Verbal Abuse of Athletes Isn't Helpful

January 4, 2024 Cheryl Wozny

Athletes can experience verbal abuse while participating in a wide variety of activities, from team sports to individual competitions. This verbal abuse can cause stress and possible emotional harm to the athlete. Insults, name-calling, or put-downs will not make a swimmer move faster through the water or ensure a child will score a goal. In fact, the opposite often occurs. Athletes who experience verbal abuse can suffer from low self-esteem and have increased self-doubt, hindering their athletic abilities. 

Verbal Abuse from Parents Of Athletes In Sports

In a perfect world, parents will always be supportive of their children, regardless of their performance in sports. Unfortunately, some adults resort to verbal abuse when talking to their child athletes about how they did in a game. Parents should understand that not all children will possess the same competitive nature they have or want in their child. 

Children look to their parents for acceptance and love, especially if they participate in sporting activities. Their parents' support is even more critical when children don't compete to their own expectations or if they have a bad game. In these circumstances, athletes need reassurance that they are good enough and loved no matter how they perform. 

I remember how humiliating it was as a child to be yelled at alongside your teammates because of a bad game or missed opportunity. Unfortunately, I've carried that self-doubt with me for years as I matured. 

As a mother of four, I've had children in sports for more than 20 years now. I've tried to ensure that when I'm speaking to my kids about a game or competition, I refrain from using insults, threats, or put-downs when it comes to their abilities. I never want them to feel like I did when a coach spoke down to me because of my actions during a game. 

Athletes and Verbally Abusive Spectators

In my experience, spectators can include grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and friends. The people watching can give the support and encouragement that some athletes need to compete. 

However, I've been witness to spectators who use verbal abuse to try and alter an athlete's performance during a game or competition. Some harmful words I've heard were directed at children of opposite teams because the spectators were upset about how the game was going. Other times, individuals on the sidelines were yelling hurtful comments at the referees because they disagreed with a penalty or call on the play.

Unfortunately, when verbal abuse happens in these situations, group mentality can take over. Other individuals may also start to express their negative feelings, encouraging this behavior.

I've recently been in attendance when spectators were using verbal abuse against each other during a sporting event, which quickly got out of hand. I tried to remain calm myself, and many people tried to diffuse the behavior. Although threats were made and harmful words were spoken, no one was physically hurt. However, this situation created tension that continued after the game was over. 

Using verbal abuse in any situation is wrong, especially when children are present. Sports are supposed to be a fun way to enjoy recreational time. Instead, there are situations when a game can turn into a battle, creating stress and hurt for everyone involved.

As a mother, I don't want anyone verbally abusing my children or any child, regardless of their performance in sports. I've talked to my children each time we've faced verbal abuse when they were athletes during sporting activities. I've reinforced how negative words aren't motivational and can hurt those who experience it firsthand. My end goal is to help my children learn how to deal with frustration and negative emotions without using verbal abuse. Then, together, we can help make a better future for others. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2024, January 4). Verbal Abuse of Athletes Isn't Helpful, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

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