Coach-athlete sexual relationships (CASR) have been suggested to harm athlete welfare, sport performance, and to inherently constitute an abuse of power, trust and professional ethics by coaches (e.g. Brake & Burton Nelson, 2012; Toftegaard-Nielsen, 2001). However, very little is known about CASR, especially consensual romantic relationships between athletes and coaches of legal age (Johansson, 2013). The purpose with this research is to explore female elite-athletes' stories of CASR, emphasizing functional and dysfunctional aspects associated to athlete wellbeing and sport performance.
In-depth interviews included five female elite-athletes aged 23-30 with experience of CASR, i.e., boyfriend/girlfriend relationships and unattached sexual relations. Readings of interview transcripts and coding into functional and dysfunctional themes were conducted to generate the stories. Storying the athletes’ experiences thus served to contextualise functions and dysfunctions on a within-case basis.
The athlete’s stories yield insights of qualitatively different functions and dysfunctions of CASR. Functional elements include specific components such as care, trust, sense of value and security, and a unique support and understanding. These elements were described to have a positive effect on the athletes’ wellbeing and performance. Dysfunctional elements found in the athletes’ stories comprised e.g., a need for secrecy in fear of negative reactions causing unhealthy restraints, career disruption due to break-ups and dependency tied to the partner/coach synthesis.
The diversity of functions and dysfunctions of CASR addressed in this study dispute the assumptions and normative notions that CASR are inherently harmful and abusive. The stories illustrate that female athletes can recognise consensual, mutually desired CASR. Importantly, functions and dysfunctions are not necessarily distinct, uniform or constant, but can transform and differ before, during and after the sexual relationship. This study emphasise the need to further examine how CASR can affect athlete wellbeing and sport performance in both functional and dysfunctional senses.
Brake D, Burton Nelson M (2012). Staying in bounds. Kansas City: National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators.
Johansson S (2013). Coach–athlete sexual relationships: if no means no does yes mean yes? Sport, Education and Society, 18, 678-693.
Toftegaard Nielsen J (2001). The Forbidden Zone. Intimacy, Sexual Relations and Misconduct in the Relationship between Coaches and Athletes. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 36, 165-182.
20th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science "Sustainable sport", 24th - 27th June 2015, Malmö