Designed for the parents of athletes of all ages, this course explains the issues of misconduct in sport and helps parents ensure their children have a positive and safe sport experience.
Selecting the right sport and club for your child is about more than athletic development or playing time. Parents should do their homework – to learn about a club’s reputation, and its policies and procedures to protect all athletes. By understanding the components of an effective plan to handle misconduct, you will be empowered to ask the right questions, spot potential risks and have conversations with your child to monitor activities.
When selecting a sport club or program for your child, an important factor to consider is whether the administrators and organizers have developed a strategy to address misconduct. While the existence of a plan is a positive step, how coaches, volunteers and staff enforce those policies is crucial.
As a parent, you should get straightforward answers to these basic questions before allowing your child to participate.
Guide to Misconduct in Sports
U.S. Center for SafeSport Toolkits
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
USA Volleyball is committed to fostering a fun, healthy and safe environment for all its members. We must recognize the safety of our minors lies with all those involved in the sport and is not the sole responsibility of any one person at a club, regional, or national level.
- Education is the most important tool for combating misconduct. Look for resources that can help you understand how abuse occurs and what you can do about it. You should be able to recognize signs of grooming behavior and boundary violations, and what to do when you suspect a child’s safety is at risk.
- It is important to establish healthy boundaries between athletes and coaches, and have clear expectations about the coach’s role. A coach can often serve as a teacher, a mentor or a role model for a young person. A coach is not an athlete’s friend, peer or romantic partner. Teams and youth sport organizations should spell out prohibited behaviors to ensure strong and safe boundaries between adults and athletes.
- For misconduct to take place, an offender needs privacy, access and control. One way to reduce the risk for abuse is to design strategies for addressing these high-risk areas, which include travel, locker rooms and electronic communications. Teams should adopt policies that spell out expectations and create boundaries.
- If you recognize questionable behaviors, say something! Your youth sports organization should designate someone – a coach, the team administration or a parent advocate – who is there to hear your concerns or take a report of inappropriate behavior. Make sure that everyone knows that person.
- Physical and sexual misconduct can be a hard topic for parents to talk about with their children. Having these conversations is extremely important in helping prevent your child from becoming a victim of abuse. Having ongoing and open conversations with children about their bodies and appropriate boundaries will make it easier for them to talk to you if anyone is making them feel uncomfortable.
Healthy Sexual Development from Age 6 to Age 18
Age 6 to 8
- Develop strong friendships with children of the same sex
- Desire to be like their peers
- React to stories they hear in the media (AIDS, abuse, violence)
- Engage in name-calling and teasing
- Increase their ideas about male and female roles
- Continue body exploring activities
- Have a basic sexual orientation and identity
- Begin and/or continue to masturbate
Age 9 to 12
- Onset of puberty
- Grow more modest and want privacy
- Value same-sex friendships
- Experience increased sexual feelings and fantasies
- Develop romantic feelings toward same sex and/or the opposite sex
- Explore sexual activities with peers
- May masturbate to orgasm
- Face decisions about sex
Age 13 to 18
- Continue and complete changes of puberty
- Value independence
- Experience increased sexual feelings and want physical closeness with a partner
- Continue to face decisions about sex
- Choose romantic relationships over close friendships
- May encounter violence in relationships
Range of Sexual Behaviors: Common Sexual Play to Problematic Sexual Behavior
- Is exploratory and spontaneous
- Occurs occasionally and by mutual agreement
- Takes place with children of similar ages, sizes, or developmental levels
- Decreases when children are told the rules, mildly restricted, well supervised, and praised for appropriate behavior
- Is controlled by increased supervision
Problematic Sexual Behavior
- Is a frequent, repeated behavior
- Occurs between children who do not know one another well
- Occurs with high frequency and interferes with normal childhood activities
- Is between children of different ages, sizes, and developmental levels
- Is aggressive, forced, or coerce
- Does not decrease after the child is told to stop
- Causes harm to the child and others
- Targeting the Victim
The offender targets a victim by sizing up the child’s vulnerability – emotional neediness, isolation and lower self-confidence. Children with less parental oversight are more desirable prey.
- Gaining the Victim’s Trust
The offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know his needs and how to fill them. In this regard, sex offenders mix effortlessly with responsible caretakers because they generate warm and calibrated attention. Only more awkward and overly personal attention, or a gooey intrusiveness, provokes the suspicion of parents. Otherwise, a more suave sex offender is better disciplined for how to push and poke, without revealing themselves.
- Filling a Need
Once the offender begins to fill the child’s needs, that adult may assume noticeably more importance in the child’s life and may become idealized. Gifts, extra attention, affection may distinguish one adult in particular and should raise concern and greater vigilance to be accountable for that adult.
- Isolating the Child
The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. This isolation further reinforces a special connection. A special relationship can be even more reinforced when an offender cultivates a sense in the child that he is loved or appreciated in a way that others, not even parents, provide. Parents may unwittingly feed into this through their own appreciation for the unique relationship.
- Sexualizing the Relationship
At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitization occurs through talking, pictures, even creating situations (like going swimming) in which both the offender and victim are naked. At that point, the adult exploits a child’s natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship. When teaching a child, the grooming sex offender has the opportunity to shape the child’s sexual preferences and can manipulate what a child finds exciting and extend the relationship in this way. The child comes to see himself as a more sexual being and to define the relationship with the offender in more sexual and special terms.
- Maintaining Control
Once the sexual abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the child’s continued participation and silence – particularly because the sexual activity may cause the child to withdraw from the relationship. Children in these entangled relationships – and at this point they are entangled – confront threats to blame them, to end the relationship and toe end the emotional and material needs they associate with the relationship. The child may feel that the loss of the relationship and the consequences of exposing it will humiliate and render them even more unwanted.