This is a hard topic to talk about, but something that needs to be discussed. The recent news that hit the cheer world likely came as a shock to many, however it is one of many reported and unreported cases of abuse in cheerleading. Unfortunately, abuse is alive and well in many forms throughout all sports, and cheerleading is no exception.
Studies have shown that approximately 40-50% of athletes experience abuse in some form, anything from mild verbal abuse to something much more severe. This research suggests that up to 8% of athletes are victims of sexual abuse. 90% of sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way, which makes this even more scary as the victims often repeatedly come in contact with the abuser.
It is more important than ever for victims to speak up about the abuse. Likely, you are not alone in your encounters. We as an industry need to come together to put an end to abuse in all forms. While sexual abuse is incredibly serious, criminal, and obviously needs to be discussed, it is important to note that verbal, mental, and physical abuse can also leave lifelong impacts on athletes.
Research shows that athletes that experience abuse can go on to experience long-term psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, psychosomatic illness, PTSD, self-harm, and sadly even suicide. Words and actions may seem like something that only happens in that instance and you may forget about it the next day, but it may stick with that athlete for the rest of their life.
Coaches, we need to minimize the time that athletes are alone in the gym without supervision. Decreasing the vulnerability of the athletes is a key to decreasing the risk of abuse. Coaches need to understand that not all athletes respond the same way to verbal and physical punishment. This sport is hard, every athlete knows that, however positive coaching strategies can go a long way in building relationships with the athletes and encouraging success.
Parents, listen to your athletes. Even some of the smallest signals can mean something bigger is going on. Talk to your athletes about what happens at practice. You don’t need to ask questions, just talking to them about it will often bring out anything negative that happened.
Athletes, speak up. It’s hard, incredibly hard, especially if you don’t really know what is going on. Talk to a parent, or a trusted adult in your life that will listen. Even small things like being yelled at or being singled out by your coach can have a negative impact on your well-being. It’s not always about being mentally tough, if something is going on that you feel uncomfortable with, speak up. More times than not, you aren’t the only one that feels that way.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is compiled from a variety of professional sources as well as the author's own experiences. The information should NOT be used in place of a visit to your healthcare provider or used to disregard any advice provided by your healthcare provider.