Experts believe emotional abuse is a major issue in Canadian sports

In a study of 3,760 Canadian coaches, 78 per cent reported witnessing emotional abuse

Imagine a teacher telling a child: you’re fat. You’re a piece of crap. You’re a waste of my time.

That kind of behaviour would never fly in the classroom, so sports scholar Gretchen Kerr wonders why it’s prevalent on the playing field and in the gym.

While sexual abuse is in the spotlight, thanks to numerous high-profile cases, Kerr said Canadian sport also needs to take a hard look at the potential damage inflicted by psychological abuse.

“There’s a general societal awareness that when young people experience sexual harm, they suffer in one way or another for a long, long time,” Kerr said. ”And what the research shows, and I don’t think it’s as poignant in the minds of the general public, is that same can be said about psychological abuse, that when young people experience psychologically abusive relationships, the negative long-term consequences can be just as enduring and just as damaging.”

Kerr and fellow University of Toronto professor Bruce Kidd spoke to Canadian sport leaders at a recent conference in Ottawa, and used several real-life examples from young athletes. There was the swim coach who hurled kickboards at kids. There was the coach who angrily chucked equipment around the locker-room. Or the coach who refused to speak to his team for a week after a loss.

One young athlete said that after a bad game, the team was required to show up at the field at 6 a.m. the next morning. The coach called it the “Breakfast Club.” The players were forced to do sprints and push-ups until they threw up.

READ MORE: Kids hockey should be about fun, not scores: minor hockey groups

“It’s shocking what coaches in particular can get away with in sport that we would never allow our kids’ teachers to engage in,” Kerr said. ”Parents would be called on the carpet if they demonstrated these practices, bosses would be in trouble, and yet we allow coaches to treat young people this way.”

In a study of 3,760 Canadian coaches, 78 per cent reported witnessing emotional abuse.

This type of abuse, said Kerr, can occur in numerous forms, including derogatory comments, constant yelling, manipulation of attention and support, or the use of exercise as punishment.

Kerr has handled more than 200 complaints as an athlete welfare officer with Gymnastics Canada in the past 30 years, and estimates 95 per cent of the complaints are about psychological abuse.

“The big difference between psychological abuse and sexual abuse is psychological abuse happens in public, in training when other coaches are watching, when sport administrators are watching, and often when parents are watching their kids,” Kerr said.

“It dawned on me: how can the parents sit by and watch these behaviours when if the teacher did that, they’d be in to see the principal lickety-split? So we interviewed parents, and these are very well-meaning, often well-educated parents, who are introduced to the sport world and the first time they see these behaviours, they are taken aback, but they look around for cues from parents who’ve been in the world a little bit longer, and they see that they’re not reacting. They also see the best kids at the club being treated this way. So they think ‘Well, I guess this is just what it takes to create a top athlete.’”

Kerr said what’s perplexing is that kind of behaviour and attitude runs contrary to research on how people are best motivated.

“These practices in sport all run contrary. There’s a huge gap between the research on teaching and learning, and what actually happens in the sport arena.”

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATE: U.S. firm fined $2.9M for fuel spill that soiled B.C. First Nation territory

The Nathan E. Stewart spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October 2016

No delivery services hard on local families

New parents Candace Knudsen and Bjorn Samuelsen spent five weeks away from home

UPDATED: Vehicle strike likely caused death of grizzly cubs

The cubs were discovered on June 30 on Thorsen Creek Road

B.C. to begin increasing coastal log export charges

New fees based on harvest cost, cedar no longer exempt

Three more earthquakes off north and central B.C. coasts

No tsunami or damage reported after the aftershocks in near Bella Bella, Port Hardy and Haida Gwaii

VIDEO: B.C. MLA Michelle Stilwell takes first steps in nearly 30 years

‘It actually felt like walking. It’s been 27 years… but it felt realistic to me’

Report of dead body in B.C. park actually headless sex doll

This discovery, made at Manning Park on July 10, led police to uncovering two other sex mannequins

Grand Forks fire chief found to have bullied, harassed volunteer firefighter: report

WorkSafeBC, third-party human resources investigation looking into allegations complete

Dog recovering after being drenched in hot coffee, B.C. man charged

Man was taken into custody, charged, and released pending a court date

Taekwondo instructor, 21, identified as B.C. bat rabies victim

Nick Major, 21, an instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville

Science expedition to Canada’s largest underwater volcano departs Vancouver Island

Crews prepared for a two-week research mission to the Explorer Seamount

B.C. shipyard to get one-third of $1.5 billion frigate-repair contract

The federal government has promised to invest $7.5 billion to maintain the 12 frigates

Worried about bats? Here’s what to do if you come across one in B.C.

Bat expert with the BC Community Bat Program urges caution around the small creatures

B.C. on right road with tougher ride-hailing driver rules, says expert

The provincial government is holding firm that ride-hailing drivers have a Class 4 licence

Most Read