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Risk Factors for Abuse of Young Athletes

There are several abuse risks in youth sports to be aware of, the largest of these being the sense of trust young athletes, as well as their parents, typically give to coaches. Coaches can often serve as “parental figures” for athletes, and the more elite level at which an athlete competes, the higher level of trust they typically place in their coach.


  • Hierarchical systems between coaches and athletes
  • Performance or compliance-based rewards
  • Rules and procedures made without external consultation
  • Lack of formal procedures for screening, hiring, and monitoring staff
  • Teaching necessary technical skills through overly intensive training regiments
  • Sports which require legitimate touch, such as spotting skills
  • Lack of allowing individuality within competitive structures
  • Lack of policy pertaining to parental involvement


  • Away competitions/tournaments
  • Sharing of travel rooms
  • Being alone with a coach or other adult in a private room
  • Unsupervised changing rooms or locker rooms


  • Strict authoritative systems
  • Clear power imbalances between athletes and coaches or other adults in the sports community
  • Accepted scopes for athletes’ separation from their peers or parents, in terms of both time and physical training areas
  • Accepted behavior of secrecy
  • The sexualization of athletes within specific sports (such as gymnastics, figure skating, etc.)
  • An intense sense of competition/jealousy among team members
  • Normalized medical neglect like limiting food and water or requiring athletes to train injured
  • Extreme physical conditioning as punishment
  • Accepted demeaning comments and belittlement or intentional denial of attention
  • Praising athletes by parents, coaches or peers for being able to endure abusive behavior


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal ideation

Courage First Athlete Helpline is presented by the Foundation for Global Sports Development/Sidewinder Films and the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline.