Preventing sexual abuse in youth sports
Whatever your impression is of sports and athletes; there’s no denying the indelible affect on the society at large. From the women and men that play sports at its most competitive levels, to the mother that takes her son to his soccer games and practices, or the father that is teaching his daughter to shoot a perimeter jump shot; sports are a part of many people’s lives. Over the last decade, there has been a huge trend of getting youth involved in organized sports through sports clubs or nonprofit athletic organizations. With the possibility of college scholarships or a chance at Olympic gold; some parents are investing money and resources in their child, in addition to the child spending an inordinate amount of time with the coach in perfecting their craft.
In April 2010 the ABC News program 20/20 highlighted the sexual misconduct of over 36 swimming coaches who have been banned for life by USA Swimming because of sexual misconduct with youth female swimmers.
Two Seattle Times staff reports wrote an article titled Coaches Who Prey, in which 159 coaches in the state of Washington have been fired or reprimanded for sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape. At least 98 of those coaches continued to coach or teach somewhere else.
Before I started coaching youth soccer, I assumed that coaches and those working with children would have had rigorous background checks completed by the organizations. In some cases, my assumptions were incorrect. One youth program I worked with ask for my driver’s license, proof of CPR and first aid completion, soccer training certification and required finger printing for a criminal background check. Another organization’s screening and background check involved the Director of Operations saying “Since you show up to all your daughter’s practices, you can coach the team for the entire season – the previous coach quit.”
A 2008 survey by the National Council of Youth Sports of its member organizations indicated that 44,031,890 boys and girls participated in their sports programs. They also had 7,343,556 adults volunteering in various capacities; this number included 2,409,020 coaches.
With the astronomical number of boys and girls participating in youth sports and the number of volunteers it takes to operate sports programs; there needs to be more consistent and thorough screening of coaches. Also it would help if a protocol or best practices was created for the sports programs to use as a guide regarding but not limited to the following areas: hiring, investigating allegations, notifying parents and law enforcement, dismissing coaches, etc.
I have included several examples of youth sports organizations that have screening processes and protocols for coaches and volunteers.
How many local youth programs are in your community? Do you know what their process is for screening coaches and volunteers? This is an excellent opportunity for your rape crisis center (RCC) to connect with these youth sports clubs and organizations to discuss the educational opportunities around sexual abuse prevention to parents, staff, volunteers and athletes.
In addition to the educational opportunity on prevention, some youth organizations may need assistance in developing a screening process for coaches and volunteers and or help with creating a protocol around the issues.
Your involvement with community youth sports programs can increase people’s awareness around sexual abuse prevention, increase the level of safety of children who participate in the programs and of course enlighten the parents and organization on what a wonderful resource the local RCC is.
When RCC’s work with youth sports programs in the community; we will hear fewer stories of coaches sexually abusing youth and more stories of good sportsmanship. Such as the two softball players who choose to help an injured player on the opposing team; and in doing so, lost their chance of advancing to the playoffs.
For responses to this post or questions about working with youth sports programs in your community, please use the comment box below.
This is an important issue. While the some coaches are the problem, coaches can be part of the solution such as I wrote in a previous blog about how coaches can be positive force to prevent sexual violence.
One positive program is Coaching Boys Into Men is a project from the Family Violence Prevention Fund that includes a kit for coaches. Joe Ehrmann’s work with Coaching for America highlights that “winning in life is everything.” (Check out the podcast from Joe Ehrmann)
It’s also encouraging to see that someone who’s so involved in his community is seeking a higher standard for coaches and leagues. I think it shows leadership to be so engaged.