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Emotional Misconduct: How to Recognize, Reduce and Respond to Emotional Misconduct

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The following information has been provided by SafeSport, a program of The United States Olympic Committee. SafeSport aims to create a healthy, supportive environment for all participants of sports through education, resources and training. The overall goal is to help members of the sports community recognize, reduce and respond to misconduct in sports. For more information, please visit

What you need to know to protect athletes

Sports can help individuals build skills, making them stronger and better able to deal with challenges. The wide range of emotions athletes experience in practice and competition are a normal, healthy component of sports. However, a repeated pattern of behavior by either coaches or teammates that can inflict psychological or emotional harm has no place in sports. By gaining a complete understanding of the actions that qualify as emotional misconduct, participants can be in a stronger position to take action.


Emotional misconduct involves a pattern of deliberate, non-contact behavior that has the potential to cause emotional or psychological harm to an athlete. Non-contact behavior includes verbal and physical acts, as well as actions that deny attention or support. It also includes any act or conduct (e.g., child abuse and child neglect) described as emotional abuse or misconduct under federal or state law.


Emotional misconduct does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, team building, discipline or improving athletic performance.

Examples of emotional misconduct

  • Verbal acts:
    • Verbally attacking an athlete personally (e.g., calling them worthless, fat or disgusting).
    • Repeatedly and excessively yelling at participants in a manner that serves no productive training or motivational purpose.
  • Physical acts:
    • Throwing sports equipment, water bottles or chairs at, or in the presence of, participants.
    • Punching walls, windows or other objects.
  • Acts that deny attention and support:
    • Ignoring an athlete for extended periods of time.
    • Routinely or arbitrarily excluding participants from practice.

Contributed by The United States Olympic Committee.