Defining Misconduct and Safe Boundaries (Emotional)


ATHLETE SAFETY: Defining Misconduct and Safe Boundaries (Emotional Abuse)

Misconduct and abuse, whether emotional, physical or sexual, has no place in sport. USA Cycling’s SafeSport program will lead the sport of cycling into the next generation of athlete protection and help everybody increase their understanding of why athlete protection is everybody’s responsibility.

Welcome to the Athlete Safety Corner, where each month we examine one aspect of USA Cycling’s new SafeSport program. Over the next few months we focus on a topic that is a cornerstone of what SafeSport is all about: Defining Misconduct and Safe Boundaries.

This month we are going to define emotional misconduct and abuse and the importance of maintaining healthy boundaries:

A content athlete is more likely to be successful than a harassed or abused one; safeguarding athlete development and pushing for achievement are not in opposition but are two sides of the same performance coin.  Cycling provides individuals with lifelong skills, makes them physically and mentally tough, and as a result, these individuals are better equipped to deal with a multitude of challenges.  The wide range of emotions athletes experience in practice and competition are normal, healthy components of cycling.  However, a repeated pattern of behavior by coaches, teammates or other participants that can inflict psychological or emotional harm has no place in sport. There are no overtly physical signs of emotional or psychological abuse/misconduct, but the absence of these signs does not make it any less serious.
Emotional misconduct involves a climate or pattern of deliberate, non-contact behavior that has the potential to cause emotional or psychological harm to an athlete or other participant. Non-contact behavior includes verbal and physical acts, as well as actions that deny attention or support.  Emotional misconduct must have a ‘sustained’ and/or ‘repetitive’ component or be seen as a course of conduct; it is not a single event.  It also includes any act or conduct (i.e. psychological abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, child abuse) described as emotional abuse or misconduct under federal or state law.
Examples of prohibited emotional misconduct include, without limitation:
Verbal Acts
  1. Verbally attacking an athlete personally (i.e. calling them worthless, fat, or disgusting)
  2. Repeatedly and excessively yelling at participants in a manner that serves no productive training or motivational purpose
Physical Acts
  1. Throwing sport equipment, water bottles, chairs, or other similar objects at, or in the presence of, participants
  2. Punching, hitting, kicking walls, windows, or other similar objects in a manner likely to intimidate other present participants
Acts that deny attention and support
  1. Ignoring an athlete for extended periods of time
  2. Giving an athlete “the silent treatment” on a regular basis
  3. Routinely or arbitrarily excluding participants from practice
Emotional misconduct does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, team building, discipline or improving athletic performance.  Constructive criticism about an athlete’s performance is not emotional misconduct.  *Reminder: emotional misconduct must have a ‘sustained’ and/or ‘repetitive’ component or be seen as a course of conduct; it is not a single event.

Never be afraid to tell someone that they are making you feel uncomfortable. It is important for you to voice your feelings and to understand you have the right to establish your own boundaries. Cycling is enjoyable and everyone has the right to enjoy the sport they love while remaining comfortable and safe.

Questions about SafeSport? Contact USA Cycling's Risk Protection Manager, Jon Whiteman, at

This Article Updated September 12, 2013 @ 04:00 PM For more information contact: