May 17, 2010

Psychologist Urges Ombuds as Buffer for Student Athletes

In the face of growing recognition of the long-lasting damage caused by bad coaching behavior and language, psychologist Jeffrey Miller says student athletes should have access to an Ombuds. Miller, who works extensively with adolescents, says that teens suffer when coaches fail to model acceptable adult behavior. "Because of the inherent power differential and the fact that the adolescent already feels unsupported and unfairly dealt with, this is a formula for further distress and disempowerment," he said.

Miller suggests that an Ombuds would give teens a safe resource to work through issues. In addition, he says that Ombuds would also help teens see that "healthy adults have rational, realistic ways of dealing with the kind of conflicts that come up in human relationships." Miller's advice is consistent with the position of The Women's Sports Foundation, which recommends opportunities for neutral direction and assistance for athletes outside the athletic department. (Palo Alto Online; Women's Sports Foundation White Paper.)

Related posts: US Olympic Ombuds Helps Athletes in Conflict; Olympic Athlete Ombuds in the News; U Washington Faces Lawsuit Despite Mediation by Ombuds.

Update 5/21/10: Palo Alto Weekly editorial calls for "district-wide ... neutral ombudsman for athletic issues." 


  1. Thank you for this posting. The athletic myth that "nice guys finish last" has too often led to bullying by coaches. Then, when bullying in the workplace is addressed, someone invariably suggests that strong aggressive language works for athletics, why not the office? Moreover, being tough on the athletic field may teach students that it is acceptable to act as a bully in the workplace. Articles such as this one help rebut these arguments.

  2. At universities, athletics programs are often very isolated and privileged, characteristics that are ripe for abuse. University ombuds should be diligent reaching out to these constituents.