The impact of maltreatment on high performance athletes. The side effects of elite sport symposium.

Authors: Kavanagh, E.

Conference: European Federation of Sport Psychology, FEPSAC

Dates: 14-19 July 2015


Sport is generally viewed in positive terms, with participation leading to a variety of desirable outcomes such as improved health, a sense of achievement, teamwork, social inclusion, social capital and ‘fair play’. It does, however, provide an environment within which the exploitation of power and authority may lead to the maltreatment of performers. Although a relatively recent addition to the sports research agenda, it is widely acknowledged that athletes can experience a variety of types of maltreatment in performance environments including sexual, emotional and physical abuse, neglect and bullying in both face-to-face and virtual environments (Brackenridge 1994, 2001, 2004; Kerr and Stirling 2008; Stirling 2009; Kavanagh and Jones 2014). Although awareness of the types of maltreatment is increasing, the potential impact of such treatment is less well understood. Athlete narratives gained through in-depth interviews were completed in order to capture both male and female elite athletes’ experiences of being maltreated within performance environments. The participants of this study were 12 elite athletes between the ages of 19 and 35 years (mean = 27 years), who had represented England, Wales and/or Great Britain within their chosen sport. A variety of sports and sports types were included within the sample. The findings demonstrate that maltreatment can have a significant negative impact on the individual both during the experience and in the aftermath. The immediate impact of maltreatment can be sub-categorised into emotional, psychological and performance related impacts. In addition, maltreatment was seen to have a longer lasting legacy on participants. The findings suggest that maltreatment in sport is complex and multifaceted and that an individual’s perception of impact is reliant on their personal appraisal of the situation. Maltreatment has the potential to pose a significant threat to athlete wellbeing, highlighting the importance of athlete safeguarding in order to protect individuals from harm.

Source: Manual