You probably encourage your child to perform well academically, develop social skills and participate in extracurricular activities. For many middle school and high school students, sports can play a major role in developing teamwork skills and physical health. Most of the time, participating in sports is a healthy, even enjoyable practice for teens. Sometimes, however, sports can become a source of abuse, bullying and even permanent physical damage.

Parents usually worry about contact sports, like hockey, field hockey, football or rugby as sources of potential injuries. Many other sports aren’t considered as risky, but the potential for damage still exists. Teenagers can get hurt in an accident in any sport, but they also risk abuse by their coaches that can leave lasting physical and emotional scars.

Recent cheerleading abuse highlights sports risks

The nation was shocked about reports out of Colorado about a highly-regarded cheerleading coach engaging in physically abusive practices during summer preparation for the upcoming fall season. A video of one girl’s abusive experience got leaked and ended up going viral. Horrified viewers saw a 13-year-old girl, an incoming freshman, screaming in pain and pleading for mercy.

She was getting forced down into the splits by her coach while teammates held her arms and legs. This practice is not only ineffective for improving flexibility, it can result in serious, even permanent physical damage to the muscles, tendons and joints in the legs and hips. The coach, along with several other school employees, have gotten fired as a result of this video. The girl at the center of the case suffered torn tissues and had to receive medical care for the injuries.

Police are actively investigating this as a child abuse case. The school has since attempted to distance itself by stating that no student should ever get forced into physical activity, regardless of their participation in sports or other extracurricular activities.

Coaches can abuse physically, sexually and emotionally

It is sadly all too common for those who get entrusted with the care and enrichment of teenagers to abuse that trust. Some may use their position to take advantage of at-risk students, while others may get physically abusive or scream abuse and insults at student athletes while ignoring cases of bullying, leading to emotional damage.

If your child has reported mistreatment at the hands of a coach or other sports official, you need to take it seriously. Talk to other athletes, do you best to record or otherwise document the abuse and make sure that school officials understand the seriousness of what is going on. Failing to act could leave your child in a damaging and destructive situation that could require medical care or ongoing therapy in the future.