Preventing abuse can feel like a daunting and overwhelming task. But there are simple things everyone can do to make their sport a safe space for athletes and coaches alike.
Think of the goal as threefold:
The following are five policies that foster healthy and safe athletic communities. (A complete list of U.S. Center for SafeSport requirements and recommended best practices are outlined in Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies.)
Grooming happens most effectively one on one. The first step to protecting minor athletes is not putting them in a position that makes them vulnerable to exploitation. The “rule of three” is a simple requirement that stipulates there should always be another adult or two minors present during any interaction. It’s meant to prevent a minor from being alone with an adult; it also protects adults from false accusations.
Don’t transport minors alone. Recruit chaperones for overnight trips. If you’re working one on one, do it in an area where it can be clearly observed and interrupted.
In an office setting, it’s common practice to be cc’d in group emails. Apply the same standard in the athletic environments.
For parents, be on a three-way text chain with your child and their coach and ask to be cc’d in all email communication. For coaches and staff, make a team group chat on WhatsApp to communicate practice times, lesson schedules and news. Limiting private communication by text or phone goes a long way in protecting the reputation of the coach and the safety of the athlete.
It's never the victim's job to prevent the abuse. Still, educating athletes about the dynamics of sexual exploitation and equipping them with the tools to intervene can make a world of difference. Teach athletes to trust their feelings and to say "I don't want that, don't do that” in response to any words or actions that make them feel uncomfortable.
Empower them to speak up and check in regularly.
Waivers are required paperwork in order to play in most sports. Make a signed agreement for conduct, interaction and reporting rules as well. If, for example, an underage athlete is texting, communicating or meeting with the coach after hours or out of program, require that it be reported and immediately follow up on those reports to correct potentially problematic behaviors before an issue arises. When you make enforcing the rules everyone’s job, you protect the mission, the coach and the athlete.
Rules of conduct not only have to be mapped out, they must also be easy to understand and widely distributed. Just as rules about equipment use are often posted in areas where you play, practice, and compete, your team or organization’s behavioral rules and code of conduct should also be prominently displayed to ensure that everyone is working from the same playbook.
Empowered oversight is clear oversight. Make the rules clear-cut and visible.