Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Leslee A. Fisher

Committee Members

Steven N. Waller, Lars Dzikus, Allison D. Anders


Emotional abuse is defined as “a pattern of deliberate non-contact behaviours by a person within a critical relationship role that has the potential to be harmful” (Stirling & Kerr, 2008, p. 178). Despite the potential for sport success, athletes who are targets of coaches’ emotional abuse can experience an array of psychological (e.g., decreased self-esteem, increased anxiety, isolation, mental health disorders), training (e.g., less enjoyment, impaired focus), and performance (e.g., Gervis & Dunn, 2004; Gervis & Godfrey, 2013; Stirling & Kerr, 2013) consequences. The purpose of the current study was to explore the reflective experiences of previous youth non-elite high school male athletes who were emotionally abused by their coach between the ages of 14-18 years. Utilizing narrative inquiry as the methodology—meaning narrative was both the phenomenon being studied and the method (Clandinin, 2013; Clandinin & Connelly, 2000)—three men (Bruce Wayne, Chris, and Xavier Grey) participated and shared their experiences of emotional abuse. Each participant engaged in a series of in-depth conversations. Bruce Wayne’s story is one of psychological and physical harm and also of “resilience, work ethic” and taking personal responsibility to control his future and change others. Chris’ story reflected pain from being consistently let down despite giving his all while also finding purpose and meaning in those moments; his story is about “perseverance.” Xavier’s story is one of making intentional decisions and choosing to find the light and peace in the dark moments and to not let them define him; it is about “relaxing in the midst of chaos.”

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