The Unique Vulnerability of Youth Athletes, with Courtney Kiehl

Season 4Episode 13August 5, 2022

Courtney Kiehl, a former elite gymnast and now an attorney who advocates for survivors of child sexual abuse, joins us to discuss what makes youth athletes vulnerable, and how we can help.

Over the past five years, sexual abuse scandals in sports have continuously been in the news. Whether swimming, tae kwon do, or most famously gymnastics, the variety of sports that have had such scandals point to a very uncomfortable truth that sports has inherent child protection issues, and that these unique vulnerabilities require unique prevention strategies to keep youth athletes safe. Courtney Kiehl, former elite gymnast, abuse survivor, and now an attorney and advocate for child victims and adult survivors of child sexual abuse, joined us to discuss what makes youth athletes so vulnerable, and how we can help.

What coaching strategies create toxic cultures, which discourage kids from speaking up about concerns? How does the lack of accountability at the club level allow offenders to move location and keep right on coaching? How does the weight of adult expectations—coaches, parents, and, yes, us, the viewers—make it so very difficult for kids to disclose even the most harrowing abuse? And where is there reason for hope and action to create a future for elite sport, and indeed all sport, that is healthy and safe?  Take a listen.

Topics in this episode:

  • Origin story (1:46)
  • What good coaching looks like (6:53)
  • What makes athletes vulnerable (12:52)
  • Who regulates sports (19:20)
  • The bystander problem (28:17)
  • What all athletes need (32:34)
  • Parenting advice and the weight of expectations (33:52)


Courtney Kiehl, Esq., is an attorney at Paul Mones PC in California, a legal firm that specializes in representing victims of child sexual abuse. Prior to joining the firm, she founded A.C.H.E. (Abused Children Heard Everywhere) as a response to her own experience with sexual abuse by her gymnastics coach. She served as a fellow for CHILD USA’s Game Over: Commission to Protect Youth Athletes.

Game Over Commission; in January 2022, the commission released a case study on the abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC)

National governing bodies

U.S. Center for SafeSport

Related episodes: “The True Cost of Olympic Gold,” about the Game Over Commission’s report; an interview with Prof. Marci A. Hamilton, founder and CEO of CHILD USA and (February 25, 2022)

Radically Vulnerable: Achieving Justice for Survivors” with Prof. Hamilton (September 30, 2019)

For more information about National Children’s Alliance and the work of Children’s Advocacy Centers, visit our website at And join us on Facebook at One in Ten podcast.

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