The ABC of Child Abuse


The ABC of Child Abuse sets the scene for child abuse to occur in sporting organizations. It can be summed up by three basic conditions: ambition, bullying and coercion.


Ambition feeds the desire to be a winner, preferably the one at the top. This can be a key motivation even for a junior gymnast, although it is often a parent’s ambition expressed through their child which is the driving force.

Ambition may also be a primary quality expressed by a coach or club management, wanting to collect the reflected glory of training a champion gymnast. This will attract parents who want a similar outcome into becoming paying customers to the gymnastics club.

Ambition tends to cultivate acceptance of otherwise undesrirable behavior, to believe what an authority figure says has to be done in order to achieve the desired goal.


Bullying is a strategy sometimes implemented by a person who wishes to get his or her own way in the shortest time possible. There is rarely any consideration shown for the welfare of the victim. If a child raises any objections about the bullying behavior, these are often readily dismissed by the bully who holds power over the child.

A parent can bully a child into persisting with training even when the child is injured or ill. Sometimes a child does not wish to continue with gymnastics, but the parent will insist he or she does keep going.

This child may then enter a pathway to get away from the sport. It starts with a minor injury. If the parent insists that the child keeps training, this will be followed by a more severe injury. When the parent bullies the child into continuing after this, a major injury, such as a broken bone, often follows.

A coach can bully a child into learning and following unsafe physical activities. This may be done by saying: “This is the way we do this skill here. If you do not want to do as you are instructed, then you can sit out.” The child quickly learns that to be included, you must do as you are told without question.


Coercion can be initiated both in a positive way, as in a promised reward, or a negative way, by cultivating a fear of missing out. This method is often maintained over a longer period of time, encouraging a young gymnast to develop an attitude of wanting to please the authority figure, be it parent, coach, club management or the governing body of administrators of the sport.

Setting the Scene for Child Abuse

The conditions of ambition, bullying and coercion can be easily set in place and maintained when two other conditions are present in any sporting or gymnastics organization.

When an organization holds a monopoly over participation in a sport, and maintains a policy to avoid scrutiny by independent observers, then the people in charge of that organization have set the scene for child abuse to happen.