Was Rutgers' Julie Hermann Intense or Abusive as Coach?

Athletics experts say "personal" and "demeaning" tactics cross the line.

May 28, 2013— -- Kids aren't as tough as they used to be. Parents are more sensitive. And it's a different era in the world of college sports where players who believe they have been abused can tweet about it, say some coaching experts.

"In the old days, football coaches hit players over the head with a clip board, but you don't see that anymore," said Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.

But coaching experts like Gould say that there is no excuse for abusive coaching -- physically or psychologically -- especially bullying tactics that get "personal" and "demeaning."

Just this week, controversy erupted over accusations that Rutgers' new athletic director Julie Hermann had been abusive toward her volleyball players at the University of Tennessee in 1996, calling them "alcoholics" and "whores."

Hermann has denied the accusations and Rutgers is so far defending her appointment.

The college was still reeling from a scandal last year involving basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired after being caught on video tape throwing balls, kicking players and shouting gay slurs.

"Coaches are under a lot of pressure, but that doesn't justify it," said Gould. "When they cross the line is when they make personal comments questioning a person's esteem."

"Sometimes it tough for a coach to try to get the kid to a place where they don't think they can get," he said. "Sometimes you need to raise your voice and intensity to motivate people. People recognize it's part of the territory.

"Where it really crosses the line is when it becomes personally abusive, like calling a player names or questioning their manhood or womanhood."

Gould says the world of college athletics has changed.

"Historically, coaches -- right or wrong – could get on kids a lot more and be more intense with them," he said. "A lot of people have talked about this generation being more entitled and parents protecting them more. Kids may not be as tough. I know it sounds like I am throwing these kids under the bus, but for a long time, physical abuse was ignored."

"Any contact where a coach is emotional and grabbing players and pulling and hitting a player" is off limits now, said Gould. "The whole issue is what is abusive psychologically."

According to Kelly Hanlon Dow, one of Hermann's accusers who was a sophomore on the volleyball team, "She told us we sucked. ... We're fat."

Dow told ABC, "We got to a point where it was no longer worth the scholarships. It was no longer worth playing volleyball."

She and 14 other teammates said they had endured name-calling and were not allowed to shower or eat during road trips between Florida and Tennessee.

"It absolutely brought down morale," said Dow. "We could have been a lot better than we were."

New Jersey's Star-Ledger first reported that 15 players on Tennessee's 1996 volleyball team had written a letter to Rutgers saying their coach at the time had "ruled through humiliation, fear and emotional abuse."

"For sure, I was an intense coach, but there is a vast difference between high intensity and abusive behavior," Hermann said in a statement over the weekend.

Hermann called the allegations by her former student athletes as "heartbreaking."

"I was never notified of the reported letter outlining the concerns of some former athletes," she said. "However, I am truly sorry that some were disappointed during my tenure as coach. ... Over the years, I have tried to learn from each mistake, including the lessons I learned as a young coach. I have become a stronger leader, administrator and educator as a result."

Larry Lauer, who works in player development with the United States Tennis Association said that studies show intimidation and abuse are not effective coaching techniques.

"If you are going to demean and emotionally abuse players, then you have stopped teaching and it's not going to work," he said. "You get short-term results, but not in the long term, if you treat players badly and sacrifice your values."

Constructive criticism is far more effective, especially in younger athletes, according to Lauer. "With positive feedback and reinforcement, players are more willing to come back and play."

At the college level, coaches are more than teachers, they represent their institutions.

"Coaches who are asking players to be responsible and do the right thing have a lot of responsibility and power in these college communities," he said. "How we act, really sets the reputation for everything at these universities."

Good coaches can stray from their values, he said, when they are pressured to win. "But you can go about it the right way."

Lauer cites model basketball coaches like Michigan State's Tom Izzo, the late John Wooden of UCLA and even former Tennessee's Pat Summitt, who used a "teaching approach" and still won.

"If you sacrifice your values, it's eventually going to come out on Twitter," he said.

As for Hermann, youth athletics expert Gould said "she's innocent until proven guilty. Sometimes it's a one-off thing and it should be let go. At the same time, you look for patterns occurring.

'I do think a coach can get frustrated and one day he or she may say things. But when they refer to race or sexual orientation or anything like that, it's different," he said. "You can be intense, but there is a stricter set of parameters. You can assume everything will end up on video."