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Former B.C. hockey player says abuse puts young athletes’ mental health at risk

A former B.C. hockey player is speaking out about mental health and abuse in sports.
A former B.C. hockey player is speaking out about mental health and abuse in sports. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Richard Buchan

A former Western Hockey League player is using his personal experience of physical and verbal abuse in sports to let young athletes know they don’t need to suffer in silence.

Vancouver’s Ryan Phillips, who played in the WHL in the mid-1990s, says physical and verbal abuse in sports can impact mental health, particularly among young athletes. During his hockey career, Phillips claims he endured all kinds of abuse from teammates and even a coach.

READ MORE: B.C. man cycling across Canada to raise awareness for mental illness

“He would either grab me in a certain way, pull me or kick me. I was so scared to go to the rink that I would be shaking literally just to see what is he gonna say today,” Phillips said.

After that, he said things took a turn for him.

“It turned into substance abuse and a lack of self-worth and low self-esteem,” said Phillips.

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He said it took a while for him to understand the lasting mental health impact those experiences had on him at such an impressionable age.

B.C. man arrives in Moncton on cross-country cycling trip to raise awareness for mental illness
B.C. man arrives in Moncton on cross-country cycling trip to raise awareness for mental illness

“It hit me around 40; I’m 44 now,” Phillips said. “I started having nightmares where I started reliving my past in my dreams.

“A game I once loved became a nightmare. There needs to be an end put to all this abuse — because it is abuse.”

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READ MORE: Gary Bettman says the NHL will not tolerate abusive behaviour

Phillips says abusive behaviour can be traumatizing and stick with a teenager for years. He now wants to change the world of sports and the way coaching is executed.

He says being transparent and raising the issue is the first step and that plenty more needs to be done with regard to the culture around competitive sports.

“I’ll never walk away from being an advocacy participant in the mental health arena, let’s put it that way,” said Phillips.

“I believe with unity and more awareness, and if we bind together more, we can really make a powerful impact.”

READ MORE: Dallas Stars fire head coach Jim Montgomery, citing ‘unprofessional conduct’

Since becoming an advocate, Phillips has biked across Canada to raise money in support of mental health initiatives.

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Phillips played on the WHL’s Regina Pats from 1993 to 1995 when the alleged abuse occurred.

Despite attempts to reach out, the Pats did not respond to numerous requests for comment from Global News.

During his career, Phillips spent time with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers.  He also played for the Tacoma Rockets from 1992 to 1994. The Rockets were a WHL team in Washington until 1995 when they moved to Kelowna, B.C.