Emotional Misconduct

How to Recognize, Reduce, and Respond to Emotional Misconduct

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 safesport.org.

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 includes (a) Verbal Acts, (b) Physical Acts, (c) Acts that Deny Attention or Support, (d) Criminal Conduct, and/or (e) Stalking. Emotional Misconduct is determined by the objective behaviors, not whether harm is intended or results from the behavior. 

a. Verbal Acts: Repeatedly and excessively verbally assaulting or attacking someone personally in a manner that serves no productive training or motivational purpose. 
b. Physical Acts: Repeated and/or severe physically aggressive behaviors, including but not limited to, throwing sport equipment, water bottles or chairs at or in the presence of others, punching walls, windows or other objects. 
c. Acts that Deny Attention or Support: Ignoring or isolating a person for extended periods of time, including routinely or arbitrarily excluding a Participant from practice. 
d. Criminal Conduct: Emotional Misconduct includes any act or conduct described as emotional abuse or misconduct under federal or state law (e.g. child abuse, child neglect). 
e. Stalking: Stalking occurs when a person purposefully engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person, and knows or should know, that the course of conduct would cause a reasonable person to (i) fear for their safety, (ii) the safety of a third person, or (iii) to experience substantial emotional distress. 

“Course of conduct” means at least two or more acts, in which a person directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about another person, or interferes with another person’s property. 

“Substantial emotional distress” means significant mental suffering or anguish. 

Stalking also includes “cyber-stalking,” wherein a person stalks another using electronic media, such as the internet, social networks, blogs, cell phones, texts, or other similar devices or forms of contact. 


Emotional Misconduct does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, team building, appropriate discipline or improved Athlete performance. Emotional Misconduct also does not include conduct reasonably accepted as part of sport and/or conduct reasonably accepted as part of Participant’s participation. 

Contributed by The United States Olympic Committee.