Today my heart ached deeply when a colleague shared a horrific story about an area high school student whose life may have been permanently impacted by harsh and inappropriate comments from the student’s football coach. The team had lost an important game, and during the first team practice following that game, the coach screamed at one particular young athlete, berating him in front of the other players and essentially telling him he was worthless. That’s right… worthless!
We entrust our children and grandchildren to coaches. They are supposed to be role models, teaching our highly impressionable young people values that will help them succeed, not only on the sports field, but also and more importantly, in the game of life.
Words matter, and it’s simply not acceptable to allow such toxicity to poison the hearts and souls of our students. Yes, harsh words cut deeply. Such messages regrettably have the potential to lead to the unimaginable when students who are teetering on the ledge of despair decide that life is not worth living because they have been convinced they are worthless.
As a student athlete, I was blessed to have had a basketball coach who set the bar extraordinarily high. He expected excellence, and he received excellence by teaching us to give our very best. When we delivered, he was our most enthusiastic cheerleader. When we didn’t deliver, we knew that practices would be long, hard and intense. Yet those most difficult practices filled with abundant tough love never included harsh comments that might have impaired the self-worth of any athlete.
As I am entering the fall season for Gracious Leadership keynote presentations, I have found myself again particularly burdened about the incivility that permeates our country in organizations of all types.
Just last week I was researching the incidence of bullying in our schools and found the statistics to be astonishing. According to The American Society for the Positive Care of Children, one of three students reported having been bullied by other students, and one of three students confessed to having been a bullier. I shudder in wondering how much higher the bullying statistic would rise if we included the impact of bully coaches and/or other toxic leaders in positions of authority over our children.
When you and I sit on the sidelines, we promote bully behaviors by permitting them through our silence. As parents, what will we do now to provide boundaries to the bullies of our children who try to explain away their untenable words and actions by masking them as character-building moments? As leaders in the workplace, what will we do now to confront the bullies who reign with terror in our midst?
Indeed, the time is NOW to find our voices and garner the courage to stop the bullying epidemic in our nation. This call to action happens one person at a time. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared profound wisdom when he proclaimed,
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The stakes are too high to be silent in the face of the damage that is being done every day by bullies and other types of toxic leaders. Whether it’s on a sports field, the playground, in Corporate America or within other types of organizations, just remember that we are teaching by example. Today’s followers will become the leaders of tomorrow, and they are highly likely to live what they learn and then to lead accordingly.
For a variety of articles regarding the impact of bully coaches and tips on how to deal with them, I invite you to Google “bully coaches.”