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Abusive Coaches May Foster Cheating in Sports

Update Date: Jul 08, 2014 02:56 AM EDT

Having abusive coaches increases the risk of cheating, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that college athletes with abusive coaches were significantly more willing to cheat than those with more ethical coaches.

The latest study, which involved almost 20,000 student athletes at more than 600 U.S. colleges, also revealed that male athletes were significantly more likely to cheat than female athletes.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago noted that men on football, basketball and baseball teams were most likely to report willingness to cheat at large universities in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

"Many student athletes in Division I schools are looking to go into professional sports after graduation," lead researcher Mariya Yukhymenko, PhD, a visiting research associate at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a news release. "They are striving to do well so that they will be noticed, and they really want to score more points and bring victories to their teams."

"Ethical behavior of coaches is always in the spotlight," added Yukhymenko,. "Our study found several negative effects related to abusive coaches, including a willingness by players to cheat to win games."

The latest study defined abusive behavior as coaches screaming insults, hitting or kicking athletes. However, the latest research only included instances of verbal abuse. Researchers asked athletes whether they had been ridiculed or put down in front of others by a coach.

The findings also show that athletes with abusive coaches were also more likely to report that their coaches didn't strive to form an inclusive team environment. Abusive coaches were also more likely to foster disrespectful behavior among different ethnic groups, according to the study.

"Coaches are role models for their athletes," Yukhymenko said. "The way they behave is observed by student athletes and is often repeated."

Researchers said that the latest findings suggest that universities should hold workshops or other programs to boost ethical leadership, particularly among staff in athletic departments.

The impact that athletic coaches have on their athletes potentially affects everything from retention and chances of graduation to how these student athletes coach future generations of young athletes," researchers wrote in the study.

The findings were published in the journal Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.

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