Sexual exploitation : swimming coaches' perceptions and the development of role conflict and role ambiguity
Public awareness about sexual abuse and sexual harassment in sport has greatly increased over the last 10 years. In England, the sport of swimming has been especially affected, first because of several high profile cases of swimming coaches being convicted of sexual abuse, and secondly because the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) has taken a proactive stance to protect children in swimming. Much of the previous research examining sexual exploitation in sport has been from the perspective of the athlete. This qualitative study was designed to examine swimming coaches' constructions of appropriateness about coach/swimmer sexual relationships. Nineteen coaches participated in either an elite, national, or county level focus group. Coaches discussed the appropriateness of coach/athlete relationships as presented in 7 vignettes. Analysis was conducted in accordance with the constructivist revision of Grounded Theory (Charmaz, 1990; Strauss & Corbin, 1998) and organised with the assistance of the software programme, QSR NVIVO. The coaches report that sex with an athlete below the legal age of consent is inappropriate. Coaches' perceptions regarding "legal" relationships vary according to whether the coach is talking about himself versus other coaches. The emergent themes influencing perceptions of appropriateness are: reducing opportunities for false allegations, the influence of public scrutiny, evaluating consequences of relationships, maintaining professional boundaries, and reluctance to judge fellow coaches. After completing the initial analysis, the emergent themes were further explored in individual unstructured interviews with three purposively selected coaches. One coach was in a long-term relationship with a swimmer, another served a prison term for child sexual abuse of a swimmer he coached, and the third had allegations against him dropped. The secondary analysis reveals that the themes about appropriateness relate to the broader issue of coaches' attempts to resolve perceived role conflict and role ambiguity that has arisen from increased awareness of child protection. This is examined with reference to how awareness of sexual abuse in sport has provoked coaches to question their roles and coaching boundaries. Results are discussed in relation to organisational psychology theories of role conflict and role ambiguity and directions for future research are suggested.