Thesis on coaches bullying athletes wins national award

Pete Temple
Express Sports Editor

There were two reasons Lindsey Miossi chose the topic of coaches bullying athletes for a thesis that won a national award. 


First, it was a topic no one else was researching. And second, she had some experience with it. 


Miossi, a Monticello High School graduate who is studying for a master’s degree in kinesiology at the University of Tennessee, recently learned she had won the Sport Psychologist Young Researcher Award from the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). 


Miossi’s submission was chosen from more than 125 applicants. She will receive a check for $1,000 and honored at the AASP National Conference in October. 


“It was really overwhelming, awesome and cool,” Miossi said upon learning of the award. “What it really says for me is that my work is important, and they recognize that, and that they want more of it. That was really cool for me.” 


Her thesis, a 100-page document that took more than five months to complete, came about after Miossi discovered it was a unique topic. 

“I found this gap in research,” she said. “No one really researches coaches bullying their athletes, because a lot of people don’t even think that’s possible. (They say) that’s just tough love. That’s what led me to do my thesis.” 


Miossi put the word out, and it wasn’t long before she found eight participants to interview. 


“Just through networking,” she said, explaining how she found them. “I just told a few people I was doing this research, and asking if they were able to recommend someone. The first few I interviewed had contacts, and they all said they knew people who had been bullied by their coaches. Once the word was out, people came and wanted to tell their stories.” 


The athletes came from all over the country, and included two Division I athletes, a Division III athlete, a pair of high school athletes, and more. 


“They were so courageous to share their stories with me,” she said. “You hear stories of verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and some that are being groomed for sexual abuse.” 


Miossi said the bullying the athletes experienced came from environments characterized by a combination of intimidation and fear. Name-calling (“Ballerina,” “Barbie”) little or no positive reinforcement, and other examples were cited. 


“Whenever the athlete or their parents tried to talk to the coach or administration about the bullying or how they were feeling, instead of supporting the athlete, she was often blamed for it,” Miossi said. “And out of eight participants, only one saw action taken against her coach. 


“Such an environment contributed to decreased self-confidence among the female athletes and inhibited their performance.” 


Miossi likely wouldn’t have thought to research the bullying topic at all, had she not experienced some of it herself. 


“I was bullied by peers in high school and middle school, and also by a couple different coaches,” she said. “That experience has always led me to say that I wanted to be an advocate (against) bullying, but I didn’t know how to do it.” 


Miossi said she had suppressed memories of her experiences, and writing the thesis brought many of them back to the surface. 


“It was really hard sometimes,” she said. “But this research has really been a form of therapy for me.” 


Miossi said that in discussions about the thesis with various people, a recurring question pops up: Don’t coaches need to bully athletes to get them to perform better? 


“I get that all the time,” she said. “My first response is, ‘Would a teacher get by with what a coach can do?’ I also say that the research shows, time and time again, that you get the same or better results with coaches who care. You can be tough on your athletes, but you need to show them you care, and that’s why you’re being tough on them. 


“Coaches have a really hard job. They have to get athletes motivated, but everybody’s motivated in a different way, by different things. It’s a tough job, and I totally get that, but I also think that being able to recognize when athletes are put really far down, is really important.” 


After graduating from MHS, Miossi earned her undergraduate degree in kinesiology at the University of Illinois-Chicago. As part of that experience, she studied in Ireland regarding sports psychology. 


A professor there asked Miossi if she’d like to become a teaching assistant, replacing one who was graduating. 


“I was a graduate teaching assistant in 2017 for a six-week, faculty-led summer study-abroad program in Barcelona, Spain,” Miossi said. 


She has since begun studying for a masters in kinesiology. Her mentor, Tanya Prewitt-White, encouraged her to do a thesis. Miossi chose the topic, on female athletes’ experiences of being bullied by their coaches. 


She submitted the award-winning thesis to the Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, and has gotten it back for revisions. 


“Hopefully, after this round of revisions, it will be accepted and published,” Miossi said. 


In the meantime, she is studying to get her PhD at the University of Tennessee. She recently finished her first year there, and lives in Knoxville, Tenn. 

She said she plans to continue with similar research. 


“What’s really cool about this whole thing is I’ve really just let it flow, and it’s worked well.” She said. “I’ll just keep letting it flow and see where this project takes me.” 



Subscriber Login