The Dark Side of Sports: Understanding the Negative Manifestations of Abuse in Sports

Warning: this article touches on the negative manifestations of abuse in sports, including, but not limited to, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Rader discretion is advised. Our intention is to advance understanding of emotional abuse in athletics, and assist in combating sexual exploitation in sports.

Sport is a medium that promotes unity, discipline, teamwork, and physical health. For many, it’s a way of life—a tool for personal development and a source of incomparable joy. However, a particular side of sports remains, unfortunately, less discussed but alarmingly prevalent. The negative impacts of abuse in sports, be it physical, emotional, or sexual, have left scars on countless athletes and can wreak havoc on the very fabric of sportsmanship.

The negative manifestations of abuse in sports
Abuse in Sports

Common Negative Manifestations of Abuse in Sports

Physical Abuse:

Definition: The use of physical force intentionally meant to harm the athlete. This abuse can be in the form of hitting, slapping, or any other form of direct harm.


  • Overtraining or pushing athletes beyond their physical limits leading to injuries.
  • Intentional harm inflicted as punishment for poor performance.
  • Denying medical attention when needed.

Emotional Abuse:

Definition: Behavior that can psychologically harm an individual, including verbal aggression, intimidation, manipulation, and humiliation.


  • Yelling, name-calling, and degrading remarks targeted at an athlete.
  • Withholding affection or approval as a form of punishment.
  • Threats and intimidation to manipulate performance.
  • Creating a constant environment of fear, which can impact an athlete’s mental health and confidence.

Sexual Abuse:

Definition: Any unwanted or inappropriate sexual behaviour or advance.


  • Inappropriate touching or actions by coaches or fellow athletes.
  • Exploitation of athletes in vulnerable situations.
  • Using authority or influence for sexual favours.
young athletes warming up on track
Ethical Coaching

The Ripple Effects of Abuse in Sports

  1. Mental Health Impact: Prolonged exposure to abuse can lead to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and [even] suicidal tendencies.
  2. Performance Decline: Athletes facing abuse [often] display a decline in performance due to the associated mental and physical stress.
  3. Decreased Participation: Many talented athletes might give up sports entirely due to trauma and negative experiences.
  4. Tarnished Image: The reputation of the sport itself gets tainted, leading to less public and financial support.

Addressing the Issue

  1. Education: Clubs and sports bodies must regularly hold awareness sessions to highlight the signs of abuse and promote a zero-tolerance policy.
  2. Open Channels of Communication: Athletes should feel safe to report [any] abusive behaviour without fear of retaliation. Confidential reporting systems should be in place.
  3. Strict Penalties: Any coach, athlete, or member found guilty of abuse should face severe penalties, including bans, fines, or legal action.
  4. Support Systems: Psychologists and counsellors should be available to help athletes navigate trauma and provide the necessary support.

In conclusion, sports can be a beacon of hope, joy, and camaraderie, but we cannot disregard its darker manifestations. By recognizing the signs and actively combating abuse in its many forms, we can work to create a safer, more positive environment for all athletes. The true spirit of sportsmanship should always rely on respect, dignity, and the genuine well-being of every participant.

Note: if you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, you can reach out for help. We understand how challenging it can be to trust others during difficult situations, and there are several organizations that can help make this process easier.

If you are unclear about practices in your gym or team, or your coaches’ behaviour, you can start a conversation with us and our team of dedicated professionals. We can help you understand things better. 

One of these organizations is Gymnasts for Change Canada, a grassroots movement, led by survivors and supporters, to eliminate abuse and maltreatment from the sport that we love.

You can reach us through any of our social media channels or anonymously at our email address: or send us a message through our contact page.

Thank you for reading.

— Coach José 

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