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

Ladysmith council dropping paper agenda packages

Town expects to save 50,000 sheets of paper a year by using tablets

EDITORIAL: Housing is one of our basic needs

We all need food, clothing and shelter first

First Nations leader to try for NDP nomination in Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, announces intentions

CVRD sets tax increase for 2019 at 7.27%

New water and housing functions make up 3.52 % of increase

Premier makes surprise visit to Ladysmith Art Gallery

John Horgan does an informal meet and greet with Ladysmith arts and community leaders

After mosque attacks, New Zealand bans ‘military-style’ guns

The gunman killed 50 in a Christchurch mosque

ICBC shifts to Alberta model, with higher rates, private insurers say

Minor injury cap, court restrictions take effect April 1 in B.C.

B.C., feds accused of ‘environmental racism’ over Site C, Mount Polley

Amnesty International Canada says governments failed to recognize threats to Indigenous peoples

New Leger polls suggests federal Liberals lagging Conservatives

Overall, 31 per cent of respondents polled said they would vote for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals

Number of homeless deaths more than doubled in B.C. as opioid crisis set in

New data shows trend between more overdose deaths and the number of people dying in the street

Four people spat on in ‘random, unprovoked’ assaults: Vancouver police

Police ask additional victims to come forward after woman in a wheelchair spat on

Indian Day School students eligible for $10K apiece

Islanders included in settlement package reached with Canada’s federal government

Teen girl accused in plot to attack Kamloops school with weapons out on bail

Judge warned the girl she would be back in jail if she threatened to shoot anyone

Most Read