The Dark side of sport: athlete narratives on maltreatment in high performance environments.
Authors: Kavanagh, E.
Conference: Bournemouth University, School of TourismAbstract:
This study provides a unique insight into the impact and experience of maltreatment in elite adult sport, which to date has had limited consideration within the sporting literature. The evidence suggests that elite adult athletes can experience maltreatment in high performance environments and such treatment has the potential to have long-term negative effects on athlete wellbeing and continued participation in sport. However, to date, much of the guidance on protecting and supporting athletes has been directed toward child athletes or those under the age of 18. There remains much to be understood about the experience of maltreatment into adulthood if adult safeguarding and protection in sport are to be enhanced. The aim of this study is to explore elite adult athletes’ experiences of maltreatment in high performance sport.
In order to meet the aim of this research, athlete narratives of maltreatment gained through in-depth interviews were completed in order to capture the experiences of both male and female elite athletes. The participants of this study were 12 elite athletes between the ages of 19 and 35 years (mean = 27 years), who had competed in the United Kingdom and had represented England, Wales and/or Great Britain within their chosen sport. A variety of sports and sports types were included within the sample with participants from eleven different sports (hockey, volleyball, archery, rugby, cricket, football, eventing, handball, beach volleyball, taekwondo and tennis), and both team and individual sports were represented.
Five main themes were identified: becoming an athlete, being an athlete, being maltreated, the perceived impact of maltreatment and coping with maltreatment. The findings suggest that maltreatment in sport is complex and multifaceted, and has the potential to pose a significant threat to athlete wellbeing. Prior to this study, existing research had failed to explore maltreatment as an overarching phenomenon and instead sought to examine individual types of maltreatment. While this has increased understanding, the complexity of experience is lost when individual maltreatment types are explored in isolation.
This study underlines the co-occurring nature of maltreatment as well as the diverse nature of the experience of maltreatment. In addition, taking a broader approach has enabled an understanding of maltreatment types that have not previously been systematically explored. This study therefore extends knowledge about and understanding of the experience of maltreatment in high performance environments.
A conceptual framework is presented to demonstrate how athletes experience maltreatment in sport. This study supports the need to further explore the impact on and consequences of maltreatment for athletic experience. Implications for practice and future research directions are outlined in order to identify the scope of work yet to be explored in this area. This study makes an important contribution to knowledge as the first piece of research that seeks to illuminate the experience of maltreatment in high performance sport.
Preferred by: Emma Kavanagh