By now you’ve probably seen the footage.
It shows Coach Mike Rice—Rutgers head basketball coach—shove his players, kick them, yank their jerseys and throw basketballs at their heads at close range.
As a result, Rice was eventually fired and Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti resigned a little after the scandal went national.
Upon viewing the disturbing footage, it was apparent that Rice went way beyond a coach’s normal level of yelling and screaming, but that’s just the beginning.
It was also clear that Rice committed the ultimate betrayal between player and coach, teacher and student and trainer and trainee, by using his power to get the players to buy into a system of abuse and mistreatment.
By using both physical and verbal abuse, Rice wasn’t only able to control his players, but he used that control to make sure the abuse was kept behind gym doors for years, as it wasn’t until recently that Rutgers President Robert Barchi said he saw the actual footage.
Through Barchi’s own admission, he decided to view the tape for the first time after the scandal went national, although he heard of the abuse much earlier.
Why Barchi simply didn’t pop in a DVD of Rice abusing his players when he first learned of the abuse is beyond understanding, many say, as one would assume a claim so serious would warrant at least 15 minutes of Barchi’s time to view the details of what happened.
Makes parents wonder
Perhaps another thing the Rutgers scandal did was it made parents think about their own children and the coaches they deal with, because according to Craig Sigl, expert sports trainer for youth and adult athletes at Mental Toughness Academy, this type of abuse happens with kids of all ages, not just the older ones.
“Parents need to get the lesson that this kind of derogatory behavior happens at all levels of sports and that they need to ask their kids directly if they experience it and take action if they do,” said Sigl in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.
“Too many parents put their head in the sand about it thinking, ‘Well, it’s toughening him or her up for the real world.’ "
"I work daily with kids who have experienced this kind of emotional abuse and it affects them tremendously. To be sure, some kids are not affected and handle such coaches just fine, but you can’t know if your kid's one of those or not,” he said.
“Parents often make the logical mistake of thinking that a tough coach or parent worked for them and so it should be good for their kids just the same," Sigl adds. "But kids are not miniature versions of their parents; they are unique individuals with a completely different makeup than anyone else.”
How to tell
But how can parents differentiate between the coach who’s tough and may yell a little and the coach who steps over the line? There’s a clear way to tell, Sigl says.
“Coaches can be aggressive, loud and tough and be very effective without being emotionally abusive,” he explains.
“For example, an abusive coach tears down a player with yelling and screaming. A coach interested in getting more effort and attention from a player could yell or scream or be aggressive with words like these: ‘Jones, I know you are a great player and you are so close to your greatness and I know you want to see that.’ "
Or, ‘There is more hustle in you right now than you are giving. Show the team how bad you want your success.”
In addition, Sigl says coaches should place a focus on hard work and getting their athletes to perform to maximum potential. Letting players know they’ll sit on the bench and be replaced by a harder worker if they’re not trying, is often all the encouragement they need.
Obviously, this brand of toughness in a coach is vastly different from showing aggression just to prove authority.
“It’s totally fine for a coach to be passionate and raise a voice if that’s the style,” says Sigl. "It’s the intention behind yelling and screaming that matters. Coaches will get more out of their athletes by inspiring them than tearing them down.”
Sigl pointed to a quote from the legendary former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden about using yelling as a coaching technique: “I never yelled at my players much,” Wooden was quoted saying. “That would have been artificial stimulation which doesn’t last very long. I think it’s like love and passion. Passion won’t last as long as love. When you are dependent on passion, you need more and more of it to make it work. It’s the same with yelling.”
But sometimes, abuse of players by a coach doesn’t always come in the obvious form of verbal or physical abuse, so both parents and athletes need to be aware of other signs too, says Sigl.
Like “When a coach shows bias toward the better players with regards to praise and encouragement,” he says.
“A smart coach works to boost up his weakest players. A coach who shows with words or body language approval or disapproval based on performance in the games is a coach who does that even more in practice when the parents aren’t looking.”
Another attribute of a good coach Sigl notes, is one who has the people skills and interest to learn their players' personalities, because by doing so, they’ll know how to reach the entire team and each individual member of the team at the same time.
Flexibility is key
“Athletes have told me consistently that knowledge of the game gains the most respect from them. I would say that flexibility is the most important attribute of a coach,” says Sigl.
“Meaning, one-size-fits-all coaching method on every player ends up wasting talent. Each player is different and responds to different motivation. The best coaches learn about people and continually seek to understand the personalities of the players."
"They know that the athlete isn’t just a sports machine and what happens to them off the court or field affects their play on the field. A great coach supports the player in all areas of performance.”
And for those parents wondering how they can provide tips for their child without interfering with what the coach is teaching, Sigl says to first speak to the coach.
Furthermore, parents should ask their child if they even want to be instructed outside of practice and games, because they may not want to and that’s okay, Sigl writes in a free ebook, “The 10 commandments for a great sports parent.”
“Basically, parents need to ask the child if he or she would like tips on their sport and when they would like them,” Sigl advises. “When giving tips, the parent should just ask the child if this is any different than what the coach teaches and how it’s different.”
“The parent can certainly go to the coach and ask about the methodology," Sigl adds.
"Then make a decision on whether or not to go forward. There is plenty of coaches teaching methods that don’t work for every athlete and it’s the parent’s right to decide what they want their child to learn.”
“Parents need to be in charge of their child’s upbringing but also need to be self-aware that they don’t have all the answers either. In other words make informed decision about your child’s sports participation and don’t just assume you know best without knowing all of the facts,” Sigl concludes.