Addressing the Issue of Verbal, Physical and Psychological Abuse of Athletes: The Foundation Position (page 2)
A. General Rationale
Abuse is the willful infliction of injury, pain, mental anguish, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or punishment through physical, verbal, emotional or sexual means. Sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Moreover, romantic and/or sexual relationships between coaches and athletes are regarded as an abuse of professional status and power. While this paper does not refer to sexual abuse or harassment, other Women’s Sports Foundation resources do. For more information on sexual abuse and sexual harassment of athletes by their coaches, please refer to alternate resources located on the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Web site (www.womenssportsfoundation.org). Click on “Issues & Action,” then “Coaching Issues” from the submenu. In the main frame, click on “Sexual Harassment - Sexual Harassment and Sexual Relationships Between Coaches and Athletes: The Foundation Position.” For additional information, call the Foundation at 1-800-227-3988.
All types of abuse occur in sport as they do in many other institutional contexts such as government, religious organizations, the home and the workplace. Specifically, non-sexual abuse in sport deters girls and women from participating and developing as athletes. The development and implementation of policies regarding such abuse will help create organizational climates in which women and girls can participate and feel free to report such incidents. Setting policy on verbal, physical and psychological abuse is also believed to decrease the likelihood of such offenses. The Women's Sports Foundation acknowledges that abuse occurs in athletics and seeks to prevent its occurrence through the development of this policy and position statement.
Leaders of sports governing bodies, educational institutions and athletic programs are encouraged to formulate, implement and evaluate a policy on verbal, physical and psychological abuse as unacceptable behavior by coaches toward their athletes or by players toward their teammates. The following policy is intended to serve, in part, as a model for sport leaders to adopt and/or adapt in order to meet the needs of their respective organizations. Though the ostensible focus of this policy is on coach/athlete and athlete/athlete relationships, its guidelines and implications include, but are not limited to, other professionals who work with athletes, such as athletic trainers, sports psychologists, officials and sports information personnel.
B. Types and Definitions of Abuse
1) Verbal Abuse – The most commonly occurring type of abuse in sports includes 1) name calling, 2) hurtful comments regarding performance, 3) swearing at players or game officials and 4) comments meant to demean a person’s integrity.
- 1) Coach to player: “Fatty, lose some weight so you can actually get down the court.”
2) Coach to team: “You all suck. I thought you were better than that, but I guess I was wrong.”
3) Any and all expletives
4) Coach to player: “I hope you aren’t proud of yourself. You shouldn’t be.”
2) Psychological or Emotional Abuse – Includes 1) having unrealistic goals or expectations of athletes, 2) keeping athletes from participating in games or practices because of assumed limits or underdeveloped skills or 3) issuing threats.
- 1) A coach putting the success of a team on the shoulders of one “superstar.”
2) Before putting a non-starter in the game a coach says, “I guess we will have to let you play, you’re the only one left.”
3) Coach to team: “If we lose any games this season, none of you will be invited back next year.”
3) Physical Abuse – 1) When coaches use any type of hurtful touch causing physical pain or 2) the use of excessive exercise, denial of fluids and/or imparting unreasonable requests as a form of punishment or a way of creating team discipline.
- 1) Slapping, grabbing, spitting, shoving, hitting or throwing equipment.
2) A team lost and the coach demands that his or her players run around the track until they vomit or pass out.
3) Team returns late at night after an away contest and goes right to the gym for a punishment practice.
4) Bullying – Though bullying can be considered a form of verbal, physical or psychological abuse, bullying is the deliberate, repeated and sometimes health-endangering mistreatment of one person (the target) by a perpetrator (the bully), whose destructive actions are fueled by the bully's need to control the target.
- Bullying is usually an ongoing physical or verbal mistreatment where a game of usurping control in an attempt to win while the other loses. Bullying coaches or players may often target more passive players. As a result, the assaulted person appears to be upset while the bully says things like, "What's the big deal?" or "She asked for it."
5) Hazing - Any activity expected by existing team members or coaches themselves of someone joining a team or to maintain full status on a team that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person's willingness to participate.
- Instances in which coaches or other players know about or are participants in any harmful or degrading initiation rituals involving new players. Examples of these rituals include walking in cooked spaghetti, running through a line of players who mildly assault the player, performing lewd acts or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
The development of any of the above disrespectful relationships between coaches and athletes or athletes with other team-members, compromises the professional integrity of the program and the educational mission of athletics. Coaches exercise power over athletes, whether in giving them praise or criticism, evaluating them, making recommendations that further their athletic goals or conferring any other benefits on them. In the same way, some athletes may exert power over other athletes as a function of the bullying individual’s standing with the coaching staff, school, sponsoring organization, playing time, media attention or skill level. The use of derrogatory language and intentionally hurtful statements from coach to athlete or among athletes is wrong because coaches and sponsoring schools have a professional responsibility for the players. Such situations greatly increase the chances that an athlete may be personally exploited.
Reprinted with the permission of the Women's Sports Foundation. © 2008 All Rights Reserved.
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