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Jenessa Banwell, Gretchen Kerr, and Ashley Stirling

Women remain underrepresented in the coaching domain across various levels of sport both in Canada and internationally. Despite the use of mentorship as a key strategy to support female coaches, little progress has been seen in achieving parity. At the same time, greater advances in gender equity have occurred in other non-sport sectors such as business, engineering, and medicine. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to learn from non-sport domains that have seen advances in gender equity to inform mentorship for women in coaching. A mixed-methods methodology was employed and consisted of distributing mentorship surveys to female coaches (n = 310) at various competitive levels, representing current (88%), former (12%), full-time (26%), part-time (74%), paid (54%), and unpaid (46%) coaching status. In addition, eight in-depth semi-structured interviews were also conducted with women in senior-level positions across various non-sport domains, including business (n = 1), media (n = 1), engineering (n = 2), higher education (n = 1), law (n = 1), and medicine (n = 2), regarding the role of mentorship in advancing women in their field. A descriptive and thematic analysis of the survey and interview data were conducted and findings are interpreted to suggest considerable variation in the characteristics of female coaches’ mentoring relationships, as well as the need to move beyond mentorship to sponsorship for advancing women in coaching. Recommendations for future research and advancing women in coaching are provided.

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Gretchen Kerr, Erin Willson, and Ashley Stirling

This study sought to explore the long-term effects of emotionally abusive coaching on female athletes. Although the long-term effects of childhood emotional abuse are well-documented in the child abuse literature, this question has not been explored empirically in the domain of sport, an environment in which emotionally abusive coaching practices are known to be common. In various prevalence studies of athlete maltreatment in sport internationally, emotional abuse is the most frequently experienced form and yet the long-term implications of these experiences are not well-understood. This study involved interviews of eight retired, elite, female Canadian National Team members. The findings revealed that athletes reportedly experienced different effects depending on whether they were in their competitive careers, in the retirement transition, or in post-transition life. All of the athletes required professional psychological assistance to help them recover from their emotionally abusive experiences; for some, this process continued for six years post-retirement. The effects described by the athletes resembled the symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder suggesting an important line of future research. Until coaching practices become abuse-free, these findings also indicate a clear need for the provision of psychological supports and resources for athletes during and post-athletic career.

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Gretchen Kerr, Anthony Battaglia, and Ashley Stirling

The recent, highly publicized cases of maltreatment of athletes have garnered critical attention by the public at large and stakeholders in sport, alike. For many, these cases threaten popular views that sport contributes in important ways to positive youth development. The growing evidence showing that maltreatment occurs to youth sport participants highlights the need for safe, harm-free sport environments as a fundamental prerequisite for positive developments to be reaped. By unpacking the case study of USA Gymnastics and Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuses in this paper, the authors show that for athlete maltreatment to occur and be sustained across so many victims and so many years, more than a perpetrator is needed. The nature of the environment, from the interpersonal level to organizational policies and societal influences, contributes to the occurrence and perpetuation of athlete maltreatment. Using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological-systems model, the authors argue for a systemic approach to preventing and addressing athlete maltreatment. Recommendations are posed for safeguarding youth athletes and fostering the sporting conditions in which positive youth development can occur.