When coaches are engaged and proactive, athletes and teams perform at higher levels. The bonds you form with your athletes can have a tremendous impact: athletes view the relationship with their coach as the top factor in their success. Since sport helps athletes gain important life skills, this influence often extends far beyond the field of play.
Coaches also have a critical role to play in addressing misconduct in sport: your unique vantage point enables you to set a tone of respect and trust, monitor interactions and activities, and create a culture of openness and disclosure. If misconduct does occur, you are in a great position to take action and support your athletes.
These resources provide information on child protection, abuse prevention and ways to seek help.
Safe 4 Athletes
Advocate for athlete welfare
Darkness to Light
To empower people to prevent child sexual abuse
Global nonprofit leader in teaching positive, practical personal safety skills to protect people of all ages and abilities from bullying, molestation, abduction and other violence, and to prepare them to develop positive relationships that enrich their lives. Kidpower makes it FUN not SCARY.
Your Life, Your Voice
24/7 Hotline: 800-448-3000
Resources for children, teens and young adults dealing with depression, abuse or contemplating suicide
Information on bullying, including who is at risk, prevention and responding, and the laws in each state to prevent bullying and protect children
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Comprehensive information and resources to protect children
Stop It Now!
Preventing sexual abuse of children by helping take action before it starts
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
Staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with a professional crisis counselor
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect
Information on laws and policies that designate the groups of professionals that are required to report cases of suspected child abuse and neglect. Includes summaries of laws for all U.S. states and territories.
Positive Coaching Alliance
PCA is a national nonprofit works to provide all youth athletes with a positive and character-building youth sports experience
Resource site for sports parents with a wide variety of youth sports topics including health, safety, nutrition, psychology and sports parenting
This guide is designed to assist USA Volleyball clubs when peer-to-peer incidents or inappropriate sexual expression/curiosity occur. It will provide information to assist coaches, boards of directors and other club personnel in promoting and maintaining a safe and respectful environment for all participants. This guide may not cover every situation, but it is designed to provide direction.
The following Best Practice Guidelines are strongly recommended for all USA Volleyball members.
- Parents should be encouraged to appropriately support their children’s volleyball experience.
- All volleyball practices should be open to observation by parents.
- Open and Observable Environment: An open and observable environment should be maintained for all interactions between adults and athletes. Private, or one-on-one situations, should be avoided unless they are open and observable. Common sense should be used to move a meeting to an open and observable location if the meeting inadvertently begins in private.
- Coaches should not invite or have an athlete(s) to their home without the permission of the athlete’s parents (or legal guardian).
- During team travel, when doing room checks, attending team meetings and/or other activities, two-deep leadership and open and observable environments should be maintained.
- Athletes should not ride in a coach’s vehicle without another adult present who is the same gender as the athlete, unless prior parental permission is obtained.
- Communications between non-athlete adult members and athletes should not include any topic or language that is sexual or inappropriate in nature.
- Non-athlete adult members should respect the privacy of athletes in situations such as changing of clothes, showering, etc. Non-athlete adult members should protect their own privacy in similar situations.
- Relationships of a peer-to-peer nature with any athletes should be avoided. For example, coaches should avoid sharing their own personal problems with athletes.
- Coaches and other non-athlete adult members should avoid horseplay and roughhousing with athletes.
- When a coach touches an athlete as part of instruction, the coach should do so in direct view of others and inform the athlete of what he/she is doing prior to the initial contact. Touching athletes should be minimized outside the boundaries of what is considered normal instruction. Appropriate interaction would include high fives, fist bumps, side-to-side hugs and handshakes.
- Coaches should not initiate contact with or accept supervisory responsibility for athletes outside club programs and activities.
by Cecile Reynaud, originally published in Coaching Volleyball, Dec. 2013-Jan. 2014 issue
I coached collegiately for 26 years at a Division I university and tried various coaching styles depending on the age and ability of the team. One particular season, my assistant coach said, “I don’t think the yelling is helping.” I stopped yelling immediately and we won that night against a very good team.
I chose to ignore the bad plays, such as a poor pass, a bad dig or an attacking error, and I started celebrating the good plays. It was amazing how much focusing on the positives worked like a charm. Just as the Golden Rule preaches, “we should treat others as we want to be treated ourselves.” In that sense, every one of us would rather hear compliments instead of criticism.
Being a coach is usually a highly respected position at a school, club or university, but the profession is now being portrayed as a type of position which accepts abuse and harassment as ways to achieve success. As responsible coaches, we have the power to make someone’s life incredible or as irresponsible coaches, we can not only ruin someone else’s life, but our own as well.
It is important to realize that sexual abuse isn’t the only form of misconduct in sport. While sexual abuse is very serious and offensive, physical and emotional misconduct can also prove detrimental to athletes, resulting in short- and long-term effects.
In the past few months, these are some of the headlines and stories that have appeared in the media, which pertain to physical and emotional misconduct:
“Volleyball Coaches Suspended for Alcohol Incident During Tournament Trip,” “Lacrosse coach accused of abusive tactics by players, parents,” “The video shows the coach pushing, hitting and kicking players, hurling basketballs at their legs and head, and unleashing a tirade of profanities and homophobic slurs.”
It is up to us, as coaches, to change the perception of the profession and do a better job creating a safe and positive environment for our athletes. Ask your fellow coaches to keep a check on your behavior. Understand that we are all responsible to report suspected abuse of any kind. Invite administrators and parents to attend practices. Tape yourself coaching and listen to what you say and how you communicate with your athletes. If what you see scares you, you may need to adjust your coaching style.
I was teaching in a CAP clinic with a fellow clinician who told the coaches, “Sometimes the worst thing a player may hear is his/her own name.” Imagine hearing your boss screaming your name. How much would you hate that? How sad is it that an athlete isn’t excited when a coach says his/her name, but possibly embarrassed or even ashamed?
Mobile and electronic communications have changed in recent years. Think carefully about what you are texting or emailing to an athlete and the time of day you are sending them a message. These types of communications should be written as if the public will be reading them. If you are coaching minors, the parents should be copied on any message you send their child.
“Sport offers individuals the chance to experience the joys of competition, teamwork and personal development. Every member of our community has a role in creating conditions that protect the physical and emotional well-being of athletes. What makes this challenge so complex is that the human element in sport – the bonds that exist between coaches and athletes and among teammates – can sometimes cause confusion about what actions are acceptable and what cross the line. That’s why recognizing and addressing misconduct in sport requires a team effort. A critical step in addressing misconduct is being able to recognizing the specific actions that are qualified as misconduct.” — www.Safesport.org
As coaches, we should be knowledgeable about the different language that is associated with misconduct in sport. Understanding this language can help us recognize and classify harmful behaviors in our organizations. Here are a few of the terms, which can be also found on the SafeSport website.
Bullying is an intentional, persistent and repeated pattern of committing or willfully tolerating physical and non-physical behavior that is intended, or has the reasonable potential, to cause fear, humiliation or physical harm.
- Verbal acts
- Verbally attacking an athlete personally (e.g., calling them worthless, fat or disgusting).
- Repeatedly and excessively yelling at participants in a manner that serves no productive training or motivational purpose
- Physical acts
- Throwing sport equipment, water bottles or chairs at, or in the presence of, participants.
- Punching walls, windows or other objects are examples of physical acts of emotional abuse.
- Acts that deny attention and support. Ignoring an athlete for extended periods of time.
- Routinely or arbitrarily excluding participants from practice
This could include physical offenses, such as throwing a ball at someone, and also non-physical offenses, such as name calling and making negative or disparaging comments about him/her.
I heard the legendary FSU football coach Bobby Bowden speak at a Sport Management Conference in early October. He told a lot of great stories, but his main message for the students was, “Be kind!” We need to do a better job promoting positive behaviors with our athletes. Let’s all make the commitment to stop abuse in sport.
As renowned educator, child psychologist and psychotherapist Haim Ginott said in his book Teacher and Child, which was adapted in 1995 by the USOC director of coaching,
“I have come to the frightening conclusion
I am the decisive element on the court
It is my personal approach that creates the climate
It is my daily mood that makes the weather
As a coach, I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”