Effects of emotionally abusive coaching practices on athletes


While sexual abuse in sport has been prominent in the media, it is important to remember that emotional abuse is the most commonly experienced form of maltreatment in sport. This has been found consistently across genders, sports and countries (Alexander et al., 2011; Brackenridge, 2003; Kirby, Greaves, & Hankvisky, 2000). While the long-term effects of emotional abuse are noted in the child maltreatment literature, they have not been explored in sport specifically. Literature in general child abuse clearly shows that emotional abuse has significant deleterious effects on health and well-being (Kim & Cicchetti, 2010; Mulen et al., 1996). We speculate that emotional abuse in sport may receive less attention from researchers and practitioners because the long-term effects on athletes are less well-known. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore the long-term effects of emotionally abusive coaching practices on athletes. Retired Olympians from a variety of sports were interviewed using a semi-structured method. Results indicated that recalling these experiences post-retirement were distressing for the participants and that the coaching practices they perceived to be normal during their careers were appraised post-retirement as being abusive. A variety of effects were reported including both increased and decreased motivation, negative effects on one's sense of self, difficulty trusting others, disordered eating and depressive symptoms although the duration of these effects varied. Implications will be drawn for coaching strategies and athletes' long-term health.