Physical abuse and neglect in sport


Physical abuse refers to the repeated infliction of physical harm (Perry et al., 2002) or non-accidental physical injury (Matthews, 2004). In sport, physical harm may result from such practices as excessive or inappropriate stretching, the use of excessive exercise as punishment, or requiring athletes to hold uncomfortable positions for extended periods of time. Given the physical nature of sport, it is surprising to see so little research on physical abuse of athletes; this may be attributed to the normalization of such practices. Neglect - a form of athlete maltreatment - refers to a lack of reasonable care, deficits in meeting a young person's basic needs, and an all-round deprivation of attention and nurturing (Crooks & Wolfe, 2007; Glaser, 2002; Iwaniec, 2003). Of all forms of maltreatment, neglect has been the least researched in both the general child development (Miller-Perrin & Perrin, 2007) and in sport contexts (Stirling, 2009). Forms of neglect that a sport psychology consultant may become aware of include such examples as denying an athlete water during training, playing an injured athlete against medical advice, or the controlling of social relationships outside of sport. In addition to needing further sport psychology research into physical abuse and neglect, practicing consultants would benefit from such knowledge and understanding their role in prevention and intervention. Narratives of athletes' experiences of physical punishment and neglect will be presented.