I’ve devoted a lot of time and space in the blog to castigating the worst of the worst in my own profession. Those who abuse and their enables absolutely must be removed from the sport.
However, I’m often confronted with a contradiction. I know that many of the people who transgress are themselves deeply wounded. Many have passed a point of no return, but many have not.
I’ve been mulling this question, and I don’t have a lot of answers, but I have two lines of thinking that continue to spin around.
The Substance Abuse Connection
In hearing a decent volume of stories about coaches who are either banned or should be banned, there one common quality that comes up every time.
Literally, I cannot remember an instance of hearing on of these stories where the coach in question was not concurrently abusing some substance, whether they be drugs or alcohol.
This is hardly scientific, but to me it piques my interest as to how strong the connection is between the two. Does the substance abuse come before some of the abusive behavior towards others? If so, there is an opportunity to intervene long before the worst happens.
To my knowledge, there is no specific outreach for coaches in regards to substance abuse. Again, anecdotally from having been with coaches in social settings, there is certainly some out of control drinking. Some of which I have taken part of, it shames me to admit.
Substance abuse intersects with a lot of mental illnesses that coaches may also be more prone to suffer from. So an interesting area for exploration is to offer some form of de-stigmatized and specifically targeted substance abuse and mental health outreach to coaches.
(Note: I originally had only the above written, then I shared a draft with nerd friend of this blog Trever Gray, and he is beginning a lit review into the above connection. More to follow).
As I said in the opening, sometimes coaches deserve to be banned from ever coaching again. However, not all offenses are created equal. We have little gray area at the moment, and the pendulum still rests firmly with not enough consequences.
But we also lack a clear path back for coaches who have transgressed, said the wrong thing, passed on a harmful coaching technique but not crossed the line into unredeemable abusive behavior.
Charles Bachand was on my podcast months ago proposing a theory of Stockholm Syndrome within sports. Briefly said, that we almost universally grew up in a somewhat harmful sports environment, and learned to identify with it. Then as we move to be coaches, we repeat harmful things because it is the only way we know how to coach.
Punitive measures will only get us so far in breaking the cycle. We must have mechanisms for giving coaches behaviors and actions to replace the harmful way they were coached in the past. It’s not just “the bad guys” who need this. Pretty much all of us are hanging on to some harmful coaching practice from our own athletic experience.
No solutions, yet
These are not even half-baked solutions to a large challenge. However, they are two lines of thinking that I believe are worth explaining as we try to create a better environment in the world of a sport we love.