks, extensive training and an interesting recommendation that policies be put in place to prevent adults and children from being alone one-on-one.
It’s a fantastic start, and the AAU says they’ll make every effort to implement all the task forces’ recommendations. This could serve as a model for other organizations, but it’s also possible other ideas out there will better serve high schools and independent organizations.
Regardless of whether anyone agrees, there is a problem that needs to be addressed. The coaching community and sports leaders may be the best equipped to develop a solution, so I ask you: What should be done?