Experiences of children participating in organised sport in the UK Findings from an online survey of young people taking part in sport

Most children who take part in sport enjoy the activities and benefit from increases in self-confidence, physical health and emotional wellbeing.
However many children also experience negative effects including humiliation, bullying and aggression.

This study explores the nature and range of negative experiences and harm experienced by children in organised sports settings in the UK.

Over 6,000 students (aged 18–22 years) responded to an online survey sharing their experiences of organised sport up to the age of 16 years. This was followed by 89 in-depth telephone interviews with young people who identified themselves in the survey as having experienced some harm in sport.

The report sets out the findings from the research and presents important information for decision making in sport, particularly regarding child protection policies.

This research was conducted by The University of Edinburgh/NSPCC Child Protection Research Centre.

Authors: Kate Alexander, Anne Stafford and Ruth Lewis
Published: 2011

Boy in a sports hall

Sport was generally found to be a positive experience for most young people. However, the study found high levels of emotional harm (75%) – this included humiliation, being sworn at, negative self and body image, and self harm.

Sexual harassment (29%) was the second most common form of harm. In addition to non-physical sexual harassment such as sexist jokes or being leered at, young people reported sexualised bullying and inappropriate touching by coaches during instruction.

Although most of the harm reported was non-physical (such as verbal bullying), 24% of participants had experienced physical harm, including being forced to train while injured or exhausted. Aggression and violent treatment such as punishment from coaches or physical bullying from peers was also reported.

Peers were the most common perpetrators of all forms of harm reported, and coaches did not always challenge this effectively. Coaches were the second most common perpetrators of harm, with spectators and passers by also mentioned.

The study found that most young people considered this negative culture to be normal, and 'just what happens in sport'. This appears to show a sporting culture which accepts and condones disrespectful and negative behaviours. The report recommends that sport should focus on creating a culture that builds on what children and young people value about sport participation (such as making friends and being part of a team), and ensuring they are respected and listened to. Coaches should be supported to enable them to work with children and young people and ensure sport is a positive experience.

Background to the research 5
Context 8
Research design, methodology and ethical considerations 17
Study participants 27
Emotional harm 33
Body image 49
Self-harm 55
Sexual harm 61
Physical harm 76
Key findings 94
References 99
Appendix 1: online survey 103
Appendix 2: interview schedule (telephone) 138
Appendix 3: additional tables 159

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