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Abuse in Youth Sports Takes Many Different Forms

Pain of Emotional Abuse No Less Real

Abuse defined

Your child is being abused when someone uses his or her power or position to harm them emotionally, physically, or sexually or as a result of neglect. Upset youth baseball player

Emotional Abuse

  • Is a verbal attack on a child's self esteem by a person in a position of power, authority, or trust such as a parent or coach
  • Occurs even if the attack is intended as a form of discipline or is not intended by the adult to cause harm
  • Takes many forms, including any of the following: 
    • Name calling ("Hey, Fatty!" or "Hey, Shorty" or "Hey, Mr. Klutz")
    • Threatening ("If you don't win, you can forget about me buying that new CD you want")
    • Insulting ("You're stupid" or "You're clumsy" or "You're an embarrassment to our family" or "You don't deserve to wear that uniform.")
    • Bullying or taunting by a teammate.
    • Criticizing or ridiculing ("You are a loser" or "I thought you were better than that. I guess I was wrong.")
    • Intimidating ("Watch out kid, my son is going to break your nose")
    • Yelling at a child for losing or not playing up to the adult's expectations
    • Hazing 
    • Negative questioning ("Why didn't you win?" or "How could you let that guy beat you?")
    • Shunning or withholding love or affection (not speaking to, hugging, or comforting your child after she plays poorly in a game or practice, or her team loses; showing obvious signs of disappointment)
    • Punishing a child for not playing up to your expectations or when her team loses.

Physical Abuse

  • Occurs when a person in a position of power, authority or trust such as a parent or coach purposefully injures or threatens to injure a child
  • Takes many forms, including any of the following: 
    • Slapping
    • Hitting
    • Shaking
    • Throwing equipment
    • Kicking
    • Pulling hair
    • Pulling ears
    • Striking
    • Shoving
    • Grabbing
    • Hazing
    • Punishing "poor" play or rules violations through the use of excessive exercise (extra laps etc.)1 or by denying fluids.

Sexual Abuse

  • Occurs when a person in a position of power, authority or trust engages in "sexualized" touching or sex with a child
  • "Sexualized touching" is where touching, instead of being respectful and nurturing, is done in a sexual manner. Examples include: 
    • Fondling instead of a hug
    • Long kiss on the lips instead of a peck on the cheek
    • Seductive stroking of any area of the child's body instead of a simple pat on the rear-end for a good play.

What Is Harassment?

Your child is being harassed when she or he is threatened, intimidated, taunted, or subjected to racial, homophobic, or sexist slurs. Sexual harassment includes comments, contact or behavior of a sexual nature that is offensive, uninvited or unwelcome. For more articles on sexual abuse in sports, click here.


Neglect is a chronic inattention to the basic necessities of life such as supervision, medical and dental care, adequate rest, safe environment, exercise, and fresh air.

Neglect in a sports setting make take the following forms:

  • Injuries are not properly treated
  • Athletes are forced to play hurt
  • Equipment is inadequate, poorly maintained or unsafe
  • Road trips are not properly supervised
  • Allowing bullying by teammates.

1. Gershoff, E.T. (2008). Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children.  Columbus, OH: Center for Effective Discipline ("compelling a child to engage in excessive exercise or physical exertion" is physical punishment). 

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Brooke -you know where I stand - couldn't agree more . . .

Emotional/mental abuse is among the worst type of abuse that can be inflicted on a child. It’s especially egregious when it happens in sports because, chances are, the child approached the sport thinking that the experience would be a “life –enhancing” one. To have that turn out 180 degrees from what your child (and her family) expected, and to, in fact, see your child abused at the hand of adults who held themselves out as individuals who cared for kids to such a degree that they wanted to coach, is incredibly devastating. This is what happens to EVERY child who goes out for a team, is selected and is then benched when it’s plainly obvious to absolutely everyone observing that the benched child is basically just as good as the player starting over her who gets essentially 99.9% of the playing time. No team sport, for girls, is worse in this regard than volleyball. I’ve told this story before in blogs and posts from the past but I’ve been off the board for awhile, but related to this blog topic, her story bears repeating.

So, last fall, in my daughter’s team’s quest for States, in my state, her team had to travel a HUGE distance to play on a particular weekend . . . . around three hundred miles . . . one way. My girl was in her most important year academically – her junior year – with a tremendous amount of school work on her plate. In other words, to be on this volleyball team required an incredible sacrifice on her part.

Prior to the big trip, her team warmed up with a scrimmage locally. As I walked around during the real matches on that Saturday, I WISH I had a dime for every parent who had seen the scrimmage that told me how incredibly well my daughter had played in the scrimmage. Why were they telling me this? Maybe because they could tell in my eyes that I wanted to strangle someone – anyone – anyone who was responsible for her public humiliation that doled out to her in a COMPLETE benching over the course of the three matches that were played on that Saturday. She travelled a total of around 600 miles to be benched!!!! Outside, as I was getting ready to drive back (she was riding with the team) – she was basically inconsolable, bent over with body racking sobs of pain, humiliation and anger.

There are no words in the English language that anyone can string together, in any order, that could even begin to remotely explain why adults would heap this type . . . this level, of emotional and spiritual abuse on a child . . . . .no words . . . . none!

And here’s one more reason why this abuse is so bad. Her team was KILLING their opponents by very wide margins. You play volleyball games till 25 points. Her team was winning some games 25 -9 or 25-7 !!!! There was absolutely NO reason why you wouldn’t sub a girl in – who has travelled 600 miles – when the scores are this lop-sided. None whatsoever! To not put a player in, in this type of situation is to SCREAM to the world that you, as a coach, believe that THIS player . . .who you selected to be on the team . . . is such an incredibly horrid volleyball player that you actually fear that, while YOUR team is winning 17 -3, that IF you put this other player in, the other team, which is in the process of being destroyed, would suddenly gain such self-confidence in seeing this horrifically bad volleyball player step onto the court, that you now feel you can rally and rip off 16 straight points and win the game. Fearing that possibility . . to which I would say you’d have a higher probability of being hit by lightening then this team coming back to win, you, as a coach, have choosen to devastate a child’s self-esteem . . . .rather than take that chance!!

And I make my point about the scrimmage a couple of days earlier than when this crime against my child was done, because no right thinking, sane, person should EVER come up to any parent and tell that parent how great his child is playing in one game . . . .a meaningless game . . . and then be willing to witness her public humiliation in other games. PLEASE! Can’t you see how your one statement just simply can’t be made IF the coaching staff is then going to turn around . . .within 72 hours, and publically ABUSE that same player in another game. Save your breath. You know what you’re witnessing happening to my child is as abusive as it can get to a young person WITHOUT cops being called . Just leave me alone and go back to the bleachers and thank God that, for some reason, the coach has decided NOT to abuse your kid in the same manner he/she’s abusing mine!!

And to be clear, as I’ve tried to be in ALL my posts/blogs, at the Varsity/older club levels I’m not, nor have I ever, advocated EQUAL playing time. I’m advocating that a coach find some way to give EVERY child he/she selected to be on the team some form of meaningful playing time in meaningful games. To refuse to do that, and instead make any of your players endure complete benching, is simply NOTHING but spiritual, emotional and mental abuse and you should be deeply, deeply ashamed of yourself and should leave coaching before you devastate any more children!!