The impact of verbal and physical abuse on distress, mental health, and intentions to quit in sports officials

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
103 Downloads (Pure)


Sports officials (e.g., referees, umpires, judges) can experience distress from a multitude of sources, including episodes of verbal and physical abuse from spectators, coaches, and athletes. Little is known about the impact of this abuse on mental health (MH) outcomes and intentions to quit, however. As such, the primary aims of this study were to survey the prevalence and frequency of abuse in sports officials and to examine relationships between abuse, distress, and subsequent MH and intentions to quit outcomes. Survey data were collected from 438 Gaelic Games match officials. Of these, 94.29% and 23.06% had experienced verbal and physical abuse respectively during their career. Verbal abuse was mostly experienced a couple of times a season (reported by 43.83% of officials) or every couple of games (31.48%), whereas physical abuse was predominantly experienced once or twice in a career (85.15%). Structural equation modelling was used to assess three alternative models that proposed the relationship between experiences of abuse, and MH and intentions to quit outcomes to be either 1) direct, 2) indirect, fully mediated by distress, or 3) both direct and indirect, partially mediated by distress. For verbal abuse, only the direct and indirect effects model achieved acceptable fit and significantly explained variance in mental wellbeing (9.4%), anxiety (15.2%), depression (15.6%), and intentions to quit (19.1%). For physical abuse, though higher distress was associated with poorer MH and greater intentions to quit, none of the models fully explained the relationships between all variables. These findings demonstrate, for the first time, relationships between abuse, subsequent distress, and MH outcomes. We highlight the urgent need to develop evidence-based psychological interventions to tackle abuse, manage conflict, and support the MH needs of sports officials.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102274
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Early online date13 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors


  • Abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Referees


Dive into the research topics of 'The impact of verbal and physical abuse on distress, mental health, and intentions to quit in sports officials'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this