Sports Law • Risk Management

Psychological Abuse in Sport

Last night while walking by some batting cages, I observed a middle-aged man swearing at a young teenage boy and telling him that he was worthless and pathetic. There was no team and there was no game, just a single man humiliating a little boy with his angry words following what must have been perceived as an unsuccessful batting practice. I can only assume the verbal abuse was rained down on the boy by his father in a likely failed effort to motivate the child to improve his athletic performance. However, this negative treatment from father to son, can have serious psychological consequences on the child and might be classified as psychological abuse.

According to the website for The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Article 19:1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, states that children shall be protected from mental violence, or abuse at the hand of a parent, legal guardian, or another person who has care of the child. The World Health Organization defines violence, in part, as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood or resulting in . . . psychological harm . . .”

Thus, in combining the wisdom from these two international agencies, a child should be protected from mental violence or abuse that may cause that child psychological harm. Creating mental toughness has historically been synonymous with imposing verbal abuse. However, children may not able to discern the abuse as a motivational tactic and may fail to compartmentalize the negative abuse in a way that does not cause the child psychological harm.

Ultimately, parents and coaches in the care of children should protect their children from verbal assaults, which might be classified as verbal abuse. Psychological harm of children should be avoided at all costs. Most children will never play college sports and even fewer will play professional sports; thus making the use of any verbal abuse in youth sports seem unnecessary. Character building can, and should, be accomplished in more positive ways in order to raise kids into psychologically healthy adults. Therefore, encourage the use of positive coaching in your youth’s sport.