Jul 29

The ‘Darker Side’ of Coaching

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This article relates to the June Newsletter because it addresses another ethical/moral issue, coaching conduct. Several years back, investigation revealed the ‘darker side’ of coaching through several major articles, which caused quite a stir… “Who’s coaching Your Kid? Every Parent’s Nightmare” by Nack and Yaeger (1999), Block’s “What will happen to my Boy” (2001, pp. 8-9), Lewis’ “What a coach can do to a kid. Was it abusive rage or tough love?” (2004, The New York Times, pp. 42-49) made the general public, athletes and parents more aware of the issue of improper coaching behavior. ‘Molestation is real’ was a reaction in Swimming Technique (2001/Mailbag section) to Block’s article. The name of the writer was withheld by request (p. 5). This exemplifies the existing uneasiness over this matter.

We all seem to know or heard of cases whereby a crocodile in the pool was used to speed up swimmers; coaches, who engage in physical abuse (‘killer’-set training; disallowing rehydrating to athletes in football; gymnastics coaches from other countries, hired in the US and Canada hitting, young athletes or using emotional, psychological (degrading language; and coaches engaging in sexual abuse with athletes (Canadian Hockey Coach Graham James molested young players for years. They were afraid to speak up because of endangering their potential NHL career).

Statistics illustrating the prevalence of abuse in sport are shocking. For example, Canadian studies show that up to 50 per cent of sport participants have experienced mild harassment to abuse. More than 20 per cent of elite athletes had sexual intercourse with people in positions of authority in sport. In a study of high school students, over 40 per cent identified sporting environments as places of harassment. The Canadian CBC’s Fifth Estate in 1993 opened the locker room door to one of this darker side of Canadian sport – the sexual harassment of female athletes by their male coaches. The program emphasized a number of amateur sports organizations that shy away from confronting the issue by refusing to acknowledge that it really does exist. Problems occur in many sports right up to national levels but organizations don’t want to deal with it. Yet, as the CUBIC submission said, the program offered convincing proof that,


…From Woodstock to Calgary, male coaches involved in volleyball, rowing, and swimming have taken advantage of their positions of tremendous power and trust by sexually harassing female athletes, some as young as 14 years old…


Some of the young female swimmers tried to commit suicide, according to their testimony, which prompted calls by CBC for codes of conduct comparable to those governing the legal and medical professions. Comparative statistics for US athletes are still not easily accessible. As incidences increased over the years the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) adopted a Consensus statement on “Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Sport” (IOC Medical Commission, October 2006, Lausanne, Switzerland). This document defines the problems, identifies the risk factors, and provides guidelines for prevention and resolution. The aim of the Consensus document is to improve the health and protection of athletes through the promotion of effective preventive policy as well as to increase the awareness of these problems among the people in the entourage of the athletes. Research indicates that sexual harassment and abuse happen in all sports and at all levels, although with a greater prevalence in elite sport. Members of the athlete’s immediate circle with positions of power and authority appear to be the primary perpetrators.

The family of an Indiana teenager filed a civil lawsuit November 10, 2011, saying officials didn’t do enough to protect her from the sexual assaults by her coach. A number of similar ones have been filed around the country alleging that wrongdoing was covered up and allowed a culture of abuse to exist in the coaching ranks. Jancy Thompson, a former Olympic hopeful, alleges that her former swim coach began sexually molesting her when she was 15-years-old (Source: Megan Chuchmach, August 10, 2010). USA Swimming stated in response …that it investigates misconduct complaints and revokes membership if behavior was inappropriate. It has banned at least 46 coaches and officials for life, mostly for sexual misconduct.

Researchers reveal that sexual harassment and abuse in sport seriously and negatively impact athletes’ physical and psychological health. They can damage performance and lead to athlete drop out (cited by CAAWS, February 9, 2007 News letter). Given this background and the severity of the problem moral or ethical education needs to be part of the sporting scenario for all participants. The question, however, remains, “Who or what professional organization is willing to step in and carry out discipline actions?” Dismissed by one club for inappropriate or unprofessional conduct, the same coach surfaces somewhere else and is often re-hired because “he produces winners.” Given these problems, the debate over coaching certification should be sufficient reasons to initiate proper action to maintain dignity and respect for our sport. But…“we keep  ‘trucking along like all is just dandy” and few have the courage to speak up, and that includes parents with wishful ambitions about their child’s Olympic or Professional career!

1 comment

  1. Melanie

    We tried to report an extremely manipulative and mentally abusive diving coach. Our child was then further targeted and our complaint swept under the rug. Even Dive Canada is hiding behind “policy” and avoiding doing an investigation. Meanwhile our child needed counseling sessions to help her recover and heal. No one will stand up for our child and the others he has tormented.

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