The world is a changing place. Some behaviour that a generation ago was seen as normal is now seen as coercive and an abuse of power, that is, bullying. Coaches, for example, in the past may have believed that yelling, or threatening or humiliating an athlete would motivate them to work harder, and help the athlete perform better.
In the past it was seen as okay and sometimes necessary to use violence in parenting. There was the saying “spare the rod and spoil the child”. But now we know that punishment is a very ineffective way to change behaviour. We now understand that reward will change behaviour more effectively. This represents significant cultural change.
Factors that have been considered to be a risk for bullying by coaches include having poor anger management skills and having a belief that verbal or physical abuse is an effective coaching technique. Some athletes who have been victims of bullying even support their former coaches, believing that the coach had their best interest at heart, and that the bulling was “tough love”. AFL football is grappling with this at present.
Usually, the perpetrator has power over the victim by virtue of status, or age or social position. Research has shown, not surprisingly, that coaches and parents are the most likely perpetrators in sport. I have certainly witnessed this at horse shows where a parent bullies their child, or a coach bullies their rider, or even high-profile riders bullying officials, most of whom are volunteers. I have witnessed an Olympian screaming at a swabbing steward just doing their job. Competitors threaten show organisers with legal action because they get don’t get their own way. This is bullying.
There are several examples even in recent months in varied disciplines in Australia involving coaches bullying riders, a state selector, and para dressage judges all bullying riders that have led to action in appropriate tribunals including the Supreme Court. Overseas there are some very high-profile cases. George Morris was a silver medallist at the Rome Olympics and the highly revered and very successful Chef d’Equipe of the USA showjumping team from 2005-13. He received a life ban in 2019 from the USA federation because of serious allegations of sexual abuse.