Ending this “Old School” Tactic: 9 Tips to Stop Yelling


Last week I reposted an article about “old school” coaching techniques that need to be removed from youth sports.

And while those strategies need to go, there is a tactic that most all of those techniques use that also needs to be tossed out in the garbage: yelling.

According to a recent study, 76% of kids have been yelled at by their coach. And of those kids, 40% said that being yelled at made them want to quit the sport.

Additionally, yelling not only is ineffective, it makes matters worse. “Shouting cannot reduce or correct their problem behavior,” said Ming-Te Wang, an assistant professor in the departments of education and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and a co-author of a study on parental yelling. “On the contrary, it makes it worse.”

But wanting to quit and making the behavior that prompted the yelling worse might not be the worst results!   In parenting circles, yelling is being called the new spanking. And it seems that it is as damaging to kids as hitting them is.

The study found that kids exposed to harsh verbal discipline “suffered from increased levels of depressive symptoms and were more likely to demonstrate behavioral problems such as vandalism or antisocial and aggressive behavior.”

While this study was done with parents, like parents coaches are often adults that children respect and admire and whose esteem they wish to be held in high regard.

Yelling at your athletes is one of the “old school” coaching tactics that needs to go.

But how do you stop yelling?

Here are 9 tips:

  1. Notice what triggers you. Both in yourself and in the behavior of others. It could be that if you are hungry, tired or worried about something outside the gym you are more prone to yelling. Be aware and do the best you can to take care of yourself so as not to arrive to coaching in a deficit position. In the behavior of others it could be that kids saying “I can’t,” rolling their eyes or balking that set you off. Just like in any relationship, let your athletes know what your expectations and rules are but also choose your battles carefully. Additionally, when those behaviors occur that drive you nuts, remind yourself that these are pet peeves and not the end of the world. There is no need to yell.
  2. Lower your expectations and don’t take things so personally. Yes, you read that right. Sometimes we yell because we have unrealistic expectations of how things are going to go. We are intent on everything being seamless or just so. Generally speaking, life isn’t that way, and life with kids for sure isn’t that way! Gymnasts are going to be scared, roll their eyes or push boundaries—they are children and that is what children do. It’s normal behavior and by not taking it personally. you might find that it’s easier to keep your temper in control. Sure, you need to teach them right from wrong, that is part of coaching, but your frustration levels will be reduced when you remember this is just a normal part of the job.
  3. Understand stages of child development. When you understand what you can reasonably expect from kids and the challenges that accompany these different ages and stages, you are better equipped to remain logical in the face of triggering behaviors. For instance, when you understand that kids in the later elementary ages (8-11) really want their coaches to like them and equate liking with not being disappointed in them, it’s more understandable that they might lie when confronted with something. Not because they are immoral cheaters but because they don’t want to lose your affection.
  4. Stop trying to control the behavior of others. “But I’m the coach,” you might be thinking, “It’s my job to control my athletes.” But it isn’t because it’s impossible for anyone to make someone else feel or act a certain way.   You are there to teach, to guide, to help and to inspire. When we believe we are responsible for another person’s behavior we adopt what psychologists call a “herding” instinct: the desire to get everyone in the group to conform to our needs. When we are unable to do so we become anxious and yell. At these moments, we need to understand that the herding tendency is a normal reaction but that no one ever yelled his or her way to calm! You need a different strategy.
  5. Breathe in the space. There is a small moment between the triggering behavior and our reaction. It is in that space that a change in any behavior begins. Lengthening the time between action and reaction allows us to respond instead of merely reacting. So take a deep breath. Count to ten. Repeat a mantra. Just do something to create some space.
  6. Stop “futurizing.” Sometimes our own anxiety sends us into a panic, which leads to yelling. We are worried that our athlete is not going to make it to regionals if she doesn’t have the release move that she isn’t catching. Then her parents will be furious with us. Then she will quit the sport or switch gyms. And the whole team will follow suit and then we will have no job. Calm down. Take things one-step at a time. Yelling won’t change the future and the doom day that we are projecting isn’t based in reality. Instead, focus on what we can do in that moment, shelving the rest until we can think more clearly about possible solutions.
  7. Take up yoga or mediation. Seriously. The benefits of yoga and meditation on reducing stress, managing anger and increasing mindfulness are proven over and over.
  8. Ask yourself if you need a break or if this is what you want to be doing. If you are constantly losing your temper, it could be an indication that you need some time off, this profession is no longer a good fit or you need to move work environments. We all need rest and sometimes we need change. Teaching is a hard job and burnout is not uncommon.
  9. Seek help. If your anger is beyond these tips, consider seeking professional help. For the sake of the kids you work with and for your own health.

It’s not easy. Particularly when you work with kids 20 to 30 hours a week, often spending more waking hours with them than their own parents do, not to lose your patience.

And you will lose your patience.

Just don’t resort to yelling.

Make a different choice. Impose logical consequences. And get on with the workout.

It will be better for the emotional health of your athletes, the environment in your gym club and your own physical and mental health.