A youth sports coaching relationship between a child and a coach is different from other relationships a child has with adults. Most people find it easy to identify the line where the coaching relationship ends and a more personal relationship begins. Since the Penn State Scandal we are all more aware of sexual abuse in youth sports. It boils down to observing good boundaries between adults and children in youth sports coaching.
Given increased awareness, how does sexual abuse still occur? Sexual predators typically target children who are already vulnerable. Children with limited supervision or who struggle to fit in socially are examples of children who are vulnerable. In these situations a predator who crosses boundaries may go undetected. Here are 10 tips to protect your children from abuse.
1 Background Checks
Most organized sports programs today require criminal background checks, even for volunteer coaches. Checking references is also an important procedure especially with professional coaches. If a coach has a history of leaving school districts and sports teams and does not have someone who was in a supervisory position that will vouch for their solid character in working with children, you should increase your awareness by asking organization leaders.
2 Talk to the Youth Sports Coaching leaders
The coach and the coaching staff should be transparent. If they are reluctant to provide information about how they deal with your child, there may be reason for concern. Start by asking if background checks have been done.
3 Observe Boundaries
Boundaries, are the lines between the role of a professional or volunteer and a personal relationship. Is your child spending time with their coach outside of scheduled practices and games? It is one thing if the team has a pizza party or barbecue and the entire team is present. It is very different if your son or daughter is having regular outings with their coach and not with the rest of the team. Physical contact such as full body hugs, rides home or sleepovers are examples of boundary crossings. Certain circumstances may require a ride home or a hug. When abuse is occurring, a pattern or series of questionable behaviors is typically involved. Observing boundaries means setting limits with regards to contact.
4 Set Limits
As the parent, you are in charge of where your child is and whom they are with. If you don't feel comfortable letting your child go with someone, simply say no and don't allow others to pressure you.
5 Go with Your Gut
If you have a strong sense that something is not right, don't rationalize your self into ignoring a concern. Gut feelings are sometimes based on evidence you've been exposed to but are not consciously aware of.
6 Don't Jump the Gun
It's easy to be reactive to the notion of child abuse in sports. Before making accusations, consider the consequences to someone if you are wrong.
Secondhand information, anger and fear can contribute to overreacting. If you're concerned, investigate.
7 Make a Family Decision
If your family is struggling to deal with inappropriate boundaries, make a decision about it together. Consider how it will affect each family member. These decisions will effect each person differently. Before you take action, discus potential problems with the family.
8 Take Action
If you are aware of abuse, report it. If you have clear evidence, bring it to the authorities by contacting law enforcement and the state division of child protective services. When nothing is done to stop abuse, it continues and more victims are created.
9 Hire a Youth Sports Coaching Consultant
If you are part of an organization impacted by sexual abuse, bring in a consultant to facilitate communication between parents, children and volunteers. Establish future guidelines to prevent inappropriate boundaries between coaches and athletes.
10 Seek Treatment for the Victims
In many instances the victims in this process can be overlooked or blamed. Part of the psychological damage that results from sexual abuse stems from how things are handled once it is reported. Victims need to talk about the abuse with a qualified professional to resolve the symptoms caused by sexual trauma. Parents and even siblings may need to be part of the victim's therapy.
Instances of sexual abuse in youth sports coaching programs are reduced by transparency, by following basic procedures such as background checks and by observing good boundaries. Use these tips to prevent sexual abuse in youth sports coaching.