According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love and threatening. Children who have suffered emotional abuse or neglect may find it difficult to form healthy relationships, become overly reliant and dependent on one person, or develop problems with emotions and memory.
Within the world of sports, emotional abuse is an under-acknowledged but common form of abuse that occurs at all levels, from youth and grassroots amateur sports organizations to professional leagues.
Emotional abuse within sports and athletics typically manifests as shaming and mocking for poor performance, using inappropriate nicknames, denying attention, making threats of repercussions, and excluding or singling out individuals.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport– the first national organization of its kind focused on ending all forms of abuse in sports – has endeavored to make athlete well-being the centerpiece of our nation’s sports culture through abuse prevention, education and accountability. Katie Hanna, the Director of Education & Outreach for the Center, explains that abusive behaviors are usually demonstrated by coaches, but can also be perpetrated by an athlete’s teammates or even parents.
“No matter the source, emotional abuse and bullying can have a lasting impact on athletes. These bullying behaviors can manifest feelings of shame and degrade self-esteem, pushing some athletes to leave their team or even quit the sport entirely because of it.”
Within the world of sports, Hanna adds, the power imbalance between coaches and athletes can lead to that relationship degrading into an unhealthy one.
“At the Center, we offer training for sports groups, coaches and parents that educates them on how to create a safe and supportive environment for athletes. Ultimately, it comes down to prevention and changing the sports culture to focus on building healthy relationships that foster the growth and improvement of athletes.”
In addition to offering trainings and consultations to sports organizations, the U.S. Center for SafeSport responds to and resolves allegations of physical, sexual and emotional misconduct. The Center also has exclusive authority over reports of alleged sexual abuse or conduct related to the underlying sexual misconduct within the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and its 50 National Governing Bodies. Since launching in 2017, there have been 3,256 reports made to the Center, 552 sanctions issued, and 796,505 SafeSport trainings completed.
“The most important thing you can do as a parent, coach or athlete is to speak up when you see or hear something inappropriate happening on the court or field,” said Hanna. “The more we openly discuss this issue, the more we can ensure that every athlete will be safe, supported and strengthened through sport.”
To learn more about the U.S. Center for SafeSport, click here.