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Monday, 25 February 2013

Amateur Sports Abuse - Personal Experience

This is something I've been meaning to write about for years, and actually started to do so at one time, but then never completed the article. After doing some research on it, I've discovered that the problem isn't going anywhere, and it's time for me to speak up.

So many parents put their children in athletic pursuits, figuring it will promote a team-player attitude, ambition, fitness, a competitive nature, etc. What they often don't see is the high cost paid by their child(ren). The same competitive nature that imbues the sport their child is involved in, also imbues the person or people coaching that sport, and those people want to win, often at any cost.

As a competitive figure skater, starting from age four until age thirteen, I'm well-steeped in the lengths to which coaches will go in order to be the coach of a winner. My personal experiences were unpleasant, embarrassing, humiliating and painful, and nowhere near the worst that I've witnessed, either. The higher up you get in the ranks of competition, the worse it gets.To illustrate my point, I'll give you some concrete examples, rather than simply lambasting the practice of abusing students.

I've been hit with skate guards (rubbery, flexible blade protectors, although some are made of hard plastic) in the legs, back, hands, arms, you name it. My coaches almost all had the pleasure of screaming at me almost constantly, and only slightly less often offering insults that had nothing to do with my skating performance, such as calling me a slut, whore, bitch, idiot and labeling me lazy. Since I finished my skating career right around my thirteenth birthday, a few of those more colourful insults were simply ridiculous. I was a slut because my arm wasn't in the right position?

I was subjected to a great many pushes and shoves, not to mention kicks from coaches that were wearing skates themselves. My haircuts were dictated and controlled by my coach, who happened to like very unflattering short-haired, tightly permed styles. I was the most ridiculous form of poodle imaginable, and I have to say it didn't go over well when it came to socialization at school.

My diet was regulated by my coach's word, and if I was seen eating the wrong thing it would usually get knocked out of my hand, or I was ridiculed about getting fat - which I wasn't in the least. Most people assumed I was underweight until they tried to pick me up and discovered that I was solid muscle.

If I cried I was laughed at and tormented.

In my case things were made worse by the fact that my grandmother was just as bad as my coach for her vicarious need to shine through my skating. She didn't care what methods were used, as long as she could be the grandmother of 'The Skater', which is what most in my home town called me. I was well-known, to the point where the Lion's Club paid for reading glasses for me, and my grandmother could go begging to other clubs to help out with financial things.

Even as an adult, when I moved back to my home town after being away for a number of years, people who were complete strangers to me would recognize me. This was exactly what my grandmother had lived for. I was asked to come back and perform in the annual skating show years after I'd quit skating, despite the fact that I'd blown out my knees. My coach didn't care. She wanted me in the show as some sort of special guest.

Injuries meant nothing. I was expected to skate no matter how much pain I was in. I was probably about nine or ten when I put the ninth vertebra (thoracic I believe) of my back out for the first time. I was allowed to stop doing jumps for a week, but all other forms of skating were still required. A few weeks later it went out again on the very day I was expected to compete in North Bay. We traveled straight from my school to North Bay, with me lying down in the back seat of the car. I went out and competed, tears pouring down my face through my entire routine. To say I didn't place well would be an understatement. There was no point in my going through the pain, as we all knew I would never get a medal in that condition, but it was 'the principle of the thing'. Well, my 'principle' could have used a little understanding.

I once saw a girl get her shirt ripped off by her coach, right in front of everyone. She was a teenager, so it wasn't like a little girl with 'nothing to hide'. She'd been caught smoking or something, and was a Canadian champion. I won't name her. I think she was punished more than enough for daring to be a teenager. She was quite a bit older than me at the time, and I have to say it shocked the hell out of me that a coach would, or could, do that, despite everything my coach was allowed to do to me.

I was so hoping, when this topic crossed my mind again, that it wouldn't be necessary to talk about this anymore, and that the subject was a moot point. I was hoping that parents and coaches had wised up to the ways of the world, and that abuse in amateur sports had become unacceptable. I guess I was hoping I lived on another planet, because not only do I see page after page on Google dedicated to abuse in amateur sports, I'm also seeing many entries regarding sexual abuse in amateur sports. It's either getting worse, or people are just starting to talk about it now.

Here's the point to all this ranting. Parents, watch your kids! Go to every practice. Make sure your kids' coaches are not getting your children alone. Pedophiles gravitate to activities involving children. DO NOT TRUST ANYONE! Always be aware of behavioural changes. Watch for weight changes, diet changes, attitude changes, changes in sleeping habits, everything.

Watch the interaction between the coach and your kid. Make sure the coach is speaking to your child with respect. Listen to what they're saying, and the tone they're using to say it. Be far more protective of your children than most people will tell you is necessary, because there is NO SUCH THING as being overprotective with your children when it comes to abuse or abductions. My mother, who left me in the hands of a couple of monsters, used to tell me I was overprotective. My response? According to whom??