Is It Bullying or Just Tough Love?

by omni

We’ve discussed this topic before, but there have been even more reports surfacing accusing coaches of bullying, and even abusing, their players. The most recent surrounds allegations brought against Boston ‘s female basketball coach, Kelly Greenberg, who is in her tenth year coaching at the school. A report on Inside Higher Ed states that former players have accused the coach of severe bullying and verbal and emotional abuse that caused them” “even though they were on athletic scholarships” “to quit the team. One of the players said that the coach’s treatment drove her to seek mental health care, while another states she “felt demolished as a person.” A panel at the university has recently begun an investigation, as media reports, front page news stories, and more players have come forward with stories of their own. “We take these allegations very seriously, and we will look into them promptly, thoroughly, and in an unbiased manner,” Todd Klipp, Boston senior vice president, told While the accusations continue, Greenberg’s many supporters, including current and previous players, have rallied around her, saying she is “tough but fair,” and crediting her intense approach as the reason she’s the team’s second-highest winning coach. The amount of recent stories regarding bullying by coaches raises some interesting questions: are instances of bullying and abuse increasing; is there more awareness and willingness to speak out against what has been an ongoing problem; or is the newer generation of athletes too used to a soft approach? Beth Bass, the CEO of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, told Inside Higher Ed, “[These student athletes] don’t respond to tough love now. You know it in your gut when it is abuse or bullying, when it becomes degrading. Are you building up or tearing down? It’s simple.” Bullying is defined as a sustained abuse of power, or the activity of repeated, aggressive behavior intended to harm another person, either physically or mentally; this is much different than constructive criticism. We’ve discussed how to handle constructive criticism before — no one is perfect, and in any sport a player should expect to receive advice on how to improve. However, when a coach is not encouraging you to improve and instead resorts to name-calling, or explicit or demeaning language, you may be experiencing bullying. For example, a coach yelling (even screaming) “You need to lock your knees!” is different than yelling “You are so stupid, I’ve told you a million times, you need to lock your knees or you will lose us this competition!” A player may get yelled at and a coach may become frustrated, but the goal behind the comment is not to abuse or upset” “whereas the second example here is unnecessarily derogatory. In a world of extremes (think “Dance Mom’s” Abby Lee Miller vs. awards ceremonies where “everyone’s a winner”) how do you know where to draw the line between discipline and bullying? No one wants to be seen as “soft,” but if a coach, teacher, or teammate’s behavior is affecting your ability to participate in the sport of your choice, consider talking to your parents or a school administrator about the problem. What do you think, readers? Is this coach a bully or just tough? Have you ever had to deal with an overly-aggressive coach? How did you handle it? News Sources: Inside Higher Ed and Boston

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