Would You Step in to Stop an Abusive Coach?

Would you step in if you saw an abusive couch pushing an athlete to his limit?

May 19, 2010— -- You're out for a nice day in the park when you see a soccer coach push a young athlete past his limit. He tells him that he's pathetic and degrades the boy by throwing water in his face and a soccer ball at his stomach.

"You are the suckiest soccer player I've ever seen!" the coach yells.

The coach also denies the player water, which seems to put the young man in danger.

"I need to stop," the boy begs. "I need water."

"No you don't!" screams the coach.

Something as simple as drinking water can prevent heat stroke, but since 1995, 42 young athletes have died from dehydration on the playing field, according to Fred Mueller of the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research. Countless others have suffered psychological and physical wounds by abusive coaches.

ABC's "What Would You Do?" set up the ethical dilemma to see if ordinary people would step in to stop an abusive coach. We hired actors to play an abusive coach and vulnerable young athletes. No one else in the New Jersey park knew they were actors.

Watch the scenario unfold on "What Would You Do?" Friday at 9 p.m. ET

Bystanders Hesitate, but Few Intervene

"You're pathetic!" screamed the coach as he forced him to do more than the boy seemed capable of on a hot summer day. "Don't start with this asthma crap. Jumping jacks right now! Count them off!"

Many people walked by as the coach berated the young soccer players: "You don't have asthma -- you got a whole bunch of pansy in you. That's it. Come on!"

One young boy begged the coach to stop and told him he was going to be sick. "Well suck it up then," the coach replied.

Many people hesitated and stopped to look twice, but few stepped in. One mother told us she felt too intimidated, but used the experience to teach a life lesson to her kids.

"It just made us kind of discuss it as a family and...we were saying that it wasn't right and our coaches would never treat us like that," said Sue Quiroga.

More people passed by, perhaps thinking, 'no pain, no gain.' "It doesn't bother me," said a biker named Louis Rodriguez. "I went through it... I survived it. It made me a better person, actually."

How would you respond when you're thrust into real-life ethical scenarios? What Would You Do? Take the Quiz!

'Coaches Are Supposed to Be Tough'

But others who saw our abusive coach -- even those who barely caught a glimpse -- knew it was wrong.

"I was flying by. I only saw it for like 10 seconds, but way over the limit," said biker Bob Marrs. "There's no question that this is not acceptable behavior."

And yet, why didn't anyone intervene?

"We think of 'the coach' as the person who 'makes a man out of young boys,' and that we cut them some slack," said Carrie Keating, professor of psychology at Colgate University. "It's almost as if...people were walking by the coach with rose-colored glasses thinking that if he is the coach, he must be doing the right thing. Coaches are supposed to be tough. He was being tough."

A Former Coach Steps In

At the park, the coach continued to scream and rough up his red-faced charge. We were beginning to wonder whether anyone would stop when runner Alastair MacLennan approached.

"You either got to quit or something, he's in bad shape," MacLennan, a former coach, said.

Our coach responded that they had just started the workout. MacLennan pointed out that the young boy's face was flushed. He would not back down and offered to bring the boy home.

"One of the things I do every day, I roll outta bed, get on my knees and I ask God to give me direction," MacLennan said. "And part of that direction is going over there."

The more physical the coach became, the faster people responded. When the coach slapped the boy and screamed at him to stop quitting, Scott and Sue Bingaman walked by -- with their seeing-eye dog. Would a blind man intervene?

Find out what happens on "What Would You Do?" Friday at 9 p.m. ET