5 Types of Manipulation That Happen in Youth Sports

By Janis Meredith | Posted 4/8/2019

Let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of manipulation in one way or another. Parents do it, kids do it and coaches do it. But healthy relationships cannot be driven by manipulation and any community or culture that is striving to be healthy, like a youth sports team or league, cannot be contaminated with manipulation.

If your goal as a parent, coach or official is to have a healthy youth sports culture, then it’s important that you recognize and try to avoid manipulation in the league. Here I’d like to highlight 5 different styles of “manipulators,” taken from a book I recently read called Scary Close, by Donald Miller.

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The Scorekeeper

A person who manipulates as a scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, with really no way to win. As Miller states, “Scorekeepers are in control of the scoreboard and frame it any way they want, but always in such a way that they’re winning…Scorekeepers keep tabs on whatever favors you owe them and call in those favors when they want to control you.”

In healthy relationships, people don’t keep score – there’s no tit for tat. As adults in youth sports who are striving for a healthy youth sports culture, this means that you don’t play this game with each other, or with your kids as pawns.

The Judge

The judge personality believes in right and wrong, which isn’t the problem. The problem is that they believe they’re the ones who decide who’s right and wrong. They may even lord it over others to wield authority and power. “Right and wrong are less a moral code than they are a collar and leash they attach to others so they can lead them around.”

The judging personality has a hard time admitting when they are wrong. To be wrong is to give up their control and people who manipulate hate giving up control.

The False Hero

Miller explains, “the false hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do.” I’ve seen this happen several times to my kids over the years of playing youth sports.

Coaches in preseason would make all kinds of playing time and position promises, but as the season went on, it became apparent that the “false hero” talk was just a way to make my child feel important and the promises were just a bunch of hype.

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The Fearmonger

“Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination. The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me, I’ll make your life a living hell.”

Perhaps you’ve seen coaches like this? They use fear to motivate players, instead of good coaching techniques. Even parents sometimes resort to the fearmonger technique too, with their kids or even coaches. Threatening others to get them to act how we want is manipulation, and a sure way to kill relationships.

The Flopper

I’ve seen floppers in basketball and soccer. They are the ones who over-dramatize their injury or push in order to get the call they want. In life, floppers over-dramatize and become the victim whenever it suits them and helps them achieve their goal. A flopper’s internal dialogue says, “If people hurt me then they’re in my debt, and I can hold it over them to get what I want.”

Floppers make you feel bad and use that to get you to do what they want. Kids are really good at this, and so are parents. I would also call it using a “martyr complex” where you play the part of a martyr to make people feel bad for you to get what you want.

Life is hard enough without scorekeepers, floppers, judges, fearmongers and false heroes making it worse. The same applies to youth sports.

As you try to raise a child who is a champion, don’t forget how important their relationships with parents, other players and coaches are. If you see yourself manipulating, the first step is to acknowledge it, work on correcting that behavior, and give yourself grace as you strive to let go of manipulative ways.

Janis Meredith is a family coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.