1. What is bullying?
  2. What is Sexual Harassment?
  3. What prohibited behaviors are commonly included under definitions of hazing, initiation rituals, and physical punishment?
  4. Should coaches be allowed to physically touch athletes?
  5. What constitutes physical abuse by coaches?
  6. Should coaches be permitted to have personal relationships with athletes they are coaching?
  7. What is considered to be emotionally or verbally abusive coach behavior towards athletes?

What is bullying?
A: When an adult or another athlete who is bigger, stronger, older, or in a position of power tries to make an athlete do something wrong, directs verbal taunts at the athlete to make the athlete feel worthless, makes fun of the athlete in order to embarrass him or her or make the athlete feel bad. Bullying is also when someone yells at an athlete in a disrespectful or belittling way, calls an athlete names, uses profanity in addressing an athlete or physically tries to intimidate the athlete by pushing, shoving, punching, pinching or hurting him or her in any way. Bullying may also involve saying things via text messaging, using email or other forms of social media to make the athlete feel like he or she is a bad person or is an effort to encourage others to dislike the athlete.

What is Sexual Harassment?
A: Sexual harassment is unwanted, often persistent, sexual attention and any other behavior with sexual overtones that make the athlete feel uncomfortable. It may include:
• written or verbal abuse or threats
• unwanted or inappropriate physical contact
• showing of sexually graphic literature
• sexual advances – asking for sexual favors
• sexually oriented comments, jokes, lewd comments or sexual innuendoes, taunts about the athlete’s body our your dress
• asking whether the athlete is married or about his/her sexuality
• showing and writing sexual or homophobic graffiti
• practical jokes based on sex
• intimidating sexual remarks
• fondling, pinching or kissing
• offensive 'phone calls or photos
• all forms of sexual violence such as sexual assault, sexual battery, rape, and sexual coercion.

What prohibited behaviors are commonly included under definitions of hazing, initiation rituals, and physical punishment?
A: Athletic teams commonly justify rituals or behaviors as rites of passage for team or group acceptance. These activities commonly make the athlete feel humiliated, embarrassed, or devalued or may even threaten the athlete’s safety or dignity. Following are examples of activities that should be classified as hazing, initiation rituals, and physical punishment and be prohibited:
• Forcing, requiring or pressuring the consumption of alcohol or other drugs
• Forcing, requiring or pressuring the ingestion of any substance
• Forcing, requiring or pressuring the shaving of any part of the body
• Forcing, requiring or pressuring the participation in any activity which is illegal, perverse, publicly indecent, or contrary to the individual’s genuine moral beliefs
• Forcing, requiring or pressuring an individual to tamper with or damage property
• Dietary restrictions of any kind unrelated to healthy nutrition
• Deprivation of sleep and waking up/disturbing individuals during normal sleep hours
• Creation of excessive fatigue unrelated to normal training expectations and activities
• Calisthenics or any type of physically abusive exercise unrelated to normal training
• Paddling, whipping, beating or physical abuse of any kind
• Engaging in public stunts and buffoonery
• Forced tattooing or branding
• Road trips, kidnapping, drop-offs, or any other such activities
• Work projects without the participation of the full membership
• Assigned or endorsed pranks, such as borrowing or stealing items, painting property or objects, or harassing other individuals or groups
• Subjecting a member to cruel and unusual psychological conditions
• Forcing, encouraging, or pressuring the wearing of apparel in public which is conspicuous, not normally in good taste, or designed to humiliate the individual(s) wearing it
• Morally degrading or humiliating games or activities
• Verbal or cruel harassment, including yelling and screaming
• Line-ups, kangaroo courts, or any interrogation not consistent with the legitimate testing for information about the purposes and history of the team
• Participation in sexual rituals, assaults and/or required nudity
• Collective behavior such as marching
• Activities that promote or encourage the violation of state laws or club policies
• Requiring new members to “greet” initiated members
• Requiring the answering of phones or doors with songs, chants, or riddles
• Requiring yelling or screaming upon entering or leaving a facility
• Deception or threat contrived to convince the new member that he/she will not be permitted to join
• Mentally abusive or demeaning behavior

Should coaches be allowed to physically touch athletes?
A: coach must always ask for permission prior to any touching of an athlete.  The following situations are generally accepted unless “you” the athlete feels uncomfortable:

  • when the coaches asks for permission to put a body part in a correct mechanical position or correct physical form;
  • a “high five” or pat on the head or back when congratulating an athlete for a good performance;
  • “spotting” or any protective coaching intended to reduce the risk of practicing or performing a skill that may cause harm with “spotting” techniques explained to the athletes beforehand;
  • In general, if a coach or anyone else touching you makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason, it is okay for you to ask the person to stop and such physical contact must stop immediately no matter what the reason.  


What constitutes physical abuse by coaches?
A: Some of the more common forms of physical abuse include when a coach: (1) requires or suggests that an athlete perform a physical act that has no relevance to the sport and which is intended to cause embarrassment, be degrading or punish; (2) requires or suggests that an athlete continue to perform a physical act, whether it is relevant to the sport or not, that compromises established conditioning and safety guidelines; (3) places an athlete in a situation where he/she is mismatched physically with an opposing athlete causing the possibility of physical harm or the athlete is clearly unable to perform a physical activity safely or effectively without harm, or (5) fails to stop an activity where an athlete is clearly being subjected to physical harm.

Should coaches be permitted to have personal relationships with athletes they are coaching?
A: Sexual, intimate, romantic, or similar close personal relationships between a coach and an athlete should be strictly prohibited, even if that athlete is an adult, because creates the appearance or actuality of favoritism and special treatment.. Examples of other inappropriate behaviors that should be expressly prohibited include:
• Performing back rubs or massage on an athlete even if the coach is a licensed allied health professional (must be performed by a licensed allied health professional approved by the club)
• Kissing
• Frequent touching that is non-instructional, non-celebratory
• Commenting on an athlete’s body or appearance in a sexual manner
• Exchanging romantic gifts or communications
• Showing obscene or suggestive photos
• Videotaping or photographing student-athletes or employees in revealing or suggestive poses
• Discussing/writing about sexual topics
• Making sexual jokes, sexual gestures, and innuendos or engaging in inappropriate sexually oriented banter (e.g. discussion of dating behavior).
• Sharing sexual exploits or marital difficulties
• Intentionally invading the athlete's privacy during non-working hours or outside of regularly schedules practice and competition
• Using e-mail, text-messaging, or instant messaging to discuss sexual topics

What is considered to be emotionally or verbally abusive coach behavior towards athletes?
A: Coaches and athletes constantly engage in verbal interactions. It is the coach’s responsibility to use such interactions for instructional and motivational purposes. Emotional or verbal abuse of athletes should be expressly prohibited. Emotional or verbal abuse of athletes can take many forms such as: (1) when a coach excessively, in comparison to treatment of other athletes, singles out an athlete through negative interactions; (2) when a coach routinely uses profanity or degrading language; (3) when a coach personalizes error correction; (4) when a coach devalues a player’s role on the team, potential for success, or value as a person; (5) when a coach constantly blames the team or groups of players for failures; and (6) when a coach isolates a player by ignoring him or her. Coaches must make every effort to avoid such conduct. Coaches should immediately call a halt to any bullying or emotional verbal abuse undertaken by any athlete toward another while in the coach’s presence. Coaches should refrain from and disallow their athletes from engaging in verbal discourse that denigrates others.

You are here: Home Resources FAQ
Every athlete deserves a safe and positive sports environment. SPEAK UP if the way you are being treated feels wrong. 
If you need advice in sorting through a situation or concern. SAFE4ATHLETES is here to help.

Safe4Athletes: PO Box 650, Santa Monica, CA 90406 - Tax ID-46-2290559