As March Madness comes to a close apparently two abuse scandals are wide open in two women’s basketball programs. On March 27, Georgia Tech’s head coach was fired for creating a toxic culture for the players in the program. On Tuesday, another head coach from University of North Carolina was placed on paid administrative leave due to issues raised by student-athletes and other sources. Now, it isn’t entirely clear on exactly what happened in each of these cases for the coaches to be placed on leave or fired from their positions but I think that is besides the point. The fact that there are still cases like this that are still coming out is the problem.
A student athlete has a lot of expectations placed on them during their time in college. This isn’t a small feat and it is expected that with all these responsibilities, these students will be supported by their coaches who they admire and spend a significant amount of time with. In these cases, the opposite is true and these athletes are placed in a tough situation. Their coach is someone they are forced to have a close relationship with and they can’t get out of these relationships without their scholarship being on the line. This is why it is so dangerous when a coach is abusive to their athletes. If a student stands up for themself or even reports their coach, the coach can retaliate by punishing their athletes with strenuous activity or even threats to their scholarship. If a student is not producing a coaches desired outcome, a coach could also threaten and punish their athlete. This should never be allowed. Everyone is allowed to have a bad day and you shouldn’t punish a student for not being perfect or standing up for themselves. They are not slaves to their coach. They have rights to protect themself from threats which is even outlined in the NCAA guidelines.
Now let’s say an athlete is in this position of daily abuse. Why would they want to excel in their sport? Why would they want to put forth the effort if they are conditioned to be belittled or abuse. The answer is they wouldn’t. If you are abused in any situation you are scared and feel unmotivated, the same goes for athletes.
In any other environment such as office culture, classrooms or anything else, people can report abuse without fear of retaliation yet athletes can’t. The fear of losing a scholarship or upsetting their coach is too strong which is why most of these cases take such a long time to be discovered.
I understand that some coaches are tough and hold a “tough love” relationship with their athletes which is perfectly fine. I myself have also experienced this tough love coaching style and it worked for me. But even in this case, tough love doesn’t mean name-calling an athlete or physically hitting them. It means telling them that they can do better or encouraging them to try harder.
College sports are a high stress environment as it is with scholarships and other reputations on the line. When you add abuse to the table this is only a recipe for disaster and means that not only will the athletes suffer, but so will the program and the success of the program for that matter. Coaches, stop abusing your student athletes. Treat them properly and you would be surprised by the success of your program.