Imagine this. You’ve just picked up a basketball for the first time. Your dad made you do it, but what the heck you weren’t afraid to try. You make your first basket. Something about seeing the ball swish through the net made you smile. You continue to play until you learn how to dribble, play defense, and even how to hit a three-pointer.
You’re in middle school now, and you’re the best one on your team. Not meaning to brag, but it’s just facts. You even go off for 30 points one game as an 8th grader. One day, your AAU coach tells you that a college coach wants you to come watch practice. You think to yourself, me? Really? But I’m only in 8th grade.
Even so, your coach explains to you what it means to be recruited by a school, and that it typically starts when a kid is in middle school. Then, more college coaches begin to call. And more and more. By the time you’re a sophomore in high school, you’ve already been recruited by 20+ Division 1 basketball programs. But, you’re only a sophomore.
You’re easily impressed by things like a flat-screen TV above your locker, loads of free clothes and gear, and unlimited snacks in the locker room. So, you commit to a school based off of the things coaches and recruiters told you, instead of the things they showed you. Now, you’re 18, fresh out of high school, and it’s time to pack up and head to a place you thought you wanted to go when you were 15.
But when you get there, your coaches flip the script
They don’t wear the same smiles as they did when they were recruiting you, or even after you committed. You belonged to them now. They could do what they wanted. They could say what they wanted. I mean, it was you who committed to play for them, right? Who cares if you were 15 and blinded by all the Nike signs they threw in your face.
Now, you’re getting ready for practice, exhausted from all the homework you did the night before, and the classes you had this morning. As you walk into the gym, your coach notices your long face.
He yells, “ARE YOU WALKING INTO MY GYM POUTING!? WE HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED YET. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE HERE AND WORK HARD, YOU MAY AS WELL KILL YOURSELF”.
Now here you are, completely drained from all of your responsibilities as a student-athlete, having a coach mentally abuse you for no good reason. The same coach who smiled in your face for years and convinced you to come and play for their program. What do you do?
The above scenario was a reality for several former women’s basketball players at Southern Methodist University
Keep in mind; I have no idea what was specifically said to these girls during their time at SMU or during their recruitment process. I’m just trying to make a point for my article as to the emotional experience these women had.
It’s deeply disturbing to think about the amount of trust these girls must have had for their coach to commit to come and play for him, only for it to be thrown back in their faces repeatedly. It’s even more disturbing to think about how many people witnessed this abuse and turned a blind eye to it. How many assistant coaches looked the other way?
I went through my own experiences with mental abuse at the hands of a coach, which I will most definitely expand upon in the near future. But when stuff like this happens, and it seems like more effort is going into cover-ups than handling the wrongdoings, it’s clear that “wellness of the student-athlete” is only a priority on paper. It’s sad, disgusting, and downright shameful.
My heart goes out to every athlete who has ever been mentally abused by a coach. It stings just that little bit more when the person from whom you so desperately seek validation, tears you down every chance they get.