Olympian Bullying

Shitty Engineer! Engineer! Looser! Shitty Winner! These are spoken adjectives to address academically oriented, water polo players at a public high school, by an ex-Olympian whose job is to coach these players water polo skills. This olympian went on to use curse words, pointedly at all players, but one, in the team. He did not even spare the bench most of whom never played in a losing game. Other words used to address the players were crazy horse, uncoachable, unmanageable, incapable, bunch of cowards. Majority of these players were otherwise ‘A” students at their school.


A year back, when a newly-rich dad morally and monetarily sponsored and supported the hiring of this Olympian for the coach’s job, he was sold as an Olympic winner! who would turn the water polo players of this public school as winners in life. The Olympian introduced himself so and said, “Give your boys to me and I will make them look good! I will bring a culture of winning in this team.”


Now most of these players in their past year, had a coach that they all liked. This earlier coach was very open to talk to and made it clear every time that the game is for the players to play and not for the coach to own! A firefighter by profession and a care-taker of homeless children at night, this earlier coach, instilled into his players that playing itself is a privilege in life. He stressed on humbleness, honesty, dedication and having fun when playing. This earlier coach regularly spoke of friendships and team-spirit that is created when playing high-school sports.


And then the Olympian took over. Naive as the students were, they were hoping to continue what they had learned. The were now looking forward to learn from a skilled master! The brought all their energy and fun into the practices. But not for long.


A few weeks into their first season, it was apparent to them that the Olympian was a hard task-master who had one and only one goal - to create water polo winners and nothing else. There was going to be no other talk. No smiling or fun during practices. The starters were picked and all the drills were meant for them. There was rarely if any talk or drill oriented towards the non-starters or any mixing in of the players. Haves and HaveNots were clearly marked by the colors of their cap - white and black!


During what the Olympian termed, an open discussion, a “white-capped” student who had learnt the lessons of friendliness and humbleness previously, spoke up of the contradictions and how this Olympian approach created division in the team and demoralized the students in general. From that time onwards, this player never wore the ‘white’ cap. And all other players cowed down.


Olympian repeatedly implied talking back will be punished. He shouted and yelled at practice and during games. Criticism of individual players were loud and heard far back in the stands - both during practices and games. There was ‘never’ any word of advice or adulation of effort. Rare was instruction to improve individual skills - in fact opposite, players were told if they need to learn skills, they have to join “club water polo”.


Rare talks by the Olympian included swear words at players, games and referees. Put downs were common. Players and parents reached out to the athletic administration and were advised that time will solve their problem. A year later, negativity continued. Practices continued to be white-capped separate from black-capped. Games were reserved for the white-capped.


Regularly bullied and shunned, players do not know where to go but stay quiet, suffer the humiliation in silence and continue to be physically present at practice and games. Parents do not complain as they have been counseled that their current and future players will be punished directly or indirectly. School Administration leaves all athletic decision to the Athletic Administration, who in turn imply - time will solve the problem!


And in time, the Olympian said, “I cut so and so because he wanted to have fun. Water polo is not fun. Water polo is for marines”. (Don’t marines have fun?) Then the games began. One loss and then another. Olympian erupted. In a follow up team meeting, players were verbally abused with swear words or put downs. One by one, by name! Even the bench who never touched water was not spared. Olympian blurted out, “For me it is not fun to lose. I cannot sleep. I cannot eat. It’s painful”.


The player who was earlier black-capped and once again, unwilling to suffer the bullying, attempted to seek clarification. Olympian forcefully shut him down. “Leave your comments to yourself. I do not want to even hear it” and Olympian walked away.


And the student athletes were left with “In future life you will be like a Shitty winner, like shitty! engineer , you gonna be a shitty engineer. Because you are gonna be a loser, Engineer!, Loser!”.

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