Kami Huyse says that one of the complaints about blogs is that they just rehash the daily news. So in the interests of offering some original content, here is my insider’s view of one aspect of the world of sports. 

What’s with the honeybuns, you ask? A “Honeybun” is a nickname for athletes who are dating their coach. After drug issues, honeybuns are one of the key challenges facing athletic departments and teams today, but don’t expect to read about this in the news anytime soon.

During the fall of 2004, I conducted an online survey that asked athletes and others in the sport of track and field about the issue of sexual harassment.  Here are some of the interesting results:

1.  Nine percent of our respondents had participated in a consensual relationship with their coaches, but 83% believed that such relationships hurt a team.

2.  One third said that others they knew had received preferential treatment from coaches due to a dating relationship.

3.  Sixty-four percent of the respondents, including half the respondents who had dated their coaches, supported firm no-dating policies for athletes and coaches.

We know a number of very successful coach-athlete marriages. Shared common interests and a lot of time spent together can definitely help Cupid along. Our concern is not with the coach who finds his/her special someone, but with the “serial daters,” the coaches who make a habit of dating athletes as they move through a program. Some coaches even date more than one of their athletes at the same time.

In many ways, athletes find themselves in the same situations as employees. Coaches control “pay” in the form of scholarships, training, and access to play time. However, the athlete has less power than an employee in several respects. Unlike most employers, coaches spend extended time with athletes, focus on their bodies, and travel with them. Transfer policies make it difficult, if not impossible, for athletes to escape an unprofessional coach without sacrificing their athletic careers. Athletes are typically much younger than coaches.

The vast majority of coaches handle their role very professionally. The ones who don’t cause a lot of problems. Athletic administrators, athletes, and coaches need to be aware of the signs, and do what they can to maintain a professional working environment. We offer our top ten ways to spot a Honeybun situation:

10.  Socially Challenged   There are reasons why a coach “picks on” certain athletes and not others. Honeybuns are often inexperienced and socially immature–they haven’t dated much and they don’t get along well with peers. If their parents are divorced or distant, they may be looking for a new authority figure.

Coaches who make a regular habit of dating athletes are socially immature, too. They are usually single, don’t seem to get along with their peers, and appear to “not have a life” outside their sport. They make excuses for interacting with athletes, like extended meetings, unusually long practices where nothing gets done…They just don’t have anything else to do. You are their social life.

9.  Isolated  Coaches who make a habit of dating their athletes usually try to separate the athletes from other sources of support. Boyfriends/girlfriends are forbidden. If the coach tells you that your previous coaches are bad, your parents are bad, your friends are bad, that you would never perform as well with another coach, don’t walk away–RUN.

8.  The Bully  Because of his/her special standing with the coach, the Honeybun usually appears to be less integrated into the team than others. Teammates are not anxious to complain about these relationships out of fear of reprisals, but they show their unhappiness by staying away from the Honeybun.

In other cases, though, less capable athletes will suck up to the Honeybun as a way of gaining favor and privileges from the coach. Just like school bullies, the Honeybun often has a group of followers to help him/her keep everybody else in line.

7.  Sticky Glue  “Coachable” athletes listen to their coach and try to do what he/she says during a competition, but they interact with teammates and peers, too. Honeybuns follow their coaches around like little puppy dogs.

6.  Extra Benefits  Honeybuns will often get special privileges that other athletes don’t get. They get more press, “special practices,” better equipment….you get the picture. In the worst of the worst cases, honeybuns get performance-enhancing drugs in exchange for the relationship. This is a very effective control technique–you can’t rat on me, or I’ll rat on you.

5.  Different Rules  Honeybuns are not held to team rules. If they’re late, oh well. If you’re late, you’re off the team.

4.  Travel (uh oh)  Travel is an opportunity for the coach and honeybun to spend some quality time together. If the honeybun is your roommate, but you never see her, hmmmm. If the coach has meetings in his hotel room, the Honeybun is always there to open the door when the rest of the team arrives.

3.  Practice Outfits  Athletes like to look great, but we’re usually pretty practical about our practice attire. We don’t care how we look to the coach, unless…..we are honeybuns! Honeybuns dress differently than the rest of the team. The less clothes, the more likely you are watching a honeybun.

2.  Unusual Improvement  Now we’re getting to the top of the list. Everybody trains together. Everybody does the same workouts. Sure, talent and motivation matter and we come onto the team with different levels of ability and different work ethics. We may have different starting places, but we should all make about the same amount of progress. If most of the team makes moderate progress, stays the same (or even goes down!), and one person makes unreasonable progress, it’s honeybun time! In my event, the shot put, improvements of 2-3 feet per year would be very good. Somebody making an 8 foot improvement in one year, well, ……

The worst outcome of a team honeybun situation happens when other athletes are actually held back to make sure the honeybun wins. They are punished for working out on their own, or not allowed to learn a new event. They have to use a “baby” technique, like single turns in the hammer throw when others get 3 or 4 turns. This can be so demoralizing.

1.  First Names   Okay—you might say that the paint is on the wall and the gods have spoken:  you are in the presence of a true Honeybun.  You know you are toast if you see a Honeybun refer to the coach by his/her first name, especially in interviews with the press.  It’s great PR to praise your coach to the media, but let’s be professional. If Bob doesn’t want to be Coach Smith, at least use “Coach Bob” or “Coach B.”

Now that we are experts in recognizing a Honeybun situation, what can athletic departments do to prevent PR disasters?

1.  Adopt no-date policies.  In high school, this is just law. Most universities have policies about faculty-student dating. These should be extended to coaches, too.

2.  Evaluate Coaches.  Students get to evaluate their professors. Athletes should have an opportunity to provide annual anonymous feedback to the Athletic Department about their coaches, not just as part of an exit interview.

3.  Athletic Department Oversight. Athlete evaluations of coaches should go not only to the athletic department, but to the President’s office as well. Too often, athletic departments are run as separate entities from the rest of the university.

4.  Training  Only 39% of our respondents knew anything about their university’s sexual harassment or dating policies. Coaches, athletes, and athletic department personnel should have regular training about sexual harassment. Contact information for a trained ombudsperson outside the athletic department should be made available to all athletes.

Hopefully, if these steps are taken, student-athletes can experience a less stressful, more professional environment. 🙂


Categories: SportsTrack and Field


Karen’s Public Relations Blog » Honeybun watch…. · July 15, 2006 at 11:05 am

[…] As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the challenges facing women’s sports today is the prevalence of coach-athlete romantic relationships. The problem ones are not the one-time thing, but when a coach makes a regular habit of dating athletes. […]

Karen’s Public Relations Blog » PR Athletic / Coach Nightmare: Boston College Women’s Hockey Coach “Resigns” · April 26, 2007 at 6:17 pm

[…] When I saw this article on ESPN, this is just one of many examples of what I would like to call “honeybuns” among athletes. I had posted on this topic a while ago– because I saw many cases of these types of people in track and field alone– and with it seems that it is not limited to one sport. […]

Karen’s Public Relations Blog » Sexual Harassment in Sports: Another PR Crisis Issue for Athletics · October 4, 2007 at 6:45 pm

[…] These two cases have many similarities to them. Both of these women involved in their cases were saying that the coach was making unwanted comments and advances to them. Both of these coaches had previous accounts brought up against them for sexual harassment from different people. But, there is a difference, the former employee had the choice to leave the Knicks, but the college athlete at UNC had limited options on where to go. She was dismissed from the team and she probably wouldn’t have gotten a release from UNC, so she would have had to sit out a year if she decided to go to another school. Another challenge that women in these similar situations also have to be aware of are those women that say “yes,” which I categorize as “honeybuns.” […]

Leave a Reply