Stop the Shame in Youth Sports

The Problem with “Shaming” and Youth Sports
By Todd M. Kays, Ph.D. and Jack Schlabig, OSU Student

There is a commercial where San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is shown yelling at young football players during practice. The commercial is supposed to be a joke but it is a realistic picture of youth sports today. The recent basketball scandal at Rutgers, where head coach Mike Rice was fired for yelling, hitting and kicking his players, has shown larger issues with youth sports. Youth coaches use “shaming” to motivate their athletes to perform better. Shaming, however, is damaging, different than punishment and certainly not motivating. Shaming is when coaches show anger, frustration and demean an athlete because he or she did not live up to their expectations. This practice may appear motivating, but it is not in anyway; for with shaming, the athletes is made to feel “less than.” The difference can be found in the following statement – Punishment or motivation points out that an athlete “made” a mistake, whereas shaming communicates that an athlete “is” a mistake. It focuses on criticizing them as a human being, not a behavior. The difference is subtle , but the negative short- and long-term effects are real.

When coaches “shame”, they are not thinking or realizing the negative impact upon athletes. Coaches are not the only ones to blame. Parents, teachers and other adults shame kids when they do not meet their academic, athletic, or home expectations. One negative effect is kids becoming vulnerable to “people pleasing”, where they want to feel loved so badly by someone that they withstand emotional or even physical abuse. Shaming more than likely played a role as to why the young survivors in the Jerry Sandusky scandal did not come out and say something sooner about the abuse. Also, young athletes can become bullies because of shaming – they take their anger out on another kid.

Instead of shaming to motivate their athletes, coaches need to use positive reinforcement mostly, at times punishment. This type of coaching behavior is not being soft or letting athletes get away with things. This type of coaching behavior will have a long-term positive impact on the young athletes! Many young kids look up to their coaches, so they need to set a good example and eliminate shaming from youth sports. Parents need to step up and prevent coaches from shaming their kids. If shaming can be reduced and/or eliminated from youth sports, athletes will develop higher self-worth and less psychological problems later in life.

If you are interested in Dr. Todd Kays coming to discuss this topic or helping educate your coaches on more positive coaching behaviors, please contact Athletic Mind Institute at 614-874-0178 or Also, visit the website at

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