Sport for me has always been a source of great enjoyment. When I think back to my childhood I spent a lot of time running around the garden, purposefully kicking a football, and losing myself in my imagination, pretending to be one of my footballing heroes like Carlos Tevez, David Beckham or Kelly Smith.
I would be part of every sports team at school, rounder’s, football, cricket, tennis – you name it I was in it. From my athletic youth, as part of these sports teams, I remember clearly that a large part of my drive to do well was based upon impressing my friends, my family, but most of all my coaches. The thrill of receiving praise from someone I respected and looked up to was huge for me, and would often give me greater motivation to push myself further.
As you can imagine being a girl who did sport, often brought a lot of bullying and name calling from my peers, and sometimes unconsciously from my teachers, who would often refer to me as the “Tomboy” (a term I loathed). As well as a young girl could, I took a lot of this on the chin, and continued to take part in the sports I loved. Largely because sport was my safe zone, a place I could be myself, experience little judgement and escape any pressure or stress I was feeling.
However, recent stories within sport, have made me realise that my experience has not the same for everyone. Most successful sportsmen and sportswomen talk about the struggles of getting to the top, the bullying from peers, the feeling of self-doubt and the constant strive for excellence. Recently, however, stories have come to light of bullying and intimidation within coaching systems of professional sport. Such as, accusations of bullying from coaching staff within the England women’s football team by Eni Aluko, intimidation and control within disability sport, as well as claims of sex discrimination and victimisation within cycling by former British Cyclist Jess Varnish (The Guardian 10th November 2017). Somewhere between this jump from amateur to professional the “safe zone” of sport, as I refer to it, has been lost, and the coaches that I saw as protecting this safety are the cause of its downfall.
Whilst, we might be able to accept the fact that there will always be an element of pressure and stress within highly competitive environments, we cannot excuse the failure of sport to uphold its duty of care to athletes. As a spectator and participant, sport has provided some truly magical and euphoric moments, but it must be always be remembered that in getting there it should never come at the expense of the psychological and physical wellbeing of its partakers.