Behaviors that Characterize “Bad Coaching”

Editor’s note: This week the local paper did an expose about a local high school wresting coach who was arrested and charged with sexual assault on a minor by a person in a position of trust.  Turns out this coach has a stellar won-loss record, steered his team to a State Championship and was overwhelmingly chosen “Coach of the Year” by his brethren. Hooh boy:-(  I may be wrong, but I don’t believe that this kind of behavior just showed up one day and this guy turned abusive.  I tend to believe that there were probably a bunch of signs that his character was in question – but then nobody knew – or – nobody said anything?  Only those involved really know – but the fact remains there are a good many sports lovers out there who are coaching who have no business being in a position to influence kids…in any capacity, much less a captive audience whose got so much of their self-esteem, effort and guts on the line.

Yeah.  Sports administrators should be more attuned to these character issues…but more often than not the pressure to “win” has more weight than the development of character.  Can you imagine for one moment a Tom Landry, or John Wooden engaging in the kinds of examples Alan Goldberg writes about below?  These men are the role models we need to look up to and expect coaches to aspire to.  The Bob Stoops of the world are too few and far between and the requirements for achieving credentials to coach the vulnerable ones don’t even exist in some systems.  Hence, we’re left to police ourselves.  So if your coaching – take a gander at Dr. Goldberg’s list of examples – and maybe rethink your approach.  The career you save just might be your own.

One of Podium Sports Journal’s most valued articles was contributed by Dr. Scott Martin on Effective Coaching Behaviors.  It provides a definitive and positive model every coach at any level can benefit from.  Check it out.

Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control.  – Tom Landry


by Alan Goldberg, Ph.D.

There are a lot of “coaches” out there who don’t have CLUE ONE about how to really coach! These individuals consistently do far more damage to young people than they do good.

They tear down self-esteem rather than building it up. They create an extremely unsafe learning environment for their athletes. They use fear, humiliation and demeaning, disrespectful behaviors as “teaching” tools. They are emotionally and sometimes (indirectly) physically abusive. They directly and indirectly pressure athletes to continue to play when injured. They regularly kill the fun and passion that their athletes once had for the sport. These coaches have lost their way and strayed terribly far from the true mission of coaching.

You’re NOT a good coach when you call an athlete out in front of the team and tell that athlete, “You absolutely suck! You’re the worst short-stop, quarterback, setter, forward, keeper, etc. that I have ever seen!

How is this kind of a comment constructive? Does it help a child understand exactly what he/she is doing wrong and what they need to do to fix it and improve? How does it help a child learn? Does it motivate an individual to want to work even harder to improve? Does it help that individual feel good about themselves?

You’re NOT a good coach if you think that your most important job as a coach is to win games.

I don’t care what kind of pressure to win that you face from the administration. If winning is your primary goal as a coach you have significantly lost your way and as a consequence, you’ll actually win less!

Your mission as a coach is to teach young people and help them grow as individuals so that they become better people in the world, both on and off the field
There are far more important things at stake here than whether a kid wins or correctly learns the x’s and o’s. Good coaches teach their athletes how to be better people in the world and they use their sport as nothing more than a vehicle for this teaching. The winning and losing outcomes are completely secondary to the teaching of valuable life lessons (playing as a team and sacrificing individual needs for the betterment of the team, handling adversity & failure, mastering fear & obstacles, working hard towards a faraway goal, learning to believe in yourself, being a good sport, playing by the rules, etc.)

You’re NOT a good coach when you place the outcome of a competition in front of the physical and emotional welfare of your players.

If you pressure your athletes to play when injured or if you demean and ignore those athletes who are too injured to play, then you are engaging in physical abuse. Encouraging your athletes to play hurt so that the team can win is reckless behavior for you as a coach. When you do this you are directly putting your players at risk. You are NOT teaching them to be mentally tough! Playing through pain is NOT a sign of strength. That is a ridiculous MYTH!!!!! Instead, it’s completely ignoring your body’s early warning signs that something is very wrong.

You’re NOT a good coach when you allow players on your team to scape-goat and/or demean each other.

Good coaches create a safe learning environment. There is nothing safe about being on a team where teammates regularly criticize and yell at each other. There is nothing safe about being on a team when you are picked on or ostracized by your teammates. It’s the coach’s responsibility to set very clear limits to prevent these kinds of “team busting” behaviors. There should be no place for them on a winning team.

You’re NOT a good coach when you play favorites.

Good coaches treat their athletes fairly. They don’t operate with two different sets of rules, i.e. one for the “chosen few” and one for the rest of the team. Coaches who play favorites go a long way towards creating performance disrupting dissension on their squads.

You’re NOT a good coach when you tell your athletes that under no circumstances are they ever to tell their parents what really goes on in practice, and that if they do, they are being disloyal and disrespectful to their teammates coach and the program!

Coaches who tell their athletes these kinds of things are terribly misguided and are trying to hide something. What they’re trying to hide is their abusive behaviors! Telling kids not to ever tell their parents is what child abusers tell their victims!

You’re NOT a good coach when you treat your players with disrespect.

I don’t care what your won-loss record is or how many championships you’ve won in the past. When you treat pre-adolescent and adolescent athletes disrespectfully you are NOT a good coach. Great educators don’t teach in this manner. They value their students and make them feel that value, both as learners and individuals. Your position and reputation should not determine whether you get respect from your team. What does determine whether people respect you is how you ACT! Your behavior is what’s paramount. Good coaches earn their respect from their players on a daily basis, over and over again based on how they conduct themselves and how they interact with their athlete and everyone else associated with the program. If you think that you’re too important to earn respect, then you are distinguishing yourself as a bad coach!

You’re NOT a good coach when you don’t “walk the talk.” What you say to your players means nothing if it doesn’t come from who you are as a person.

Simply put, your words have to closely match your behaviors. Great coaches are great role models in that they teach through their behaviors. They don’t operate on a double standard where it’s OK for them to act one way but hold their athletes to a different and higher standard of behavior. If you as a coach teach through the maximum, “do as I say, NOT as I do,” then you have distinguished yourself as a poor coach.

You’re NOT a good coach when you refuse to take responsibility for your behavior, when you refuse to own your mistakes and instead, blame others for them.

The mark of a great educator is that they present themselves as human. They do not let their ego get involved in the more important task of teaching. Therefore when something goes wrong, they are quick to own their part in it. Good coaches take responsibility for their team’s failures and give their team and athletes full responsibility for successes. Bad coaches blame their athletes for losses and take the credit for the team’s successes.

You’re NOT a good coach when you play “head games” with your athletes.

If you talk behind their backs, play one athlete off against another or are dishonest in your interactions with your players then you are doing nothing constructive to help your players learn and grow as athletes and individuals. Telling a player one thing and then turning around and doing exactly the opposite is not how you go about effective coaching. For example, promising a player more playing time if he/she does A, B and C, and then keeping them on the bench after they do everything you’ve just asked of them is a psychologically insidious game that will kill your athlete’s love of the sport, crush their spirit and destroy their confidence. This is not how great coaches motivate their players!


Alan Goldberg, PhD, was the sport psychology consultant to the 1999 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion University of Connecticut Huskies, and the 2000 men’s soccer NCAA champions. He is the former Sports Psychology Consultant for the University of Connecticut Athletic Department. As a nationally-known expert in the field of applied sport psychology, Dr. Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic caliber right down to junior competitors. Dr. Goldberg specializes in helping athletes overcome fears & blocks, snap out of slumps, and perform to their potential. His book, Sports Slump Busting (LLumina Press), is based on his extensive experience getting teams and individual athletes unstuck and back on track. Outside of sports, Dr. Goldberg works with performing artists, sales and business people, test takers, and public speakers.

29 thoughts on “Behaviors that Characterize “Bad Coaching”

  • June 11, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Bad coaching styles usually occur when stress and pressure cause negative temperments of the coaches personality to rise to the surface and override the coaches positive temperment. Unfortunately many coaches coach from a very low functioning personality temperment. Anger, degrading, humilation, and a lack of compassion are typical traits we see in many coaches.

  • September 6, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    I wish I had you with me when our youth football coach tells us its all about winning. What happened to fundamentals and building self-esteems? I think these youth coaches are forgetting that these are children, it should be fun at this age. Coaches should be held accountable for their actions.

    • January 5, 2013 at 9:51 pm

      Robert, Mitch & Heather –
      wow! Has this factor about attitude in coaching come through in these comments “loud and clear”. Take a look at what Scott wrote and my reply to him. He comments on the models in movies like, “Remember the Titans”.
      I’m hoping we’re getting some traction in this area. As we develop greater awareness and really examine the effectiveness of coaching methods – this pattern will change. Check out Scott Martin’s piece in Podium:
      thanks for your input. We’ll get there

  • April 18, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    “You’re NOT a good coach if you think that your most important job as a coach is to win games.”

    Agreed! Especially in youth sports, there is a lot more to sports than winning. Of course you want your team to do well, but learning how to lose is just as important.

  • October 18, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Sports are games. Games are meant to be Fun. And when it stops being Fun, it is time to stop playing the game.
    We as coaches, paid or otherwise can loose sight of this very easily.

    • October 27, 2012 at 6:32 pm

      Thanks Brian – you are so right. This is the key. Dr. Dan Gould, one of the lead sport psychologists to the USOC and director of the Michigan State University Institute for the Study of Youth Sport takes a developmental view of kids, and where they are at different ages with respect to sport. Before the age of 12 he’s an advocate that kids play many sports so that their motor skills will develop evenly – running, jumping, catching, shooting, throwing and the like. He calls it the FUN-damentals. The literature is prevalent regarding those who specialize too soon in a single sport that the burnout rate, and deterioration of participation long term is largely attributable to the lack of fun – and elevated seriousness these kids feel playing. The lesson – keep it FUN – and encourage any and every healthy sporting activity that engages and captivates the athlete. This is the mix that enables them to keep active in adulthood and teach their own children to maintain a healthy perspective throughout.

  • January 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    I realized many bad coaches imitate coaches in bad sports movies where championships will occur. There’s always a scene where tough love is the key to success. Here are some quotes from Remember the Titans:

    “You drop a pass, you run a mile. You miss a blocking assignment, you run a mile. You fumble a ball I will break my foot in you john brown hind parts, and then you will run a mile.”

    My biggest pet peeve of bad coaching is forcing a harsh fitness when someone is obviously in pain. It’s pretty much an “insult to injury.” Even the military approach is dumb. Add more push ups because a kid can’t do anymore push ups never helps.

    Sports to me is all about health, fitness, and fun.

    • January 5, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      Hi Scott,
      So true. Thanks for this observation. Most football movies go into this aspect of discipline, and I understand why. Because the game is so focused on the rewards of making plays, or the penalties of not making plays…it seems logical that football coaches especially would try to motivate this way. Fact is, in this particular game you’ve got 11 guys trying to make something extraordinary happen – while you’ve got 11 other guys trying to mess it up every way, anyway they can. Yet the best can still find positive ways to motivate. I once heard Coach Bob Stoops, of the Oklahoma Sooners Football team talk about their winning the National Championship in 2000. They beat Florida State that year with a tremendous defensive game plan against the nation’s top offensive team. He was asked, “How do you coach that kind of intimidation defence?” Stoops visibly winced at the question, and then went on to say that every player has certain goals to achieve on every play. He made it a point to “NOT” encourage “intimidation tactics” because they usually backfired when a team was penalized. “One bad penalty at the wrong time can completely change the momentum in a game.” We coach our guys to achieve their goals and good things will happen. I thought that was one of the most astute answers on the issue I’ve ever heard from a college football coach. What do you think?

  • January 9, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Hello doc,
    I agree with Coach Stoop’s approach based on his quote on intimidation. I would be proud to have a coach like him. As a tennis player, emotions can get the most of players during a game. Anger and intimidation creates self inflicted errors and mistakes.

  • August 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    Geno Auriemma is cited as being a great coach in 2009 in a previous article. He is notorious for displaying many of the above behaviors with his college team like “What was that? That was the worst shot I have ever seen!”

    Is he a good coach or a bad coach if he uses these behaviors and are there other standards used to identify division I college coaches as being such? Thanks for your help!

    • October 25, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Hi Lytton,
      Great point. It also goes to show you that some athletes thrive under such intensity while others don’t. I think there are 2 points to be made here: 1) The developmental stage of the athlete is important to consider. A younger athlete would be a horrible fit for this type of coach, especially one who is still developing an awareness of “who they are?” See Rebecca Symmes article on “Athletic Identity” in Podium….very helpful indeed. 2) Every athlete needs to have a level of understanding for how “helpful” certain input is likely to be for them. At times we need to adopt a “Sponge” attitude and be receptive to what’s being taught. At other times we need to be like “bullet-proof glass”. The same coach may provide input we need to insulate ourselves from…while later our best approach would be sponge-like. This is part of that maturation process. Thanks for the input.
      Stephen Walker, PhD

  • October 16, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    My question has not been answered in any of these postings. I wanted to know why coaches don’t play their best players even when they are explosive and help the team win? When the radio announcers are questioning whey that particular player is not playing, and the coaches could care less…..The coach does not like the parents. Another brother plays corner and coached by a coach that likes him. Too much competition with who the parents are, how much money they have, their name……It is sad that coaches do that to players that can make a big different in how the whole team plays. I don’t understand why coaches take it out on the athlete…………Confused, and mad…………….

  • May 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    I’ve had to deal with a coach who does all of these things. He has taken a boy who eats, breathes, and LOVES baseball and after this season is over he never wants to play baseball again. The coach has played favorites all season, belittled him, lowered his self-esteem, said that winning is everything. This is a kid who pitched 3 no-hitters last year and hit 16 home runs. So I hate to see him give up his dream.

  • November 28, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you so much for this analysis!! You made me realise I have been playing with a truly “bad coach” for 2 years now… My coach is really young and has no experience, which probably explains a lot! I do appreciate that your article dares pointing at the coach rather than at the players for once. What you read in general is that coach knows what’s best for the team, and that if you don’t get more playing time it’s simply because you’re not good enough. Work on your game and you’ll see coach’s attitude change accordingly.
    Well… I tried that, a lot, but it never changed anything. And although I improved a lot and could see the direct impact I had when getting on the court, my coach never could. After all this time, it can’t be that he just missed it. It’s intentional and it betrays an irrational, interpersonal problem he had with me. Despite the huge efforts I made to improve all areas of my game and to be always there for the team, he would leave me on the bench and never consider me more valuable than the 10th-11th player in the team… irrespective of how other players would play! Not to totally lose my confidence, I tried playing in other environments and did great. I got the proof I was looking for: that coach has a problem, not me. So, as you expect, I finally decided to quit…

    • December 4, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      Hi Sam,
      Thanks for writing. I truly appreciate your efforts to ‘win your coach over’. And it is sad but true that some “never get it.” That said though, I’m disappointed that you quit. More than that, you are probably sad that you quit. Even practice gives you opportunity to play the game you love. I can only assume you looked into transferring to another school and another program, and sometimes those things don’t work out – or – the penalties of transfer require you to sit out a portion of the season. I’m not sure what level you were playing at, but quitting the team only reinforces the “coach’s power”.

      In cases like this, I’m an advocate of one-on-one meetings with the coach to find out the problem is, or what you might do to play better. What he tells you may be useful. At the very least it emphasizes to him that you are “coachable” and it may be one of the few ways in which you can influence his thinking. If things don’t change, set another meeting, focus on what direction you’re given….assuming its productive. After 2-3 meetings and employing his directions you have to make a decision. If indeed your skill sets are better than others on the team getting more playing time (ask another coach, someone who has no bias in either direction). If you are convinced your lack of playing time is unfounded and a personal issue, I’d ask the AD to mediate a meeting with the coach. Be prepared to get a “no”. In which case, your only option will be to play elsewhere.

      Just don’t let the turkeys get you down. This is a sport you can play your whole life long and in venues and leagues that will feed your joy. Only you can control whether you’re going to be a martyr and quit because of a chump coach. I vote for you playing because its your love and you’re giving yourself great things in your life – fun things – positive things. Continuing to play is an investment in your health and your mind. Enjoy!
      Stephen Walker, PhD – Editor

      • January 23, 2017 at 1:33 am

        My daughter is 11, 1st year peewee, and has been playing hockey for the same team since Novice. The coach she has now is in his second year coaching her team. My daughter mentioned to her coach early November that his practices were boring (I would agree as they spend more time standing on ice than actually skating) – the game after she has told him his practices were boring she was sent from Centre to defense. 2 weeks into January and she is stI’ll in defense position
        she has asked the coach each and every game if she could play back in centre/left wing as she has been playing since Novice (she doesn’t mind playing defence but she doesn’t want to play that position all the time. Seems as though the coach is punishing her. it wouldn’t be as bad if he was actually. moving othere players around- it’s just my daughter. She has come off the ice in tears over and over again. Not to mention when she scores goals she isn’t acknowledged – I would consider this some kind of emotional abuse or bullying- it has certainly affected her self esteem. I have since benched my own child from a sport she loves so much. Her anxiety before and after a game is extremely intense.

        • September 30, 2017 at 10:15 pm

          Hi Shelby,
          This is a shame. Unfortunately, it is more common than any of us would like. This is where coaches need to be vetted and the network of parents who have experience with these coaches needs to be consulted. It would not take long to change this situation up if the coach was getting regular feedback that athletes don’t want to play for them because they play favorites, aren’t regarded as fair, or rather are deemed hurtful. The idea is to do your research up front to identify “who” you want to coach your child. Remember, a really good coach an athlete may come into contact with at 12 or 13 years of age, can have a life-long impact on their view of sport, life, and coaching.

          Another option can be tricky. A private meeting with the coach and you, may or may not help. That depends on how he/she perceives you and your intentions. Another option is composing a letter to the coach, with a copy to the Board of Directors. At least you know it will get looked into.

          Good luck,
          Stephen Walker

  • August 4, 2017 at 2:30 am

    Wonderful website you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of
    any community forums that cover the same topics talked about in this
    article? I’d really love to be a part of community
    where I can get suggestions from other experienced people that
    share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let
    me know. Kudos!

    • September 30, 2017 at 9:53 pm

      Try going to the website for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. They can and do sometimes host forums.
      Thanks for reading Podium.

  • September 30, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    Thanks Nick,
    This is a great question. In this world of cell phones and video cameras, I’d merely shoot video of the Shenanigans. Then I would attend a Board of Directors meeting for the league, and request the opportunity to show the video. I would ask for censorship if not suspension of the coach. You shouldn’t have to say a word. Almost all leagues in the USA, particularly little leagues, have conduct agreements for coaches…and many have codes of conduct for the players and parents.

    A great resource for this coach….assuming he is willing to be a better coach – is to refer him to all kinds of positive coaching materials produced by the Positive Coaching Alliance. Visit and you will be gratified at the great work being done in this area.

    Thanks again for visiting Podium.
    Steve Walker

  • October 17, 2017 at 2:47 am

    What to do when the football coach doesn’t let your son in the game? He plays his top 11 in offense and defense. Like 10 kids don’t get to play at all!

    • December 5, 2017 at 5:25 am

      Time for the league, or at least the organization to hear about it. Unless your kid is at High School level in a highly competitive situation this is bad for the game, bad for the kids, and bad for the 11 getting to play all the time. It builds division and newer kids lose the opportunity to get better. So sorry.

  • January 9, 2019 at 4:05 am

    I don’t believe that this is acceptable at the high school level, either (or in college, for that matter). Sports are about education, and yes … fun. Explosive, angry coaches who blow up at players do them no favors most of the time. It is rarely motivational, and was never motivational with me.

    In the first half of a football game, I tried a 65-yard field goal, and it landed 3 yards short of the goal posts. Then I tried a 26-yard field goal, it was signaled good, and then later overruled by another official, who said it was wide. My coach exploded at me for that. On the last play of the half, I tried a 55-yard field goal, and it hit the crossbar. My coaches first words at halftime were, “We should be up 6-0!”

    He singled me out and yelled at me after the game, which we lost 7-3 on a 75-yard screen pass with 30 seconds left. He also blew up at me when we watched the films.

    I was 17 years old, and in high school.

    At that time, no one at any level had made a 65-yard field goal, 55 yards would have been the state record, and a 49-yard attempt that went a foot under the crossbar later in the game would have broken the area record, which had a million people in it.

    The sportswriters were astounded by what I had done. So were the college coaches – that was the game film I showed them, and I went to a Division I college.

    No amount of explosion would have encouraged me to do better (how do you get lazy in the 1.2 seconds that it takes to kick a field goal?).

    Some coaches, at all levels, don’t understand how to encourage players, and many have anger management problems. Behavior such as this should not be tolerated from coaches. Period.

  • January 9, 2019 at 4:12 am

    PS: When I coached kids’ sports later on, I would tell the kids before a co-ed basketball game that we don’t win unless everybody on the team scores. By the second quarter in a 4th grade game, 4 of 5 had scored – only the fat girl hadn’t scored, in part because no one passed to her. I told them that no one else could shoot until she scored. minutes later, someone passed to her, and she did score.

    Our team was jumping up and down in the second quarter, and all of the players were happy.

    I’m not sure I could have gotten away with that with older kids. If I could have gotten the kids to cooperate on something like that, I think that parents would have gone for my throat. Sports are about fun.

    (And, by the way, I was once an NFL prospect).

    • February 7, 2019 at 7:06 pm

      Alan, I love this story. It is so right, and it encourages everyone to re-engineer their thinking about the game and why they play. Nicely done, coach!


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