Why should we focus on athlete welfare?
All athletes deserve to be physically safe, mentally supported, and treated with respect!
Every athlete has the right to ‘safe sport’, which is defined as, “an athletic environment that is respectful, equitable, and free from all forms of non-accidental violence,” (Mountjoy et al., 2016, p. 1019). Therefore, it is critical that athlete welfare is taken into consideration. Welfare is defined as a “physical and mental health, happiness and prosperity, especially of a person” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2022).
Over the past few years, many athletes have bravely opened up about bullying and/or physical, emotional, psychological, and/or sexual abuse they experienced in places they were supposed to be safe. A large huge reason has to do with the way our systems are set in place. Our systems create a lot of pressure on coaches and athletes to perform. As a result, it can be incredibly difficult for individuals to align with moral and ethical beliefs that put child welfare at the forefront.
That being said, there are so many amazing coaches and support staff out there; people who have an athlete’s welfare and best interest in mind. However, one bad coach at a rink or gym creates a ripple effect in our athletic community and communicates that there is tolerance for maltreatment of our youth.
There needs to be changes on all levels in order to promote the safety and wellbeing of athletes. Roberts et al., (2020) identified and reviewed 42 qualitative studies to investigate abuse and develop a framework of organizational factors related to non-accidental violence. The result of this systematic review suggests that in order for change to happen, a whole-system approach to prevention and management of non-accidental violence is needed (Roberts et al., 2020). They found that:
Organizational tolerance for abuse enabled psychological, physical, and sexual abuse of athletes;
Conformity to dominant values within sport motivated psychological, physical, and sexual abuse of athletes;
Power imbalance enabled psychological and sexual abuse;
Isolation enabled sexual abuse of athletes;
Perceived instrumental effects motivated psychological and physical abuse;
Winner-take-all rewards motivated physical abuse (Roberts et al., 2020).
We need change to be on all levels. Athletes will only be physically and mentally safe when we all, our organizations, coaches, support staff, parents, and athletes, make athlete welfare more important than medals around our necks, revenue brought in, and individual stakeholder's reputations. Wanting results such as medals and money is not inherently “bad.” Neither is wanting to progress up the career ladder. However, the results-driven climate makes it easy for performance to trump the welfare of those involved in the sport and how athletes can become constructed as objects to fulfill the needs of multiple others (i.e., coaches, parents, national sports organizations, sponsors; Lang, 2021).
For these reasons, it is vital that we prioritize educating organizations, coaches, support staff, parents, and athletes on the importance of athlete welfare. It is also the reason why I work with these individuals by supporting and educating them on how to support the athletes in their lives.
It is also the reason why I have written a book, that will soon be released in January 2023. To learn more about my book on athlete welfare:
Cambridge Dictionary. (2022, March 16). Welfare. @CambridgeWords. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/welfare
Lang, M. (2021). Developments in International policy on athlete welfare. In M. Lang, Routledge Handbook of Athlete Welfare. New York: Routledge.
Mountjoy, M., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Burke, L., et al., (2014). The IOC consensus statement: Beyond the female athlete triad – relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). Br J Sports Med: 48, 491-497 in Skate Canada’s Body Positive Guideline (n.d.)
Roberts, V., Sojo, V. & Grant, F. (2020). Organizational factors and non-accidental violence in sport: A systematic review. Sport Management Review, 23, 8-27.