Verbal and sexual abuse rampant in women’s soccer

“Now I don’t want to be alone with any coach, especially those that are male.”
These are the decisive words of Sofia Balistrieri (11), a former competitive soccer player who left her club, Encinitas Express, due to the misconduct of her former soccer coach. Balistrieri, who had played on this coach’s team for three years and took private lessons from him for six months, said that she
and her teammates noticed “suspicious” behavior during practices and private lessons.
“There were things that I would think I would notice, but at the time I ignored [them],” she said. “I would be doing stretches… and I’d look up and I was very uncomfortable with where his hand was located.”
Balistrieri is one of many female soccer players who have shared their stories in light of a recent investigation into the abuse of women’s soccer players in the National Women’s Soccer League. The report, commissioned by U.S. Soccer, was released on Oct. 3. It detailed the verbally, sexually and emotionally abusive behavior of women’s soccer coaches, as well as administrators’ failure to act on reports from players. The investigation also found that such misconduct was not isolated to the teams highlighted in the investigation; rather, abuse was discovered to be systemic in women’s soccer. According to the report, “some of the misconduct dates to the predecessor leagues and some to youth soccer. The roots of the abuse in women’s soccer run deep and will not be eliminated through reform in the NWSL alone.”
When Balistrieri saw the reports in the news, she “wasn’t really surprised.”
“It seemed very on brand with this environment, especially as a woman you feel like you’re doing everything to be equal to a man in the power position that gender roles play in sports,” Balistrieri said. “Overwhelmingly, it was something that I was waiting to come out.”
According to Balistrieri, she left Encinitas Express because of how uncomfortable she felt and how the situation was handled.
“I didn’t feel any obligations to the club after I left,” she said. “The fact that it wasn’t handled immediately was appalling to me.”
Much like Balistrieri, other players have left their soccer teams due to their coaches’ behavior. An anonymous former soccer player left the TPHS Women’s Varsity team because of the head coach’s “unconstructive” verbal behavior.
“He started getting super aggressive, like yelling at us when we were on the field,” the player said. Due to the anxiety caused by this coaching, she stopped playing soccer altogether.
“It was difficult, especially because soccer had been my life since I was a kid,” she said. “I never felt like I regained the confidence that I once had on the field because of the way he yelled at me. ”
According to head coach Martyn Hasford, he thinks his coaching method is constructive.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and not everyone is equipped to deal with the demands of our program,” Hasford said.
At TPHS, there are complex procedures for addressing reports from players.
According to Principal Rob Coppo, TPHS’s goal is to focus on improving a coach when an incident is reported.
“Typically, I have found it more productive to make a coach better than to try to find another coach everytime there’s a complaint,” Coppo said.
For players who might have experienced problematic behavior from their coach, TPHS Athletic Director
Charlenne Falcis-Stevens urges kids to say something to a trusted adult.
“Bring it to our attention. Our responsibility is to provide a safe environment,” Falcis-Stevens said. “We’re in the world of educational athletics, which includes teaching our athletes about how to handle situations and… make sure that they’re in a safe place.”
As the world of soccer changes in light of the report, players hope transparency and disclosure are a norm to stop the abuse of future players. As an anonymous player put it, “I don’t want other girls to lose their love for soccer like I did.”

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